Yesterday, the Arkansas Times reported that Arkansas Department of Heritage officials had ordered the removal of "Black Lives Matter" T-shirts from the gift shop of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Arkansas's official museum of African-American History. Initially, the museum's interim director said that the reason she was given by department officials was that the museum "must represent all Arkansans." Today, the department cited a stocking policy limiting apparel only to items with official museum or exhibit logos.
Nonetheless, this practice is inconsistent with less restrictive stocking policies in other state-managed shops in Arkansas state parks.
Today, Liz Russell, president of Plum Street Publishers, sent this letter to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson:
Dear Governor Hutchinson --
I am writing to register my distress and disappointment over the removal of the Black Lives Matter apparel from the Mosaic Templars Museum gift shop. This decision is egregiously tone-deaf at a time when many institutions and industries -- including the book publishing industry, which I represent -- are facilitating difficult but long-overdue discussions of diversity and marginalization of minority groups.
As to the fear that white visitors would be offended, I would direct your DAH leadership to read Ta-Nesihi Coates' gripping book, Between the World and Me, winner of this year's National Book Award, which illuminates the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the societal cost of minimizing or dismissing the long chain of events that has culminated in widespread expression of frustration by many of our fellow citizens.
Rather than operating out of fear of offending visitors (who can register their opinion by simply not buying a T-shirt), I would hope that the leadership of our state's heritage department would embrace the opportunity to educate them.
On a personal note, this is just the sort of news that makes it exceedingly difficult for me to recruit a rich, diverse array of writing talent to my line of books. The minute I disclose that my publishing house is based in Arkansas, I am fighting an uphill battle of distrust.
Liz Russell, President / Plum Street Publishers Inc.