Artistic responsibility

I wrote this originally for the Race & Fiction Writing member page, but I’m moving it here since it’s something I really care about. Emoji smiley face.

A few of us discussed the matter of Dana Schutz’s painting at the April meeting. For me, the issue comes down to artistic freedom versus artistic responsibility. (One of our values being “both/and,” I’ll note that these are not necessarily in opposition.) Something I realized after the meeting was that while I had taken pains to present both points of view in the handout posted here, in fact the artistic freedom (“for the painting”) argument is amply represented in our white-dominated culture. What’s lacking, I feel, is a broadly understood argument for artistic responsibility. Therefore, I recommend that interested folks check out “The Case Against Dana Schutz” by Josephine Livingstone and Lovia Gyarkye at The New Republic. Speaking personally, the great effort it took to open my mind to the idea that I should, need and ought not to write on whatever subject inspires me—to take on board that I might not have a right to do that, and, perhaps more to the point, that I can lovingly and thoughtfully choose not to—the very difficulty of taking that step reminds me how powerful white supremacy is.

Edit: A letter from L.M. Williams in the April 24 issue of The New Yorker makes the point with clarity.

Much has been said in Schutz’s defense about art as empathy and the importance of resisting self-censorship. These are fail-safe points in discussions of artistic freedom, and they sidestep a foundational problem: the decision to make art without regard for the lives involved, and no matter the consequences. Even well-intentioned artistic empathy can become a form of trespass when it comes uninvited and replays the damage done to the people with whom the artist seeks to stand. The kind of racist violence depicted in “Open Casket” still happens, and still goes unpunished. Protesters, in asking, “Where are the images of Till’s murderers?,” are asking why America memorializes hate crimes against its black citizens by gazing at the victims instead of by holding the perpetrators accountable.

March to fascism no. 3 and last

I had my best laugh of the week yesterday while listening to NPR. In a solemn voice, the presenter read out the recent Presidential tweet about “the very sacred election process.” I guffawed aloud upon hearing this. Thanks, Trump!

Anway, I’m retiring my three-post March to Fascism tag. See, when I started it on January third, I really thought we all needed to keep a sharp and educated eye on the White House in order to recognize and call out signs of incipient despotism. That turned out to be totally untrue. A three-year-old under a blanket could recognize this administration’s incipient despotism. The lunacy of it all is in my face every single day from morning to night. I recommend VSB and Luvvie as commentators who can ease the pain for a few moments at a time by expressing our national predicament with concision, insight and outrage.

School of white-supremacy magic

It must be said, in the current political climate, that I don’t use “white supremacy” on this blog to mean explicit racism as espoused by the white nationalists who’ve rechristened themselves the alt-right. I use it in the accepted academic sense of

a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege

(Sharon Martinas). This is also the definition we use in the Race and Fiction-Writing group. Anyway, I watched a few episodes of “The Magicians,” which is okay. It’s about a school for magic, and speaking of school, I am forced to conclude that there is some sort of Hollywood class which most TV creators have to take called How Not To Be Racist On TV (While Still Being Racist). Once you pass this course, you are qualified to put out into the world all sorts of interesting, entertaining and even intelligent TV shows that are super-racist. Here are the three tentpoles of the course. Read more

Personal mottos of 2017

I’m not following you, I was going in this direction anymotherfucking way.

Currently my Twitter bio. Said by a homeless woman with a gift for language who hangs out on my street.

Don’t punch girls and I don’t punch a clock

I’m not really cool enough to use hip-hop lyrics as mottos, but it’s true that I don’t punch a clock. Or, as I put it to my neighbor this afternoon, “I have an expensive twenty-hour-a-week not-working habit.”

Pecan, mince, humble

This one is courtesy of my friend J., responding thus to my offer to eat humble pie: “I prefer pecan. I know not everyone likes the savory pies, i.e. pecan, mince, humble, but I’m sticking to my guns.”

March to fascism no. 1

I thought I’d better start collecting these because, you know.

“America Becomes a Stan” by Paul Krugman

Americans used to find the antics of these regimes, with their tinpot dictators, funny. But who’s laughing now?

“Trump private security force ‘playing with fire’” by Kenneth P. Vogel

Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks declined to respond to a series of questions about the private security officials, who is paying them, their relationship with the Secret Service, whether they’re armed and what their roles will be after inauguration.

Five years in

It’s coming up on five years since I gamed my way into the “Undoing Racism” training offered by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (I traded on my affiliation with a community development organization to get in for free). Around the same time, I was also becoming involved with an anti-oppression group within Occupy Boston, where I met some people whose friendship and guidance I still treasure today. In the time that followed, I passed through what you might call the first fire of a white person’s race consciousness. I recorded perhaps too much of that experience on this blog, about which a journalist on Twitter once said to me, not unkindly, “I think what you are doing on your blog is called Working Shit Out.”

I wanted to write something brief to address where my thoughts are today and why I now blog about race much less frequently. (I blog less frequently overall, but that’s more about the evolution of my views on self-promotion since I published The One-Way Rain, as well as my dissatisfaction with my nonfiction voice.) Well, if I had to condense my journey since 2011 into a few sentences, I would say that my mind has moved towards complexity and away from the laborious naming, typologizing, explication, and apology that characterize many of my earlier blog posts. I hope I am moving away from dogma and towards greater understanding. Thank you to everyone who has given me love and hours of conversation and shown me what living consciously and self-questioningly can look like. And thanks for reading.

Overheard on Visiting Day at The City School

“White people are like, oh, I had a good day. They think that’s it, they had a good day. They don’t understand they had a prescribed good day. You had a prescribed good day and we had a prescribed bad day. We wake up and we know we’re going to have a bad day. We know somebody’s going to yell at us, somebody’s going to call us a name or look at us funny.”

Learn more about The City School and its Summer Leadership Program here.

My bridge was gapped

In Austin in 1995, when I was twenty-four, I knew a vivacious young woman with black hair and black eyes, L., who was the object of many a crush. You either were crushed on her or resented her, or both (I was of the first party). It was also at this time that I carried on a strange flirtation with a curly-headed blond guy named M. who was in a relationship with another girl. Hard as it is to believe now, I was ignorant of the politics of relationships and didn’t know things were going to get complicated. Read more