WHITE On Rice

I am earnest.  Undeniably.  My assertion of radical non-hierarchy isn't a kind of costume I put on to elicit sympathy, or even to nurture to my already well-fed ego.  I actually believe that a connection with a deeper humanity will necessarily create a world that is consciously ecological, nurturing, non-binary, technological -- whole.  By the same token, my earnest nature doesn't deny the constructs that we've created.  In fact, I propose that we investigate these fictions closer.  We all have to sniff the baby's diaper to see if they made a boo-boo...  Back in 2009, I wrote a curatorial proposal.  It never materialized beyond a series of abyss-sent emails, but it seems relevant, in 2018, to share it, unedited, below:

WHITE ON RICE

“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.”

- Dr. Peggy McIntosh  |  Founder and co-director of the National S.E.E.D. Project on Inclusive Curriculum (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity)

It appears that in the quest for visual representation, many of our most celebrated Black artists have painted themselves into a corner.  Lawn jockeys, black-on-black crime, shoeshine boxes, mammy figurines, combs, the game of basketball, hip hop, gold teeth, afro hair, contemporary sapphires (in the form of big booty video girls), and the over-the-top trappings of the Black church (i.e. mass gospel choirs, fans, pews, physical manifestations of the holy ghost), have become an acceptable lexicon that communicates a legacy of oppression.   While this ideological palette continues to inspire works of tremendous quality, I wonder if the dependence on these racially defined motifs is in fact another expression of White Privilege.  Are Black artists socialized to focus on these safe expressions of culture, rather than offering an outsider’s critical perspective of Whiteness? The visual language of Art has the power to influence how we think on both a conscious and unconscious level. Since the primary audience of contemporary Art is overwhelmingly White, are Black artists missing out on opportunities to challenge the viewer in significant ways?

WHITE ON RICE is designed to shift the restrictions, which are sometimes assumed by Black artists, by offering a restriction of a different sort: the creation of work that utilizes Whiteness as a point of departure, rather than Blackness.   There has been a tendency throughout American history, and into the present day, to see black people as symbols or representations rather than as individual human beings. In the context of art making, could this codification be successfully be applied to Anglo-Americans, to reveal a new set of symbols/representations that effectively expand the ideological palette? WHITE ON RICE explicitly acknowledges that Whiteness and Blackness are mutually dependent on each other to exist. Perhaps a true progression towards a post-race society is found not just in the visibility of one’s own group, but in the critical examination of the dominant culture.  Privilege can be one of the most difficult issues to discuss, due to its invisibility to its owners.  Perhaps, through artistic work we can openly address the complex nature of White privilege by acknowledging the ingenuity, horror and beauty of this social construct. 


"It can’t be real as a subject if you have to look like the subject to be an expert in the subject." 

- Dr. Henry Louis Gates | Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research/ Harvard University

(1) Annette Gordon-Reed, Chapter 14: Sarah Hemings: Fatherless Girl In A Patriarchal Society, The Hemingses of Monticello, see page 290.

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Kenya RobinsonComment