MAIN Menu   
CLOSE Menu   

Jennifer Uleman

Text

Balloons, an Innocence, and Its End:

Some Whiteness at the NYC Women’s March, January 20, 2018

The one-year anniversary Women’s March was all the things you read in the Guardian or The New York Times — energized, midterms-focused, etc. — at least as far as I could tell from where I was in New York City. It was crowded. There was a lot of standing around on 72nd St., for instance, to be let through barricades onto the official march route. There were lots of homemade signs, some recognizable from last year, some clearly new, some with Hamiltonlyrics. There was some shivering, but not too much. There was trouble sending messages and posting photos due to overloaded circuits, there was talk about bathroom breaks, there were power bars and dried mango.

The group I was with from my neighborhood in Queens was mostly white and mostly women — not overwhelmingly, but mostly. (Me: one of the white women.) We mostly didn’t really know each other. We met in front of a Famiglia Pizzeria near the subway and E, the white woman leading us, brought a big bundle of hot pink helium balloons on which had been written the name of our neighborhood and “Resist!” People tied them to wrists and backpacks and even a hairdo with bright pink gift-wrap ribbon. The balloons made the subway ride in feel like a party and were brilliant for helping us keep track of each other in the eventual crowds. A few eventually got loose and flew beautifully in the bright blue sky over Central Park.

Besides balloons, E, who wore a bright pink thick-knit pussyhat with lipstick to match, brought signs. Hers, in white type against a black background, read: “This nice white lady has had enough of America’s racist BS!” and had a pink arrow pointing down. The reverse said something like, “Ever wonder what you’d have done about slavery, the holocaust, civil rights? You’re doing it now!” The sign she’d brought for a mutual friend, T, who is also white, read, “When I’m not marching, I’m taking a knee. Black lives matter.” The flip side said, “The revolution will be intersectional AF.” I don’t think of either E or T as all talk. I’m sparing you all caps, but much of each sign’s text was, as befits a sign, all caps.

All day, for me and E and T and another white woman (D?), the people with whom I talked the most — talked, and pointed to signs, and joined in chants, and followed along in thought and attention all day — for us, all day, there was talk and thought about race. Attention to race and racial politics is now, if it wasn’t before (as it wasn’t so much at the Women’s March last year, as far as my bus to DC was concerned, anyway), a thrumming part of our conscious and subconscious attention and was, on Saturday at the march, one of the unspoken (if also spoken) organizing principles of our collective awareness. There is a longing to see, to know, to do and say and think the right things, an urgent longing that borders on anxiety, but isn’t, at least not that day, because it’s a happy day, we have balloons, and it’s a good march.

As we were standing around on 72nd Street, a Southeast Asian woman in our group, N, noted that the “immigrants are welcome here” chant, which we had just been hearing, is irritating. It feels patronizing and off-base, since the people chanting are almost certainly immigrants too, she said. Once we were moving, an older white woman holding a “Humanitarian Judaism” sign caught up to ask T what “intersectional” meant (as in, “the revolution will be intersectional AF”). We started to say and a young black woman behind us jumped in, friendly, helpful, adding to our explanation. Did she know what “AF” means, T asked the Humanitarian Judaism woman? That she got; smiles. Smiles all around, affirmations that it’s always good to ask. The woman’s quick offer to explain Humanitarian Judaism did not get taken up: I think we thought we knew, and we may well have, but anyway the crowd moved and we drifted apart.

T and I have been talking again about pussyhats. She’s teaching an art history course on craft and craft movements, which of course if you think about it for a minute are very political, and has been rereading all the pussyhat stuff from last year in anticipation of trying to talk about the hats again this coming week. She’s wearing a red beret; I am hatless. I wanted a pussyhat last year, but never found the chunky-knit, dusty-rose one I thought I could live with, and the critiques kind of shushed the desire. Back at the march, one of our small group volunteers that she wouldn’t have thought anything about the “immigrants are welcome here” chant if N hadn’t said something. The things we know and the things we think we know and the things we know we don’t know but don’t know how not to know, don’t know how to be without knowing.

Earlier in the day, I send pictures of us on the subway to friends. I send a friend who is black the subway pictures and also another that I take later. I secretly hope the pictures will prove that the march is not racist. The picture that I take later is of a middle-aged black woman holding a Dr. Seuss cat-in-a-hat image with the verse: “I do not like your racist fans / I do not like your twitter hands / I do not like your bigotry / Nor your Nazi sympathy / I do not like you in our lives / I do not like you, Forty-Five.” The woman is wearing a black pussyhat with white whiskers, and in my picture she’s smiling; a free hand holds a take-out coffee cup. I broke ranks to catch up with her, to ask if I could get a picture of her and her sign. Earlier, I carefully compose a picture of our group on the subway: there’s my white friend T, displaying the taking-a-knee sign; she’s flanked by P, a Latino man we’ve just met, and by L and H, a white woman and her young biracial son. I make sure they are all in the picture. I think of Marvin Lemus’s satirical “DVRSE App: Black Friends When You Need Them” video promo. The app inserts pictures of black people into your photos, making (white) you look more “cultural” and “interesting,” and winning you social points on Instagram and dating apps, improving chances of grad school admission. (It’s very good and very funny.)

I know I’m doing this, trying too hard to prove something, but I don’t stop myself. I think about it later. I liked the march; it made me ebullient. It comforted me, excited me, affirmed me. I wanted to share all this, to share my liking, with my friend, but I didn’t want her to think my liking was racist. My friend is a smart woman, and she also knows from women’s marches, so in reality of course I am not proving anything to anyone. This is my own psychic need, my own eddy, my own effort to confuse myself so I can push ahead and like unabashed. But I know full well women’s marches can be kind of racist, not in KKK-rally ways but in liberal, white, middle-class ways, unintentionally-intentionally exclusionary ways, false-universalizing ways, alienating-environment-creating ways: “immigrants are welcome here” ways, ways that go gung-ho on hats but don’t think about hair, that rally around pink but don’t consider how the aesthetics, meanings, resonances play outside white minds, ways that reclaim vulgarity but forget that public vulgarity is not universally fun and comfortable, and that then, online and elsewhere, when reservations are raised or complaints are made, refuse to take in, preferring to eddy-up, to muddy, to defensively self-confuse. I know, I think.

I smile, with rue. I feel silly and I sigh. I don’t want anything that comforts, excites, or affirms me to be racist, not even a little. Writing the words I feel it again; I kind of laugh, I shake my head, I feel nauseous: gah. The longing for innocence — the longing to have everything that comforts, excites, or affirms me be good and pure — the longing would be endearing if it weren’t so stupid. I wonder: is endearingness along with stupidity built into chagrin? I think about the concept of chagrin a lot, for all kinds of reasons. Anyway, Collette has a line somewhere that likens forcing bulbs to destroying innocence, and clearly approves both. I quoted the line, or my mangled memory of it, to a boyfriend once as I crushed an eggshell: I wanted more from him, he who was fairly chaste. Besides chagrin, I think a lot about whiteness as willful ignorance, faked innocence. I smile ruefully, and hope my friend who is black didn’t pay attention to what I was up to, though she is a smart woman. I hope our temporary pink balloon sorority, my thoughts, and all the talking and thinking and attending of the day, will help me quit my own hard-wired longing for innocence, which is to say ignorance — my longing for myself as pure good, which is to say not of this world, not even girlish pink but white as the driven snow.

Cortney Lamar Charleston

Text

 

The Melanin

 

I walk into a room full of ghosts, their translucent intentions packed
from wall to wall.             I avoid speaking. There’s a human piñata—
a mob victim—hanging in the back of my mouth I don’t want them
to see or smell.                 Every night I dream about him and every night

he has a different name, one with an urban suffix or an apostrophe.
Death has a color that’s often described as slimming; I’m
not actually as thin as I appear.            The wind can’t blow me away
and call it change. It tries to beat me down over decades like a rock.

A paper airplane rides it through the air, lands in my kinked
hair and catches, to their amazement. As we study electrical
charges, my head becomes the choice conductor and sometimes
the voltage is more than they bargained for. They haven’t

learned how much water I’m made of, how many slave ships
I’ve swallowed down the hatch.             My brain buoys the memory
of them above the blood. At times, they whisper about revenge
but I keep my teeth confined.                 I act fitting for a petting zoo,

though it is only because I’m still young.            The parents worry that,
eventually, their girls will see my gun and that I’ll secure a second.
Their eyes hawk me closely, so I play a pocketknife: mind my
manners and retract the threat.                  I try not to spook the ghosts.

 

 

I’m Not a Racist  

 

                                                      I’m a realist: if I see a pack of hoods approaching, loitering,
                                                                                 acting a littering of public sidewalks, I simply

                  move to the other

side of the street, play it safe. I keep it on me at all times,
for safety purposes.

                                                      In the event of open fire

                                                      you’d be a hazard I told them when I, regrettably, couldn’t
                                                                                                    allow the lot of them into the party.

                  We’re part of the same

political party, according to all the numbers I’ve seen.
When I shut the schools down, I was just

                                                      doing what must be done

                                                      to balance a city budget out of wack. When I put what
                                                                                                   I found in his trunk on balance,

                  it was enough to tip the scale

towards a felony. I used to be a waiter, and they never
tipped very well in my experience.

                                                      While we were placing bets,

                                                      I noticed him tip his hand ever so slightly and there was
                                                                                          a race face card in it. He didn’t seem

                  like much of a bluffer, so I stood

my ground. On the grounds of meritthat’s how I got
into Yale. I’m just not that into black

                                                      girls, personally. I mean, personally,

                                                      I don’t SEE color. I’m so sorry, I really didn’t see you there.
                                                                                                There they go, using that word again:

                  if they can say it, then why can’t I?

