An informal response to the words my teacher and classmates have used to define our black and brown struggle in a series of fragmented thoughts, definitions, small poems, and broken discussions
My teacher once defined lost as something that was stripped away from a person or group of people
What had been lost?
In class we discussed some of the stories of those that have lost
We discussed the culture of Peru losing
Or rather being forced to change
culture in order to meet the standards of a Eurocentric society
Who participates in textile making?
Who has the nimble and fragile hands?
Who is born with the attention to perfection?
They told us that it was only women
women of color
And therefore history was rewritten and lost
And then I think of my history, my own personal history
Although my own personal and familial history is in so many ways parallel
to all of our black and brown stories throughout the world
Whilst at the same time is so specific to only myself that it’s hard to consider it through a generalized gaze
And I wonder where I came from
I’m a generation removed from a homeland
But not my homeland
It’s my fantasy world
I think of Dreaming in Cuban
except I’m Dreaming in El Salvador
Do you remember when the girl tries to run away to Cuba, although she’s never been there?
Can I do that?
Do you remember how she dreams of her grandmother and although they’ve never met, can feel the intense connection no matter where she goes?
Can I feel that?
And what am I left with when I leave my imagination?
Perhaps my other half
But my other half is also lost as my society has stripped my blackness to bare bones as well.
And I think of what blackness is left with
I can’t even claim that.
No, not that either.
My nose, I have my nose.
And our culture.
Lost: A Discussion --
And in discovering what is lost I create what can be replaced.
Well, perhaps we do that as a collective because you see
my sister and I, we are finding our LatinX roots. And I’m constantly trying to learn about where my fantasy homeland is from and that’s hard to do as I am once removed (as is she), but it is possible. And for me, well you see I talk. I talk to my mother’s brother about his life and his home and his culture. And I hear it and see it as well (although both only on occasion) and it feels real. Because I can try to understand and perhaps will one day fully understand.
and although blackness cannot be attributed to direct African cultures in conjunction with our own bodies, I think we -- as in the black communities that make up this nation -- have done a good job at replacing our missing pieces and creating anew. Because when I learn about our diversity and our triumphs and tribulations I’m inspired to continue.
We continue finding ways to progress our culture and our experience. And you see what I have come to realize is this, my experience is unique to me and that’s something to discuss as well. Because you see I claim more than one space and that is unique, I am always in dual conversation and that is unique and therefore my culture, which only belongs to me, myself, and I is something I cannot share with my mother (who of course I wouldn't anyway), or my father, or my grandmothers, or aunts, or cousins or friends of similar backgrounds. Because as I told you before and as you must see, I am always in dual conversation and acknowledging that is where I become no longer lost.
And so I create.
A word my teacher used to describe the process of making.
I want you all to know that we can create everything and anything we want. And I want you to know that when we create it, it might come from a low place, or hard time, or a place of you trying to understand something that may have once been lost. And I want you to know you can find happiness in your creations and just because it came from a low point does not mean your creation remains at the same low point. I want you to know your creations are successful and do not warrant anyone’s unwanted pity, because I promise you that will come but please don't accept it. And I want you to know that you do not have to thank them for white tears because they do not come from understanding and empathy, but rather from a selfish place from within them; one that makes your work about them although it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with you. That is just something I want you all to know.
And so I will tell you a time that made me very uncomfortable in class. A time when I saw white tears and a time that myself and others wanted to leave.
We watched a Jeffrey Gibson video piece. They are a Native American, queer artist and the film was quite beautiful. It was having a conversation with something that was lost, then found and in a way, reclaimed.
I’m sure you all can relate in some way.
And the people in the film were happy!
And I’m sure you all can relate in some way.
And they recited spoken word and gave speeches and danced in a magnificent pow-wow. And it was so beautiful and so happy.
And when I looked around I saw tears.
Create: A series of questions --
Why were you crying?
Were you so moved, so happy, that it sparked tears?
Are you aware that your tears come from a place of pity?
Are you aware that your tears are taking up space?
Are you aware that you are making this about you?
Are you aware that even if you’re crying because you are “moved” that the only conversation that you could apply to the piece is one that stems from a dark place, one of pity, one of dismissal?
Create: My understanding --
When I saw the tears I gathered a few things about the space I was in.
And I’m telling this story to warn you about where and how your art is presented!
But anyway, I thought about where the tears were coming from because thinking about the film, in order to be moved so adamantly where would one have to be coming from.
Perhaps the internal conversation went like this,
A crying classmates first thought: Oh wow this video piece is so beautiful!
Second thought: It is so nice that these Natives get to be reunited with their lost, cultural artifacts again!
Third thought: Wow that is so beautiful!
Fourth thought: It’s just so sad that their culture had to be stripped away from them! So sad! How sad! So, so, so very sad!
Fifth thought: I’m so lucky that’s never happened to me.
Sixth thought: But so angry that it hasn’t happened to me because of my privilege! And now I can’t relate!
Seventh thought: And of course it will never happen to me, but look how they struggle!
Eighth thought: My ancestors did this to them and therefore I am awful! That is how I can relate! I hate my ancestors! *eyes water* How sad for them! But how beautiful this video is! How lucky they are to be making this video and here with these artifacts! But oh how sad!
And so be careful because they will cry but I want to warn you that the tears are not genuinely out of happiness for us but out of pity for us and anger at --- themselves? And after the tears are dried and they are ready and able to talk about your work they will only keep manifesting this thought and the thought will never move past that. It ends there.
But as a means to heal we must create. So do not let a warning hinder your process.
