Thank you George Zimmerman and the American Judicial System…
July 16th, 2013 → 7 Comments
To George Zimmerman and the American Judicial System:
THANK YOU for reminding me why I became a community based artist.
Here I was last week, hemming and hawing, thinking that “social justice” issues were passe, that the world was sick of hearing about race, and especially, art about race. Here I was, trying to figure out what art I could make next in a world that “had moved beyond race.”
Here I was trying to shake off the backlash of 80s multiculturalism. You are probably familiar with the sound of that backlash. It often comes in the form of comments from whites and non-whites. It sounds like….
“You only get work/grants because you are a minority woman.”
“Of course you work a lot, they need you for their diversity numbers.”
“Can you make shows that are ‘more Asian’?”
“Can you make shows that are ‘less Asian’?”
“Do people really need diversity education anymore? I mean, if you look at TV, it’s pretty diverse.”
“You basically get paid be yourself, right? That’s not work.”
Here I was, internalizing the hatred and jealousy from other people who don’t understand that working as an artist is more than the fun they see onstage. Here I was denying myself the privilege of acknowledging that what my work really does is teach what classrooms can’t, free others to write their lives and histories into existence, bring together communities, and initiate dialogue about the social issues nobody knows how to talk about.
I have worked very hard to do what I do– living in constant financial peril, with no job security, in constant public scrutiny, being the black sheep of my family.
I have come so close to giving up so many times this month alone.
Here I was, contemplating what kind of profitable non-confrontational “mainstream” work I could make (essentially, work that didn’t make white people feel threatened).
Here I was, trying to figure out the next Grumpy Cat. The next great viral video about nothing.
All these jaded thoughts and then…. you come along, deliver this “verdict” and give me the ugliest of reminders that racism is still alive and well.
Racism never left. It’s just hidden itself better than ever. Racism is not people wearing KKK hoods. Racism is not segregated bathrooms. Racism is institutionalized. It’s in our textbooks. It’s in police response time. It’s in our healthcare system. It’s in the quality of inner city public schools. It’s in our environmental policy.
Racism is internalized in everyone. We are all racist. We have learned that “racism” is a word so dirty, we have to hide its most visible markers. Racism scares us that much we can’t even talk about it.
And the hiding of what scares us the most is what has made us a sick, sick country.
In the most awful, heartbreaking way possible, you have encouraged me to re-evaluate those small drops of impact of my work on the world. You have reminded me of the shared struggle between all marginalized people.
You have reminded me that the biggest purveyor of racism is the denial that it still exists.
You’ve lit a fire under my ass to work harder. You reminded me that the playing field is not equal but we legislate as if it is. There are so many silenced people every day in this world who’ve only known a racist system and all they know to do is to live within it.
Thank you for giving me and so many Americans the diagnosis of just how sick we’ve become.
Those of us who want to get better. We will speak up. We will stand up for each other. We will dialogue about what’s difficult.
We will not go quietly.