I can’t understand why everybody is so sensitive these days.
I admit, what I said sounded a little bit

                                                      insensitive, but believe me, I’m not

                                    a racist. I’m a realist: if I see a pack of hoods approaching, loitering,
                                                                                                  acting a littering of public sidewalks,

                  I simply move to the other side.

I keep it on me at all times, for purposes: in the event of a
hazard, open fire I told them, regrettably,

                                                      looking at the body splayed before me.
 

 

Krystal Languell

Text

 

PUNISHMENT METED OUT

 

 

my grandmother: no contact for five years

 

my aunt: no contact for eight years

 

my biological grandmother: no contact for 12 years

 

her partner died and in the obituary, my cousins were listed but not my sister or me or our parents

 

the grandmother moved to North Carolina in the 90s and said the black people there were more respectful

 

periodically she tattooed her eyeliner and brows

 

when we saw my aunt at my grandfather’s funeral she said, “I hate being divorced”

 

a few years later we found her husband’s mug shot online

 

no contact for eight years

 

wanted for three years

 

he fled the state of South Carolina when he was due in court on charges of child rape

 

my parents’ best friends: no contact in several years

 

since they divorced and the husband cited her son’s black girlfriend and her black children as a reason

 

the wife moved to Belgium and remarried

 

she’d worked in a cardboard factory previously

 

she’d drive to Walkerton to pick up her grandchild

 

the husband had sometimes been drunk enough to piss himself

 

the husband had told me that if I were to plan a marriage, he must approve the groom

 

this is just one side and some friends

 

a handful of dead ends

 

her boss stole from the homeless shelter

 

he faked sales receipts on donated cars for decades

 

she photocopied years’ worth and kept them at home

 

he’s dead now

 

she was afraid he would burn down their house if she leaked it

 

my sister lost four friends to suicide

 

and referred to loss in a mock interview, & the counselor thought she meant ‘friends moving away for
college’

 

our grandmother had an address book with a ✓ next to people to notify of her death

 

we didn’t get a ✓

 

Do I think anyone will see the poems?

 

No, I don’t think anyone will see the poems

 

a white girl touched me with her toes

 

she was barefoot with her feet up in Latin Sports Club

 

I recoiled

 

I decide against responding when my aunt sends me a message

 

“Why, because they’re acting like vultures?”

 

you can punish your family after you die

 

you can punish anyone

 

I used to ride in the Escalade with my aunt’s ex-husband

 

he took me to a property he bought in Myrtle Beach

 

a young man had set his girlfriend’s clothes on fire, then the fire got out of hand

 

she moved back in with her parents

 

in the condo, I looked through her burnt things

 

he was turned on by the smoke smell

 

by the neighbor watching us, clipping his toenails outside

 

I liked his money and I wanted him to like me

 

he watched me notice a ceramic dolphin & told me I could take anything I wanted

 

I touched it, I didn’t take it

 

message boards about his crimes teach me his family is rich on owning trailer parks

 

money never not dirty

 

dirty never not worse than dirt

 

when he sold the red Suburban, he printed a new title off the internet

 

his friend came over to look at my x-rays while I puked percocet into a sand bucket in his bed

 

he should have let me go

 

what happened happened

 

am I afraid of anyone?

 

yeah, I’m afraid of a few people

 

as a child I was warned about airing dirty laundry

 

(it’s probably not the people you would guess)

 

another poem about corruption

 

a stranger told me I was lucky to get out alive

 

I am lucky to be alive, but I am pretending to be dead

 

or I am pretending they are dead

 

you can punish your family before you die, too

 

he cut her face with a car key

 

she hid in the closet

 

my biological grandmother had a daycare with her partner on U.S. 31 for a while

 

they wore similar flannels & mock turtlenecks, not matchy-matchy

 

north of Indianapolis: not Carmel and not Meridian Street

 

my mom drove us to visit one summer and it was boarded up

 

she used to call my parents’ landline and leave a voicemail every few years

 

she’d say “It’s been a terrible year” and not leave a callback number

 

“Everybody’s shit stinks,” my sister wise-asses

 

No contact

 

No contact

 

No funeral

 

No obituary

 

No future

 

No contact

 

No ✓

 

No

 

 

Nicole Sealey

Text

 

Legendary

 

I’d like to be a spoiled rich white girl.
—Venus Xtravaganza

I want to be married in church. In white.
Nothing borrowed or blue. I want a white
house in Peekskill, far from the city—white
picket fence fencing in my lily-white
lilies. O, were I whiter than white.
A couple kids: one girl, one boy. Both white.
Birthright. All the amenities of white:
golf courses, guesthouses, garage with white
washer/dryer set. Whatever else white
affords, I want. In multiples of white.
Two of nothing is something, if they’re white.
Never mind another neutral. Off-white
won’t do. What I’d like is to be white
as the unsparing light at tunnel’s end.

 

 

 

It’s Not Fitness, It’s a Lifestyle

 

I’m waiting for a white woman
in this overpriced Equinox
to mistake me for someone other
than a paying member. I can see it now—
as I leave the steam room
(naked but for my wedding ring?)
she’ll ask whether I’ve finished
cleaning it. Every time
I’m at an airport I see a bird
flying around inside, so fast I can’t
make out its wings. I ask myself
what is it doing here? I’ve come
to answer: what is any of us?

 

 

 

Sarah Duncan

Text

Cataloguing White Domestic Terrorism: A Word Mapping Project

 

Three groups of people were asked to define “white domestic terrorism” in their own words. The first group was informal; it was a group of the artist’s friends, and they answered on a social media site. The second group was the congregation of Judson Memorial Church, in New York City, who were asked this question using an online, anonymous, form. The final group was comprised of University of Wyoming students, faculty, and staff, chosen at random for in-person interviews.

The answers and definitions provided were then taken apart, word by word, and sorted in a list format. The artist carefully recorded the frequency of each word that was said or written in response to her prompt, (although it should be noted that most prepositions and articles were removed). The results of these interviews, both in person, via survey, and via social media, are found in three “word maps.” Each Word Map (1, 2, and 3) have a “Before” and “After.” The “Before” is the text mapped out clearly with repeated words in bold. The “After” is a new word map, made up only of the words that had been in bold in the “Before” list.

This project is unapologetically aimed at dissecting the ways in which people speak about the violence of whiteness—and most importantly, in the ways they do not speak about it, and what that says about the gravity and the further violence encompassed in white supremacy. What words do people find when presented with such a question? What examples do they use? What words do they avoid? What surprisingly connections can be found—linked, drawn, mapped—when the words are stacked on top of each other on the page? And what fills the gaps?

 


 

 

Word Map 3. Before

 

Ago Abortion Awhile Actually Lot All Attacking Afraid Against Answer Acts Answer Acts Against Anything Anything Answer Answer Around Any Any Action All Answer After Anti Any Acts Apply Another Against Aged

Bombed Basically Basically Back Black Because Bring Because Bad Being Buildings Bombings Bunch Basically Because Before Basically

Case Colorado Clinic Comes Confidence Comes Church Church Comes Comes Church Community Community Comes Church Cases Common Caused Came Come Call Colored Criminal Crack Caucasian Committing Could Could Could Case Could Caucasian Civilians Civilian Caucasian Can’t Country Certain Cultural Certain Cultural Countries Christians Christian Country

Define Definition Doesn’t Domestic Don’t Does Do Does Does Domestic Doing Down Domestic Doing Don’t Down Don’t Doing Don’t Domestic Don’t Don’t Domestic Define Do Do Define Domestic Domestic Don’t Don’t David Define

Exactly East Else Either

First First Fair Fraction First FBI Features Fantasy

Guess Goal Going Guess Gonna Gonna Gonna Going Groups Going Guess Guess Guess Guess Guess Gonna Getting Guess Guess Going Guess Guess Group Groups Guess Groups

Happened Happens Homophobia Homophobia Health Hear Happened How Hadn’t Heard His Here Hear

I I Ideology I I’d I I I I I Inside I Islamophobia I I I I’m Irrational I I I Immigrants Individuals I It’d Include I I If I I I I Interesting I’m I I I I I I’m I’m Involved I I I I I I I I I Ideal Imagine Ideal Interpretation Instructor Indigenous I I I I I I I

Just Just Just Just Just Just Just Just Just Just Just Just Just 

Kinda Know Know Know Know Know Killing Kansas Know Killing Know Know Know Know Kinda Know Know Kinda Know Koresh Ku Klux Klan

Long Least Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Like Little Like Local Like Like Like Like Like  Like Loose Like Like Like Like

Mind Mind Mind Mean Mind Mind Me Majority Muslims Middle My Mind Mean My Mind Mental Maybe Me My Me Muslim Man Much Many My Middle Men

Not News Need No Neutral Not Nationwide Normally News Not Not Neo-Nazis Name No

Overall Obviously Outside Other Only Out Other Organizations Normally Okay Other Okay One Other One Other Old Own Okay Organizations

People’s People Probably People Place Person Person People Places Plotted Phrase People People People People People People Person People People People Perpetrated People People Pretty Part Populations

Question Question Question

Results Really Really Racism Really Records Reason Reminds Refugees Relating Referring Recently Really Restricted

System Say Saw Shot Something Say Stuff Stuff Shooting Stuff School Shootings Shootings States Small States Said Shootings Say Say Saved Say Something Something Something Sounds Say Some Somalian Somalian Supremacist Somebody Street Somebody Sorry Sorry Strange Sustain Supremacy States Says Supremacist Supremacist

Too There’s Think Terrorism Things There Threats Threat Think Those Terrorism There’s Terrorism Terrorism Thing Take Thing Their Think Terrorism They Them They Things Them Them They Think They Terrorism Think Terrorizing Terrorism Think Terroristic Terrorism These Things Terrorism Terrorizing  Threatening Them Thing Think Think Think Terrorism Thought Terrorism Terrorism They Testament Think They’re Their Think Terror Think

Undermine Up U.S. Up United United Up Usually United Usually Usually Usually

Violence Very Very Violence Violence

Would Where Was What Which Well Who White What Would Within Where Within What White When Would What Would What Where When White White White Who Who Worship Where Work Where White When White Who’s White Who’s Where White White Who Went Was What Way White White White White Who’s Word White Who Who What What Would White What Would White White Wow What’s Waco What Was What Was White Who White Would Would White Whether Would White White White White When

Xenophobic

Ya Ya You Yeah You You’re Ya Yeah You’re You’re Your Yeah Yeah Yeah Ya Yeah Yeah Your Yeah Yeah

 

 

 

 

 

 

Susan Briante

Text

 

Mother is Marxist

 

My daughter plays hide and seek with white floor-length panel curtains in front of a window in our living room. Dusk traffics light, the light scans her. She is gold leafed in the curtain before the window.

