Erasure by Exclusion: How Art Schools and Institutions Uphold White Supremacy

Erasure by Exclusion: How Art Schools and Institutions Uphold White Supremacy


– Good evening, everyone. My name is Anastasia Warren. Thank you for joining us tonight
for Erasure by Exclusion: How Art Schools and Institutions
Uphold White Supremacy. Ushers are around
distributing index cards. I think most of you have gotten some that will be collected about
45 minutes into the event to distribute to the panel. I would like to thank the Visual
Critical Studies department here at SVA for sponsoring the event. I would also like to thank my parents for instilling in me the kind of freedom that brings us here tonight to challenge the
institution that houses us. A huge thank you to Shellyne Rodriguez for being a collaborator and teacher as we’ve worked together to
organize this discussion. I’m in my third year at SVA,
and during my time here, I’ve had one black
professor and could count on my fingers and toes the
numbers of artists of color who have been introduced to
me in a classroom setting. This absence is where the
necessity for this panel is found. After communicating to
VCS chairman Tom Huhn the personal toll and overall impact of the lack of representation
of the contributions of people of color to the art world, he suggested organizing a panel and introduced me to Shellyne. And here we are. Together, we will examine cultural erasure and discuss the nature of this oversight with the intention of identifying
solutions to this problem. Our panelists are Robin J. Hayes, PhD. (audience applauds) Hayes wrote, directed, and produced the award-winning
documentary, Black in Cuba. She’s developing the
television series Fortune, an adaptation of the prize-winning novel, In the Land of Love and Drowning. Tomashi Jackson, born in Houston, Texas. (audience applauds) Raised in California. Raised in Los Angeles,
California, excuse me. She is represented by Jack
Tilton Gallery in New York City and teaches drawing and
interrelated media practice at Massachusetts College
of Art and Design. Cheryl R. Riley. (audience applauds) Cheryl is a National Endowment
for the Arts recipient whose visual art and furniture designs are in the collections of the Smithsonian, the MIT Museum of Architecture & Design, the cities of New York
and Atlanta, among others. She’s also written about arts and artists for national publications and
is a private and corporate art advisor with a focus on
artists of the African diaspora. Bill Gaskins. (audience applauds) Bill is an associate professor
in the Department of Art in American Studies program
at Cornell University. As an artist, he explores the
intersections of photography, cinema, and portraiture
in the 21st century from an interdisciplinary
engagement that include his body of essays on art and culture through the frames of history
and photography, art history, American and African-American
studies scholarship. Thank you. (audience applauds) – Hello, everybody. My name is Shellyne Rodriguez. Welcome. Thank you for joining us for what I think is going to be a powerful conversation, getting to the heart
of the matter at hand, identifying and undoing the
structures that continue to exclude the intellectual
and avant garde accomplishments and contributions of the
black and indigenous diaspora to the world form academic
discourse and learning. I’d like to take this moment to thank you, Tom Huhn, and the Visual and
Critical Studies Department for hosting this discussion. (audience applauds) My co-moderator here, the
brilliant Anastasia Warren. (audience applauds) A very special thank you
goes to the many scholars who’ve assisted me with suggestions and research for this panel. Dr. Ruthie Wilson Gilmore,
Robin D. G. Kelley, and Maria Alexandra García, who introduced me to
the many important books that will frame this discussion. (audience applauds) Okay, so let us imagine
a syllabus together. That’s us imagining. And this syllabus will contains snapshots of important moments in
history, in art history. How can we place Bruce Nauman and John Baldessari on this syllabus and not invoke the names of David Hammons or Adrian Piper? How do we discuss David Wojnarowicz and not Martin Wong? How could we discuss ABC No Rio and not the Nuyorican Poets Cafe? Allen Ginsberg, and not Pedro Pietri, Sonia Sonchez, or Amiri Baraka? How can we fail to connect
Europe’s neo-imperialism manifested in the Berlin Conference when the major European
powers convened to normalize claims to territories in Africa, essentially dividing up the continent and ushering in a period of
heightened colonial violence, which eliminated or
overrode most existing forms of African autonomy and self-governance? How can we discount this
history from the subsequent influences Africa then had on modern art? How are we teaching surrealism
in the context of World War I and World War II and
failing to make connections to the anti-colonialist response to which the surrealists were so tied? How is it that the
fascist Marinetti and his Futurist Manifesto is anchored
on every art syllabus, but the surrealist essay,
Murderous Humanitarianism, where André Breton, Pierre
Yoyotte, Yves Tanguy, and many others in response
to the Rif War declare, quote, “We surrealists pronounced
ourselves in favor “of changing the imperialist war “in its chronic and colonial
form into the civil war. “Thus, we place our
energies in the service “of the revolution of the
proletariat and its struggles “and define our attitudes
toward the colonial problem “and hence toward the color question.” How does this remain an obscure footnote? How can we discuss surrealism
as influenced by Marx and Freud but not one
of the most important decolonial thinkers, the
Martinican poet and author Aime Cesaire, who
besides helping to create the Négritude movement in France and founding the surrealist
publication Tropiques, also mentored the great Frantz Fanon. That Cesaire shared a close friendship with André Breton is the
least of his qualifiers. That the surrealists found
themselves trying to construct the thing they saw as occurring naturally, in jazz and the blues,
as we are all well aware of the consistent presence
of the black American avant garde in France. Josephine Baker, Claude
McKay, Nina Simone, James Baldwin, Richard
Wright, and many others. This opens up further the
gaps on our imagined syllabus. Renowned writer Toni Morrison addresses this consistent presence in her book of literary criticism
titled Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. She says, quote, “For some
time now, I have been thinking “about the validity or vulnerability “of a certain set of assumptions
conventionally accepted “among literary historians and critics “and circulated as knowledge. “This knowledge holds that
traditional, canonical “American literature is free
of, uninformed, and unshaped “by the 400-year old
presence of first, Africans, “and then African-Americans
in the United States. “It assumes that this
presence which shaped “the body politic, the Constitution, “and the entire history of the culture “has had no significant
place or consequence “in the origin and development
of that culture’s literature. “Moreover, such knowledge
assumes that the characteristics “of our national literature
emanate from a particular “Americanness that is separate from “and unaccountable to this presence.” This Americanness Morrison
points to, which at its extreme, one might imagine appears
as the Rockwellian delusions of the current president, functions as a firmament. It reaffirms itself. Although our conversation
this evening will be framed within the art context, the art intuitions where we today do our learning share this inheritance of western imperialism woven into the philosophy
legacy of the Enlightenment. This reaffirmation of self
that Morrison points to and the knowledge that it
asserts which wedges itself into the canon has a structure. Foucault describes this in his work The Archaeology of Knowledge as, quote, “That ideological use of history “of which one tries to
restore to man everything “that has unceasingly eluded
him for over a hundred years.” Foucault offers that when
the gatekeepers of knowledge, culture, or in the case of Toni Morrison, American literature, what
she writes, has been, quote, “the preserve of white male
views, genius, and power,” when these gatekeepers de-center
the subject and relation to the laws of his desire,
the forms of his language, the rules of his action or discourse, when one questions outside
of the systems created for understanding that
are taken for granted that are considered the default and are shaped by the legacy
of that enlightenment, which also means imperialism. It means white supremacy
and anti-blackness. It means capitalism, Protestant
ethic, and patriarchy. Foucault says, quote, “When it becomes clear that man himself, “questioned as to what
he was, could not account “for his sexuality and his unconscious, “the systematic forms of his language “or the regularities of his fiction, “the theme of a continuity of history “has been reactivated once again: “a history that would be not
division but development; “not an interplay of relations,
but an internal dynamic; “not a system, but a hard work of freedom; “not form, but the unceasing
effort of a consciousness “turned about itself,
trying to grasp itself “in its deepest conditions: “a history that would be both
an act of long, uninterrupted “patience and the vivacity
of a movement which, “in the end, breaks all bounds.” The description for this panel
begins with this statement: The art world is a microcosm
of the society we live in. On the macro, the gaps in
our imagined syllabus mirror the gaps in the way history is
taught in the United States. The Civil Rights Act of 1964
may have forced integration of the people in the
United States somewhat, but it said nothing about
integrating our history, about telling the story
of the relationships, the interconnections, and
cause and effects that we, the people of the United States together, for better or worse. Instead, black accomplishments,
trials, tribulations, and contributions are regulated
to the month of February and presented as oversimplified tropes about bus boycotts and overcoming. With no context or connection, this segregated American
