Tag Archives: eric garner

History Is No Mystery: Artist, Shea Justice, at The Fountain Street Gallery, Boston

17 Jun

On May 14th, ten Black women and men, including an 86 year-old grandmother, were murdered at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York by a young, white supremacist man with an automatic rifle. Shortly afterward on May 24th, 19 children and two teachers were killed in a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. All the while, local Board of Education seats are being filled with white folks supported by parents who fear their children will be called racist in lessons on critical race theory, and, majority white gun owners continue to fight against gun restriction laws, claiming the Second Amendment protects their rights to perpetuate this country’s history of violence.

History is no mystery.

In his solo exhibition, History Is No Mystery, a collection of beautiful and riveting works in watercolor and collage, Boston-based fine artist, Shea Justice, shows us the history of the United States from its so- called founding days to today. He shows us that the shooting in Buffalo, the murder of George Floyd, of Eric Garner, of Sandra Bland, of Emmett Till, the execution of 14-year old George Stinney, the breaking of hundreds of treaties between colonists and countless Native American tribes, the history of enslavement, and all the more covert ways our country has embedded systems of oppression in all facets of American life over the centuries, are not isolated incidents. They are our history. They are the truth of our country’s story. They are the stories that we keep hidden. They are the stories excluded from our history books—the lessons not taught in our schools.

Shea’s work which another viewer of the exhibition called, delicately devastating, reveals this history. Witnessing the exhibit, I was drawn in through the juxtaposition of the sheer beauty of Shea’s renderings coupled with the jarring power of the truths revealed in the collaged text elements embedded in many of the works. As a white woman who grew up during the end of the civil rights era, I see through the lens of my identity and experience, and was reminded of the waking up to the fullness of our country’s history of race over the years of my life’s journey, an awakening and reckoning that will continue throughout my lifetime.

Several of the works in the exhibit have an enlarged copy of the United States Constitution serving as the background on which Shea paints a historical figure on top of the document. Surrounding the figure, Shea collages text from newspaper clippings and other sources which counter the narrative we project about a country where we are all supposed to have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One of these pieces features a portrait of formerly enslaved abolitionist, and women’s right activist, Sojourner Truth. The portrait, which is painted over the center of the Constitution, is surrounded by collaged bits of text. One phrase says, Free, White, and 21, a familiar line that showed up in a lot of 1930’s and 40’s films reflecting the ultimate stance of white privilege.  Other clippings note the gerrymandering of voting districts, lynchings, and a quote from Supreme Court Justice, “Black students don’t need affirmative action because they benefit from a ‘slower track.’”

The bit of text that stood out for me in the Sojourner Truth piece was a paragraph of text in the lower left corner with the headline, Nixon Aide Reportedly Admitted Drug War Was Meant to Target Black People.  I remember when I read this article somewhere a few years ago. It reminded me of a talk I had with an old high school friend, Jay, when I first started this blog ten years ago. I reached out to Jay, who is Black, to share about our experiences at school, and on growing up in Waterbury, Connecticut, and how they might have been different, and the same, from one another’s. He told me of a time his guidance counselor told him he shouldn’t try to take the Latin class he was interested in. We also got into deeper structural talks about race, including how drugs were brought into Black neighborhoods by the government to destroy those neighborhoods. I remember hearing that before, and I believed it, but it was on this, oh, almost non-chalant, numb, level.

I lived in New York City in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and witnessed the devastation and especially, the criminalization of crack cocaine, during what was called “the crack epidemic,” on people in Black communities and communities of color. One can look at the way the current “opioid crisis” is being afforded the lens of compassion and humanity with a call for treatment over criminalization, and again, we see that history is no mystery.

Jay and I talked again during the last election season. During our conversation on all that was going on with police killings of unarmed Black people, and the inequities that still exist for Black people in this country, Jay said, ‘…I was trying to tell you….” And he was. And he did. And still, as someone who feels that the matter of liberating ourselves from racial injustice is the most important matter in our lives, it still took me time to say, to feel, oh…Oh…OHHHH! in the face of our history. I believe, as white people who continue to benefit from the way our country was formed and continues to operate, we cannot wait any longer, or need any more proof that we need to make things just in our country for all of us. Our inaction is complicity in upholding white supremacy.

 

Witnessing Shea’s exhibit, amplified for me the importance of bearing witness to this truth. The exhibit also drove the point that, I know as a white person, it can be easy to only see the pain of the “story” of Black people in this country, and to render invisible, the everyday lives of Black people as individuals—the successes, the joys, the individual humanity of Black people. I know I am forever working on widening my lens from the binary, the all-or-nothing thinking and seeing lens which I can fall into. This, too, is because of the history of this country, which put white people and whiteness at the center, as superior, as the norm. A history which created laws and systems that fostered segregation, despite school desegregation laws, and fostered inequities in housing, education, employment, and economic standing.