Can’t you see her gold?

 

**

 

“I do not know whether you have seen the building of the Metropolitan Company in New York. . . .” Charles Coolidge Read stated before the Massachusetts Legislature in 1895. “Go up to the directors’ room where the floor is soft with velvet carpets and the room is finished in rich red mahogany…there you will find these gentlemen who think what a beautiful thing this child insurance is. . .”

Read insisted that from every block of marble in the Metropolitan Company building peered “the hungry eyes of some starving child.”

In 1895, one could purchase a $10 life insurance policy for a one-year-old child or a $33 policy for a 10-year-old child for 3 cents a week. One and a half million children were insured in the United States in 1896. By 1902, that number climbed to over 3 million.

Advocates said the policies served as funerary insurance as well as protected poor and working class families against a loss of income at a time when child labor was common. Opponents, like Read, believed it provided incentive for poor or working class parents to neglect or outright murder their children for profit. Such opponents never questioned the ease with which they believed poor or working class parents might be tempted to kill their children. Actual incidents of infanticide related to child insurance appear to be rare.

Still, a writer for the Boston Evening Transcript declared: “No manly man and no womanly woman should be ready to say that their infants have pecuniary value.”

 

**

 

When we lived in the two-bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas, once every a couple of months I would hear gunshots, often on Saturday nights, usually late enough that I was in bed.

We purchased the house through the Obama tax credit program for firsttime homebuyers, a response to the economic crisis of 2008 and the housing market crash. Because we could not afford to put 20 percent down, we had two mortgages, the second of which included a balloon payment.

We purchased the two-bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas because we were trying to have a baby and the neighborhood had the best public elementary school as well as two Montessori charter schools.

 

**

 

The average per student expenditure for public elementary and secondary schools in 2012-13 ranged from a high in Vermont of $19,752 per student to a low in Arizona of $6,949.

 

**

 

The market scans my child, calculates pecuniary value.

Parents register and respond often seeking out the places (the “good” neighborhood or private school) where a child’s value is high enough in relation to the needs of others to make them relatively safe

or a parent may reaffirm existing market valuations.

And if the child is female or presents as female
And if the child is queer or presents as queer
And if the child is poor or presents as poor
And if the child is of color or ethnic or presents as of color or ethnic

a little spark of mica in a field of sand.

 

**

 

Pregnant women and new mothers have a heightened sense of smell and easily disrupted patterns of sleep.

 

**

 

One night after a particularly loud series of gunshots heard from the bedroom in our two-bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas, Farid called the police. I don’t remember what he said, what kind of injury we could have reported, what response we expected.

When we bought the house, we joined the neighborhood association. We also had the option of paying an additional $180 for “an off-duty police officer to patrol our neighborhood each week” as well as “answer our emails” and provide “special patrols” while we were away.

 

**

 

Per day, per pupil, per square foot

many parents may want to register and respond to the values the market places on their child, but a parent’s own depressed value may leave her with scant time to challenge market valuations of her children, child, self.

“Boys are easier to raise than girls,” my mother told me.

I feel my depressed value as a woman
as well as my surplus value as a white ethnic.

The consultant in the TED talk teaches me to stand bigger.

 

**

 

In 1908 a ten-year-old boy working in a mill made 30 cents a day.

In 1911 an eight-year-old girl shucking oysters made 30 cents to 35 cents a day. An eight-year-old boy, who had been shucking for three years, earned 45 cents a day.

In 1917 a ten-year-old girl working on a tobacco farm made 50 cents a day.

As recently as 2014 the Human Rights Watch reported it remained “perfectly legal” in the United States “for a 12-year-old to work 50 or 60 hours a week in tobacco fields, as long his or her parents’ consent and the work doesn’t directly conflict with school hours.”

 

**

 

Often the day after hearing gunfire from my bedroom of our two bedroom house on a busy street on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas, I would scan the Internet looking for some piece of news to link to the sounds. I never found mention of a shootout or injury or killing.

The gunshots existed as fragment in a storyline that seemed to have no relation to me, a non sequitur, a piece of conversation overheard in a language in which I had no fluency.

But those metaphors are wrong.

My legislative representatives cannot or will not pass gun control policy, my tax dollars support the purchase of surplus military equipment by police. The white imaginary criminalizes non-white bodies.

 

**

 

On December 2, 2014 the Dow closed up 17,879.
On November 22, 2014 the Dow was closed.
On November 20, 2014 the Dow closed up 17,719.
On August 19, 2014 the Dow closed up 16,919.
On August 12, 2014 the Dow closed down 16,560.
On August 9, 2014 the Dow was closed.
On August 5, 2014 the Dow closed down 16,429.
On August 2, 2014 the Dow was closed.
On July 17, 2014 the Dow closed down 16,976.
On March 22, 2014 the Dow was closed.
On February 16, the Dow was closed.
On January 28, 2014 the Dow closed up 15,928.
On January 16, 2014 the Dow closed down 16,417.

On each one of those days, one unarmed person of color (most frequently an African-American man, sometimes more than one) was killed in the custody of police according to information released by the NAACP. This list is by no means exhaustive as no central agency tracks the number of police shootings or killings of unarmed victims in a comprehensive way.

 

**

 

From 2001-2011, Department of Homeland Security grants provided police departments with $34 billion to fund their militarization, making profits for military contractors and for-profit law enforcement training organizations

like special ops supplier Blackhawk Industries (founded by a former Navy SEAL), ThunderSledge breaching tools, Lenco Armored Vehicles bulletproof box trucks, KDH Defense Systems’s body armor, like HaloDrop “flying robotic services for serious incidents and situations,” D-Co, Leaders and Training LLC, like Innovative Tactical Training Solutions, like Winchester Ammunition.

Every altercation helps justify the militarization of police

and someone makes money makes money makes money makes money.

 

**

 

I want to teach my child to shed numbers like a skin in the summer, in the shimmering heat of the ever-warming summer.

 

**

 

We were able to afford the two-bedroom house on the fringes of a “good” neighborhood in Dallas because it sat on a street with six lanes of traffic separated down the middle by a small park or a large median of trees.

Most of the windows in the house were painted shut. Many rattled from the vibration of passing cars.

We kept a small padlock on the gate at the top of our driveway.

Before the padlock, men sometimes came to our door smelling of liquor selling magazines or asking to use our phone. Once I watched an old sedan lurch onto the sidewalk in front of our house. A woman shouted from the driver’s seat while a man reluctantly exited from the passenger side, pieces of clothing flying out the door and window after him.

From the front windows of the house you could see cottonwoods, oaks, and black walnut trees. From almost anywhere in the house you could hear the traffic.

 

**

 

Mothers attempt to erase integers, to move decimals, to point out discrepancies in the ledger, disrupt the protocols of exchange.

When the mothers of the victims of police violence march on Washington, DC,

when mothers in Central America set their children like paper lanterns

on a breeze,

when warehouses of children wait at our border,

Mother is Marxist, exposing as false and pernicious the mystification of capitalist instantiations of value, promiscuous relations of value and their violence.

Mother is not a biological or relational subject position, but can be an attitude of resistance before the market.

 

**

 

Underfunded public schools show their cinder block, reveal their district paint purchased from the lowest bidder, can’t hide their too many desks, their too tired, their underpaid.

You see it in their lunch trays.

Private schools flaunt their walls of windows, famous architect library, flagstone pathways, full-time counselor.

In such places, children learn to read
their market value.

 

**

 

Scholar Viviana A. Zelizer explains: “Children’s insurance began as outright bets among 16th-century European businessmen on the birth and lives of boys and girls.”

 

**

 

A police officer flaunts his gun and in the amount of time your child is afforded to pull their hand from their pocket

you can learn their market value.

 

**

 

Value differentiates. Metaphor makes false equations.

When we talk about metaphor we talk about “vehicles,” but metaphor can erase distance, conceal the mode of transport: the ride hiding in the wheel well of the 747 or the journey along a dry riverbed through the Sonoran night.

The work of all mothers is not equal, although the goal to challenge market valuations may be the same. The market exploits our attachments, makes its violent calculations. The market, mothers, divides and divides us.

And someone makes money makes money makes money makes money.

I want to slur the equations.

 

**

 

My love for my daughter is dumb and simple
all of my feeling focused, funneled
into the leaky sewer line
running down the front yard of our two-bedroom house
from which the black walnut tree feeds.

 

**

Sentimentality is a shard from the shop front window of family. What sliver of American plate glass do you see?

