In short, how empathetic can any artist be, who has not committed themself to the abolishment of slavery, and the constitutional acknowledgment that all people must be treated as equals?

 

 

 

On The Burden of Oppressors 

Spring, 2018

I come to this with deep ambivalence, and fear in my heart. I am not working, I am not washing dishes, mixing clays, or waiting tables, as I had done for some months in the beginning of this year. I had decided not to attend college, and in stead depend on some kind of self-education, as well as what is essentially the pursuit of a career in art.

Though I will admit this has been a difficult way, I must also acknowledge that there is no point at which, in wondering whether I had made the right decision, that I also wondered if it was financially possible to continue to make work and work only on art if I so decided.

All this is only to say that it was rather the significance and consistency of my output, rather than the lack there of, and an ensuing frustration, which led to the vigorous certitude of my next assertion.

And just to be a little more casual, what I'm saying is, it was feeling like, having put in a shit ton of extremely difficult and doubting hours, enough to finally gain skill in certain mediums to make art better than I ever thought I could, and feeling still unsatisfied that led to the understanding I will next mention. However, I will mention lastly that during one of my gladdest most prolific times in making work, I was stopped by this recognition:

So long as the United States of America continues to institute slave labor, and refuses all genders equality within the constitution, there is little need for any art which desires to remain apolitical, while still claiming to be empathetic.

One must, of course, tend to the manglings of their own soul. However, I refuse to accept the assumption that one must do so before they can attend themselves to the souls of others, whose manglings may appear foreign, or the result of systematic batterings which ought to be dealt with in the political sphere.

These are childish excuses.

In short, how empathetic can any artist be, who has not committed themself to the abolishment of slavery, and the constitutional acknowledgment that all people must be treated as equals?

It is the failure in capitulation of too many white artists who would rather label their overall attempts "to make the world more empathetic" than acknowledge that abolishing slavery is perhaps more urgent than trying to figure out what went wrong in their family. Do so, please. Figure it out, but afterward, if you do ever enter a more professional sphere, commit yourself to understanding and promoting the experience of others, of the truly oppressed, rather than rehashing over and over again the subtleties of your own suffering.

I know this, admittedly, from my own experience. I mean not to shame you out of empathizing with yourself, but rather to ask you to guide yourself to a higher calling. An artist who is truly empathetic will discuss those issues affecting most people most harshly, immediately, rather than continue musing about existential issues.

If you are a true artist, it ought not frighten you away when you think of all the poor here in America, all the hungry, those in solitary confinement, those in prison slave labor, and all the women who apart from other atrocities are most simply and most astoundingly not viewed as equal to men under the wordings of the current constitution.

All true artists, true humans, take it for granted that though men and women and people of other genders are not the same, are equal, and deserve to be treated so under law.

I am not attempting to be so harsh as to turn any person, young or old, away from the playful beginnings of an empathetic pursuit. However, if it is true that you cannot withstand these criticisms and still maintain artistic pursuits, then perhaps you know in the depths of your heart that you are not doing enough to help people.

Why must I accept that your next poem, your next painting, next film, or mine for that matter, are more important or urgent as the need to reword our constitution thus: "All women, men, and people of all genders are created equal." If you are discouraged or feel guilty, no longer wish to pursue art as fervently, I say good. You were only making work for yourself in the first place.

If you cannot incorporate political ideas into your art, in ways which appear seamless and ultimately more human, it is only a skill you have yet to practice, albeit attempt, enough times to gain any success in doing so.

Irreplaceably, I must also acknowledge something of fundamental importance, which I must paraphrase from the words of a young Christopher Hitchens, "We on the left do not view these issues as political, it is only that when we arrive at the issues, we find them already politicized."

It is an insane confusion, a confusion which reflects insanities, to believe that art which chooses to stare into the horror that is modern American slavery, an art which has the courage to empathize, to attempt to empathize in the most horrible experiences, is choosing to be political, and therefore perhaps viewed as lesser, rather than simply more courageous, truer art.

It is the apathy and ignorance not only of the artist who participates in such an apathetic delusion, but as well the denial of the audience to see such art as the most important, due to their own selfish reservations of desiring not to have to get involved in difficult tasks which include large sacrifice for the dismantling of various forms of oppression which are forced upon our fellow citizens. It is therefore the job of the artist to force the audience with art good and strong and beautiful enough to persuade their souls to know the cure to their own mangling is the absolution which comes in deciding to put the pain of others first, and have, therefore, your own pains quelled.

Lastly, why must I see it as somehow unfair and accusatory to blame white people, living white people, living white children in fact, for the structural failing of a thoroughly entrenched system of racial inequality, and yet see it somehow as "just the way it is," or "sadly out of our control" for black and brown children, living right now, to suffer under the failings of the same system, who similarly did not take part in the creation of a system with such an inhuman and malicious legacy?

Why should we see it as acceptable, the dramatic and horrifying disruption of a fair life, the prevention of an equal ability to pursue happiness, from childhood of so many boys and girls of color, and not feel at every moment responsible for this drastically degrading system, and yet still see it as inappropriate to upset white children with any portion of current or future responsibility for passivity alongside this horror? why? Why!

Why must it be acceptable to maintain segregated schools, let over 1/3 of black and brown children grow up in poverty, let Native American reservations remain oppressed, impoverished and neglected? Hundreds of thousands of children are hungry as we speak because of a system which encourages racial disparities within lasting pillars of our society.

Why is it okay to walk around, many days, doing nothing to help any poor children of color, with even a meal, likely not even entering the neighborhoods in which these hungry children reside?

Why is it acceptable to let some children go to sleep hungry tonight? and go to school hungry tomorrow, and yet unacceptable to upset other children, white children, who are nothing close to suffering in the same percentages? Why is it okay to let so many black and brown boys and girls go hungry due to systematic depression of equality, and be unwilling to somehow upset the so-called innocence of white children with the explanation of such a horrid system, which in fact, is the exact system of laws and government in the country all of these children together reside?

Would it not also be the responsibility of children of color to grow up and help dismantle a system which oppressed white people, if the tables were turned?

Let us speak nothing of innocence till long after slavery has been abolished.

Once more, why is it fair for a system which is fundamentally dehumanizing, to only cause immediate pain to those who happened to grow up with a different color of skin, and yet to bother white people with the problems of their fellow Americans in any way is somehow causing them unfair harm by way of blame and guilt?

Why should we see racism as "their problem" and not ours? We, the white majority, created this, why must it be "their" responsibility to fix it?