Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When "art" imitates societal constructs of black femininity

"De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.”  
                    Zora Neale Hurston through Janie Crawford 

I wasn’t going to write about this photo. It seemed to much like what would be expected of me.
It seemed like by dignifying the picture with a second thought, much less a written response I would do what white people (namely white women) expect of me. I would be reacting to the disrespect once again of black bodies instead of engaging in a productive dialogue about how to build a world where I too am allowed to "BE". 

But alas here we are, I am sitting at the counter of one of my friends kitchen and writing. Because micro and macro racism is different. Because Intent and Impact are different. Because we need to move beyond the conversations to racial equity work. Because I am learning to love myself and my sisters when no one else will. Because validation is beyond the point. Because if all I am is a backdrop and a prop then the world is missing out and white supremacy wins in our hearts and minds. 

When I saw this picture all I initially thought was Sarah Bartman. I was focused on the wrong thing though.  My gaze was upon the white woman and not the sister in the photo. So looked again and this time when I saw her, I thought about her hopes, her dreams, her aspirations and my own. I had to adjust my vision to see. 

The Russian editor says the picture was taken out of context. I agree with her. It was taken out of context and that context is the social, political, economic context that black women find themselves in present day 2014. 

The lady apologized for her intention but what about the impact? The impact of being reduced to a chair, a scantily clad and exploited body and always seeing your image reflected as lesser than to the gentile, sweet and always protected white woman? The impact of that will never be fully known. More importantly, every time racism is confronted the response is always one that focuses on intent instead of impact. We can no longer be quiet about race, our issues, our discourse has to use race explicit language. To not use it does us a disservice. 

I understand that inter personally not all white woman view black woman as chairs but I also know institutionally and structurally we are often used as furniture, inconvenient backdrops to the story line about their lives. 

We are chairs when white feminist refuse to acknowledge us
We are chairs when black men continue to objective and devalue us
We are chairs when white men call us angry and ghetto

We are chairs when society continues to ignore us and reduce us to the sums of our experience. But even in the midst of that we, we are beautiful and complex and we hold the weight of our lived experiences with grace and rise from the ashes stronger and more resilient. 

As always, black women have picked themselves us out of the shadows and continued to determine who we are for ourselves. But this photo and the woman in it can't just picked up and dusted off, forgotten until the next wave of assaults to our humanity. 

We must organize and demand our place. We must continue the conversation and begin to support magazines and books and images that help us in our journey to self-determination and liberation. 

SO the sister who is in this picture becomes me and I become her. Our stories become linked. Together we become a masterpiece. A picture of art that reflects our true essence. A picture of hope and courage. A picture of compassion and connection. A picture from the front lines of life and beautiful magic that no matter what won't go away quietly. 

And we all know: 

“I am my best work - a series of road maps, reports, recipes, doodles, and prayers from the front lines.” Audre Lorde

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