In History Is No Mystery, Shea has works, mostly collages, woven throughout the exhibit that are personal, complex, and layered. Also featured are watercolor portraits of icons, including Maya Angelou, and Muhammed Ali.  Upon entering the show, I was met with three of Shea’s personal works– smaller pieces—collages containing photos, magazine cutouts, and a few three-dimensional objects–a shelf of 1990’s cassette tapes including Public Enemy, John Lennon, Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones, and a doll-house sized picnic table. The artifacts and photos are recollections of Shea’s family reunions, extended family, and his own coming of age. Family photos, 70’s cartoons, Black, and white television and film characters, pop culture and sports figures–a lot of it was a part of my growing up landscape too. A small text panel within one of the collages shares a history of Shea’s family dating back to the 1800’s. Shea generously shared some recollections of his family picnics, and the fact that these collages were begun when Shea was in the hospital last year after a bad car accident. The first collage actually contains a copy of one of Shea’s x-rays. He said he saved all of them. The x-rays a record of his accident, the collages a record of his family, of being American, of Black life in America.

All of these works are a record, and they serve as history, which Shea is set on documenting, if only we all are willing to see it. In History Is No Mystery, a portion of a project that Shea has been working on for the past twenty years was also featured, by way of video display. Scrolls of Justice, as they are called, are miles of rice paper scrolls dense with illustrations, paintings, handwritten text and collage that Shea began during the 2000 George Bush elections. Another documentation of history which Shea continues to work on, with hopes that this artistic recording of our nation’s true history will one day be displayed in the Smithsonian Museum. I know that I want to view more of the scrolls, and hope that they make it to the museum, so that many more people can witness, learn, reckon with, repair, begin to heal, and work to forge a history that is truly about freedom and justice for all of us.

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History Is No Mystery is showing at The Fountain Street Gallery, 460C Harrison Avenue, Suite 2, Boston, MA through June 26th, with an Artist Talk with Shea on Sunday, June 19th, 2 – 4 pm. (click link to watch the livestream)

getting to meet the artist, Shea Justice

Conspiracy Theories, Freedom, Mirrors: What Reality Are We Running From?

12 May

A couple of years ago I was dating a man. A man who, in the dating world, would be considered “good on paper.” An engineer with a good job, healthy, kind, intelligent. He lived in a beautiful mid-century modern home fitted with all of its original built-in fixtures and furniture. My girlfriends and family can probably attest to the fact that I have pretty much ignored those “good on paper” facts throughout my romantic life. That it’s always been heart over head. And since my divorce eight years ago, I have added something to the “look away from practicality and reason” factor when searching for a mate. I now also possess the need to find something wrong with someone to prove to myself that I shouldn’t like this person, thereby saving me from being seen, and letting someone inside my soul, inside my heart. To do that, would mean I would have to look in the mirror and see myself, my desire to love and be loved, to see myself in all of my flaws and vulnerabilities, to not hide, the good, the bad and the ugly. I’d have to love myself, before I could say, hey you, will you please love me, and I will love you back?

In the case of the engineer, aside from me realizing there was somewhat of a lack of chemistry–you know, the kind that wears off after the first few dates where you think maybe it was the wine at dinner that made it seem like you two really hit it off–I found out he believed in several conspiracy theories. I don’t remember the details exactly, but something to do with the government, and tracking us, as most conspiracy theories revolve around. Looking for a reason not to like, or allow myself to be liked, I asked one of the approachable psychiatrists on the inpatient psych unit I work on, what he thought about people who believed in conspiracy theories. I prefaced my question by saying this was someone I knew, and not a patient.

His response was that he didn’t feel concerned about people who believed in them, that people have their own views of reality, and that he in fact has, as time goes on, questioned his own thoughts and the reality, or validity of them. I understood what he meant. In the eight years I have worked as an Activities Therapist in a psychiatric hospital, and the many years before that working with homeless adults with mental illness, many living with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, I have had conversations with people who have shared their intricately detailed realities with me, which has opened up my own view of what “reality” and “normal” means, and has made me feel, at times, that my own view of reality is quite limited, dull, or predictable.

My excuse to break up with the engineer for believing in conspiracy theories dashed, I had to just break up with him for some other reason, which I did, at least proving to myself, I wasn’t going to hold onto him for the comfortability of his economic situation, and that super cool house which I was sad to not see again. In a way, I was being true to myself, able to look in the mirror and say material comfort doesn’t matter nearly as much to me, as real love.