history has been handed down to American students for generations. On the world stage, this gap lies in the documentation of
the rise of the bourgeoisie and the formation of the proletariat, without significant consideration of how these historical
events are inextricably linked to Africa and the fact that
modern capitalism is built on the bones of the Atlantic slave trade, a subject that the great
Cedric Robinson meticulously investigates in his seminal
text, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Okay, so these gaps have
far-reaching consequences for students of color
who continue to be denied the experience of seeing
themselves, a privilege taken for granted and therefore
not addressed by those who hold positions of power in
the institutions, which leads to our first question for
our panel this evening. Perhaps you can start by saying
a little about yourselves and then sharing with us how was your experience as a student affected by the lack of representation of people of color in your education, and anyone can really start. Perhaps we can go with
Robin and go down the line. – So I’m a professor at the
New School in the Schools of Public Engagement, and
I’m a professor of management and media studies and
international affairs and urban policy, because titles are free. And as Anastasia mentioned,
I’m also a filmmaker, and I have a production company
called Progressive Pupil and our goal is to make
black studies for everybody. And I have a PhD in
African-American studies and political science, not because I was particularly interested
in political science, but because we had to
have husband departments, I call them husband departments,
because the fear was that as PhDs in African-American studies, we would not be able to find work, because very few African-American
studies departments have their own hiring lines. So usually you have to get
hired by political science or history or English, and
then you can be affiliated with African-American studies or half with African-American studies. So you really need that
non-African-American studies supervision and credential
in order to immerse yourself in the study of race and
equality and the culture politics and history of the African diaspora, which is what black studies is. So that speaks to the question
of how is my experience as a student affected by
the lack of representation of people of color in education. I actually as a graduate student, because I was in
African-American studies, I mean, I felt like I was in A Different
World, like everybody… The television show. Just watch it on YouTube. It’s really great if you didn’t. And so, because very many
of my professors were black, very many of my fellow
students were black, but something that we talk
about in the film Black in Cuba is that it’s not just about background. It’s about concern. And so, if your interest is
in addressing white supremacy and the terror that it creates
for communities of color, not just the United States
and around the world, then it’s not enough to
just be there, you know, in that institution,
enjoying the opportunities that an institution like SVA provides. You want to use what you have
access to to make an impact. So I think there was that kind
of lack of representation, which was very painful and
difficult for a number of us. So, we have, you know,
people who look like us, which was great, and they wanted
to talk about Frantz Fanon, they wanted to talk about Aime Cesaire, but they didn’t necessarily want to talk about what we could do with
that information right now. And so, it’s difficult to
read about someone like Fanon who, you know, had this
process of awakening and coming to consciousness where, those of you who don’t
know his background, you know, he wrote this classic work, The Wretched of the Earth,
but he started off being this young person from Martinique,
which was a French colony. It’s a beautiful island in the Caribbean. It’s still basically a French colony. It’s a French department, the way the US Virgin Islands is an
overseas, is a territory. So, he grew up middle class, and then he gets to go
to university in Paris. He has to go to university in Paris, because there are no
universities in Martinique, because there were no
universities in colonies then. So he goes to Paris and
he realizes everything he’s learned his whole life
about how he’s a French person and he’s part of this French civilization, and liberté, égalité, la la la, doesn’t apply to him, because he’s black. He’s black. And in the end, he decides
he really has to join the Algerian revolution, because it’s not enough to know. It’s not enough for him to
be the one black psychiatrist who’s sort of made it. It’s everyone or no one. And so I think to me,
to the answer of that, to wrap up, the question of representation is also a question of action and concern. And everyone doesn’t have
to have the same concerns, and everyone who has the same concerns doesn’t look like you. But I think that, to me,
has been the most enriching and empowering way to anchor
myself, is a sense of purpose and what’s the purpose of
the education that I have access to and the work that I’m doing. – Thank you. Tomashi? – All right. (panel laughs) If you insist. So, how was my experience as
a student affected by a lack of representation of people
of color in my education? I think of my art education
as having begun… In the 1980s, in Los Angeles. I know how very well that
I’m a beneficiary of the work of Thurgood Marshall and the
NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund, because
I’m a magnet school child from Los Angeles, California,
and it didn’t occur to me. Because we didn’t talk about it, we didn’t really talk about, in February or any other time,
the significance of the fact that we were being bused
from black neighborhoods into the USC village to go
to school and to be taught by working artists and that
our school was actually a very intentional experiment
of school integration. So the first school desegregation,
the first successful school desegregation case
took place in Houston, Texas, in 1949, Heman Marion Sweatt
versus Theophilus Painter, desegregating UT Austin Law School, leading to the creation of the
Thurgood Marshall Law School and what is now known as
Texas Southern University, which used to be TSUN, Texas Southern University for the Negro. And there were so many cases
that took place before, even before that. There was a march to educational access, and then after 1954, after
the Brown versus the Board of Education unanimous decision, which obviously would not happen now… It wouldn’t happen now. It would not happen now. It took 20 years. I lived part of my life in Massachusetts, and I’m reminded all the time of the fact that this was a city that,
you know, 20-some odd years, 22 years after the Supreme Court desegregated public schools, they had to be forced
by federal intervention, and they went kicking and screaming, throwing rocks at black children, rocking buses back and forth,
trying to tip them over as they were filled with children. Spearing a man with a… I’m sure people have seen that photograph that was taken by a Harvard
Nieman journalism fellow spearing a black man who’s
just walking through. He was a lawyer. Actually, he was from Yale Law, actually. Yeah, you know, insanity,
complete insanity. And I’ve gotten to know this… I’m varying a little bit,
but I have a best friend who’s an education policy specialist. And I didn’t know. Like, I didn’t know,
really, I didn’t really know until this last go-round
in graduate school at Yale, at the Yale School of Art, how implicated I am in all of this, because that’s how I’ve been taught. And I still consider myself a beneficiary. I love the places of education
that have stewarded me, and that I’ve had the
opportunity to steward, because I feel that responsibility
in places that I occupy, but, you know, it took me
until my 30s to realize, like, oh, I’m Linda Brown. I’m the little black girl that people are that hot not to educate. And it took research. And, you know, so I’m thankful
that I have an artistic practice now and that I have
friends across disciplines such that my work is a research, my practice is a research-driven practice. So, you know, I’ve looked to painting to try to unpack research
around school desegregation, because we are living in a
time of rabid and dramatic and very physical and
bloody resegregation. And you know, the perception of color impacts the value of human
life in public space. And even more specifically,
the treatment of children, you know, because how crazy is it, how crazy is it for a
200-pound man to mount a 15-year-old girl and twist
her arms behind her back and grind her face into the ground. How crazy is that? This is what we’re seeing. I’ve been seeing all this stuff, and I was thinking,
like, wow, this is crazy. And then, you know, I’m
watching policies move all over the country to
defund, to completely defund public schools, to defund
what’s left of bus programs, and I’m hearing stories, I’m
sitting in City Hall in Boston volunteering with the NAACP
Boston and hearing people talk about being worried about
their children having to take two and three buses and
a train to get to school by eight o’clock in the
morning or they’ll be tardy, and then they won’t.. Or then they’ll be late, and
they won’t end up getting into a good exam school, and
they won’t go to college. I was like, this sounds like the 1950s. So it’s taken that long for me to realize that I’m a beneficiary,
and that it took that long for that implementation,
for what was allowed of the implementation
of Brown, to reach us. So I got in at that sweet spot. So funding for public
broadcasting, all magnet schools and centers for enriched
studies, busing programs, school lunch programs, that all fed me, and because I was a… I only ever thought of myself
as an artist, as a child. I didn’t think of myself… I didn’t know that my
blackness was problematic until I got, until I was
around certain children as I moved up, as I got older, but still, to make art
was my primary purpose. I always thought that was
my primary purpose in life. Yeah. But I didn’t see, I
didn’t learn, I didn’t… Blackness was often like a
hyper-negatived afterthought, or a guilty afterthought. Like, oh, it’s February,
let’s talk about slavery, and then everyone turns
around and looks at me. And it wasn’t until… I went home.