I sympathize with the desire to throw a brick through a shop window and steal a television set.

But sympathy is not enough.

 

**

 

Children are not paper lanterns set on a breeze.

Imagine cutting off an arm to save the body.

Dear mother, you feel like the arm.

 

**

 

In Tucson, we buy a 2-2 house in a “good neighborhood” with a neighborhood association. We no longer hear gunshots at night. We no longer have the chance to pay for additional police patrols or attention. We hope to get our daughter into a better elementary school than the one in our neighborhood through an open enrollment lottery.

Often we fall asleep to sound of helicopters or fighter planes taking off or landing at the nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base: the A-10 Thunderbolt II or the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, the HC-130J Combat King II transport or the F-16C or F-16D Fighting Falcon.

The financial advisory giant Deloitte predicts continued decline in revenue for the global defense sector, with the U.S. defense budget “a key driver of this decline.” Still Deloitte gave A+ ratings to stocks in this sector including Textron, Honeywell International, Huntington Ingalls Industries, and the Curtiss-Wright Corp.

 

**

 

Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, scan the Sonoran desert for moving bodies.

There are no accurate numbers for the children killed by U.S. drones outside of our country.

Sometimes when I look up I can see the pale underbelly of the HC-130J Combat King II transport gliding over the streets of my neighborhood or the playground of my daughter’s preschool like a hand passing over a velvet rug in the boardroom of an insurance company.

 

**

 

If we traveled far enough, we could find a 1000 children waiting on the border;

they were walking toward us.

 

 

 


 

Works Cited

Ackerman, Spencer. “41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes – the facts on the ground.” The Guardian. 24 November 2014. Web. 05 June 2015.

Becker, Jo. “Child Laborers. In America. In 2014.” Human Rights Watch, 17 Sept. 2014. Web. 05 June 2015.

Hine, Lewis. “National Child Labor Committee Collection.” Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (Library of Congress). Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 05 June 2015.

Juzwiak, Rich, and Aleksander Chan. “Unarmed People of Color Killed by Police, 1999-2014.” Gawker. N.p., 8 Dec. 2014. Web. 05 June 2015.

Lee, Jaeah. “Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?” Mother Jones. Mother Jones, 15 Aug. 2014. Web. 05 June 2015.

“Rankings of the States 2013 and Estimates of School Statistics 2014.” NEA-Ranking of the States. NEA, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 05 June 2015.

Schulz, Andrew and Becker, G. W. “Local Cops Ready for War With Homeland Security-Funded Military Weapons.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 21 Dec. 2011. Web. 05 June 2015.

Zelizer, Viviana A. “The Price and Value of Children: The Case of Children’s Insurance.” American Journal of Sociology 86.5 (1981): 1036. JSTOR. Web. 17.

For additional and important work on race and value, see Lyndon Barrett’s Blackness and Value, Fred Moten’s In the Break, and Katherine McKittrick’s “Mathematics of Black Life.”

Evie Shockley

Text

 

studies in antebellum literature, ch. 5
(or, topsy-turvy)

 

19th-century novels paint
quite the chromatic picture

of america—take the white
whale, say, or the scarlet

letter—but they aren’t
all tarred with the same

brush. for comic contrast
some give us black humor:

national relief projected
onto one dark little head,

in turn projecting, in all
directions, a local choler.

# # #

antebellum lit still tinges
tongues with shady tints.

our language is loaded,
packing heat, a weapon

concealed only, it seems,
from the blissful. who’d

say x used to be a small
college town, but then ten

years ago it just grew like
topsy? i’d say it grew like

kudzu, maybe. or like
wildfire. not like topsy.*

* things that just grew
like topsy: the middle

passage death toll.
the black prison

population. the crop
of negro spirituals. like

crazy. like a weed. like
a motherless child.

 

Simone White

Text

from Dear Angel of Death

 

Fold Crease Wrinkle

 

What is power? What is intimacy? How do we know this at all? How to communicate it? And where or when are these questions, and their relation, posed with greater force—political force, psychic force, historical force—than within the precinct of the New World slave estate, and within the time of New World slavery? […] If the intimacy of power suggests the sheer difficulty of difference, the trouble endemic to determining where the white imagination ends and the black imagination begins, then the power of intimacy suggests, with no less tenacity and no less significance, that our grand involvement across the color line is structured like the figure of an envelope, folds folded within folds: a black letter law whose message is obscured, enveloped, turned about, reversed. Here a structure of violence is inscribed problematically in narrative, an inscription that can only struggle and fail to be something other than a writing-off, or a writing-over. [1]

I have proposed the image of a fold, sometimes substituting ‘crease’ or ‘wrinkle,’ to describe an aesthetic practice of desire that is what blackness is, and I have proposed this as an alternative to the image of blackness as a sound, an archive of sound. I’m willing to take it for granted that folding and the idea of folding is elemental in language intending to describe spaces that are brought into contact with other spaces (“rubbing”), and natural also to languages of intimacy and of eros. That is, the way folding is in the air is kind of generic – at least not proprietary – and it may be that I am more interested in the word and action in its ordinary (as opposed to philosophical) sense, but there is a dialogue of the fold specific to the question of how blackness works as a historical relation.

Jared Sexton, in his impassioned essay “The Social Life of Social Death: On Afro-Pessimism and Black Optimism,” quoted above, ends up thinking the fold (echoing deep out of Du Bois and probably accidentally crossing over Baraka’s encounter with Du Bois’ “grandest work,” Black Reconstruction—or not, or, hiding a citation to that work in Benjaminian style, as I have said before, in the orthodox philosophical style, making a claim to originality, which sticks in my craw) as “our grand involvement across the color line … structured like the figure of an envelope, folds folded within folds” (30). I am babylike in my reading practice in that I can still be startled by unfamiliar or sudden noises; I startle at the notion of the fold as an image of “our grand involvement across the color line.” Grand? What is grand here? Does Sexton mean this word to indicate the temporal scope of “our involvement” or its volume, the large space it occupies in the whole of things? Or, having a manner that is self-consciously fancy and ultimately delusional about the intimacy of the intimacy? For, if “involvement across the color line” is a special or specific form of an intimate relation of power, Sexton’s statements imply an understanding of the space of racial order as genuinely double-sided (in spite of his own questions about “an untenably strict delimitation of inside and out” that comes about throug faulty understanding of “interdiction” and “transgression” (Moten’s terms)  [Sexton 9]). The crux of the color-line relation is the relation of positions that are genuinely different from each other. Black and white difference is real and reified by Sexton’s folding, whose operation moves the different together in language (“in narrative”) in such a way that they lay atop one another, cover one another, cancel one another (“obscured, enveloped, turned about, reversed”). The unfunny agony of the intimate power relation is the impossibility of being as one –even as the different depend upon one another to differentiate themselves as racialized subjects.

Sexton and Moten are in in dialogue about, let’s not forget,—I really want to say this right—the question of whether black life needs a (its own or specific) “philosophy of life” in order to fully describe blackness as that modern form of life essentially “associated with a certain sense of decay” (I would add a sense of foreboding), which they undertake to study, most notably, in the work of Franz Fanon—work developed more recently in the U.S. case by Saidiya Hartman, Sexton himself, Nahum Dimitri Chandler and Frank Wilderson III, among others. These theorists end up contributing to the elaboration of general philosophical principles about the ways in which persons live as objects (or, depending on who you are reading, how certain categories of person outlive historical objecthood), but they do so with the specific understanding that the “case of blackness” /“positionality” of black people emerges under slavery; that is, there is agreement about the fact that we are dealing with a form of life that does not exist but for slavery, that slavery is the condition that creates the “lived experience of the black.” The critical question becomes, “What does slavery mean for the very conception of the objective pronoun ‘us’?” (30), a question Sexton’s essay gets to in conversation with Fred Moten’s 2008 essay “The Case of Blackness.”[2] How are black people to understand their relations with each other through time and space when being in the time and space of “the black” is undeniably to exist as the most wretched, degraded and abject set of beings that ever lived? (But David Walker has a sense of humor.) In the past in the present in the future what can black people themselves recognize as proper to themselves as survivors of successive plots to render blackness as living death, wretchedness and thingliness? How will we know our likeness to one another if we are no longer within the slave regime? And, if we are no longer there and no longer that (I’m not sure that Hartman accepts this, and I’m not sure whether there is a sharp line of delineation at Jubilee or, say, passage of the Civil Rights Act, for Chandler, Sexton and Wilderson), then are we us no longer? These are weirdly simple questions that precede and lead toward elaboration of “the regulatory metaphysics” of our art as representation of a philosophy of life that comes into being because of (let’s just say because) what becomes, because of slavery, the color line (Moten, “Case,” 178).  The dialogue is also about, as Moten writes, the environment in which blackness acts and reacts: “the air of the thing that escapes enframing—an often unattended movement that accompanies largely unthought positions and appositions” (“Case,” 182). The space and spaces where blackness can be perceived to begin and end (in the mind), as Sexton says, are not abstract: they are defined by a succession of hostile racial regimes that aim to crush blackness out of existence.

In the context of the Moten/Sexton dialogue, which I’m declaring an internal, and therefore infolding, critique of the problem of black nothingness – what is the charge, positive or negative, of nothingness? – to speak of folding is to speak of the stakes of distributing black presence and imaginings in the world. What are the effects of that distribution worth? What is being touched by the presence of/living blacks going to mean? The language of folding thus highlights the encounter between blackness and its outside. What’s delightful about Moten’s formulation – “the air of the thing that escapes enframing” — naming the surrounds and atmosphere of blackness, is the way he remains agnostic about the delineation of a boundary; he allows the difference of outside blackness to remain faint or dimly perceived. The difference is respiratory, unnoticed. Blackness is its own place, always next to the place where place is thought to begin, whose inside is knowledge of the falseness of, the defiance of, enclosure. As in Black Reconstruction, leaving that bullshit behind.

