Monthly Archives: December 2014

Hard To “Plan” For Some Encounters With Police

Walking-while-Black---Is-NOT-a-CRIME!-T-ShirtsSomething that doesn’t gets discussed. There’s appropriate emphasis on “the talk” with black youngsters, and telling black people in general how to act when they are stopped by police. What is not factored in is the sense of total surprise and world turned upside down of minding your business one second and being treated as a crime suspect the next that frequently happens to well-dressed, respectable, pillar-of-community black folks going about their business who are suddenly stopped on the street and told they “resemble” the description of someone who just committed some major crime. Never mind the often 20 years, 40 pounds, and 6 inches of height difference between the perp and the person stopped.

It takes an inordinate amount of presence of mind to really deal calmly with a situation where you have to wonder what someone crazy enough to stop you with that rationale is in fact likely to do next. The disconnect is so great that it’s as if you are standing there facing a police officer who has gone completely off his rocker.

The visceral response is to get distance between yourself and someone with a gun who is babbling incoherent nonsense about you possibly having just robbed a bank or something of the sort. It’s one thing to plan to be polite, respectful, follow instructions, not talk back. But in reality, how could you possibly not be overcome by initial confusion, ask questions, or say something?

I’m not talking about Michael Brown or Eric Garner, here, but the hundreds of thousands of black men and women, or worst of all, teenagers, who are caught totally off guard. Who, in their right mind (outside of daily life in a ghetto ‘hood, sadly), plans on or even rehearses for being stopped in their tracks in that way during an ordinary business or school day? And the police know that and often take advantage of that confusion to claim resistance and escalate the encounter.

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A Few Notes On Seeing Kara Walker Speak

KW1Kara Walker was wonderful. So glad I went. Certainly the art must stand apart from the artist, but given all the flap about her earlier cut paper work, it made such a difference to hear from the woman behind it all. And then to move on to hear about the Domino Sugar Factory project.

She was informal, conversational, witty, incredibly well/broadly read, brilliant in ways that make sparks fly as you listen to her. Profoundly rooted in her work and not just willing, but able, in ways not all visual artists necessarily are, to talk about her process in all its determination, uncertainty, exhilaration, intention, association. In part, what she called her ” chutzpah, bravado, and ego,” in accepting the Domino project, which she first refused, with no idea of what she would do.

She talked from a few note cards rather than giving a lecture, thank goodness. Complete with pauses, chuckles at herself, more than one ref. to the act of “riffing” as part of the drawing and writing that leads to formulating ideas, and a noble throw away line that “People don’t want to see art that reminds them how fucked-up they are” although that doesn’t stop her from producing it.

Turns out the Sphinx was her first work of sculpture — ever. She did incredible research on sugar, molasses, blacks and sugar production, popular imagery about blacks and sugar. Also sugar as a European delicacy, compared to say, honey, which was around much longer and how sugar had a different cultural/ social meaning, being a kind of primal “sweet salt.”

Huge team of craftspeople to construct the exhibition. She showed a few minutes of a couple of videos, one that looked at audience response. The one of workers creating the sphinx had a monumental fast-time feel that was startling — like watching Egyptians work with blocks of ancient stone. And the stories of trying to cast the standing boys in sugar… And saying the abandoned factory was a kind of cathedral.

Video of the work being dismantled, the sphinx “had a kind of generosity about her,” in terms of reverent and irreverent audience response.

Controversy seemed in the past, she has moved on to thinking about many other projects, but she talked about how she came to that work initially, partly as trying to break out of the grand painting tradition. The cut paper images were a popular 19th-cent. form and allowed racial and social commentary. One question touched on controversy and how she decided to not be nice. She said, laughing, “I never stopped trying to be nice. I just realized I wasn’t.”

Black Life Not Worth The Proverbial Indictable Ham Sandwich

imagesThese cases are not about what commentators and pundits keep saying they are about. Think for a moment about who joins police forces. There is a direct line from birtherism, Muslim President, Don’t Tread on Me, etc. to shooting a 12 year old dead at point blank range. 

These deaths, and others that we don’t even know about, are ways of saying not only will most white men never respect any black man as President, these officers, sworn to protect and defend, are making it clear that black men’s lives have little value and they can kill them with total impunity.

It might be ironic, but, because these Tea-Party-in-uniform types keep pushing to the extremes, Obama will likely end up being a human/civil rights president in spite of himself.