I’m from Los Angeles. I went home after… So I started my education at the San Francisco Art Institute, and I deferred, I dropped out, and then eventually completed my education here in New York City at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and then there I learned about the Center for Advanced Visual Studies
at MIT, and ended up at MIT. I really wanted to be there. And then after a couple
of years, I’m completed. I will not be doing more schooling. But I just completed an MFA at the Yale School of Art for Painting. But in between SFAI and
Cooper Union, I went home to Los Angeles, and I was hanging out in the old neighborhood
in the USC Village, where I was an elementary school student. And I was in the library
there and saw this huge, beautiful painting, like a stained glass-looking painting, in the Library of Mary McLeod Bethune, and it was Charles White. It was Charles White. One of the last things he ever
did, before he passed away. And I didn’t know about Charles White! (panelist laughs) That’s the greatest thing. And he was in Pasadena. Like, over the hill,
where I used to hang out with my friends, like over
the hill from my high school, from my arts high school, where half the day was
spent, focused on this. Half the day was spent on
art history that completely excluded most of the
creative canon, actually. So, you know, I guess I can end with that, that Charles White was in my city, and I was growing up there, and didn’t even know who he was until he had passed away. And that is, it’s a crime. So, thanks. (audience applauds) – So, we have that in common. I was born in Houston, Texas, as well. – [Audience Member] – Yeah, your laptop. We can’t see. – Oh, sorry. – I was born in Houston, Texas, but I was born a lot
earlier than you were. And so I was part of that
whole drama that happened around segregating the schools
and the dragging of the feet. Also, Texas is where the
schoolbooks are selected… They are the state that
determines what are in schoolbooks in the
whole of the United States. And that’s something
I’ve learned since then. So yes, I did not have an
education around African-American or African culture at all growing up. The first pictures on
the walls in my bedroom were, my mother was an artist. She didn’t get to
actualize that in her life because of the culture we
lived in, but after I was born, she was determined. She was constantly trying to
manifest that part of herself. So she went back to school,
at Texas Southern University, to finish her fine art degree. – We might be cousins. – We may be. We’ll talk about that. And she, the first things
I can remember smelling are her oil paints and her clay. The pictures she put on
the walls in my bedroom were Velázquez’s Las Meninas. I had Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and three other classic
white art paintings. I was allowed to draw on
the wall in my bedroom, and she would paint it
out every month or two, and I could continue to draw on it again. So she was an extraordinary person. And so, because she was so extraordinary, everything in society
was against who she was, and she ended up having
a nervous breakdown and disappearing from my life. But I wanna tell you one little
story when I was a little, a very little girl, and she
was on the phone bragging. She and a friend were
bragging back and forth about how beautiful their
babies were when they were born. Of course, I was more beautiful
than her friend’s baby. Her friend’s baby was definitely
more beautiful than me, but we were both beautiful babies, and I didn’t know what
the word born was yet. I was only like three, four years old. And I listened to this conversation, but I knew I had to have been really beautiful when I was born. And so when my mom got off the phone, I asked her, I took her into my bedroom, and I pointed at the
infanta in Las Meninas, and I said, was that me when I was born? And so I tell you this story
because at that very early age, I had already picked up
that black, kinky hair, black person, was not beautiful. So, I went to school. In my second to my last
year in high school, finally, the Supreme Court,
the law just came down hard on Texas, and they were like, you can’t drag your feet anymore. You’re going to have to
desegregate the schools. So that year, they bused us over to, those of thus they
considered academically able, the honor students, they bused
us over to a white school and had us spend the week there and see if we would be interested
in going to that school. And that was a breaking point for me. Up to that point, as I just
said, I was an honor’s student, and that destroyed all
of the confidence I had about my education and
about my intelligence and my ability to thrive
in the world and excel. I finally realized why my
schoolbooks ended at World War II, because they only bought
schoolbooks for the Caucasian schools and then they would
send us their old books. And that was also why the students who were the honors students
got a chance to go in first and pick all of our books, because we were trying
to get the best books with the most pages in
it, because they knew we were gonna actually read
’em and do our homework. So then I saw the gym. They had an Olympic-size… We had a swimming pool that was heated, and was a couple of decades
later before I realized that the equipment that I was looking at was gymnastic equipment. They had language labs, and
everybody had earphones. In any case, there were five janitors, and we were always told that we were pigs because we had, maybe some graffiti, things weren’t always great,
the lockers weren’t fixed, but I’m watching people painting lockers and repairing things and
painting out writing on the wall. So it wasn’t that we were that different, but we just didn’t have the support. We didn’t have five janitors. We only had one. There were five times as
many kids at our school than there were at their school. That was the other thing. There were only 20, 25 kids
in a class at the most, and there could be 30 to
40 kids in my classes. So that ruined my self esteem, and I ended up, because my father’s family had taken me in after my mother
had her nervous breakdown, where my father grew up in Texas, no African-American could go
to school after fifth grade. So, they of course were not conscious of scholarship. I mean, these were hardworking people. They had their own businesses. My dad was a shoe repairman, but he actually owned a lot of property. He would just buy buildings. And there were several times when the, what is it where the
take your land away… – Eminent domain. – They declared eminent
domain several times and took some of his property,
but he still ended up being able to leave his
children something when he died. But I chose other paths. I still stayed with my creativity. I went to a junior college,
and when I came out, I decided I wanted to work in advertising, and I got a job as a glorified secretary, it was called an account assistant, at an advertising agency, and I told the people in
personnel that when I left there, I would be an account executive
on the biggest account in the agency, and that
is exactly what happened. Then I left there and
worked on the client side for Levi Strauss as one of
their advertising directors, and in all of these jobs, I was one of only maybe three black people in the building. And as I came back to who I was, and when I inherited the
money from my father, I decided to start making
things, making art, and the first things I decided to make was some furniture for my own home. And as a result of that,
because all of my friends were art directors,
photographers, and stylists, they started renting my
furniture for shoots, and they put together a portfolio for me, and they start commissioning
custom work from me, and that’s how that part
of my career started. And I have decided that I am free, despite not being free, and I do whatever the hell I wanna do. (audience applauds) So I don’t have to be within any bounds, because those bounds are too small for me, and I will go crazy like
my mother did if I stay within where I’m supposed to be and do what I’m supposed to do. So no, I do not have an advanced degree. But it is my goal to make
sure that artists of color are profitable and free to
be creatively expressive, because they are earning
money, because we need money. The struggling and starving
artist scenario is not for me, and that was something
my family was very… They pushed back a lot on the
idea of my being an artist, and I forgive them, because
what example did they have of a successful black female artist? I mean, you may have seen five black men, but the women, though, did
not exist in our lives. So I have now taken on
placing the art of emerging and mid-career African-American artists in the homes of
African-American collectors and getting them into
museums and into galleries. So that’s my side gig that I do, and in the meantime, I
continue to make my work, and I don’t have an
institution or gallery, and I sell stuff all the time, and I just have my own shows, or I participate in group
things that other artists put together, and I live
a really beautiful life. (audience applauds) – So I wanna get right to the heart of the question that you all asked, how was my experience
as a student affected by a lack of representation. It accounts for why I’m sitting here, because I was I was
confronted with three things: I was confronted with the crater, the charge, and the commitment. The crater is this incalculable,
incalculable amount of illiteracy, ignorance,
indifference, and innocence among people who hold BFA and MFA degrees, either as students or as
faculty and administrators in the matter of the
intersections between race, class, gender, and how they
account for segregation within art and within
the worlds beyond art. And I think it’s important for everyone in the room to understand that white supremacy is
not about white persons. I’m gonna say that
again, so you can exhale. (audience laughs) White supremacy is not
about white persons, and bell hooks has a much more prosaic way of saying the same thing in Talking Back: Talking Feminist, Talking Black,
which you all should read. It’s best to think of white supremacy as the answer to a century’s old question: is the African part of the human family? And consistently, the answer
to that question has been no. And it’s important to understand the role that the academy, higher education, has played in providing
people with evidence, however pseudo-scientific it may be, however faulty it might be, but providing evidence
for that answer being no. The role of visual culture is critical in that answer being no, because we have centuries
of representations that provide this comparison between so-called persons and property, and it’s an important
thing to understand that. So that was the first
thing I was confronted with when I was in my BFA education
and in my graduate education. This crater of ignorance,
illiteracy, indifference, and innocence that is so
huge that it’s incalculable. You can’t measure how deep it is. And then it was a charge. I was in graduate school,
and there was a young woman in one of my seminars who,
to make a long story short, wanted to have a debate with me about the irrelevance of race in my life and in her life and in the
United States of America. (audience laughs) And she wanted this debate
to be part of her… Or to be the subject of
her thesis film in cinema. So she was a senior, about
to leave the Ohio State University armed with a
weapon of mass destruction. And so we had a talk, and I said, okay, if race is so irrelevant
in the United States, and in my life, tell me
why there’s so few tenured African-American professors
at the Ohio State University? She said, oh, that’s easy to explain. There are more whites in the population. I said, okay. So then, I said, if the
preponderance of white people in the population explained
their dominance in the academy, why are the majority of players in the National Basketball
Association black? And she actually thought
before she answered to me, and said, they’re better at that. So here I was, black man in an apartment
in Columbus, Ohio, with a young white woman
who was about to complete four to five years of formal education with these 17th-century ideas
about the correspondence between skin color and
intelligence and superiority, because either no one had challenged them or had done so successfully. And then the voice came to me. What are you going to do about this? And I was in an MA program in photography and cinema at
the Ohio State University, and it was clear to me that… and I taught the entire
two years that I was there. I taught an introduction
to photography course, and I had all of these
students, most of them young, white farm children,
who more often than not, I was the first black person in the role of professor for them. And more often than not, I would be asked the question, what are you going to
do when you graduate? And I never said teacher. And one student literally came to me and said, you are a teacher. You should find a place in the academy. And I didn’t hear them until
I heard this young woman say what she said. And so what this meant was that I had to get the terminal degree. And I applied to the Maryland
Institute College of Artwork, got my MFA. And that’s when the commitment came, the commitment to being
part of the solution and not part of the problem. And to honor, honor those
young people who essentially put me into a command
performance in the classroom in ways that I never, ever expected. And it was also the
beginning of a commitment to something that Martin
Luther King said in 1967 where he talked about,
I think it was an NAACP address that he gave, where he talked about the
importance of that the future, the future, is to the maladjusted. And one of the things
that I came to understand was that being in the
academy is to be in the midst of people who have adjusted to the idea that the African is not
part of the human family and that intellectual
property of any significance could not come from anybody who was a descendant of that continent. And so aside from making a commitment to producing visual culture
that challenged these representations of African-American
people specifically as either criminals,
entertainers, or athletes, and even within those representations not being perceived oftentimes as human, it was important for me to contribute to the scholarship,
and I was fortunately, fortunately at the Ohio State University. I never thought I would get misty-eyed talking about an institution
I was associated with, but I get misty-eyed talking
about the Ohio State University because it was there… Excuse me. I was treated like a basketball player. (audience laughs) I was recruited. I was courted. I was accepted. I was monetized through
having a tuition waiver the entire time I was there. I was paid to teach,
but I was also charged. I was also charged by my
faculty to come in the classroom and to disrupt the flow of discourse
that was taking place. I was one of the first
people on the campus that had the first, the
first Apple PowerBook, and I had a history of
photography professor Clyde Dilley, God bless him. So when I told him I got it, he says, you’re gonna bring it
to the classroom, right? I said, yeah. I said, what am I gonna do
with it in the classroom? He said you’re gonna take notes. I said, well, Clyde, I
can’t type that fast. He said, don’t worry. You’ll catch up. And this was the man who
said, you cannot leave what you say in this seminar. You must write, and you
must get what you’ve written published, because
if you don’t do this, your classmates won’t. If you don’t make these points,
your classmates will not. So this is why I said white supremacy is not
about white persons. And it’s important to
understand that that framework, that framework is ideological, but it’s also, on some levels, biological, or psychological, more to the point, because there are people
who cannot unlearn this. And I’m here today to play a role in helping people unlearn it, through my own work as an artist, working in photography and cinema, and as an essayist that helps people make sense of the madness
that we find ourselves in. (audience applauds) – Thank you, everyone, for that. So, moving onto this
idea of representation and supply and demand, each summer, the SVA library
withdraws from circulation some books, which include the catalog from a Charles Austin show, Survey of Work from 1936 to 1969, Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, just black authors.
