Tag Archives: racial justice

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.


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

The Unsurprise of Injustice. Now What?

22 Nov

Justice was not served in the Kyle Rittenhouse case. Or our American (in)justice system worked the way it most often does: protecting and upholding white supremacy law and order.

The message was sent, loud and clear. If you are a young, white male, you can carry an assault weapon to a racial justice protest in the name of protecting property, and “backing the Blue.” You can walk the streets of the city and kill protestors, and all you have to do afterward is say you were there to protect good ol’ America from the bad protestors, and gosh golly, yes you even had to shoot and kill a couple of people, because they were trying to stop you from patrolling and protecting property, and were coming after you, and you had to defend yourself from the people–white, Black or Brown, who are ruining this country with their fight for humanity, freedom, and truth-telling history, and on top of that, getting in the way of you shooting and killing innocent people.

In the wake of the acquittal verdict, I read news articles and opinion pieces, and landed on a blog post published by author, non-profit executive, and activist, Shay Stewart-Bouley’s, Black Girl In Maine blog. The piece, Not Guilty, Also, Not a Surprise, by Samuel James, shares the difference for himself between being shocked and surprised about the verdict. Past history has shown him, and all of us, if our eyes are open, who gets away with murder, and who gets locked up for selling weed. He speaks of the foolishness of the racial construct in this country, and warns of us slipping backward in this country, as we “can all see the swell of violence coming…” that is, unless, “we are too busy being surprised to see it.”

As if this isn’t enough to move one to action, it was Shay’s words in introducing the article that dug even deeper into my soul. She said, it’s good for us white folks to reach out to our Black and Brown friends during this time to see how they are doing, but, “perhaps you should be reaching out to your fellow white folks to get your plans together to stem the tide of white nationalism growing in your communities. Are you sure your sons are not the next Kyle? What about the other young white boys, teens and men in your circles?”

“Will you discuss this verdict with loved ones over the holidays?” she asked.

Shay’s words push me to look to other white people, to think of our communities, schools, and other white majority spaces, and talk to one another about how we are going to raise our sons and daughters at home, in school, on the playground, in our neighborhoods? How are we modeling how we all have to care for and love one another, and have one another’s back, as if all children are our very own, because, they are. How are we modeling standing up for one another? What are we saying to our children, or our co-workers, when we overhear them say they think the Rittenhouse verdict was fair, or that they won’t put up with an all-gender bathroom, or they are fighting critical race theory in their children’s schools, even when they don’t know what it means, except they think it means their children will learn too much of the truth of this country’s history, and that it means that white people are “bad.” Are we saying or doing anything? Or are we simply saying to ourselves, we know all this is bad, but don’t do anything about it?

Are we promoting healthy spaces in our communities that help kids connect with one another, care for one another, include everyone in a loving way, lift one another up? Are we teaching our children to stand up for their Black and Brown friends when they have racist remarks made to them, or about them in their absence? Are we doing the same in the spaces we adults find ourselves in?

I am reminded also of Resmaa Menakem, author, therapist, and somatic abolitionist, who calls for white people to heal the racial trauma that resides inside our bodies, and to work with one another in our own communities to do so. Can we look inward and work on ourselves, and work with one another, because, work it is. There are no short-cuts here. If we keep building these relentlessly loving communities, which will take generations to do, instead of rage, fear and hatred, we can transfer down love from one generation to another, and one day, we might all really be free.


I realize the majority of the time, it’s my voice here, with me sometimes asking, like I do in this very post, what am I doing, what are we doing? While there is some commenting when I post the blog on social media, there is often not too much interaction with you, the reader, here on the blog. Perhaps I have not been good at creating the space for that, and would like to get better at that. To that end, can you please do me a favor, and comment here on the blog, on an action you will take this month to be a part of fighting against the normalizing of white violence, and toward the building of a loving community? I would also like to hear feedback on what you’d like to see more of here. A friend suggested I have guest interviewees or conversations each month. What’s important to you?

