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Society of American Archivists Article "The Archivist's Task Force on Racism"

David Ferriero, 10th Archivist of the United States

September 2020

Last May, a national outcry against racial violence and inequality arose after the deaths of George Floyd and other Black men and women. Discussions about race and justice took place in homes, in organizations, and in public forums as people grappled with questions raised by the events. At the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), we had several conversations and training sessions about racism, microaggressions, and diversity and inclusion.

During our formal and informal discussions this summer, five interrelated themes emerged:

     1.   Employee experience: how we address recruitment, advancement, retention, assignment of work, and access to opportunities.

     2.   Diversity and inclusion: how we interact with each other and our customers.

     3.   Race-based harassment.

     4.   Archival description: how we can address anachronistic or offensive terminology in the legacy descriptions in the National Archives Catalog.

     5.   Museums: how we can ensure a diversity of representation, viewpoints, access, and outreach in our exhibits, education, and public programs.


In June, I wrote here that “talking and listening can be cathartic, but if conversation is unaccompanied by action and concrete steps for improvement, the catharsis will ultimately be short-lived.” To spur action, I have recently announced the formation of a task force on racism to identify areas where we as an agency must improve and to make recommendations for positive change.

The members of the task force will reflect a wide diversity in background and experience, grade levels, geographic location, and job functions. The main task force will look at the first three themes of employee experience, diversity and inclusion, and race-based harassment and discrimination. Two subgroups will examine matters pertaining to archival description and museums.

The task force and its subgroups will identify key issues and propose concrete recommendations and next steps to address those issues. These recommendations should address both short- and long-term actions.

We will encourage all staff to participate in the task force’s work by sharing their perspectives on the issues, identifying gaps in the themes, and contributing ideas for solutions. The task force will begin its work in October and issue its report on January 31, 2021.

It is important to turn words into action, and it is important to do this right.