Sunday, September 28, 2008

Culture and Clarity

I don't know the history of newspapers printing non-prose articles, in any section other than the "Arts" section, but I was extremely thrilled to see a pictorial article by one of my favorite artists in the Opinions section of the New York Times today.

Kara Walker,

a visual artist working in silhouette forms using paper, transparencies, light, and film (to name a few of her mediums) has manipulated reconstruction iconography to question the ways we view race and class in America.

And, in this thrilling article AUTUMN she again surprises me and forces me to make new insights - linking the circular experience of time (through the seasons) to give insight into the repetitive gestures of language and figures and colors that we often use to manipulate the opportunities and self-image of "conquered folks."

Lately, I've had to confront my own assumptions about race. I grew up in Norwood, a small North Carolina town, where my culture (ultimately wrapped up in my race) was often mocked by white class mates. I remember in fourth grade we were studying North Carolina history and watching documentaries about our state. When we watched a video about religious practices, several white students decided that the cadence of black preachers and call & response of black parishioners was laughable. I had to endure weeks of heckling and indecent mimicry.

Having had to grow up in such an environment, I don't usually anticipate non-blacks to embrace black culture - in fact for much of my late teens and early twenties I tried to deny black culture. So, when I see non-blacks wearing Obama paraphernalia and displaying signs, I greet it with an unhealthy amount of skepticism and unease. "Are you really supporting a 'black' man - or is this some part of your personal performance of liberalism?"

For me: there is more maturing to happen, more healing to happen. I look forward to having accumulated enough positive interactions and reflections to overcome the biases of my youth.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Language Responsibly

I have been terrified lately. The thought of being vulnerable – of sharing in a public space, like this blog, has made me second guess my work. I'm excited to be venturing back into this medium.

I was reading this afternoon about fear and darkness. Why is it that when in a space where our eyes have not quite adjusted, we start to use our other senses: smelling, touch, hearing to create (fill in the blanks) of the world around us. Why is it usually that, that world around us is populated with potential pitfalls? Why not potential opportunities?

I suppose as a great poet once reminded us:

We die.
That may be
the meaning of life.

yet she goes on, in the same poem, to remind us how we shape our existence:

But we do language.
That may be
the measure of our lives.

Tonight is the first of our US presidential debates. Let's hope that both of the candidates chose their words well: words that will lead to actions which reflect the American people, words that will celebrate our civic responsibilities and words that will provide for our general welfare.