(Anastasia laughs) And Shellyne made this known to me. And so our question to
you is, are libraries meant to reflect student
bodies or shape them, and it’s very clear that SVA, being thousands and thousands
of dollars for tuition, isn’t accessible to many communities, and so I wonder how our libraries
are supposed to be shaped. – I would say first, go to the library. When I say, go to the library,
I don’t mean go to Google. Google is a database. It’s an index of websites. All information about human history, all of human history,
is not on the internet, not even close. So go to the library. And also, the concept… Well, the concept of the academy really is about certifying what is significant and reproducing knowledge
about what is significant. So it is not, in its function,
meant to be democratic. It’s not meant to equalize
relations of power in society. In fact, it’s meant to maintain the stratification of power in society. So part of our frustration
about the exclusion of historically marginalized
groups from academic discourse is because we have this
mitigated acceptance. The more that marginalized
communities are disruptive and demand to be included, we
get a little concession here, a little concession
there, and that concession is also meant to stabilize the existing relations
of power in society. So we get a little bit of ethnic studies, a little bit of gay and
lesbian studies, et cetera, and that’s just supposed to be enough to keep us from burning
the whole thing down. I am not saying burn anything down. (panel laughs) Just to be clear. But that is the fear. You know, everything’s fun and games until the guillotine shows up. – People start marching. (audience laughs) – No, the marching is fine. It’s the guillotine that’s the problem. Which, it should be. Nobody wants that, of course. So, the library follows
that same function. Libraries are meant to
certify what is important and reproduce that significance over time. So, it is incredible
if you go to a library that’s been going since,
you know, the 18th century, and you can see… Okay, for some of you, many moons ago, before searches on the internet, you had something called the card catalog. (audience laughs) And actually, many
libraries have not placed everything in their card catalogs online. So you still need to go and
look in the card catalog. And so you will see, oh, The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, Douglass, comma, Frederick,
1863, when it first came out. And so some libraries had
some abolitionist librarian who would order the book,
and so then it’s there for subsequent generations to find. But the great thing about
the academic library is that it is customer-service
oriented, many times. So if you, as a student or a professor, request things for the library, librarians will generally get them. If you check out things from the library, librarian will keep them. So it’s not to say that there
isn’t necessarily a bias. There is an association of
African-American librarians. They meet every year. There’s about a thousand of them. But part of what we can do
to certify what’s significant is by raising our voice and using things. And that’s a part that we can play. So that’s also about, sure,
you can just watch things on Netflix, like you hear
about something like, there’s this great
documentary, Cuba Libre, which is about the history
of the Cuban Revolution. You can watch it on Netflix. But who knows how long
Netflix is gonna last? If you’re talking about
from 1863 ’til now. Right? And so maybe you can request
something that you see that’s on Netflix that’s
about your community that you think is relevant
and they’ll get it on DVD, or they’ll get the digital stream of it, and it will be there. So it’s not up to us to
just accept what’s certified as important when we’re
in these institutions. We also have a say, and it’s really, if we want things to be different, if we want to have more inclusion, then we have to lead, which is not to say that we’re
displacing responsibility or saying okay, well, the
librarian has no responsibility, but it is meant to be
an interactive process, and we should take
advantage of that, I think. (audience applauds) – Are we doing this down
the line thing again? When Shellyne told me that
this was happening at SVA, I just thought this was crazy. This is crazy. It’s crazy to discontinue Black Writers of America: A Contemporary Anthology
by Richard Barksdale, Kenneth Kinnaman, a catalog
from a Charles Austin show, Survey of Work from 1936 to 1969, Selected Poems by
Gwendolyn Brooks, come on. That’s crazy. Introduction to African
Civilizations by John G. Jackson, forward by John Henrik Clarke. I didn’t know anything
about John Henrik Clarke ’til I started hanging out
with a girl from Cornell who had studied under Dr. Turner at the Africana Studies program. These academic spaces that we are… Oh, biographies on Lorraine
Hansberry and Octavio Paz. – Thrown out. – On the street? Like, this is what’s being
pulled from the library and made inaccessible
to incoming students? So, Shellyne and I talked
about this a little bit, and what’s interesting about this is, it’s like, well, if you’re
coming from places… You know, so, even as a
beneficiary of great public and private education,
there’s like all this stuff that I don’t know, that
I’m still having to learn and teach myself in good company now. So how would I know that I don’t want this or that I need this or don’t want this, and if you’re coming into SVA
as a normal undergraduate, you’re coming right out of
high school, from wherever. Let’s say you’re coming from
Arizona where you’re not allowed to learn about Native
Americans in the textbooks. (panelist laughs) It’s disallowed. You know what I mean? These are crazy decisions. These are crazy institutional decisions. – That’s House Bill 2281. – You know, like, what do you… It’s just crazy. It’s just crazy, and then we
who are the art students… So like, I can primarily
speak as someone who makes art and who’s been in public
and private art education since I was a little girl. You know, we find
ourselves, as I’ve moved up, as I’ve grown up and crossed the country for this goal, I have found that I’ve been in places where I thought that we were all… I thought we all wanted to be artists. I thought this was like we made it, we’re here together, like
this is what we want, and found myself and other
people of color kind of being, well, just having really
strange, strange experiences. Strange, dehumanizing
experiences in spaces that are supposed to be, you know, we’re led to believe are like, heightened for creativity
and intellectual discourse. Like, some really stupid stuff. Like, really stupid basic, basic, basic, like, beneath basic,
disrespectful, dehumanizing interactions that are
borne of what Mr. Gaskins is talking about, this core
belief, this core disbelief that we actually belong there. Like, what are you doing here? (panelist laughs) So, if that’s the space, we
should just get real about that. And these are conversations
that many of us who have been through
these academic spaces, we all know, and we
privately will discuss it because we need support, and
I think it’s interesting, in recent years, well, in
the last couple of years, there were so many contemporary
campus demonstrations all over the country. What I find most
interesting is that things that would normally only be
discussed in closed company were being discussed openly about these kinds of experiences. So it’s like, it’s just stupid. This is how you breed stupidity, is all. This is just how you breed stupidity, and then we’re the ones
who have to deal with it when we’re students, and
then students of color, you know, the data already
shows that those of us, many of us will then take on extra work, doing public work at school to try to, you know, ’cause as
Mr. Gaskins was saying, what are you gonna do about it? What are you gonna do about it? – Isn’t that what she just asked? – Yeah. – By doing this panel? – Right. Yeah, what are you gonna do about it? So we do all this extra lifting, which can produce these
beautiful things, yes. But then when we leave,
institutional amnesia sets in, and then you have a
whole ‘nother generation who’s coming in without
a full breath of humanism even being prioritized in
the way that they’re learning about social history, human history, and cultural history, and it’s insane. (audience applauds) – Just a brief note, ushers are
gonna come around to collect questions for the Q&A right
now, so just look out for them. – Like, if people’s supposed to be smart, why would you do that? (panelists laugh) – Also, those books,
they didn’t get tossed. They’re in my library at home. (panelists and audience laugh) – If you raise your hand, if you haven’t got an index
card, an usher will find you. – He’s asking… – We’ll get to that. – We’ll get your question later. – So the library was a lifesaver for me. I literally get sexually turned
on around a lot of books, and actually have had sex in
the library several times. (panelists and audience applaud) So. And my intention was to read
the entire encyclopedia. I was an only child, and
so books were my refuge from everything that was going around in the chaos of my life. But I did notice as I
was going through school that there was not a lot
about my life and my family and the African-American experience or even something for me to
be really super proud of, even though, in my life,
I saw it all the time, because the flip side of segregation is that we were all together
in every socioeconomic group. So even though my family
was working class, my friends, because of
my academic achievement, were the kids whose fathers
and mothers were doctors, lawyers, professors, and so
I got to experience a bigger life, which kids now don’t
get to do because the smarter, wealthier kids are going to private school or they are in charter schools. So those who are left behind
are literally left behind. So that was the advantage for me. So I absolutely loved it, but I also felt a great deal
of frustration around it. But what I did learn is I learned how to
communicate in the language and in the metaphors that
my Caucasian colleagues and friends could understand,
because that was pretty much what my education had
been from that viewpoint. So, for instance, I had
been on some boards. I was on the first organization in America that was a site-specific
artist residency program. It’s called Capp Street
Project in San Francisco. I was on the board of the San
Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the chair of their
Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art, which chooses artists to get a show in the
museum every two years, and in all of those situations, because I could translate my
thoughts using the metaphors of Shakespeare or someone else
to my colleagues on the board ’cause I was typically
the only African-American on the board, that really enabled me to have my agenda go through. So Fred Wilson got a
residency at Capp Street, and Willie Cole, and these were people that I just said to the
board, like, why haven’t… You know, I’ve been on
the board for three years, and we’ve gotten artists from
all over Europe and America and everywhere, but I haven’t
seen any African-Americans, so I need to see some. And always, the way I like to flip it when they would ask
me, you know, to go out and find more black board
members or more black artists, and I would flip that back to them, and I knew that was why they had asked me to come on the board,
but my agenda was bigger. My goal was for them to find