The club, our subcenobitic thing, our block chapel, is a hard row of improvisational contact, a dispossessive intimacy of rubbing, whose mystic rehearsal is against the rules or, more precisely, is apposed to rule, and is, therefore, a concrete social logic often (mis)understood as nothing but foolishness, which is, on the other hand, exactly and absolutely what it is.[3]

The human condition that defies enclosure, yet requires togetherness, and is “against the rules” Moten suggests, is discoverable, naturally, only in metaphysical/“mystical” “rehearsal” (here comes the music), another word for practice. This condition is always (never) coming to pass, becoming, even in its concrete-ness, even given the evidentiary impact of its constitutive sociality. The covenant that makes our “thing” a thing that can be apprehended is the promise to stay together in the absurd or “foolish” space of the self that accepts itself as black, surrounds itself with blacks, a promise that is made and renewed by a self in “constant improvisational contact” with other facets of the world, organic and inorganic alike: earth and sky and the human and his air. Lingering within Moten’s meditation on black life as “our life in the folds” is a poet’s sense that the action of black life is not the action of “obscur[ing], envelop[ing], [turning about, reversing]” that Sexton imagines as the characteristic shape or event of racialized “involvement.” The rehearsal of which Fred Moten speaks is always going to find its highest expression beyond the explanatory capacity of the fundamentally juridical system of opposition and antagonism that the “the color line,” or, being to one side or another of the opposition that is the color line, implies. Even if that opposition is understood to be initiated by the basest falsehood backed up by systematic violence and partially constituted by that violence, to say the “color line” conjures, even if I think in terms of the vastness of Du Bois’ sense of the material plus the metaphysical remainder, for me, a whole series of thoughts that unhelpfully close the circuit of thinking about oneself. “At stake,” Moten writes, “is the curve, the suppleness and subtlety, not of contemplation on social life but of contemplative social life; at stake is the force of an extra-phenomenological poetics of social life” (“Nothingness,” 756). The highest expression of elementary blackness:

Chant and kōan and moan and Sprechgesang, and babble and gobbledygook, le petit nègre, the little nigger, pidgun, baby talk, bird talk, Bird’s talk, bard talk, bar talk, our locomotive bar walk and black chant, our pallet cries and whispers, our black notes and black cant, the tenor’s irruptive habitation of the vehicle, the monastic preparation of a more than three-dimensional transcript, an imaginal manuscript we touch upon the walls and one another, so we can enter into the hold we’re in, where there is no way we were or are. (757)

This litany alerts us to a key aspect of the liveliness of Moten’s work: its theory of blackness prizes nonce description, crowding together epithet character love sound, the illogic and impossibility of the human being “a slave,” only to allow for the dissipation of description’s momentary accuracy. He aligns himself with the edge of the envelope, as it were, before it is an envelope, where it is all cutting edge and pulp and air and is held and is moving. The analogy in speech is the eruption of “babble and gobbledygook”—the poetic space. You cannot really “inscribe” anything on the surface of flux. You cannot “narrate” a “structure of violence” upon it. There is no way to prove this.

It’s unclear, as yet, whether to fold, philosophically, when it comes to the black “philosophy of life” of which Sexton and others speak – most notably and searchingly for this discussion, Amiri Baraka in Black Music — can mean anything other than to involve oneself in the history of involvement as antagonism and intractable opposition, penetrating to split the ontological fields of antagonists, as Frank WIlderson has it, across the one and only color line.

Also—why do we have to talk like this in order to describe black people’s being together? Who cares what Gilles Deleuze said about folding? When I relate back to him through the Sexton-Moten matrix of men’s thinking, is that a retrograde act of criticism that strengthens the history of the ownership of all known words by thought that obsessively measures its relation to knowledge that can only be white and male? Black women can’t think from Thomas Jefferson right on out to lunch … . What is necessary in the discourse of folding? What caused me to happen upon it? This:

Why would something be folded, if it were not to be enveloped, wrapped or put into something else? It appears that here [the point at which ‘simple intuition’ reveals the final cause of the fold] the envelope acquires its ultimate or perhaps final meaning: it is no longer an envelope of coherence or cohesion, like an egg, in the ‘reciprocal envelopment’ of organic parts. Nor even a mathematical envelope of adherence or adhesion, where a fold still envelops other folds, as in the enveloping envelope that touches an infinity of curves in an infinity of points. It is an envelope of inherence or of unilateral ‘inhesion’: inclusion or inherence is the final cause of the fold, such that we move indiscernibly from the latter to the former. Between the two, a gap is opened which makes the envelope the reason for the fold: what is folded is the included, the inherent. It can be stated that what is folded is only virtual and currently exists only in an envelope, in something that envelops it  (Deleuze 22).

The color line is “something” that envelops the possibility of becoming folded in black imagination (and that folding is the subject of black critical theory), a necessary and insufficient station on the path of an unfolding form of self insofar as we pass through it as a scrim of fact as we move nearer to a self-on-its-way. Yet, the color line is not of this world; the color line has no soul and cannot ever inhere in a human being. If we had been in the hold and were never held,  we were never, neither, actually excluded by “the black letter of the law,” which all along wrote something like the depression of our inclusion as the color line; black subjectivity is the horrible harmony of power and intimacy; the color line is exactly the manifestation of imperial failure to constitute a subjectivity of racialized difference. That which constitutes the subject can be understood to differ from that which comes inside the person insofar as what comes inside is fundamentally organic: the being of which we speak is alive. Let us take the physical limits of the body under investigation somewhat literally when it is time for us to believe in its natural possibility, and not only when it is time to meditate on the various ways in which it has been harmed. The living body is not only a thing/object to which violence can be done. Imagine the “more than three dimensional transcript” of the system of thinking black imagination’s possibilities as a live system, soft. Imagine that the color line can never really touch anyone or anything. When we talk about folding, we attempt, I heard Mei-mei Burssenbrugge say, to bring together earth and sky. The discourse of folding is a discourse of relation that touches both the action of bringing together elements that are infinitely far apart and those that are infinitely close (inherent). When we talk about folding, we gain access to a language of betweenness with tremendous symbolic sweep, language appropriate to figuring blackness as that which is so far from the subject whose objecthood it names. When we think about folding we give primary attention to something “virtually” perceived, meta/physical notions by way of which it is becomes possible to reorganize our notions of interior and exterior (Earth/Sky/Fourfold/the stars). Do you see? Black imagination already is; blackness is a thing whose inherence is partially concealed by the horror which (presently) envelops it.

I don’t think it is the case, then, that blackness, even when we take into consideration the distinction between blackness and black subjectivity sometimes made in the developing discourse of black being,[4] can be, as Nahum Chandler proposes, “atopic in the sense that it is outside of spatiality as a given” (137). Indeed, I do not know what it would mean to locate existence outside “spatiality as a given” unless we are ultimately saying something like “the black is outside history as given,” true only in the radical and exclusively discursive sense developed by Spillers, Hartman, Wilderson, Chandler and others. The black is outside time/the black is outside space? How can this be, even if the black is recorded as outside ontology or constructed as a remnant in the language of language so that she is inconceivable in the face of her gore? Here I am, we are here together, inside this time-space together. The desire to eradicate me from the frame cannot accomplish its object completely; therefore, the total eradication from being of the black is, by definition, a total failure. The nowness I inhabit is an inherence that rebukes my concealment, the extremity of my inclusion. This is how I have come to understand Spillers’ flesh/body distinction: no you without the devastation of my body. This modern world folds us together, envelops us in the color line and the discovery of blackness as rending itself, or gap, or inherence is the discovery of the true time: that which is possible at the level of the human at any given instant. What might be or become if we give ourselves over to a theory of that space that is without history. This is very hard, both to give oneself over to the now and to theorize its instantaneous continuity.

 

 

[1] Jared Sexton, “The Social Life of Social Death: On Afro-Pessimism and Black Optimism,” Intensions 5 (Fall/Winter 2011), 29-30.

[2] Criticism 50:2 (Spring 2008), 177-218.

[3] “Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh),” South Atlantic Quarterly 112:4 (Fall 2013): 737-780, 754.

[4] Fred Moten, “Blackness and Poetry,” University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley, CA, 15 Mar 2015. Mixed Blood Project Talk.

 

 

Pratt Institute MFA

Text

 

Pratt Artists Against White Supremacy

 

August 14, 2017

 

We, the alumni and current students of Pratt’s MFA in Writing & Activism program, stand in solidarity with Charlottesville, VA. We stand in solidarity with the citizens of color in Charlottesville, VA in this moment of [unrest] and forever. To them, we would like to express our great respect, love, and support. We stand in solidarity with the removal of the Robert E. Lee Statue from Emancipation Park. We stand in solidarity against white supremacy. We denounce any action (taken in the name of) white supremacy. We stand in solidarity with the marginalized people making their daily lives in a space founded on oppression.We are a program based in Brooklyn and comprised of students from many different places; our relationship to Charlottesville is one of wholehearted support for the work being done on the ground. As artists, we understand the role art plays in shaping history. We are committed to doing work that interrogates our political, temporal, and physical contexts. We pledge to make work that questions, undermines, and fights white supremacy in all its forms. We stand in solidarity with the work of the UVA Graduate Coalition for the syllabus about the history of Charlottesville and its relationship with white supremacy. We stand in solidarity with the organizations in the city fighting inequality and are grateful for the list of resources compiled by Sara Benincasa and will pledge what we can financially for the residents of Charlottesville, VA. We offer our care to the bodies in danger and under physical threat of white supremacy.

