Sunday, August 28, 2016

Privileges and Perspective

I believe in helping artists of color, but I'm experiencing some strange karma. In the last 2 weeks I've received emails from about four or five artists (all black) needing help or wanting some questions answered. I replied to every single request saying I can set aside some time to answer any questions, make recommendations, or meet for coffee. Radio silence. Nothing.

At the same time I was asked for help by a few artists (all white) and a conversation began, met some for coffee, sent along recommendations, help was given. It's hard for me not to notice a weird disconnect in putting something out there and then who responds, and it made me think about going to where the love and appreciation is, which may be beyond race. I was an artist-in-residence for two years at Brooklyn Arts Exchange and reached out to as many artists of color I knew b/c I had funding and free space for collaboration over a two year period. I was open to anything. Anything, pitch it, I'll do it or find space for it. The only people who ever replied and actually used the space were my buddhist dharma friends (white), an Asian theatre group, and white friends from college. During this period I actually started earning money in TV and I have donated to different projects, the overwhelming majority of which have been by black artists. In the few instances I've donated to non people of color I get a thank you note, praise, follow-up with progress reports. For the black artists I get a 'coolcool, thanks, whatevs' vibe and then radio silence, no follow-up reports. Some times I get an impersonal e-invitation to the show up later for an additional fundraiser or to pay some more money. I feel like I'm in danger of becoming a black artists who only helps out white people or who helps out white people the majority of the time b/c I actually get a response that's in alignment with my middle-class etiquette. So I'm trying to change...look at things differently. But I also feel like part of privilege is knowing etiquette and how to use connections to get what you want, and my community is at a severe disadvantage b/c of cultural habits, subconscious pessimism, doubt, and fear. I know it's not PC, but...just saying...


Unknown said...

So - I think an issue here is people just not knowing the etiquette. I've seen children, sitting with their mothers being told to write thank you notes to relatives for presents that came in the mail - but I don't remember ever sending thank you notes - just the occasional phone call. I also remember applying for college - and my essays being pretty terrible. Now I see how students ask for guidance and feedback - making sure everything is perfect before submitting (in the first round).

I wonder if you might just ask for what you expect. That they send you a personal invitation to the show or send you an update after the show happens. Or whatever you think is appropriate. You can use the exchange as a teaching moment - which may be more valuable to them than the money. Then - if they don't do it, or are annoyed - you know not to support them again. Or maybe it sinks in a year or two later with the next person.

SAYZ said...

I think it might go a little deeper than etiquette. You see, I grew up in a tough ghetto in St. Louis and for me, art the first way I found to communicate with the world and although I always got good grades in art and in school started doing plays. My parents did not see that as a good choice for making my way in the world. They expected me to finish school, go into the military, work in a factory, then settle down and produce grandchildren for them. That was the only viable formula they knew. Anything else was not valid, in their eyes and was discouraged.I was just poor white trash growing up in a tough black area where violence was everywhere. My brothers and I were never allowed to play with anybody of color or anyone who was Jewish. It was a closed environment and they were trying to program me, for what they thought was "my own good." My brothers both fell for this but I noticed none of them seemed very happy. When our school became integrated we were warned about the dangers and then threatened to not make friends with anybody different. My brother was very impressed by a black actor in some television venue and expressed his desire to be like this man and my father nearly killed him. No one ever seemed very happy unless they were with their own kind and even then they had to be a bit drunk. So, I secretly knew this was not for me.So, as soon as I was old enough I moved into a very liberal, Jewish neighborhood and this was before the term Hippie was invented by LIFE magazine. I remember the first "pad" I ever saw and I soon realized that drugs were not just a high but really a way of leveling the playing field for everyone of every race creed or color. This was a much different scene than the one we now see and live in. My family was humiliated and did not want me bringing any of these "others" around, which I did on rare occasions. I had made a leap and landed on solid ground and was doing theater in a Jewish neighborhood and improv at the first integrated community called LaClede Town, working in an art store and taking a few night classes at Wash U. from there I went to Chicago during the race riots, became involved in civil liberties and fought through the infamous Democratic Convention. Then on to New York and WOOD STOCK and later went through the STONE WALL riots and first Gay demonstration. Meanwhile, my old school mates went to Vietnam, got married and never left St.Louis. I was the freak and proud of it. I did understand that they felt afraid and did not want to lose their family connections or even question the faiths they were brought up in.
I worked a seasonal job at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and part of the training included making any minority youths feel welcome and comfortable! This was a revelation to me but it was true esp. with people of color who seemed to feel out of place once inside. These kids were often nervous, afraid and uncomfortable. Why? It goes back to that same closed environment and the idea of distrust, feeling uncomfortable or that it was just a pretentious place for weird rich white people. Making that little leap out of their comfort zone.
Anyway that's my take on it. Good Luck with your work I get your intention but perhaps you might have to make them feel more secure and define your intentions in a different way or just open it to any artists that can be open enough to take that leap.I admire your skills and find you to be an amazing person. It was an honor to work with you.

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