African-American artists and more African-Americans
to be on the board, because they needed to
open up their circle of who was in their life, and it enriched everybody by doing that. So getting back to the
library, it enriches everybody. The more knowledge that’s
in those repositories, the better it is for everybody. There’s so much joy,
there’s so much knowledge, there’s so many inventions that African-Americans have
contributed to this country that the real McCoy is a black
man who developed a patent for a process for oiling the railroads at a time when the railroad
was the most important means of getting anything done in this country. So to have a real McCoy
meant that you actually had his and not a knockoff of his invention. So there’s a lot of things like this that is kept from everybody,
and we should all know it. So that is why I think that
it’s important for libraries to include everybody and
not just African-Americans but everybody should be
included in our canon. It shouldn’t be only white and European, because that’s a small world,
and it’s not an exciting and interesting world, and
it doesn’t challenge you, and you can’t grow, and you
can’t really have joy and fun and certainly not great sex. (audience laughs and applauds) – Cheryl. I think there’s going to be
an increased participation in the number of people
going to the library here, (panelists and audience laugh) because of you. I wanna say something. In the same way, how many people here go to parties and dance? Raise your hands. Okay. In the same way, you would leave a party if Beyonce wasn’t being spun
and Jay Z wasn’t being spun and Young Jeezy wasn’t being spun. The same way… (panelist laughs) The same way you would turn around and see something
problematic with that party, you have to have the same attitude about intellectual
property and scholarship. You have got to begin to ask the question, what were black, brown, and red people, and what are black, brown,
and red people thinking as critical spectators
and critical producers of visual material culture and design. In the same way you know
you’re going to miss something if that beat is not at that party, I’m telling you, you’re
missing a great deal if you’re not answering that,
or asking that question. And the thing that separated
me from my colleagues in undergraduate school,
as well as graduate school, is simply I asked that question. And I’m extraordinarily enriched and have been extraordinarily enriched by asking that simple question, because while the academy
and the libraries will silo knowledge in certain ways,
that’s not how knowledge works. And the library within
art and design schools has a particular relationship, because you have people
who are in studio courses, teaching in studio courses, that divide the visual
arts from the liberal arts and leave students with
the mistaken impression that the work comes from them and that innovation comes from them and that originality comes from them, when it really comes from,
as I tell my students all the time when we
talk about photography, photography is an interdisciplinary medium that requires an
interdisciplinary approach to its reception and its production. So, what that means,
at the end of the day, is you have to choose a
conversation in design, in photography, in cinema, in painting, in whatever medium you’re working with and understand that it’s
not informed by photography. It’s not informed by cinema. It’s not informed by
design for design’s sake. It’s informed by ideas outside of it. And aside from a site
for a sexual encounter, (audience laughs) so many of the situations that
you find yourself stuck in in terms of the work
that you’re producing, you can get yourselves unstuck by getting as much information
as you possibly can and asking those
questions, what have black, brown, and red people been thinking about in terms of the discipline that I’m in? Now, you will be confronted by people who are in the role of professor
who may tell you, nothing. They have not asked those
questions, and it’s up to you to be intrepid and
contradict that response. (audience applauds) – All right, so we wanna try to get in a couple more questions before
we wrap for the evening. I’m gonna throw two very
important questions out there, and let’s try to be
succinct with our answers. One, departments within
universities bear the responsibility of undoing dated and
exclusionary knowledge with white supremacist and
imperialistic underpinnings. Because we have a legacy
of exclusionary learning, there is an army of scholars,
academics, and teachers that have spent their whole
career with no knowledge of non-western intellectual
and avant garde contributions. Is it time for institutions to send their faculties back to school? That’s one. The second: the name of this panel
is Erasure by Exclusion. Exclusion, in this case, is not
meant to automatically imply inclusion as in assimilation. Inclusion, in this case, is meant as a way to not be rendered at
extinct, to not be negated. It is a demand. With this in mind, we would like to ask, Anastasia and I would like to ask, what are the differences
between diversity and equality, and how do these words present
themselves in the art system? All right, tossin’ it out
there, somebody catch that. – I will say very quickly, yes, it is time. It’s always time for faculty
to go back to school. I mean, I think part of something
I get very frustrated with is whenever there is
an incident of racism. I mean at my institution,
sadly, after Trump’s election, someone or some people
put swastikas on the doors of several students’ dorm
rooms, and so then there’s a conversation about, let’s have training. And then, but the training
is not for decision makers about how to have the best
possible campus climate. It’s not a training for the leadership of an institution, what are solutions that have worked? What steps have other institutions taken? How much money have they spent? It falls to the faculty and the
students to fix the problem, When they have the least
amount of resources and decision-making power to do so. – Can we clap? (panelists and audience applaud) – So, and that’s, again, how
power in all institutions work. Things, the scatological goes downhill. And so it’s really important to hold the decision makers accountable, because they can change
the most the fastest. And so, in terms of going back to school, training is something
that should be happening for the campus all the time. For faculty at different stages
of careers, for students, and that should be embedded
in the institution. It shouldn’t be a one-off
when there’s a crisis. So yes, everyone needs to
be thinking about structures of inequality, thinking about race, thinking about the contributions
of communities of color, and how they are essential to our understanding of everything. I don’t know how many
people saw Hidden Figures. So I didn’t know anything about NASA then. I didn’t. I didn’t know anything about NASA, because if you didn’t know
about the gendered nature, the gendered segregation of labor, and you didn’t know how Jim
Crow was affecting knowledge production of NASA, you didn’t
know anything about NASA. And so, we’re doing a disservice
to knowledge in general by excluding these stories,
as Bill was just saying. So that’s one, and then two, I struggle with the concepts
of diversity and equality. Diversity because I said before, right, you can have representation
that is different but no difference in opinion,
no difference in concern. And we see that when we
see Omarosa and Ben Carson sitting with Donald Trump
talking about black history. Get Frederick Douglass’s
name out of your mouth. Don’t say Rosa Parks, don’t. So you can have a wonderful buffet, but then you look closely, and it’s just all green beans. I mean, some are curried,
some are sauteed, some are deep-fried, but a
green bean is a green bean, and so how much difference
does it really make. The most diverse pageant in the world is the Miss Universe pageant. Miss Angola, Miss Philippines, Miss Switzerland, but
everyone is 5’8″ or above. Everyone is 120 pounds or less. Everyone has long, straight hair. Everyone has a certain
eye to nose to chin ratio. So I don’t… Diversity in this time, I
don’t know how meaningful it is in terms of advancing
and achieving democracy, in terms of relations of power, in terms of enabling
and sustaining autonomy, helping us have the resources we need to make the best decisions for ourselves and the people we care about. And that is what, if we think about, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore describes, if we think about racism
as policies and practices that cause premature
death for people of color, then the opposite is
what can cause long life? And diversity alone doesn’t get us there. And that leads me to my
problems with equality, because the premise of so many of the Affirmative Action programs, which I’m proud to say I
have participated in in life. I mean, if it’s good
enough for the Bushes, it’s good enough for me. If it’s good enough for the Hiltons, it’s good enough for me. But so much of the
premise of these programs, whether it the Better
Chance program or, you know, I had a Ford Diversity
Dissertation Fellowship. The idea is that the institution is fine. The system is fine, if only you can have the access. If only you can have the opportunity, then, you know, you’ll be good. But we know that that is not the case. The opioid epidemic in this country is really catching fire in
middle class white neighborhoods. What’s going on that young
people don’t want to be awake? Don’t want to walk in
consciousness in the suburbs? Something is… In some ways, I think
mainstream American culture, like, I don’t know if anybody’s ever been to Orange County… I’m talking too long. But the basic presumption of
equality is that everything is okay the further up you
go on the social ladder, and there is no really compelling evidence that that’s the case. Having money only solves not having money. And so, that is something
that I think about. So I think to me, the real key to change is about what can we do
to increase autonomy? What can we do to democratize resources? Those are the keys to expanding life. (audience applauds) – And that’s where, historically, there’s all kinds of resistance. Resources, under-resourcing
specific communities, and then blaming them
for their blightedness. I just wanna read something, this quote from this really smart man, because I feel like it’s really fitting. He said, “All I have been
doing in trying to correct “the system in America has been in vain. “For the vast majority of white Americans, “the past decade, the first
phase, had been a struggle “to treat the Negro with a
degree of decency, not equality. “White America was ready to
demand that the Negro be spared “the lash of brutality
and coarse degradation, “but it had never truly
committed to helping them out of “poverty, exploitation, and
all forms of discrimination. “When Negroes looked for the second phase, “the realization of
equality, they, or we, found “that many of their white
allies had quietly disappeared. “The Negroes of America
have taken the president, “the press, and the pulpit at their word “when they spoke in broad
terms of freedom and justice, “but the absence of brutality “and unregenerate evil is
not the presence of justice. “To stay murder is not the same thing “as to obtain personhood. “Why is equality so assiduously avoided? “Why does white American delude itself, “and how does it rationalize
the evil it retains? “There is not even a common language “when the term equality is used. “Negro and white have a