As always I thank you for your readership, and more importantly your part in anti-racism work. It takes all of us to make change–to create the just future we want to live in, we want our children to live in, and we want our children’s children to live in. Thank you.

Photo credit: National Museum of African American History and Culture (no copyright infringement is intended)

Where Are All My White People At?

5 Mar

Photo credit. wyso.org

A friend suggested I jot down 10 random questions on a sheet of paper, instead of simply sitting down and trying to think of what my next blog post should be about. The questions became prompts. Of course, the very last question was the one: Will us white people ever look in the mirror like author James Baldwin refers to in The Fire Next Time?

What Baldwin knew when he wrote that book in 1963, was that us white people did everything we could to avoid acknowledging anything to do with our own history, and our past and present behaviors. We didn’t, and we don’t, want to acknowledge how this country was not founded on the principle that “all men are created equal.” It instead was founded on stolen lives and violence, through slavery, and through stolen land and genocide of the Indigenous people of North America.

The made up construct of race, with a hierarchy of whiteness seen as superior, and everyone else as other, and inferior, was put into place in order to create and sustain the systems of power and oppression that exist to this day. We white people implemented Jim Crow laws which legalized segregation, and set up laws and policies that allowed white people to live where we wanted to live, obtain a job without worry of discrimination, go to well-resourced schools in our own neighborhoods, work where we wanted to work, conveniently shop where we wanted to shop, take out a business loan or home mortgage with fair interest rates, and take advantage of the GI bill to again, afford to buy a home in a “nice” neighborhood and get that mortgage. Over one million Black veterans at that time were shut out of having the same access and opportunity to those benefits which allowed white families to continue to build even more generational wealth through home ownership.

Yes, when various groups of immigrants arrived in America from Ireland, Italy, and Jews from Eastern Europe, we at first faced discrimination too. But we were allowed to “become white,” and were subsequently afforded all the privileges of those who were called white before us. We got to live The American Dream. We all believed the American motto and individualist myth, that if one just works hard enough, they can achieve whatever it is they want in this country, and if they don’t, it’s because of their own laziness, lack of ambition, and moral inferiority.

We kept, and sill try to keep Black and Brown people from voting. We started the War on Drugs, and allowed crack cocaine to flood Black communities, which led to the mass incarceration of Black men and women, while white men and women either were let go, or served much lighter sentences for the same offenses. We kept and keep corporate boardrooms white, and are more likely to pass over resumes with names that sound Black. We are good as long as our kids get to go to the diverse enough public schools in our neighborhoods, but don’t want to send our kids to under-resourced schools in neighborhoods we silently think of as “too diverse,” of low socio-economic status, unsafe, and inferior in their academics. We don’t blink an eye at how we so easily see ourselves represented in our movies, museums, magazines, teachers, neighbors, co-workers, and we don’t notice who is not included. We pat ourselves on the back for making our workspaces or schools more diverse, but don’t secede our power, or ways of whiteness, thereby not changing the culture, or ways of interrelating and opening up to all perspectives of seeing and deciding on things, and so these spaces stay bound to white supremacist culture and conditioning, and unwelcoming, and block advancement to those who are not white.

And we really, really don’t want to look in the mirror and see all of this, and we don’t want to look into our souls and find all of this history residing there. Even, if our families arrived here in post-slavery times, we have this dust in our souls, and we have all of the heavy footprints of colonization, and white supremacist systems, institutions, societal norms, privileges, and racialized thoughts and behaviors, in every step and breath that we take.

Which brings me to the present. Many of us in this country feel, now is a time of reckoning in regards to race and racism in this country. Many white people are finally waking up to the violence committed against Black men, women and children, primarily by police officers and self-appointed white vigilantes. We have finally heard the call of Black Lives Matter, which fell on our deaf ears for 400 years prior to Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012. We are finally waking up to all the ways we have oppressed, and continue to oppress Black people in this country.