My teacher used the word heal to describe a means of reclaiming, validation, feeling better, but also as a form of activism.
Let me come back to this word.
My teacher described violence in a context that only really related to our black and brown communities.
My classmates did as well.
Be careful of those who only associate you in a state of violence because you understand it. And be even more careful of those who ask you about your understanding of violence when they can not comprehend it at all.
I once listened to Angela Davis talk about violence.
She talked about how some white bodies ask about violence and condemn violence in a severe state of ignorance that is completely apathetic to black lives and lived experiences.
How could you even ask!
And how if you are questioning violence in such a way then you do not have any knowledge or understanding of it at all which makes it almost unable to discuss.
In class black and brown bodies were portrayed as constant victims of violence.
In media, we apparently cause our own violence, and although we are victims we are also the primary “perpetrators”.
I want you all to know that we are more than victims or “perpetrators”. We should not be expected to only have those two narratives. We are survivors.
In class we discussed violence against brown women specifically-
Women who lost their children in “third worlds” to systems they had no control over
Women who have built technology for the wealth of “American prosperity” but gained
Women who quilt in order to heal because their family was torn apart by malpractice due
Women who were forced to make samples about a culture that in no way related to them
and in assimilation, lost the culture that was theirs
And so finally let me come back to healing
Because all of these women learned to heal through creation
Although the creation of their craft didn’t always resolve the issue at hand
And I’m not sure if there is an answer to our pain
Except we can all create to heal
And I create to heal and in that way i feel connected to them as a black body in similar experience.
And I knit with a machine and it wurs
And the rows drop
And i wrap with yarn
and i wrap
and i wrap
In front of me lives my skin and it begs me to put it on. And when I step into my skin it breathes for me. And my skin can do a lot of things.
My skin speaks for me and it knows what I do not. And it has the answers that I cannot yet comprehend. And my new skin becomes my shield. And it answers those unwanted questions for me. And it speaks for me when I’m too exhausted to think anymore. And my skin is polite to their ignorance; I really appreciate my skin for that.
And my skin confuses them. And my skin draws them in. And my skin makes them want it, want me. But my skin can’t fit them, only me. And so my skin and I -- we fall in love with each other more than anyone has ever claimed to be in love with us. My skin and I are united and inseparable.
And when my skin is tired and I have to take it off --
Well of course I am nervous because once you have lived with my skin you do not want to live in any other way.
But I tell myself to take a deep breath because my skin needs rest.
And I step out of my skin
Oh my god.
And I have healed
My last word for you is solidarity and oh my god how I hate this word!
My teacher described it as a way to stand hand in hand with us.
Question the authenticity of this word. Question who self-claims this word. Question if you have claimed this word as a means of expressing "empathy" for those who struggle side by side with us.
Solidarity finds strong roots in pity and it's hard to understand how a word that is supposed to be used to aid and further a proactive change can inhibit us from growth at all
Especially in a world where you must be woke
Hey, you!! Wake up!! Are you standing in solidarity with them!!
Hey, I am standing in solidarity with them!!
Okay, cool!! Me, too!!
And that’s as far as the conversation goes!
So be careful that your solidarity is not a mere conversation. Solidarity needs more than like minded individuals to discuss the many faceted downfalls that society is taking part in, especially the ones that involve our bodies. Solidarity requires understanding of other people and questioning situations only after you have taken the means to truly envelope yourself in them. Solidarity cannot be an agreement from a third party perspective; that makes it impossible.
Solidarity cannot only begin and end in a “safe” classroom setting, or after watching the so, so, so sad news. It cannot manifest itself from reading or POSTING a status online. Solidarity cannot take up the space to speak as opposed to giving it to someone who is more lived on the topic.
Solidarity cannot hide behind privilege or education or money. Solidarity stands on the forefront with us. Solidarity comes from true empathy and consideration. Solidarity comes from the willingness to be uncomfortable and to unlearn what you believe you know. Solidarity is hard, so hard and at most times should be articulated without an overpowering shadow of anger. I promise this will allow for more conversation, understanding, and as a result, true solidarity. And finally, solidarity must finalize and enact itself with only respect.
And I’m skeptical of trusting those who claim to be able to do all of these things in succession at once. Because solidarity requires the dismantling of privilege and gives way for conversation and negates any stigmas or stereotypes that are upheld by those in discussion. But I have not seen that here! I have not heard that here! Because every time they talk about us we only exist in misfortune. We only receive pity where they receive pride in their anger and rants and knowledge. But who is this anger for? Who are these rants about? Who is this knowledge about?
As if we don’t exist! As if we cannot speak for ourselves! As if we are unable to save ourselves and only they can save us!
I promise you it’s not real. I promise we can save ourselves from whatever negativity comes our way. I promise you, I do.
And so in conclusion I want to apologize to all of you on behalf of the classes that exhausted you because I know that I am exhausted. I know the conversations are long and many times you leave and feel strange because so many other people just taught and critiqued your own lived experience and when you’re outnumbered it’s hard to speak. You don’t have to. But take a deep breath and know that what you’re seeing and learning is something you can claim, and we can claim together. And we can speak together. And we can create together. And we can heal together. Because that’s really all we have.
Jeffrey, Gibson, director. One Becomes the Other. Jeffrey Gibson, Jeffrey Gibson, 2015,
Olsson, Goron, director. The Black Power Mixtape (1965-1975). 2011.
Vinebaum, Lisa. “Art History: Contemporary Histories: Fiber.” 2018, Chicago, School of the Art
Institute of Chicago.