fundamentally different definition. “Negroes have proceeded from
a premise that equality means “what it says and have taken
white American at its word “when they talked of it as an objective. “But most whites in America in 1967, “including many persons of
goodwill, proceed from a premise “that equality is a loose
expression for improvement. “Loose and easy language about equality, “resonant resolutions about
personhood fall pleasantly “on the ear, but for the Negro,
there is a credibility gap “that they cannot overlook,
that we cannot overlook. “They remember that with
each modest advance, “the white population
promptly raises the argument “that the Negro has come far enough. “Each step forward ascends “an ever-present tendency to backlash.” That was Dr. King speaking in 1967. So, yeah. I’m like really for this
accountability thing. But yeah, accountability
inside the schools. The school, the desegregation
of public space, the desegregation of
schools was the Trojan horse that transformed all of
public space as we know it. Interstate transportation, all of that. Public parks, buildings, all of that. All of that happened… The battlefield was
the space of education. The battlefield was the mind, and Thurgood Marshall
knew when he was a child that he wanted to desegregate education, sitting in the backs of… His father had him sitting
in the backs of courtrooms, quietly listening, and he
knew when he was a child that that was the key, and for Dr. King, the key that Dr. King found
before he was assassinated, I mean, he’d been talking
about it since 1957, was the link between
labor and racial equality, and justice, labor and justice, the fact that the way we see ourselves is borne of the work that we do, whether that be scholarly or manual labor. You know, like that
determines our sense of self and our place in our community and our ability to care for
each other and for ourselves. That’s humanism. So we should all be
learning, all the time. The space of education was the opportunity thought Thurgood Marshall and the LDF, especially early childhood
education was the place to really get in there
early to stop that cycle of inherent racism, of
anti-black, anti-brown, the terror of racism from repeating, that studies showed a long time ago that children of color
bear the brunt of that. Everybody is affected. Everybody is walking
around with a completely distorted sense of reality
and the value of human life, but the pain, the real long-term pain, the life-altering pain, is
often endured by communities of color who are getting
it from all sides. So the space of education
is the opportunity for us to be together and to learn
and to advance and to grow, and it should be fun. Like, it should be fun. Like, for everybody involved, I think, including the facilitators. I had fun when I finally got into some Af-Am study classes at Yale. We had fun pulling stuff
apart, learning about people that we should have already known about. And everybody needs that. Everybody needs that, for a beautiful life. We all need that. (audience applauds) – Well, I really think that
diversity is extremely important and especially the power
silos of this country, and I’ve seen it at work in my encouraging the
boards that I’ve been on, the companies I’ve worked for to diverse, to be more diverse. and when I look at diversity,
I mean it in every way, because it just improves everything. If everybody is the same, then everybody has the same blind spot. And so by bringing in
other points of views, other income levels, other
sexes, and other races of people, you’re gonna have a much
better organization, business, board, neighborhood, school, because you are gonna get
the best from everything. You’re gonna get things
that you never experienced and didn’t know anything about. You’re gonna meet amazing
and interesting people. As far as equality, I don’t
know if that’s possible for the human condition to create anything that’s really equal. So I don’t have a lot
of hope for equality. But I do have a lot of hope for diversity, because that’s something
that we can definitely do, and so easily, too. If you’re looking, if you’re
sitting in any situation and you look around and everyone is black or everyone is Caucasian
males, then you need to get in action immediately
and change that dynamic up, because you’re gonna have
much more success if you bring in a lot more diversity
to any type of endeavor that you’re gonna reach to,
and I’ve seen this countless, so many times now in my life that I know that I’m speaking the truth. (audience applauds) – The most devastating and persistent human action in the history of humankind was the trans-Atlantic slave trade that benefited the United
States and Great Britain to the extent that the
profit, I mean the interest on that profit, is still being born. It’s important to understand the history of this term, diversity. So quickly, first Africans get here, Jamestown, Virginia, 1619. So there’s unmitigated
hell between 1619… Not only unmitigated hell,
but there is an agreement within American culture that we won’t talk about the peculiar institution of slavery. 1968, May, excuse me, April fourth, is the assassination of
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That was the moment when the
United States of America, its citizens, began to understand that something had happened,
that there was a past grievance that was structural in its nature. It wasn’t about personalities. It was structural. And so 1968 began a
particular period of time. First, there was violence. And there’s certain people
who can hear violence in ways that they can’t
hear dialog or pleas. These people started to do something because they realize that
something had happened that we haven’t been talking about. So that ends in 1978 with the Supreme Court case, Bakke versus University of California. This is a case where a man
by the name of Allan Bakke sues the Regents of the
University of California for his being denied access or entrance into the UCal Davis Medical School. The brief written by
Justice John Paul Stevens basically said this. I’m stripping away all the legalese. While there have been efforts
over the last 10 years to address past grievances
and past injustices, in the matter of higher
education, we can no longer desegregate based on past injustice. We can only do it for
purposes of diversity. So basically, what that comes down to is that I will allow
you in my corporation, I will allow you in my school, I will allow you in my
fellowship programs. Now, even though
something happened to you, the deal is, you can’t talk about it. I’ll give you everything you want. I’ll put you in positions of influence, but you can’t talk about
what was done to you. So, diversity amounts to a vague conflict-averse, race-evasive, ahistorical celebration of difference that is an administrative and legal tool to keep people from facing the fact that something has happened
that is inexorably connected to the contradictions
between the principles and the platitudes for which
this country is built on and its policies and
practices in the matter of those descendants of chattel slavery in the United States. And it’s important to understand, that’s the history of this term. It’s legal and it’s administrative, and it serves a purpose that keeps people innocent, illiterate, ignorant, and indifferent. (audience applauds) – So I think we’ll have one
or two more of our questions before we move onto the Q&A. – Do we have time? I think we may have run
out of time a little bit. – One more question before the Q&A? – Do we have time for one more? – Do you wanna mix and match,
we’ll do Q&A, and then… – Okay. – Can we get to the
cards, and then come back? – Okay, sure, sure. – Yes, we’ll come back if we have time. – All right, so. – They’ve waited to patiently. – They have.
(panelists laugh) And I really identify with
this question, being a current student and having this
experience of the room of silence, whoever brought us this question. Being black in an art critique can be challenging, to say the least. Referred to commonly amongst
POC as the room of silence, I feel like my artistic
growth is being stifled because being a class full
of white artists, they never have much to say about
work outside of aesthetics. How can this atmosphere be
challenged as a student? – First, I would recommend that you read Institutional Time by Judy Chicago and understand that, excuse me, the history of the art academy is that it was gendered feminine. It was a place for women. And not all the time
was it a place for women to be professionalized,
beyond a particular group of siloed practices like interior design and other craft-based mediums. It’s important to understand
that post-war America brings us the imprimatur
of abstract expressionism informed by bebop, here in New York City. Not jazz. It’s informed by bebop. And so you have all of these white men who are coming back from
the war who have access to the GI Bill that
enables them to have access to higher education paid
for by the government. So, many of these people
come into schools of art, and they proceed to recover
art from its feminine identity. So, this convention you
all are experiencing in your critiques, I don’t
care what discipline you’re in, that it’s a caged battle match… (panelists laugh)
– Yes! – That is all about this
particular period of time in the 1940s where these white men come in and basically set the terms
of dialog and discourse around the critique of work
that amounts to this question, are you man enough to be in here? And that’s to an overwhelming
majority of women who are the students. And so first of all, you don’t get paid… First of all, if you want therapy, the critique is not the place for that. And more to the point, it is not the place for
anybody to abuse you. It is not the place for
there to be the absence of verifiable criteria for
the evaluation of your work. That is what we have here. It’s what I call a legacy pedagogy. And it’s serving very few people, and what it does is it conditions students to be on eggshells, and more to the point, it conditions students to say what people want to hear you say, do what some people want you to do, rather than put you into
position to animate, to develop your work on your terms. And it’s important that you
understand what that’s about. And one of the things that has to stop, going back to the point
about people being educated. BFA and MFA education is perhaps
the only place I’m aware of where people are in roles as educators who have no coursework in pedagogy, have no coursework in
curricular development, and have no coursework in
organizational psychology. So, basically, they’re teaching
the way they’ve been taught, and that model is this implicit question, are you man enough to be in here? And so this whole idea of
having to come into a critique and be destroyed as a matter of course, as a matter of professional
development, is false, and you need to disrupt it. (panelists and audience applaud) – Preach! – So, the next question, it’s one of our questions
and it seems to be a really popular one amongst
the ones you guys submitted. So there is a painting in question. (audience groans) (panelists laugh) I’ll leave it up to you
whether or not you would like to name the artist, but our question is, why does art by white artists
featuring black subjects continue to be so problematic,
and why does it always fall short of its intentions? What does it mean to be in the image, and what does it mean to produce it? – Can I… – Go for it.
