The Barbican holds a lot of sentimental value to me but after hearing of racial discrimination in the workplace, I don’t look quite as fondly at the Brutalist icon. Barbican Stories details accounts of racism by current and former employees and I first heard about it from their article for gal-dem:
As in many workplaces, 2020’s summer of protest – triggered by the murder of George Floyd – brought increased visibility to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement which meant conversations about “diversity and inclusion” could no longer be tabled.
The Barbican’s response was bureaucratic at best, and gaslighting at worst. For me, it felt like BLM was a “comms issue” for the institution, it was not about change but image. Barbican Stories was a way to cut through this delusion, and hold a mirror up to the institution. It breaks systemic racism down into everyday occurrences to show the Barbican that it is not in a position to simply comment on racism, it needs to recognise itself as an organisation that is currently racist.
The stories are plentiful; enough to warrant a second print run of the book “for distribution to public records and archives”. The Barbican’s response was standard—”We fully recognise the pain and hurt caused by these experiences“, so if they’re recognisable, why wasn’t anything done?—and it remains to be seen if anything will actually be done about the past, now, and in the future to ensure working environments are safe.