In the wake of antagonistic and incendiary acts organized in the name of patriotism, but with no other motive other than to exact the same brand of violence that eradicated the voices of protesters like Fred Hampton and Huey P. Newton, it becomes crucial to interrogate what narratives our national monuments are contributing to and perpetuating. The action is the call; we are calling out the agents of white supremacy, and inviting those against it to take action, be heard, interrogate. Like Nina Simone, we believe an artist’s’ duty is to reflect the times and tell the truth. All white people benefit from white supremacy. Yes, white supremacist terrorism can happen in 2017, the same way it happened in 2016, in 2015, in 1967, in 1915, in 1492 – not only are white supremacist values carried by people in our society, they are carried in the representations of history we engage with every day, like the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park.

Robert E. Lee was a Confederate leader, which is to say, an advocate for a regime that sought to maintain the violent, racist, and oppressive economic structure of slavery–a pervasive system that continues to impact the daily lives of Black and brown people across the country, and beyond. That the statue of a man who fought for the enslavement of Black people now sits in a public space called Emancipation Park, reflects the warping and normalization of historical anti-Blackness. This warping of history is insidious and encourages violence like that of this weekend’s riots.

The Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park was not commissioned during or directly after the Civil War, it was commissioned, designed, and erected during the height of Jim Crow. It must never be believed that any monuments to the confederacy are simply historical structures of patriotic commemoration when they are, in fact, tools of intimidation–items of terror whose racist history breed, activate, and affirm heinous demonstrations like what has taken place in Charlottesville. Any racist monument erected atop american soil which has been steeped in the blood of Black and brown people is not honorable: it is the utmost disrespect and of the highest disgrace.

“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power – not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they want it not to exist.” – bell hooks

Ways to support and educate:

Link to the UVA Graduate Coalition’s syllabus about white supremacy in Charlottesville: https://tinyurl.com/yd8az9fm

Link to help Unity C-ville as they raise funds to support the victims of the terrorist attacks in Charlottesville, VA: https://www.gofundme.com/united-cville-victim-relief

Link to educate yourself with some details on the monument to Robert E. Lee: https://tinyurl.com/y8q3lb46

Link to learn about other places working to remove monuments to white supremacy: http://takeemdownnola.org

Link to list of resources compiled by Sara Benincasa: https://tinyurl.com/ycc99597

In solidarity,
The Cohort

Note: If you are NOT a member of the Pratt MFA in Writing & Activism community but feel this message resonates with you, please feel free to add your name as well!

Sasha Banks, MFA in Writing & Activism ’17
Adriana Green, MFA in Writing & Activism ’17
Sade LaNay, MFA in Writing & Activism ’17
Ana Reyes-Bonar, MFA in Writing & Activism ’17
Lyric Hunter, MFA in Writing & Activism ’17
Oskar Peacock, MFA in Writing & Activism ’18
Wendy Taliaferro, Arts & Cultural Management ’17
Leah Constantine, Museums & Digital Culture ’18
Rijard Bergeron, MFA in Writing & Activism ’18
Rachel Simons, MFA in Writing & Activism ’18
Parker Peterson, Arts & Cultural Management ’17
Geoffrey Olsen, MFA in Writing & Activism ’17
Lauren La Melle, MA in Media Studies ’18
Jared Hudson, MFA in Writing & Activism ’18
Rose Matías, Community Member
Maria Baker, MFA in Writing & Activism ’17
Luke Degnan, MFA in Writing & Activism ’16
Maria Dizzia, Community Member
Susan Park, Community Member
Lillian L. Matías, Community Member
Jenna Krasowski, Community Member
Chaya Babu, MFA in Writing & Activism ’18
Angelica Matías, University of Rochester
Kate Gavino, BFA in Writing ’11
Bianca Norris, BFA Fashion Design ’17
Allison Martell, BFA Fashion Design ’17
Jeremy Wood, BFA Fashion Design ’18
Maya Tajchman, BFA in Writing ’18
Victoria Brodie, BFA in Writing Alum
Corey Arena, B. Architecture ’19
Adrian Shirk, BFA in Writing ’11
Beth Loffreda, Chair of Writing Department
Todd Shalom, Pratt Faculty
Jane South, Chair of Pratt Fine Arts
Claire Donato, Visiting Assistant Professor, BFA Writing Program
James Hannaham, Associate Professor, Writing Department
Casey Llewellyn, Community Member
Chelsea Klopp, BFA in Writing ’16
Christian Hawkey, Pratt MFA in Writing Faculty
Cecilia Muhlstein, Pratt Faculty
Penelope Bloodworth, Community Member from Unnameable Books
Sonia Farmer, Writing Alum ’09
Peter Catalanotto, Pratt BFA , Faculty Writing Program
Jazmin Peralta, Center for Equity & Inclusion
Lucy Ives, Visiting Assistant Professor, BFA Writing Program
Jeff T. Johnson, Visiting Assistant Professor, BFA Writing Program
Mirene Arsanios, Pratt MFA in Writing Faculty
Karisha Quiogue, B. Architecture ’16
Victoria Brodie, Pratt BFA Writing Alumni
Diana Cage, Adjunct Associate Professor, BFA Writing Program
Maria Damon, Writing Program & HMS faculty
Victoria Brodie, Pratt BFA Writing Alumni
Leah Trojan, BFA in Fashion Design ’15
Sarah Riggs, Visiting Faculty
Ailsa Forlenza, BFA in Writing Alumni
Gina Zucker, Visiting Assistant Professor, BFA
Rachel Levitsky, Professor, Pratt Institute
Laura Elrick, Pratt Writing Department Faculty
Shaina Garfield, BID ’18
Leah Trojan, BFA in Fashion Design ’15
Anna Moschovakis, Faculty, MFA in Writing
Susan Fedynak, MFA in Writing & Activism ’18
Freya Tamayo, Visiting assistant professor
Phoebe Glick, MFA in Writing & Activism ’16
Tara Ali-Khan, BID ’17
Natalie Riquelmy, MFA in Writing & Activism ’18
Gina Abelkop, University of GA

Casey Llewellyn

Text

Position: White Ignorance in the Arts [1]

 

I’ve been thinking about “position” lately in relationship to the controversy surrounding the Whitney Biennial curators’ recent decision to include a white artist, Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till—a fourteen-year-old Black boy murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi—in the open casket where his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, requested his body be displayed to show the world—specifically Black people—the horrifying reality of white violence enacted on Black bodies in the United States.[2] Many artists took positions in relationship to this controversy. Each of our positions were necessarily informed by our places and experiences within society and the art world, but no matter our positions, we were all navigating the white ignorance present in the artist’s creation of the painting and the lack of thought and awareness around its curation. The artist’s ignorance was visible in her assertion that her painting was an appropriate way to show empathy with Till and his mother, and in her choice of subject through which to reckon with American racism.[3] The white ignorance of the piece’s curation, curated by Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks who are both Asian American, lay in the seeming lack of awareness of anyone at or related to the museum—a historically and majority white and culturally white-defined institution—of the pain that the curation of this painting would cause Black people, to say nothing of the critique that many Black artists and others would have of its inclusion. So we all had, and are still having, a conversation with much rigor stemming from, at its root, ignorance and a lack of the rigor that the artist, curators, and institution are responsible for, whether or not they choose to take responsibility.

Ignorance both results from and perpetuates privilege and dominance. People with dominance or privilege in certain respects must work to understand the realities that people who are subject to that dominance and don’t have that privilege are constantly navigating. A decision either to purposefully seek out these narratives or to gloss over them is made by those in positions of dominance—white people, men, straight people, cisgendered people, able-bodied people, middle and owning-class people—each day in their lives and work. But no matter what choice we (they) make, we all must navigate this ignorance interpersonally and institutionally as we move through the world, because power and resources are consolidated around these positions.

No matter what position one occupies, the farther from straight, able-bodied, white man one is—especially in respect to whiteness given the number of white women and white gay men with power in the arts—the farther one is generally from the positions of people who control opportunities given to artists and the discourse around their work. (Though there are notable exceptions.) A 2016 study found that 62% of staff at arts organizations in New York City funded by the Department of Cultural Affairs identified as “non-Hispanic white,” 17 percentage points higher than New York City’s “non-Hispanic white” population. (The study found that representation in terms of gender is was pretty even, with women employed at slightly over 50%.) Eighty-two organizations in the survey of over 1000 organizations were entirely white, while 73 were entirely people of color, but it was noted that many of these have “a specific ethnic focus.” As one might expect, “a specific ethnic focus” was not a noted dynamic of the institutions that were all white.[4] Another study of staff at museums nationally found that “non-Hispanic white” people make up 72% of the staff at member organizations of American Alliance of Museums and occupy 80% of higher level, administrative positions such as: exhibition designers, curators, executive leadership, conservators, publications, and registrars.[5] Artists of all races, backgrounds, and identities in the institutionalized world of arts and culture are navigating a world created and perpetuated by white ignorance. Many cultural institutions continue to actively prioritize the dominance of white and/or male ignorance in our lives, as exemplified by The New York Times recently replacing Charles Isherwood—a white man who dominated the discourse about current theater with dubious taste—with Jesse Green, continuing their tradition of staffing their full-time theatre editorial department entirely with white men.