– I didn’t wanna snatch it. – No. – But I have been thinking
so much about this, because I actually, I
mean, we’re talking about, is it Dana Schutz? – Schutz. – Schutz, Dana Schutz,
and I’ve only seen it, I haven’t seen it in person. I’ve only seen photographs of it, and I teach about the
murder of Emmett Till, and there’s a brilliant documentary called The Murder of Emmett Till,
that if you’re interested in the subject matter, I
highly recommend you watch, and I teach the photograph
that was featured in Jet Magazine of his
mutilated, disfigured body, because it was, as many of you
may know, this lightning rod for participation in the
Civil Rights movement, and many young people
who would go on to be in the Student Non-Violent
Coordinating Committee and do sit-ins and go to
the South and mobilize and work with African-American
communities in the South to register to vote and
demand the right to vote, as teens, they saw that
photograph of Emmett Till in Jet Magazine, the great Jet Magazine. Go to the library! But it’s also on Google, that’s on Google. (audience laughs) If you wanna have a really good time enjoying black aesthetics
of the late 20th century, just look at old Jet on Google. It’s a really great way
to spend a rainy Saturday. And so, I teach that photograph, and a part of the reason
that I teach the photograph is because of his mother, Mamie Till. And so, when Mamie Till, you
know, they demand the body, they demand the body,
the body is brought back to one of the great
African-American institutions, the funeral home, which,
that’s a whole other panel, is brought to the south side
of Chicago, the funeral home, and the mortician, you know,
a stalwart of the community, as all funeral homes
are, the mortician says you do not want to see him. I’m gonna get emotional. You do not want to see him. And she’s determined, yes, I do. Right? So she insists, and probably
against his better judgment, he concedes to the wishes of the mother. And she can’t believe what she saw. She can’t believe it. And if you’ve seen the photographs of him before he goes to Mississippi,
before he is falsely accused, there’s a great book out by Timothy Tyson about the white woman who admits finally, 50, 60 years later, that
she lied about the whistle. Who cares, it’s a whistle,
anyway, but she lied about that. He had done nothing. She can’t believe what she sees, and the mortician in sympathy
begins to talk about, I think it has to be a closed casket. I don’t know what I can do to restore him, because he’s mutilated so viciously, and she says, it will be an open casket. And this, everyone should see. So the photograph in Jet
Magazine is a political act, which is to say, so many
times African-Americans endure terror, endure violence, it is motivated by white supremacy that is meant to show
our place in society, and we just take it, because
we’re afraid that saying something about it,
telling the truth about it, is just going to invite more violence, and that has been the case
since we got here, to Jamestown, and so when Mamie Till says, from the relative safety of Chicago, from the relative safety of
being a middle-aged woman, we will tell the truth about
what happened to my son. It is political, and it is not filtered, if you see the actual photograph, which is easily, you
can see that on Google, and you can see what
he looked like before. It’s gruesome, and it’s devastating, and it’s courageous. It’s courageous of Jet Magazine
to publish the photograph. So, my reaction to the painting was that it wasn’t gruesome enough. If you’re going to show this suffering and that is your intention, to tell the truth about
racial terror, tell the truth. The swirls, for those of us
who are not African-American studies professors who
have not seen it closely, don’t convey they reality of the terror. And so to me, that was my criticism. Not that she didn’t have the
right to portray the event. Not that a white person
doesn’t have a right to discuss these things,
but if you’re flinching, you’re really violating
Mamie Till’s intention, and that is disrespect. Show the image in its violence. Show the truth of the violence. But also, why not, as a white woman, relate directly to your personal history as a white woman in the event? (audience applauds) Which is not to say, show
the violence of the accuser or the violence that she was subjected to in terms of being coerced into an accuser. Which doesn’t, don’t jump me, I’m not trying to say
she’s not responsible, but there is a whole story there. Why not use your privilege to tell a part of the story that is very confrontational but extremely important
for us to understand, and perhaps encourage
people in your community, as a white woman, to
make different choices. So again, your art is your art. I’m big on freedom of speech. We’re gonna need freedom of
speech now more than ever. It’s been 60 days. So I’m big on freedom of speech, but I’m also big on criticism
that advances solutions. So I think to say to someone,
well, you don’t have a right to speak about racism because you’re white is absurd and unhelpful. To stay only in anger without an actual
conversation about what people can do differently
doesn’t advance anything. And so I’m fearful that the
conversation that has emerged is going to discourage white artists from having any kind of
conversation or participation, and I hope that that doesn’t happen. (audience applauds) – You know, the freedom
thing is very important. But I think at the same time, there needs to be responsibility. And one of the things that often happens within studio art curriculum, fostered by faculty who will justify not going to the library on the principle of academic freedom. So I’m free to be ignorant. I’m free to be innocent. I’m free to be illiterate. And so I think that all too often, students are not encouraged
and mandated to be responsible for visual culture. A very important essay
you all should read, it’s called Abstract Expressionism,
Weapon of the Cold War. First sentence: “To understand what makes
a particular art movement “successful is to understand
the particulars of patronage “and the ideological
needs of the powerful.” So this thing you all are
doing, this is not playtime. You’re not in Mrs. Guston’s
first grade class anymore. This stuff has power. And it’s not about you. It’s not about you. It’s about understanding, you’re
living in a particular time where people need a clarifying
effect through what you do. And it’s not just for me about Schutz. It’s about the illiteracy
of the entire supply chain. That’s the director, that’s the curators, that is the people connected
to the education department there missing an opportunity to truly, truly do something beyond what has become a lightning rod and a distraction from all the other work within the exhibition, but it reflects the fact that
she came from and through an educational system that says, you can do whatever you want. – And with whomever’s
body, whomever’s history, and it doesn’t… You can even refuse to engage that history while you are in school.