Living in the age of the coronavirus there are new conspiracy theories swirling around. These include ideas that the virus is a hoax, or its impact grossly overstated, and that our government in this country is using the virus, the shutting down of our economy, the placating of the masses through stimulus and unemployment checks, the restriction of our ability to move freely in open spaces, all as a means to take away our freedom and impose martial law.

In the video, Plandemic, which surfaced and then was removed from Youtube, and which I only watched a little bit of, but read about, these theories are expanded upon, and include a bid to discredit Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as a controlling, research grant money-grubbing scientist, who held back information during the HIV/AIDS crisis which put off the development of life-saving drugs to combat the illness.

I have a hard time understanding the belief of the coronavirus conspiracy theories when there is scientific data shared about the toll the virus is taking in this country and world-wide, and facts shared discrediting the story of the scientist making claims in the Plandemic video. People believe what they believe, and I should not judge, lest I be judged myself. But what troubles me regarding the virus conspiracy theories, is how believing these theories, impacts people.

There is data that shows how the virus, and living under quarantine has impacted Black and brown communities. We now know, as I shared in my most recent post, Let Us Not Forget Racism In The Time Of Covid-19, that the death toll has been higher for Black and brown people in this country. This is because of racist policies and laws which created health and economic disparities, and inequity in access to quality healthcare, which led to Black and brown people possessing more underlying health issues, making them more susceptible to having complications, or succumbing to the coronavirus. We also know in the hardest hit areas, our urban centers, it is Black and brown people who are the majority essential workers who have had to keep working, who have had to be in spaces with many people, thereby exposing themselves to a much greater possibility of getting the virus, and/or exposing their families and communities to it.

We can say, let people, and I am going to say, us white people, believe what we want to believe, even though I know people of all races and ethnicities are prone to believing in certain conspiracy theories, but when those beliefs put Black and brown people in even more danger, like the coronavirus conspiracy theories are, I question the will of the person who is investing their energy in an ideal that harms others. I wonder with all the energy it takes to get to this truth about the man and what they are trying to do to us, with all of this running to get to the truth, what is the truth my fellow white people are running away from?

When I hear white people, and not even the obvious state house-stampeding, gun-toting, confederate flag-waving, swastika-wearing, I Want A Haircut sign-holding, white people, saying their freedoms are being impeded upon, the virus isn’t so bad, and we should reopen the economy pronto, I hear white supremacist self-interest. I hear hypocrisy.

Yes, I know that many people are hurting economically. Yet, with the phased, or no-holds barred re-openings of states, it will be the low-paying service jobs in restaurants, retail, and factories, that get called back first. The people who are economically disadvantaged and living in densely populated areas, and who will be majority Black and brown people will be putting themselves at greater risk. If they refuse to go back to work, whether it is due to wishes to maintain their health if they or their family members are health or immuno-compromised, or simply fear risk of exposure or spread of virus, their employer can fire them, and they will have their unemployment benefits cut off. The freedom of choice you wish to have about whether you wear a mask or can sit in a restaurant, is one that not everyone has.

I have heard people worry about the right to assemble and protest being taken away during this time, another sign of the government taking away our liberties. When I hear this, I remember the same people complaining that the Black Lives Matter protest several years ago that blocked the highway, was inconvenient. I remember when you said Colin Kaepernick taking a knee was unpatriotic and disrespected our military, ignoring the fact that Kaepernick said, time and again, he was protesting the racial profiling and killings of unarmed Black men, boys, and women by police officers. I remember you saying this isn’t the place for protest. I remember you saying if only Black people didn’t riot, if only Black people didn’t run, if only Black people complied. But now, you are saying it is un-American that we are not allowed to “protest” our right to use our voice, to claim our freedom to get our nails done.

When I heard Black people, Black people I work with, Black people I talked with on the phone, Black people I see posting on social media, Black person after Black person saying they are so tired, so exhausted of the murders, the lynchings, of Black people, at the hands of white people, when I heard Black people asking, “Why?” “Why do they hate us?” I know it is not enough for me to be sad, to be enraged. I know I, I know we must do something. Yet I am enraged when instead of more white people around me speaking about being sad or enraged and doing something–and certainly there were many that were–there were still the voices who did not speak the name Ahmaud Arbery, but instead used their breath to wonder about re-opening.

