Limited Occupancy: White People in Black Spaces

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*Sigh*… I don’t even know where to start with this one…

The timeline has been in constant turmoil for the past 72 hours after it was recently announced that a white women would be curating the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s new Hip-Hop exhibit. This news was brought to the attention of the timeline by Dj Chubb E Swagg (it’s important to note that DJ Chubb E Swagg is an alumni of Howard University). He asked, “Who let this shit happen?” After that… all hell broke loose.

Timothy Anne Burnside is the “white woman” being referred to, and apparently she is well liked because some of our “favorite” representatives of the black community flew to her defense. From social rights activists, to black museum curators in DC, to CNN political pundits, DJ Chubb E Swagg was in for what I’m sure was the Twitter fight of his life. But before we take a look at the characters involved, I want to talk about the reason why Timothy Anne Burnside’s appointment and acceptance of this new role is a problem.

It has long since been known that black people have been shut out of spaces that seemed tailor made for them. This is especially true in the curatorial arts. In art and history, there is a shortage of black people who get the opportunity to curate for museums. It’s not that there are no black people available, it’s that they are not given the opportunity. Which is exactly why a white woman being the gate keeper of one of the most precious facets of black culture makes so many people uneasy. The biggest defense made in favor of Timothy is that she is an ally and has made numerous contributions to blacks in the arts, and was instrumental in the collection of artifacts for the NMAAHC and subsequently it’s opening. Cool. So if she is as much an ally as everyone says she is, why wasn’t she enough of an ally to take a step back and say, “My curating this exhibit would be overstepping the boundaries of the culture, and there are [black] people in the art and history space that would better serve the museum and this exhibit. I’d still be glad to offer my curatorial expertise and assistance, though.”?

Being an ally is about more than believing that black lives do matter and holding up a sign for a few hours at the protest. Being an ally means being an active participant in the tangible change that needs to be enacted in everyday life. Being an active participant in that tangible change includes, but is not limited to, not taking opportunities away from people who would be more culturally aligned with the role than you; it includes being willing to promote others ahead of yourself; and it includes having the self awareness to say, “Nah, I’m not right for this position.”

Now, back to the characters. One man called DJ Chubb E Swagg a coward, that same man is the creator of the PureBlack brand and sells #PureBlack t-shirts. Another defender of Timothy was the woman behind the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Imagine bringing attention to marginalized black actors who have historically been looked over for awards, but not being in opposition to black curators being looked over for positions. Another attacker is the face of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Am I doing a good job at painting how absurd this weekend has been?

Though Timothy had the “blue checks” (people verified by Twitter) on her side, the rest of Twitter was overwhelmingly on DJ Chubb E Swagg’s side. Including the Howard Twitter community who is notorious for defending their own. The drags were in abundance, and some great content was born. Check out the hashtag #AskTimothy for a good laugh.

Regardless how you feel about the subject, if you’re not looking for a good fight one thing is for sure:


Comment your thoughts on the subject, let me know what you think!

PS. You can book DJ Chubb E Swagg for your events at



One thought on “Limited Occupancy: White People in Black Spaces

  1. I agree that being an ally really takes so much more than just showing up, but I oftentimes wonder how you truly identify who’s in and who’s out? It really comes down to the heart, so how do you read that? Really tricky situation but great post.


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