Letter to a Young Archaeologist, February 2022

Zeynep Kussan

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Dear Young Archaeologists,

I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I would not push young people into oppressive work systems. There were many times I was rolled out as the ‘working class, mature student from a migrant family’ to talk to ‘non-traditional audiences’ about how ‘inclusive’ the sector is for people ‘like me’. Instead, I’m going to tell you what I wish someone had told me - the harsh reality of this sector, because at least then if I had known, then maybe I would of made different decisions, maybe I would not be here writing this letter to you - I have questioned my sanity in this sector for over a decade, but I am still here - for now.

The working class are not welcome in the heritage sector, gatekeeping is rife and it is solely hospitable for the privileged. You can keep knocking, but they really do not want to let you in. It does not matter how hard you work or what qualifications you manage to obtain if you do not fit the mould you are not coming in. 

You are expected to gain degrees you cannot afford, you may go to night school because you are working during the day or work multiple jobs and will study well into the night because you have so many other life commitments. You do not have the luxury of time and money. Then you are expected to find time to volunteer, volunteering is practically impossible for working class people. If you manage to scrape through all of that then you enter the world of job applications, trying to understand why you are not getting interviews and why it’s taking you longer to get hired than your privileged peers - if you ever enter the sector at all. If you do it’s for an entry level job with salaries you cannot survive on and you will be reminded pretty much every day that you are different and you do not belong.

I promised I would never pretend that it was the perfect job that was inclusive to all, it is very much the opposite. So why am I still here? Maybe I am naive, but there are those of us that are working hard for change, working hard for progress and in doing so with the hope that those of you that come after us, will not have to experience this.

This part of my letter is not to you but to my peers, my peers that will mainly be the audience to this very subscription, my peers that are the ones that are making the decisions in this sector. To them I say do not continue to push working class people into unsafe work spaces just for your funding opportunities, do not say you are inclusive when you have put nothing in place to dismantle the very systems you have built to uphold your own privilege, do not say there is progression when there are no working class people of colour in senior positions. Do not promote volunteering as a way in, or training programmes for the disadvantaged that will never lead to a job, when you are going to continue to hire those that look, think and act like you. Do not use the one middle class person of colour you know in your network to speak for all Black, Asian and Ethnically Diverse people – all of our experiences are different and this is why we were desperately in need of #BAMEOver - stop trying to other us all. BAME is not one race. History needs to be accessible and it needs to be taught and told by all. 

For the young privileged archaeologists, you will not experience the above, you need to focus on truly understanding how sections of our society are treated in certain spaces that will not accept them. You need to understand all of these issues because you are the ones that will all sail through and obtain those top positions faster than those from disadvantaged backgrounds, what you need to do is support your peers, break the existing barriers so that it does not continue like this and understand the part you play in dismantling these oppressive systems, you all need to stick together and not make the mistakes of all those that came before you. Organise and work as a collective to understand equity, make history accessible, and allow histories to be told by all and not the selected few.

To those of you without privilege, do not be fooled into working harder than your peers, as that is not what will progress you, this is a myth, learn to work smart otherwise you will wear yourself out and burn out faster than your privileged colleagues, do not fall into this trap. Work your set hours and use your own time for you. Do not give your labour for free, you should not be doing this at all, the working culture within heritage is allowing this to happen and it needs to stop. You need to look after you first and foremost and only work hard to do things for yourself. You do belong and history needs to be told by you, these are our stories to tell and you are qualified to tell them with everything you bring. Do not let anyone knock your confidence, question everything and always speak your truth. Our families did not go through what they did to get us here for us to hide who we are.

Find your squad and only surround yourself with those that have your genuine best interests at heart, you are going to need good people along the way and they are going to need you, so surround yourself with supportive souls that will allow you to thrive. Be yourself and don’t let anyone try to dim you when you are shining, you belong exactly where you choose to be and our histories need to be told by you. You focus on this and we will continue lighting the way for you.

Love and Solidarity


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