Police are standing guard outside the Zeche Zollern in Germany after the museum received right-wing backlash over suggested designated time slots for visitors who are Black, Indigenous, or belong to other racial and ethnic groups that have been historically harmed by colonialism. Located in Dortmund, the museum developed unenforced four-hour time slots on Saturdays to create a “safe space” for these visitors as part of a workshop for the upcoming exhibition This Is Colonial, which will examine Germany’s colonial history.
In correlation with the exhibition workshop, the Zeche Zollern wanted to create a space for visitors “affected by racism” where they could experience the museum while “protect[ing] themselves from further (even unconscious) discrimination,” according to the museum’s website, which also notes that admission during these time periods is “not controlled and works on a trust basis.”
A viral TikTok video posted late last month in which two White men accused museum staff of discriminating against White people resulted in a flurry of right-wing criticism and threats to the museum, the Washington Post reported last week. As a result, local officials have deployed police officers to guard the museum staff and its visitors.
Barbara Rüschoff-Parzinger, who heads the Regional Association of Westphalia-Lippe’s cultural department, which the Zeche Zollern belongs to, told the Washington Post that the footage in the viral TikTok had been edited to falsely suggest that White visitors were being banned from the museum. She confirmed to the Washington Post that the individuals had never been requested nor forced to leave, and claimed that the museum staff featured in the video are now suing for defamation, as they were not aware they were being recorded. The museum told the Washington Post that the police will remain at the museum until the exhibition closes next month.
The outrage continued online as people accused the museum of racism against White visitors. “A request that separates people based on the color of their skin is definitely racism,” one user wrote underneath a Facebook video published by the museum. On TikTok, commenters expressed concerns about the “oppression of White people” in response to an explanatory video published by media outlet Deutsche Welle.
Unsurprised by the White outrage, many users online disagreed with the accusations of discrimination and lauded the German museum for its efforts. “I love this and wish this could be done in the US as well,” wrote one user on TikTok, who self-identified as a history teacher.
In the TikTok video, Deutsche Welle reporter Briana Ekanem praised the initiative. “It’s an experiment to be sensitive to those who might be more affected by colonialism and let BIPOC people process without facing further discrimination,” she said. “I think this move is a commendable one.
“We are testing several formats at the moment,” Head of Press and Public Relations Frank Tafertshofer told Hyperallergic in response to the backlash. “We are experimenting with this safer space and asking our visitors for four hours a week to refrain from visiting and leave the room to BIPOC. This is a request and there is no control. We want the right to experiment with these formats which will be evaluated with regard to the coming exhibition.”
“We cannot find this to be racism — people who experience racism do so seven days a week,” Tafertshofer said.