Of all the responses shared to the curation Schutz’s painting, Christina Sharpe’s words, read aloud by Claudia Rankine at a forum at The Whitney, have stuck with me.[7] Pointing out in the beginning of the essay that part of how white supremacy works is to continually draw conversations about the lives of Black people back around itself and to distract from the intellectual contributions of Black people “around questions of art and representation and looking that might actually move us to another place” with questions formed by “the legitimizing structure of white supremacy.”[8] She reminds us that a neutral position does not exist and can only be “a position of power that refuses to recognize itself as such.” She reminds us also that art can “produce and reproduce” pain. Within this context she asks, “What if we proceed as if we know that? What if we proceed as if all the knowledge that Black people and others have produced about the representations of Black bodies and Black people in Euro-America’s imagination actually mattered? What if this work [the intellectual work of Black people and others] actually shifted how one talks about that work [representations of Black bodies and Black people in Euro-America’s imagination]?”[9] Put another way, what if white institutions and white artists, especially those who profess to want racism to end, learned from the work of Black thinkers, artists and others that critique and offer insight into the circular stream of painful representations and discourse that reify white supremacy in art spaces?[10] What if the people who bear the brunt of the impacts of these representations were listened to and their knowledge was heeded in white institutions? What might be possible if, more often than not, white-led and mainstream institutions and white artists learned and changed rather than publicly doubling down on their ignorance? Then we might be in “another place.”

Institutions led by white people receive the vast majority of resources nationally for their work. The public and private money that funds the arts, like much of the wealth in this country, is inextricable from European colonization, genocide and enslavement of Black and Indigenous people that created opportunities for the rise of capitalism and creation of wealth for a few, wealth maintained subsequently through exploitation of unpaid domestic labor of women and underpaid labor of poor and working class people of all races and nationalities. Relationships between Indigenous people and Europeans in the Americas began necessarily as a navigation of white ignorance with life-or-death stakes for both groups in which Europeans were dependent on Native Americans to teach them how to survive in an unfamiliar land before they killed, enslaved and colonized them to amass wealth for themselves.[11] Despite being taught in a few classes about Native American history (only as it relates to U.S. history), my own ignorance of the history of Native people here endures despite the fact that my ancestors’ survival depended on Native people’s knowledge—one could argue it still does.[12] My ignorance endures in spite of, or perhaps because of, the fact that the land my family and ancestors call “theirs”—rendered theirs by the American legal system—would never be “theirs” without the slavery, genocide, displacement and war (despite ongoing resistance by Native people) waged by European-descended people on Native people. My and many other white people’s ignorance endures despite the fact that over five million Indigenous people living in this country know this history intimately, and it continues each day to define all of our lives.

As a white artist, navigating my own ignorance during the process of making is a part of the work I do. My collaborators, friends, and colleagues, including Black and trans actors that I work with, give me feedback to help me make Black and trans characters in my plays more nuanced, full, and truthful, and re-position them, and white and cis characters, in dynamics that do not inscribe racist and transphobic portrayals. Their feedback is often sorely needed. While I have a made a decision to do the work as an artist to posit positionalities that are liberating instead of ones that reinscribe structural oppression, my ability to do this work well is often dependent on the strength of my collaborations with people who occupy different and less privileged positions in the world because of my ignorance of those positions. In my experience, this is labor that Black and trans artists do on most of the projects they work on that are led by white and cis lead artists; and this is the labor that I would most likely be confronted with, whether I choose to engage it or not, were I collaborating with straight and/or male lead artists.

In the theater world and community that I travel in—one of rehearsal rooms and shows of mostly white-led theaters and play development and producing companies in New York—I have never heard public acknowledgement of this specific labor done by Black, trans, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, other people of color, and/or queer artists, even though it is labor that by nature can only be done by artists with these life experiences. Often their labor will make or break an experience of the work for audience members who share those identities. None of the white-led theaters at which I go to see work want to be thought racist or transphobic (though these ideologies are so ingrained in our culture it would be almost impossible for them not to be reproduced in our institutions), so the labor of Black, trans, Latinx, Asian, queer and Indigenous artists factors largely into the extent with which they can maintain cultural credentials as liberal and/or relevant arts organizations. At most white-led theaters in which they are employed, Black and trans artists especially are asked to bring their knowledge, expertise, and familiarity with culture, history, dynamics, etc. into the rehearsal room on projects led by white artists. As one actor I worked with shared with me mid-process on a play, this expectation of labor is often coupled with vagueness of the characters Black actors are asked to play. A vagueness that, in my own experience, originates from ignorance, and, around the issue of race especially, is coupled with a deep fear of risk taking.

I have heard many conversations about valuing diversity in casting, and more recently valuing diversity and inclusivity in designers and lead artists. But I only hear this discussion in relation to work being made that is already “diverse”—meaning it is part of the project’s conception that the cast, crew, and possibly lead artist team be made up of people with racial, gender, sexuality identities that are not only white, cis and straight, or the work is being self-consciously aimed at an audience who is not that. This overwhelmingly means that, at white-led institutions, white and cis artists and producers are involved in creative development of work in part or entirely about or by Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, trans, and queer people, but that Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, trans, and queer people are frequently not involved behind the scenes when a work mostly deals with white and/or cis characters and is by white and/or cis artists (as the majority of the work programmed at these institutions is). In this way, our ignorance creates a bubble around how we can possibly create and see ourselves.

The way fees were accounted for in a project I worked on with a theatre that commissioned my work, as a white, cis, class privileged queer woman encapsulates much of this quandary. My fee along with the fees for my collaborators, most of whom were also white and cis, were in the budget for a project in which it was expected that I would write characters who were people of color and trans. Our ignorance, however, was not accounted for in the suggested budget. At my request, we ended up hiring five script consultants who were Black and Latinx trans women for fees and contracts that were much smaller and shorter lived than ours. The theater provided further compensation to some of the consultants to organize their communities to come to the shows. I appreciated the theater meeting my request to pay these consultants for the knowledge they provided the production, which I sorely needed to write the play I wanted to write. But afterward, I regretted that we did not anticipate and budget for their roles from the beginning of our work, so that they could have played a deeper role in responding to the script throughout the process and received more compensation for their contributions. (I also regret not providing metrocards and food at auditions as it later seemed a problematic assumption to think of the auditions as “opportunities” that themselves did not require some form of compensation.)

The degree to which the piece was met with positive feedback by many who saw the show was a direct result of the work of these women as well as the actors in the cast who gave me feedback on the writing. In one case, an actress told me what I needed to write to make a moment work. Though all were credited in the program and are now credited in the script I send out to theaters, I continue to feel the weight of the wrongness of this dynamic—which touches so much, including the fiction of a singular author perpetuated by our hierarchal and rampantly individualistic culture—in which I go on pursuing a career in theater seeking opportunities among institutions that are mostly led and staffed by cis white, class privileged people like myself while there are zero (that I know of) trans people of color or trans feminine people in leadership positions at theaters in the whole country. What does that reality mean for the trans and queer artists, for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and other artists of color navigating this same field? What might be possible if the artistic leadership in a majority of institutions was not ignorant of the lived realities informing these artists’ work?

Ignorance as policy

Our country’s position, now more than ever, is one of white ignorance—although this ignorance has been willfully cultivated over centuries through propaganda resulting in the present day liberal belief that the U.S. was founded on principles of equality and inclusion and not patriarchal white supremacy. The 45th U.S. President can accidentally refer to Syria as Iraq when he is talking about bombing it. He can be elected without any experience in the field, and where his ignorance of government and public service actually become a selling point of his campaign. His lies supported by ignorance about the lives of Black people, women, Mexicans, and the environment now drive national policy. He can speak of Frederick Douglass as if he is still alive and doing an “amazing job.” The time we exist on this planet may be severely decreased as a result of his ignorance and its empowerment by the U.S. political system. And as we know, people have died and will continue to die in this country and all over the world as a direct consequence of the empowerment of 45’s ignorance, while his team works hard to position his wrongness (ignorant as well as deliberate) as the corrective alternative to our shared reality: “alternate facts.” The people who voted for him (including some of my family members) did so for a variety of reasons, but their positions are upheld by ignorance.[13] White ignorance enacted and enforced by our government is something everyone in our society (and all over the world) is required to navigate to get what they need to live, thrive, and achieve.

We make culture in a time in which the U.S. President and his allies in congress are rewriting our history and institutionalizing ignorance of reality to benefit rich, white men. The President has referred to human trafficking happening now as “a problem that’s probably worse than any time in the history of this world,” effectively ignoring European and American slavery—the most defining institution in our country’s history.[14] His administration re-characterizes Historically Black Colleges and Universities as an example of school choice, intentionally omitting the legalized white supremacy that made them necessary.[15] Our President’s allies say that “nobody dies because they don’t have access to healthcare,” which the person physically closest to you right now could probably disprove in the next five minutes with a story from personal experience.[16] He asks why the civil war could “not have been worked out” and praises Andrew Jackson—a U.S. President that used genocide as a main tenant of his leadership—as someone who could have solved that problem if only he had lived a little longer.[17]

In fact, Andrew Jackson has been having a comeback for a while. I remember a few years back being in the mostly white audience of a fictionalized satirical musical about Andrew Jackson at one of our city’s most respected theaters. American populism was the subject of the first song and included the line, “we’re gonna take this country back.”[18] I watched the exaltation of our genocides sung as power ballads by a young white male lead with a love story. Slavery was reduced to a laugh line. I read later that the play had been protested by members of the theater’s own Native Theater Initiative. One concern (of many) was that history was fictionalized in the script. An invented back-story for Andrew Jackson’s character told that his family was killed by “Indians,” when in fact they died of accidents, war and illness over the course of years. The invention of their murder by “Indians” functions dramaturgically as psychological justification for Jackson’s genocide and creates sympathy for his character while masking the real context and reality of those policies. (8,500 Native people died during the Trail of Tears and forced displacement initiated by Jackson).[19] When asked about the controversy surrounding the production, the theater’s artistic director stated, “I should have seen that, although I may completely believe the point that this production is making, that it is ultimately pro-native, there are an awful lot of ways in which it may not be perceived that way.”[20]

I wonder where our national culture would be in 2017 if, seven years ago, young white men from New York City had not been romanticizing populism driven by unexamined white supremacy, collapsing past and present with cool cowboy costumes in a show that would tour all over the country. How might things be different if the “pro-native” play I was watching at a fancy New York theater was written by Native American artists instead of a team of almost all white lead creatives? Or even if artistic directors asked people from the communities that would be impacted by representations and storylines in the work of their theaters how they felt about the work before they produced it, or during rehearsals, or ever. What would it have been like if white people were not in the far majority in that audience because the play that we were watching about American history resonated with Native and Black people and other people of color? What if a musical playing in 2010 by two white guys who went to Ivy League schools was about a racist and genocidal white man in 2010 instead of the 1800s? What if white, straight, cis male artists thought about the impact of their work on others? What if white women artists thought about that too? As artists, we literally make culture. In whose interest is it for us to create and keep a culture of ignorance?