And so after I jotted down that question about looking in the mirror, I expanded upon it. I free-wrote: will us white people do the work ourselves to unpack our whiteness, heal our rage and trauma that has to do with the racial atrocities we committed, and will we acknowledge, and do the body work, healing work–break it all the way down with, as Resmaa Menakem advised us, with our own selves, and our own white “guru,” not a Black guru, or Indian guru, so that we can truly acknowledge, reconcile, heal and take part in creating a fair, just, equal, equitable, integrated society without white people above any more, but have us truly living side-by-side in society?

Now, I can’t claim to be all woke to therapist and author, Menakem’s work just yet, including his book, My Grandmother’s Hands, Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, because I am not. I just purchased his book, and have listened to him talk in two podcasts. His work focuses on internal generational racial trauma healing through not only working with our minds, but also somatically, through our bodies, where trauma resides. While listening to him, and you should listen, one of the things he said that stood out, was about how us white people really need to do our own healing, and that it has to be with us, and not, as I paraphrased above, by seeking out “Black or Indian gurus…” He went on to say this is going to take a lot of work, and take a long time, but that it must be done.

Which brings me to, doing the work. Where are all my white people at? I know a lot of us, as I’ve noted in recent posts, have been doing a lot of reading about the history of race and racism in this country, reading the works of Black authors–literary works, and works focusing on the work of anti-racism, as well as getting involved in racial justice community actions. I also continue to hear from fellow white people, and from Black and Brown people about white people, whether friends, or on social media, of us still posing the question of “what can I do?” or saying, “I should be doing more.”

Which brings me to: do the work.

Yes, I need to do the work. You, fellow white person, need to do the work. We all, all of us white people, need to do the work. And, what is the work? I’m just a middle-aged, white-skinned Jewish woman on a journey also trying to figure out what that means for me, for us. I am not a scholar, or expert to think I can tell you what to do and how to do it, but here are some thoughts and things I am doing, and striving to do.

The first thing we need to do is look in the mirror like James Baldwin didn’t hold onto hope that we could or would. We can’t do anything without acknowledging the reality of the totality of American history, and the violence and systems of oppression we created and continue to uphold.

Then, we can begin to educate ourselves, which many of us are finally starting to do through reading, and conversation. We have to be willing to get uncomfortable in the conversations we have with Black, Brown and Indigenous people, and to make mistakes, and allow ourselves to be corrected. We have to learn and practice not getting defensive, not over-apologizing, and not shedding white tears. We need to talk amongst ourselves, too, and hold one another accountable, and support one another in this work.

In considering all that needs to be done in educating ourselves, I was reminded of the ideas taught to me through teachers in the metalsmithing and woodworking classes I took, yet, I know this to ring true across all art forms. I remember my metals teacher especially, saying, as students we needed to learn and perfect our technique to the highest level, and then forget it, so that our authentic artistry and creativity could come through.

I believe we need to educate ourselves as fully as we can about racism, and about our own whiteness, and to deeply reflect on ourselves and the way we and those that came before us, have been moving through this world, and only then can we have the tools, and be in touch with our authentic selves, and be able to live the work of being fully human, take ourselves out of being white, and as world renowned author, poet, activist, and spiritual, transformational leader, Sonya Renee Taylor says, ” learn how to live in right relationship” with Black, Brown and Indigenous people in this country.

The Body Is Not An Apology author, Taylor, whose 2nd expanded edition I just purchased, beckons us to begin with “radical self-love.” Another book I am eager to read, I have gained much from following her on Instagram, and in listening to her conversation on the podcast, Eyes on Whiteness. Just the other day, I appreciated her talk on IG about white people taking responsibility. To put it in context, Sonya, who is American, just moved to New Zealand, after having previously split her time between there and the Bay area. I suppose after she announced her move this week, some white people chimed in to say they wish they too, could leave this country.

