The likeness of “whiteness” has always filled our world. It is the ideal of beauty that most people strive to become. As children, we spent the entire day watching television, looking at magazines and school books void of “diversity.” Thank you, 1976 “Charlie’s Angels,” for making girls want hair that would blow in the wind. What began as a need to respond to the last cover issue of the CAN has now turned into a rallying cry of “WTF” it’s 2020. The world has imploded and amid a pandemic “Black Lives Matter.” It, however, is going to take something more intense to erase over four hundred years of purposeful and systemic white domination.
We have to do better than this. We must be vigilant in being socially and politically correct. There has never been a better time in our history as a nation, as Clevelanders to begin to chip away at systemic racism, which plagues our society. The CAN Journal’s summer issue: The Art of Surviving Pandemic, set out to be different from any other publication before. The truth is that offering is the same old story splattered on the cover. They did get one thing right by flattening the gender problem. What is the source of this racism that rears its ugly head anyway? Did it begin over four hundred years ago when Europeans began seafaring, colonizing every corner of the planet? Northeast Ohio’s artistic landscape is so lily-white, reinforced by mostly all-white galleries, all-white gallerists, all-white creative gatherings, and mostly all-white grantees of Grant sources in the area. After an explosive response from African American artists three years ago, Cleveland Art communities had to re-evaluate how they distribute funding to individuals. Yet, if we are not in the room when decisions are made, we are not included.
Colonialism was an epidemic that we are still in the grips of. The “civilized” have conquered their idea of the “savage,” and changed already established systems to be more like theirs. The numbers say it all. Black folks have only been legally free for 157 years, not starting the year we finally discovered the news. One percent of the population holds all of the wealth and power over others. The disparity of a less than one percent representation on the cover did not reflect the fifty-three percent Black population in Cleveland. That white supremacist mentality is why they DON’T SEE US, as business as usual in Northeast Ohio. A literal “Blackout,” but we have always been out and have to remain, unapologetically confronting this issue.
Something different happened alongside the pandemic’s virtual kickoff party and virtual apology. Ten days later, on May 25, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers. This act quickly grew into an international movement of protests, riots, vandalism, and chaos. Cleveland and CAN fall within the category of the dominant culture in this city echoing the marginalization of Brown and Black people now in alignment with the current upheaval. The world took another look at how African Americans have been treated. However, Black lives have always mattered. They mattered when cheap labor was needed and when white babies needed to be fed. We got paid through redlining and the war on drugs. The moment of George Floyd’s death not only sparked outrage from communities at large, but it has also erupted into an evolving assessment from white communities and businesses to make changes to a corrupt systemic racist culture. Changes are happening in all areas of social, economic, and political landscapes, where symbols that perpetuated racist ideals are being dismantled. Now Black artists, Black voices, and Black businesses have to be supported beyond February.
Ultimately Black artists have always existed. The purveyors of art and art history have seen fit to erase the influence of Blackness, and in doing so effectively invalidated the existence and contributions of people of color in the arts. Blackness is evident from the cave drawings in Somalia to Jean-Michel Basquiat and cinematic firsts like Mati Diop. Creating is part of human nature; it is because race is a social construct that people of color have been marginalized, and their contributions have not been acknowledged.
Black artists have to understand how history has derailed their ability to be considered equal amongst the masters. Most importantly, we have to shift the dialogue within the art world from a comparison of equality, to redefine the aesthetic while considering all the complexities of race, and until we disrupt the “money white,” nothing will change the system that exists.
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