The decision of the Museum of the Home (MOTH) to retain the statue of the prominent slaver, Robert Geffrye in the public realm despite it being a dehumanising symbol of African enslavement is a long-standing and now, worldwide issue. The debate around the topic of removing such symbols has been amplified by global Black Lives Matter protests, which called for societies around the world to challenge enduring systems of symbolic and structural racism.
The issue was ignited by the police brutality leading to the murder of the African Americans George Floyd and later Breonna Taylor as a result of Afriphobia in US policing. The removal of the toxic symbols of African enslavement in cities like Bristol and later the Museum of the London Docklands led to a nationwide discussion to decolonise the public realm in the UK.
Academic institutions like University College London and the London Metropolitan University have since removed such symbols, while the Mayor of London, Hackney Council and several other British local authorities are engaged in a program of review and action determined to at the very least correct the symbolic aspects of these historic wrongs that continue to promote and project a message of Afriphobia across UK streets.
Indeed, on 12th June 2020, Samir Shah, Chair of the Board of Trustees Chair for the Museum of the Home stated;
“the Museum of the Home is committed to this important public debate and to ensuring the voices of our communities are heard. I welcome this review and partnership with the London Borough of Hackney. Together we can action change.”
Previously Shah, a former BBC director had gained notoriety for claiming in 2008 that there were "Too many black and Asian faces on TV". However, after a public consultation delivered in partnership with Hackney Council delivered a result calling for the MOTH to remove the Afriphobic symbol that celebrates crimes against humanity from above its entrance, the Board of Trustees met and in July 2020 announced it had overturned the democratic decision. This was achieved by violating its duty to operate with safeguards against Afriphobia, unethical bias, impropriety & unaccountability.
Several organisations, groups and individuals have since raised the matter directly with the Museum. Ligali eventually sought to formally challenge the decision made by the Museum’s Board of Trustees however was informed that as the Board is the charity’s “ultimate decision-making body” there is no formal right of appeal. The Trustees states it welcomes the opportunity to discuss its decision further but is unwilling to reverse or provide evidence demonstrating the legitimacy of its decision.
By his own admission, the Chair of the MOTH Board of Trustee’s asserts the charity has failed “to give people of color power and agency in driving forward the direction of the Museum” but simultaneously does not recognise it is the current composition of the MOTH Board that continues to facilitate this crisis.
The Museum’s decision has placed it at odds with the Council in whose borough it resides with Hackney Mayor, Philip Glanville stating that the Board’s decision violates the local authorities’ ethical values. He is not alone. The Hackney Community Steering Group made up of local cultural historians, community organisers, teachers, young people, and other residents - assisting the “Naming Review” of Hackney Council published an open letter on 4 August 2020 making similar complaints alongside several politicians, artists and activist groups representative of 4400+ petitioners also challenging the MOTH’s decision .
The inscription on Museum entrance to slaver Robert Geffrye celebrates him as a symbol of virtue by whitewashing his history of facilitating and profitting from crimes against humanity (Maafa/African trafficking, enslavement and colonisation)
On 14th August 2020. the Ligali organisation made a formal complaint to the Charity Commission arguing;
1. Procedural impropriety
- The MOTH Board of Trustees was deliberately negligent in failing to ensure it had the prerequisite expertise and cultural capital to make an informed decision on this emergency issue. In so doing, the Trustees acted with bias and in dereliction of duty. Despite having the power to admit an unlimited number of members to diversify its expertise and knowledge base, the Board has consistently maintained an ethnicity and gender imbalance.
- The MOTH Board of Trustees failed to comply with its duty to act in an open and transparent manner with safeguards against unethical bias, unaccountability and undemocratic decision making. The Trustees’ decision to overturn the outcome of the public consultation process without sharing minutes of the related Extraordinary General Meeting; details of the recorded votes of its members and evidence of whether a quorum of its members was present within a half-hour of the meetings appointed time is unsound, unfair and lacks transparency. Its actions also violate clause 4.b(x) of its Memorandum and Article of Association to “cooperate with governmental and local authorities and with other charitable organisations having similar objects”.
3. Natural Justice/Irrationality
- The continued presence of the statue above the Museum’s entrance in the public realm does not serve the charity’s objectives of “advancement of education for the public benefit by acquiring, housing and exhibiting and documenting, conserving restoring and repairing objects and collections of an educational nature”. As an internationally recognised symbol of slavery, it is unrelated to the “study of furniture and the English domestic interior”. Moving the statue from the Museum’s entrance to inside the facility is in no way incompatible with the charities stated objectives in its Memorandum and Articles of Association. Nevertheless, the Chair has indicated the Board’s intention to authorise an increase in the MOTH’s footprint of the Geffrye Symbol with new interpretive notices which would potentially create a platform inviting hate speech and Afriphobia.
Ligali’s Toyin Agbetu writes;
“Many of us assume large charities like the Museum of the Home act with professionalism and within the law. But as we learned when it fell victim to a fraud losing tens of thousands of taxpayers money in 2017, and now having gained a pariah status in the charity and cultural sectors for its irrational decision to actively promote a symbol that incites racial hate the sectors projection of competent, impartial and transparent governance controls has been exposed as a myth.
The Museum of the Home’s Board of Trustees disregarded its own legally binding governing principles as well as accepted democratic convention. Despite the Board attempting to claim its decision-making process took into account government policy and the official position of the government-funded, Historic England
to reach its aberration from established procedure, there is no legitimate rationale for willfully failing to comply with equality legislation.
The Museum of the Home has systematically neglected to eradicate discriminatory, Afriphobic bias from its Board; staff; curatorial practices and output over the past years. Likewise, the Boards use of clandestine methods masking the impropriety of its decision-making process to retain a symbol of racism in the public realm which serves as a barrier to the charity’s own objective of advancing public education through the study of furniture and the inside of English homes has brought itself and similar charitable institutions into disrepute.
Of course, with the Charity Commission being run by the government it is unlikely it will authorise an investigation into the MOTH probity and racist conduct. However, to restore public faith in the sector, it is incumbent upon the charity to prove that its governance controls and overall composition are not responsible for producing decisions and actions that are unsound, unsafe and unethical.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) through the Heritage Lottery is the Museum’s principal funder, followed by Arts Council England. In June 2017, the Museum fell victim to report a financial phishing scam. As a result of its lack of robust procedures and staff training, the Museum was unable to recover the loss of the fraud which totalled £49,753.
The Museum whose total number of visits for 2018-19 was 38,463 with only 4,272 visitors over 18 from minority ethnic communities, it is now widely considered a neo-racist institution.
External LinksGeffrye must fall: Stand Up To Racism protest calls on museum to remove statueBlack Lives Clearly Dont Matter - As Museum Ignores Public Vote And Keeps Slave Trader StatueMayors response to the Museum of the Homes decision to retain statue of Sir Robert GeffryeHave your say on the future of the Sir Robert Geffrye statue at the Museum of the Home, Kingsland Road, HackneyToo many black and Asian faces on TV, says BBC director Samir Shah
Protest at the Museum of the Home on Saturday 1 August. (Source: Hackney Citizen / Photograph: Dean Ryan)
Ligali is not responsible for the content of third party sites
The museum plans to increase its output about the slaver Geffrye by producing more media promoting its dehumanising symbol of African enslavement. Is this right?
Click here to speak out
and share your perspective on this article.