This talk came right on time for me. It seems lately I’m not only continually waking up to the ways of my own whiteness, but to the ways I have not taken responsibility, or done the work in other areas of my life. I’ve often been instant gratification girl. I want things to just happen. Like the time I urged my friend to send me the chanting meditation cd she had been listening to. A talented artist and poet, my friend had spent some time living in an ashram, practiced yoga, was doing her own spiritual work. She has always been a focused, intense, disciplined person. This was over ten years ago, but I remember her telling me that she was practicing the chanting while visualizing herself winning this poetry publication contest she submitted to. Well, she did win first place, and got her poetry book published. I can’t remember what I was hoping I’d win by possessing the cd, but I knew I just couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough. When it did finally arrive, I was thrilled. Now I’d be more spiritual, and more stuff in the universe would come to me. I don’t think I ever took the plastic wrapper off the cd set.

I say I want a lovely home, but don’t put in the time cleaning, painting, or de-cluttering. I say I want to be in love, but haven’t been consistent in making the effort to put myself out there, and to be fully present with the men I have met. Divorced for 8 1/2 years now, I know I sometimes hope that something magical will just happen, and I will live happily ever after. Cutting myself some slack along with all of you, for just trying to make it through this pandemic while working full-time at a psychiatric hospital, and hoping I’m holding up my two daughters’ spirits as they move through all of this too, I recently came to the revelation of still needing to put in some energy and effort. I need to do some work reckoning with my past, and open myself up to be able to give and receive love, so I can move forward and be present to the possibility of having a relationship. I am certain I will also need to practice the radical self-love that Sonya Renee Taylor speaks of to find my way in this.

See my pattern, and what I’m getting at? These things are much lighter than doing the work of breaking down racism, but I bring them up because we have to be willing to do the work. It will not be easy. We will not achieve enlightenment, or rewards, for doing the work we should have been doing since we first arrived in this country. But it is our responsibility.

In Sonya Renee Taylor’s talk, she said that some white people think, “the responsibility for solving issues of white supremacy delusion is on Black people’s shoulders.” She went on to say that it is white people’s responsibility to fix this. We created it. We need to figure out how to fix it, and fix it. She also said, that we have the “inhumane luxury” to propose to Black people that they make their needs or demands in a way that is comfortable to us–that we want it said in a certain way, a way that can’t sound angry–that we try and get away with simply having hope. That we say things like “I believe in the possibility of change,” but then do nothing. Or we say, “its too hard, or too slow, or too depressing.” Ultimately, as I shared above, Taylor says, our responsibility is to “make right relationship” with Black, Brown and Indigenous people here in America. We don’t, as Taylor says, just get to, up and leave America because we don’t like it here, and let racism and its systems of oppression continue to fester and rule, and then go run off to some other country where we can continue to live out our exploitive, gentrifying, white supremacist ways in other lands.

It is interesting to me that both Sonya Renee Taylor’s and Resmaa Menakan’s books relate to working to liberate ourselves through working with our bodies. As someone much more in tune with my emotions and instincts–heart over head–I am looking forward to taking my time with both of these important works.

We won’t fix racism or cure ourselves of our whiteness overnight, but we can’t afford to take any more time to start doing the work of fixing ourselves, and undoing racism and racist systems. We can’t wait until we think we know everything. We will never know everything. This is a journey, and we need to, if we haven’t already started, to start right now. Educate ourselves, and be hypervigilant about how whiteness is operating within ourselves, within other people, and within the spaces we find ourselves in.

Have the uncomfortable conversations. Make mistakes. Accept responsibility. Strive to do better next time. Speak up at your child’s school when you see how the white-led PTO is not including the voices, concerns, and desires of parents of color. Speak up at your workplace when your white co-worker makes a micro-aggression, or note the fact your non-profit organization’s administrators and board of directors does not include anyone representative of the community you serve. Get to know who the Black leaders in your community are. Find out ways you can support Black leaders, and Black-led organizations, without being a burden by asking them to tell you exactly what you should do. Share resources, either dollars, volunteering of time and/or skills, and show up at community events. Find out what the voting rights are like in your community, and get involved if things need to change for the better. Join an activist organization like Standing Up For Racial Justice, a movement of white people who come together to learn about racism, activism, whiteness, and fight for racial justice. There is so much we can, and need to do. There is so much we must do.

Are you ready? Where are all my white people at? Will you join me? May I join you?