The impact of ignorance

When people who have been experiencing racism all their and their ancestors’ lives say that something is harming them, and in response people who have not experienced racism—, cannot possibly, and yet feel comfortable speaking about it, curating, and making work about it—say they believe it does no harm, what else can that be called but ignorance? If we did not know it before, we should know by now that that ignorance is deadly. To defend it is to defend an absence in ourselves. I go to theater to get full—bottom to a new experience, open wide and let embodiment, ritual and speaking fill me up.

Our ignorance leads to frequently occurring dynamics in many white-led arts institutions in which Black, queer, trans, Latinx, Asian and/or Native artists who are commissioned, cast or otherwise employed experience racism, transphobia and micro-aggressions. When and if they bring these experiences to the attention of the white and/or cis and/or straight leadership of the organization, they are not believed or are asked to justify or prove their experience to people who have the power to hire and fire and potentially speak about them to powerful industry colleagues. When someone brings this damage to our attention, instead of admitting and redressing our glaring ignorance—ignorance so familiar that we defend it as if it is us—we allow the power of white dominance that has been used to hurt and separate us from ourselves and people we care about to flow through us. If we acknowledge the clear, lived reality of white and cis ignorance that we all experience (whichever side of it we may find ourselves on), it becomes clear how the disbelief and devaluing of the lived experiences of our colleagues is not only a hurtful and destructive result of this ignorance, but that it also maintains this ignorance at the expense of Black, queer, trans, Latinx, Asian and/or Native colleagues.

Speaking truth to ignorance

Given these realities, and assuming that we want to be part of creating a future in which our field is not defined and dominated by ignorance, it is our mandate to prioritize the artistry, viewpoints, expertise and ideas of people with knowledge of realities that are consistently deprioritized in white defined art spaces because they are far less visible to people with privilege. If my knowledge of the lived experience of racial inequity and injustice as a white person depends on learning from Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian people, and other people of color (as it has and does) then deprioritizing their viewpoints empties me as a person and artist. Listening to people of color and supporting their leadership in tangible ways is the only way out of ignorance for myself and for white institutions. Our ignorance is also clearly harmful to Black, trans, Asian, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color. We know this We have known this for a long time because it has been expressed repeatedly, and still we have not successfully addressed the hold that white supremacy, transphobia, homophobia, imperialism, ableism, misogyny, capitalism, classism, and xenophobia have on our fields. Perhaps this is because we have not yet understood or articulated to ourselves why, for us too, it is imperative to address these harmful ideologies in our practices and institutions. And it is clear that much will be required of us.[21] As a result, our ignorance thrives in culture and is deployed, with or without our knowledge or consent, against all of humanity and the earth.

NOW IS THE TIME! Remaining the same will kill us all

To fight the white supremacist, xenophobic, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, patriarchal, world-killing fascism that is taking hold of our country, we must become less ignorant, so we can understand how the systems being deployed against us to separate and oppress also work through us.

The stakes are too high to abandon each other for our own ignorance. I fear for our future if we continue to prioritize and privilege the voices of white ignorance, excusing them as we have with the curation of white artist’s painting of Emmett Till. If we addressed her decision and the decisions of the curators and others at the museum as ignorance created by a strategically-engendered lack of understanding of the reality of American history, then her ignorance would have been addressed before it was curated into a prestigious show. Instead, less ignorant voices would be prioritized, to all of our benefit.

Until we prioritize the decolonization of our art spaces from white ignorance, our institutions will be neither liberatory or sanctuaries, and will solely continue to be traumatizing and harmful to Black, Native American, and trans artists (among many others).[22] Failure to talk about race in our art and our institutions keeps us ignorant. This failure also feels profoundly hollow in these times, as the drama that we play out is a story of deadly racism, deadly transphobia (if we are paying attention), and the rise of white supremacist, xenophobic, patriarchal, transmisogynist, earth killing, homophobic power. Work that fails to meaningfully address these conditions can only ring empty. Protecting our ignorance from rupture cannot will not save our humanity, change our country, or allow for the survival of our species. If our work and our arts institutions are not helping us do what we most need for our own survival and the survival of our communities, they will quickly be irrelevant in a time in which survival is becoming an art. We are nothing without each other.

 


 

[1] This piece written for The Kitchen L.A.B. Conference and Publication in response to the theme: “position.” 2017.

[2] A story about the lynching ran in the September 15, 1955 issue of JET, which included a photograph of Till’s body bloated, mutilated and unrecognizable in the casket.

[3] Gibson, Caitlin. “A white artist responds to outcry over her controversial Emmett Till painting,” The Washington Post 23 March 2017.

[4] Voon, Claire. “Staff at NYC Arts Organizations Is 62% White, City Report Shows,” hyperallergic.com. January 29, 2016.

[5] Voon, Claire. “The Diversity Problem at American Museums Gets a Report,” Hyperallergic.com. August 3, 2015.

[6] A recent example of the Times’s prioritization of white ignorant voices is co-chief theater critic Ben Brantley’s review of Suzan-Lori Parks’s brilliant Venus produced by The Signature Theatre in May 2017. That a review of a breathtaking and devastating piece by one of the best U.S. playwrights of the 20th and 21st centuries (if not all time)—about an African woman, Saartjie Baartman, who existed and was subject to racist and sexist exploitation, hyper-sexualized and objectifying to the extreme, by a slew of European supporting characters—should begin by further objectifying the character and comparing the actress in her costume’s body to Kim Kardashian’s without a whiff of sense of the piece or context should make The New York Times laughable as a reader of culture and a source of intelligent cultural discourse. This review was published after The Times’s Culture Editor Danielle Mattoon claimed in her memo sent to staff announcing the hiring of Jesse Green that he and Ben Brantley in “powerful partnership” would “deliver the most authoritative, thoughtful and pointed insights about Broadway, Off Broadway, and theater around the country and the globe,” a claim which in itself illustrates white supremacy’s circular logic in which the sole origin of its authority is its own authorization. We might be laughing if this was not our real lives, our income, our health, our world and writing like this was not so ubiquitous and typical of the way white institutions throw the weight of their ignorance around to all of our detriment.

[7] The forum was “Perspectives on Race and Representation: An Evening with the Racial Imaginary Institute” co-organized by The Whitney and The Racial Imaginary Institute at The Whitney Museum of American Art. April 9, 2017.

[8] Transcribed from video of Rankine reading from Sharpe’s essay at The Whitney. April 9, 2017. https://www.facebook.com/whitneymuseum/videos/10154262121821433/?hc_location=ufiat The Whitney Museum of American Art. April 9, 2017.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Writing this, it’s strikes me that I have not heard very many mainstream or white-led arts institutions outwardly talk about wanting to end racism or white supremacy. Rather, it is implied, usually through the language of diversity and equality, that there have been efforts to lessen their hold on some institutional practices. Is it any wonder then that there is mistrust of mainstream and white-led institutions in communities whose freedom and survival depends on the end of white supremacy? Given, as Sharpe writes, that “anti-Blackness is the weather” it seems to me that expressing the desire for white supremacy to end and working toward that as a goal might be an important first step to actually ending its hold on our practices.

[11] Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. (New York: Bantam Books, 1971), 1.

[12] Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass. (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013).

[13] Perhaps most telling, one family member made clear to me in a conversation that he thinks that race is real biological difference rather than what it has been proven to be, an anti-science concept developed by Europeans to consolidate power and excuse genocide and theft to their benefit.

[14] Lemire, Jonathan. “Trump: Why Couldn’t the Civil War Have Been Avoided?nbcwashington.com. May 1, 2017.

[15] Douglas-Gabriel, Danielle. “DeVos called HBCUs ‘pioneers’ in ‘school choice.’ It didn’t go over well.” The Washington Post. February 28, 2017.

[16] Phillips, Kristine. “‘Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care,’ GOP lawmaker says. He got booed.The Washington Post. May 7, 2017.

[17] Lemire, Jonathan. “Trump: Why Couldn’t the Civil War Have Been Avoided?nbcwashington.com. May 1, 2017.

[18] Friedman, Michael. “Populism Yea Yea,” Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Directed by Alex Timbers. Produced at The Public Theater. March-June, 2010.

[19] “Trail of Tears,” History.com.

[20] Levine, D.M. “Native Americans protest ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.’” Politico.com. June 24, 2010.

[21] These ideologies cut deep, all the way down to our senses of ourselves and our understanding of what our institutions can and should offer.

[22] For another recent example of the impact of white ignorance on Native Americans, see the May 28th, 2017 article, “After outcry and protests, Walker Art Center will remove ‘Scaffold’ sculpture” in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.