The American Museum of Natural History recently announced that it will no longer be hosting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
With mutual respect for the work & goals of our individual organizations, we jointly agreed that the Museum is not the optimal location for the Brazilian-Am. Chamber of Commerce gala dinner. This traditional event will go forward at another location on the original date & time.
— American Museum of Natural History (@AMNH) April 15, 2019
Bolsonaro, the far-right leader of Brazil, is currently most hated for rolling back environmental protections of the Amazon.
He will still be honored by the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce as “Person of The Year”, an event originally set to take place at the AMNH’s Hall of Ocean Life. Tickets were going for $30,000 each, and they sold out quickly.
The Pushback Came Quickly
Before they decided to cancel, the AMNH sparked confusion and condemnation from New Yorkers and Brazilians alike. Mayor Bill de Blasio was one of those to speak out against the event.
Mayor de Blasio called the event “a shocking contradiction”. He referred to Bolsonaro as “a very dangerous human being”. Continuing, de Blasio condemned “his overt racism and homophobia”. And noted that Bolsonaro “is unfortunately the person with the most ability to be able to impact what happens in the Amazon going forward.”
The AMNH employees were the angriest of all.
Dr. Susan Perkins, a curator and professor at the museum said that her “jaw dropped” when she found out. According to Perkins, “Bolsonaro represents just about everything we oppose”, including his “treatment of indigenous people”. Others say Bolsonar0 has a lack of respect “for the environment”, and views which “defund scientific research”. AMNH employees “find it appalling that he would be in our space.”
As of this past weekend, staff members had been organizing plans they hoped would force the museum to cancel the gala. These plans included a protest during the museum’s big 150th anniversary party.
Activists with Decolonize This Place had also indicated they wouldn’t allow the event to take place without disruption. Organizer Amin Husein summed it up – “either cancel or we shut it down”. To many, it’s “that simple.”
Museum scientists and graduate students from the Richard Gilder Graduate Center were also demanding a cancellation. They penned an open letter to AMNH’s senior administration, going as far as describing the gala as “a stain on the Museum’s reputation”.
But the museum claimed ignorance.
Before officially deciding to cancel, the museum’s Provost and VP of Human Resources shared a staff-wide memo. The memo stated that they “share a deep concern” about the gala. And to more aggressively defend themselves, they noted that it “was booked before the specific honoree was secured”. But some employees still question this. While Bolsonaro’s “Person of the Year” selection was announced months ago, it’s unclear whether the museum’s upper management was aware of what this event was really about.Sign-up for more local updates:
Featured images courtesy of Senado Federal