When I hear us white people question this video and flip the question this time, asking, why didn’t he run, I want to shake us. In the past, it’s been, why did he run, why didn’t he just do what the officer said, why did he fight back, why did she talk back? Now you want to ask, why didn’t he run! Has our consciousness not been raised by witnessing, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Korryn Gaines, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Amodou Diallo, Sean Bell, John Crawford, Philando Castile, Ashton Sterling, Stephon Clark, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Jordan Davis, and on, and on?

Are we white people spending our time chasing the reality we want to believe so we don’t have to, as James Baldwin has said, look in the mirror and truly see ourselves, and the horror of our reality–the brutalizing of Black, brown and Indigenous people for over four hundred years? Is it we don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable to that? To surrender to our good, our bad and our ugly? Would we rather look to make someone else the ogre, like the government taking away our rights? Is it easier to make the Black person, the one who did something wrong, by taking a jog in his neighborhood in broad daylight, or by placing one of his knees on the ground?

It is, right? It is easier to do that than it is to accept the white supremacist ideas ingrained in the fabric of our souls, easier to do that than to implicate ourselves, to implicate our whiteness, which leads to white violence.

Some might say I am doing some chasing myself. That I am tying together threads that don’t belong together–like dating a conspiracy theorist, one’s right to freedom, and the killing of a 25 year-old Black man out jogging, to justify my reality that in this time in history, the belief in coronavirus conspiracy theories is harmful and fueled by white-supremacist values.

Some might say when will Wendy stop trying to make everything about race? My answer to that will always be: when we are all truly free.

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Photo credit: ksltv.com

Happy New Year and Thank You

1 Jan

anchor symbol of hope

Anchor Symbol of Hope

it’s lil’ Rhody’s (my home state of RI) symbol of hope.

Happy New Year, WJSS Readers!

I am going to try to keep this brief because I am still recovering from recent surgery (middle-age woman stuff, and yes, thanks, I am doing fine) which for me is a feat since my last post, a “summary” of the 2014 National Center for Race Amity Conference turned into a 3,000 word article.

Like any year, and like life itself, there are great big shiny moments, and wondrously small magnificent moments, and there are small petty pain-in-the butt moments and great big horrific moments.  This year is no exception, and I, and I know many of you, can’t help but go to the remembrance of the recent heartbreaking horrific moments: of the non-indictments of the officers involved in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases,  I have witnessed friends’ and strangers’, locally and globally–their sadness, frustration, and anger, over the inequity of the justice system, and couldn’t help but notice the divisiveness across color lines these cases provoked.

Yet, I now keep saying to friends that aside from these feelings of despair, I have hope.  I have hope that things were so out of whack that the people of Ferguson, Missouri, and people all over the United States, and all over the world, have said, “Enough!”  That people are making their voices heard through protest, live and on social media, and through one-on-one dialogue that things have to change for the better.  That we need a more equitable justice system.  That we need to take a closer look at dismantling the seemingly invisible, to many white people especially, systems of privilege, unconscious bias, and structural racism that make black people feel that their lives don’t matter.

Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake was never intended to be a blog about racism.  It is supposed to be about where people intersect across color lines and what happens there.  For things to change for the better, I feel white people have to let go of their fears of engaging in honest, open dialogues about racism and the invisible to us systems that our white privilege affords us.  We have to listen, and validate what black people are saying are their experiences.  And, then we have to figure out a way to make things fair and equitable for everyone, with everyone–black, white, and brown, having a say in how that happens–not just one person’s story, not just one race’s perspective on how to shape things.  It is our responsibility to do that, and not just sit silently because we have the luxury of turning off discussions about race whenever we feel like it.

You, my readers have always told me you appreciate that I am not soapboxy here on WJSS, but I’m afraid over the past two years in some of my posts I have been.  I can’t help myself because I feel the only way we can move forward is if we see the problems of racism and the solutions of eradicating racism as everyone’s responsibility.

It is a new year.  We can do something every day to make connections across color lines, to understand one another’s perspectives, and to bridge the barriers to mixing it up that most of us socially exist within.  I know that this is on my slate for every day for the rest of my life now.

I want to thank all of you so very much for subscribing to and/or reading Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake in 2014.  I thank you for your comments here, on Facebook, and on twitter, and for what you share with me publicly and privately about how certain posts have made you think or feel.  You have rewarded me with your feedback, questions and insights, which gives me new inspiration to dig deeper.

Here’s to digging deeper.  Here’s to hope that the events in 2014 will make things better in 2015.  Here’s to highlighting here the positive interactions and work that does happen across colorlines every day, and of course, here’s to a few MJ stories sprinkled in throughout the year for good measure.

Thank you.