People on Twitter are upset that the Smithsonian’s hip-hop curator is white

Timothy Anne Burnside

Smithsonian Music/YouTube

Should a white woman be in charge of Black art?

A debate about representation sparked on Twitter on Monday after Bermuda-based radio host DJ Chubb noted that a white woman is curating the ongoing hip-hop collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Timothy Anne Burnside is a seasoned museum curator and started the hip-hop collection for the museum back in 2006, according to Smithsonian Music.

Following the initial tweet on Sunday that pointed out her race, Burnside received both support and criticism from hip-hop fans and musicians. Some believe that Burnside is justified in leading the project because of her lengthy resume and allyship to the Black community.

Others argue that if Burnside is a true ally, she would not be the public face of the exhibit because hip-hop is a historically Black art form.

Several Black professionals who have personal ties to Burnside took to Twitter to defend her, another contentious element of the issue. Black Twitter argued that “blue check” Black people were only defending Burnside because they know her, disregarding that Burnside’s position as a hip-hop cultural historian might be problematic no matter who she is.

Columnist Jamilah Lemieux (@jamilahlemieux) tweeted a thread explaining the difficulty of balancing support for her colleague with the knowledge that white women are in positions of privilege and “rarely go undefended.”

“My respect and fondness for Tim doesn’t negate the reality that hip-hop has been welcoming to white women way that makes my skin crawl,” she wrote, “and even if I love some of these women, it comes knowing that they get access and opportunities that young Black kids (esp girls+ LGBT) don’t.”

She continued in a later thread: “To love and serve Black people, as a leader, an ally or whomever else, requires you to learn to recognize our tenderest points and our deepest wounds, to work to avoid doing additional harm to them and to react accordingly when those sore places have been touched.”

Aside from liking tweets favoring her position and previous work, Burnside has not publicly commented on the issue. She did not immediately respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment.

Alexis Tatum

Alexis Tatum

Alexis Tatum studies journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. She's an editorial intern with the Daily Dot. Her work has appeared in Orange magazine and the Daily Texan.