– Exactly. – To go back to the other comment about the rooms of silence, at Cooper Union, I was the
only black person in the class in which my fellows
refused to critique my work because they insisted that
I was trying to make them feel stupid by asking
questions about who we think black and brown women are in
the city, ’cause I didn’t know. So I had made a set of
Madlibs about asking who we think domestic workers are. It was like a long-term project of me observing domestic
workers of the street, ’cause I saw more people
in the streets of New York and the parks of New
York who looked like me than I did at my school,
and it was just simple. My name is blank. I come from blank country. In my home country, my
parents do this and this. I have this many siblings. They refused to critique the work, and they were not called on
it by my beloved professor. – So that’s where the… – They insisted upon ignorance. – That’s where the
anything is possible stops. You can do anything. – Except…
(panelist laughs) – Except deal with race in this studio. And rather than saying, rather than say, I am uncomfortable, rather than say, my
education doesn’t support what you want to unpack in here, let’s bring some people in, aside from me, aside from me, to help you get
your work to the next level. (audience applauds) – Just to piggyback off
of that really quickly, the other experience which
Anastasia and I spoke about at length is when a student
does approach a faculty member, the faculty then puts the responsibility of having this world of
knowledge of black artists, black scholars, to then educate them. Well, who do you suggest we
should put on the syllabus? And this goes back to the question about, is it time for faculty
to go back to school, because the students are
here to learn from you. So then the sort of
responsibility is on faculty to know and not put that on students. And so if then the faculty doesn’t know and we get into a critique
and your professor is like, I don’t know, and the
student’s like, I don’t know, – And a whole bunch of
students are like, no! (panelists laugh) – Yeah, then that isolates the student. – Okay. So I think we have to be wrapping up, so I guess our last
question from the audience: I wish history courses were more diverse in its representation. Do you know what it would
take to integrate these ideas and people into public
history conscious, I think, and so that’s kind of a
base question that we’ve had throughout the panel, I guess, this idea of how do we integrate without this guise of
segregationist integration and truly make our
classrooms and our faculty and our student bodies more diverse and trying to, how do we pursue equality even when it seems impossible? – One of the ways I’d
like to see that happen is we just get rid of
some of these qualifiers. It’s American history. It’s not black history
and American history. If we can just get rid
of that type of thinking, I think a lot of space is
opened for us to actually have diversity, because if
we just say it’s history, then you have to deal with
everything that happened. – And herstory, and herstory. – In a specific period of time. So it’s not, it’s not about these silos. It’s not Asian art. It’s not black art, it’s art. And if you really just get rid
of those qualifiers upfront and really just think of it
in the essence of what it is, then if you’re gonna talk
about abstract expressionism, you can’t leave Norman Lewis out. You can’t leave Sam Gilliam out, because they were abstract expressionists at that time in history. So for me, it’s really simple. Just stop with the silos. We don’t have to have
black history classes. We can just have history classes, and maybe you’re gonna
break it up in eras, from 1910 to 1950 and do it like that, and then include everything that happened in history in that period. – I mean, that would be the ideal. – That’s what we’re talking about. That’s what we’re talking about, what would be the ideal,
and how would we do it? You know, how could you do it? – But absolutely, but I’m gonna push back
on that a little bit, just because I resist the
continued problematizing of vicinity-specific education and records of history, and I’m wary of language that
seeks to, that insists upon, erasure of difference as a
solution because it’s so often, like, you know, with the Bakke case, it’s just like the language of liberation and idealistic equality braided up to be some neo-right wing,
school choice, vouchers! School choice, shut down all your schools
in Philadelphia and Chicago. That’s choice! The choice initially was the
language of desegregation. So I’m with you in that
this is a world history that we’re talking about. We’re talking about peoples
of the worlds and creative products of the world and art
of the peoples of the world that have been very, with great intention, a lot of energy has gone
into excluding knowledge about Asian contemporary art. Just a lot of energy, a lot of spirit has gone into specifically
excluding knowledge of non-white people, of people
of non-European descent, across disciplines. So under that guise, that language, that ideal has already been used. Oh, this is just history, or
we are all American, and that kind of ends up leaning towards
rationalizing nationalism. That still excludes. So yeah, I mean, I feel like ideally, yes, but I’m also, I’m
reminded of all the times that that sort of language of equalization is used against us. – I would also say, I
think it’s very important for students to understand
the financial leverage that you have in colleges
and universities, and so what you want is what is needed to
keep the school going. And so, if you want more and
different types of history, if you want more and different
types of art education, collectively, the more
you express that desire, the more likely it is to happen. And so the only reason
we have women’s studies and ethnic studies and
African-American studies to the extent that we do is
because students demanded it, and the more intransigent
administrations were, the more intransigent the demands became. And so, you don’t have
to accept institutions as you find them. The bad news is, don’t you
wanna just like open your books and do your work and mind your business? Sure, sure. But that’s not how life is. If you want something bespoke, then you actually need to customize it. And so it’s really, I think
the burden becomes less when you don’t act alone,
when you don’t say, okay, well, it’s on me to
deal with this professor that’s saying it’s my responsibility to figure out how to
diversify the syllabus. When you band together
and organize as a group, you really get something out of it. I think that’s a different
type of education, but a really important one, which is how to advocate for
your needs in institutions. And that’s something that you are, I mean, you’re trying to be artists? You’re going to need
to be doing that a lot. So it’s a really important
and helpful life skill that you can get practice on, just trying to address
these issues in your school. – There’s a great history of Cornell, Cornell’s history of what
became the Africana Studies department, and that really matters a lot, like the difference between a department, department distinction
and what’s happened in… Cornell is a crazy racist campus,
and produced some amazing, amazing people under the
tutelage of Dr. Turner, – James Turner. – James Turner, I wasn’t
there, but I had friends who were there, and they
are different kinda people. They are an intellectually
different kind of people, but I speak to the notorious racism, the generational racism
on the campus of Cornell, like burning down the
Native American house. You know, white frat boys, burning down… Boys, they’re men. Burning down the Native American house. Trying to burn down the
Ujimaa house, or the Ujamaa… – Ujamaa. – You know, ’cause the students, the students there can live
in groups if they choose to. Like, a lot of violence. Students going missing,
being driven off into gorges while they’re walking
across campus to school, all sorts of crazy stuff. And in the middle of all
of that generationally, that department was created
because students banded together and insisted upon it. I was like one of the… Kind of like what happened here at the Medgar Evers CUNY school. It’s like one of those stories
of students like holding on and really insisting
upon change, and again, I mentioned the generational, gobbling up everything kind
of racism on that campus, because only recently
have they successfully de-departmentalized
Africana Studies, I heard. There has always been an
effort for the department of English to consume it or to make it, you know, who needs
Africana studies, right? It’s all English, or it’s all… Anyways, there are histories. There are institutional
histories of triumph, that really illuminate the importance of these programmatic distinctions. – It’s still a department,
it’s still a department. I think the thing that’s important… Everybody here who has siblings,
raise your hands please? Okay, all right. I want to talk about justice. Those of you with siblings know that you were not raised the same. And some of you mad about it. (panelists and audience laugh)
Still. Still mad about it. But somehow, the wisdom of your parents, guardians, aunts, uncles, nanas, knew what each of you needed. And so the barrier to a more perfect union has been the pursuit of
some mathematical equality that has people looking at the
size of the slice of the pie and saying, either it should be bigger, or I should have the whole pie. So in order for us to achieve
and be focused on justice, it’s important to understand
the power of language. We live in a racially segregated state of being in the United States of America, and when we use terms like diversity, again, it’s race-evasive,
and it’s ahistorical, and it doesn’t get to
the heart of the matter that there are people
who have never sat down and cracked open a book written by an African-American scholar. I ask a question, I have a seminar called Photography and the American Dream where we unpack the ways in
which poverty is represented and misrepresented in American newspapers and one of the features of
the course is the search for poor white people
in the American media. And that’s a knowing sound, right? You can barely find them,
because how do you reconcile a country built on the
principle of white supremacy, and you have poor white people without unpacking the fact that you have democratic capitalism that requires people to be poor. So I think it’s important to understand that what I do in my class
is that I ask students, most of them are seniors, I ask them. I have an entrance survey,
and I have an exit survey, ’cause we’re talking about solutions. I come in, I ask them to give me the name of a non-fiction text that
they’ve either self-assigned or been assigned as a student at Cornell. Then I ask them to give
me the names of artists that are must-haves on
their dance party list. So. The answer to the first question is filled with European men and women who are white or claim to be white, and then of course the second question is filled with black and
Latino and Caribbean names. So at the end of the course, what I do, I ask them the question
I really wanna know. Give me the name of a non-fiction text written by an African-American
scholar that you’ve self-assigned or been assigned
as a student here at Cornell, and most of them are
seniors, and it’s zero. So, if I ask the majority
of people in this audience to give me their opinions
on quantum physics, there’s people shaking their head, no. (audience and panelist laugh) And the reason that
most people will say no is that they haven’t studied it. But art and race are two topics where people feel a level of authority where they haven’t studied. They believe that certainly
art is based on taste, based on feelings, and again, completely
separated from ideologies, completely separated from power. And in the matter of race, it’s whatever they sae on social media or whatever they’ve seen… – A Spike Lee movie. – A Spike Lee Movie. (panelists and audience laugh) Or what they’ve seen in the media. And so the point is this. Most of us have come through,
most of us sitting up here, who are either in or have
come through higher education and especially higher education
related to art and design on an imbalanced intellectual diet. It’s imbalanced. And what’s going to change
this are the three O’s: opposition, opportunity, and oversight. So, it begins with students opposing this monocular,
siloed, Euro-Western set of canonical references
that you hear all the time. You have to ask, okay, 1940s something, Jackson Pollock, Peggy Guggenheim. Willem de Kooning. What else was going on in
the United States at the time that influenced, affected,
impacted the work that we should talk about? And it will take you places that, those of you who are wondering about where your next
idea is gonna come from, I’m telling you. I’m at a point in my life, and I think I share that
with everybody on this stage. I have more ideas than
I know what to do with, because I went beyond what someone told me
represents a terminal degree, and the content of that terminal degree, and what happens when
you ask the question, who else is doing something? Who else has written? Who else has sung? Who else has composed? Who else has made a
cinema that can transform? That’s the power you all have. You have the power to oppose this. The next thing is opportunity. We need people outside of the academy who will create, endow chairs to situate scholars, artists, musicians, writers, designers, for the purpose of
desegregating the discourse and making them university
and scholars, basically, where they’re not
situated in a department. They are the scholar
for the entire school, and they can show up anywhere. The third O is oversight. In order for this to move forward, we need the next generation of scholars to have desegregated bibliographies, desegregated research questions, as conditions for promotion and tenure. – I think we should end it right there. (audience and panelists applaud) Thank you guys. You guys are amazing. Thanks, everyone, for coming
out to this panel discussion, and I hope that you’re
walking away with something that you can go raise hell with. Thank you. (audience and panelists applaud) – Thank you.


One thought on “Erasure by Exclusion: How Art Schools and Institutions Uphold White Supremacy

  1. When Black "artists" start relying on the phrase of white supremacy, where is there any energy left to create? it's seems like a debate of a worthless nature. All the talk talk…where's the new age of proof that black 'artists" can PRODUCE, more than they can …plan to produce?And, if you haven't noticed, most of the funding comes straight from…"white supremacy". What are all the Black Supremacists who promote and patron the arts??

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