Charlottesville

I have been noticing with this thing, just as in the aftermath of the election, an uptick of posts along the lines of “if you disagree with me about [x], unfriend me!” or, “If you think [Tiki Klan] is okay, unfriend me!”

While I understand the emotion behind the sentiment, I am troubled in general by this ‘unfriend’ me idea re: you don’t think the way I do. It encourages tribe mentality, it encourages ‘us’ vs. ‘them’, it encourages the idea of certain people are throwaway people. Which is what got us here in the first place.

Because there aren’t throwaway people. There are definitely misguided people, there are frightened people, there angry violent people. But these traits are not inherent. And this is a crucial distinction, and one that means we need to keep the channels open between different kinds of people. Too many self-segregating white people is how we got where we are now — which is to say, how we stayed where we’ve always been, long before any of us were alive.

We are in the thick of the fight that is has been long in the process, years and years before any of us white people were noticing. We white people are long overdue to the hard work of dismantling paradigms and address the ways in which this country perpetuates and normalizes racism. And new people are noticing.

 

Those new people will feel upset and threatened by this. These new people are going to be struggling with white fragility long before they are able to soberly read an article explaining it. These people, newly removed from a self-image of goodness, are going to be desperately seeking belonging even as they fumble in major, obvious ways. (‘not all white people’, asking POC for education rather than educating themselves, etc.,)

We need those people to press on in their journey. And we need white supremacists to start recognizing these truths and begin their own journeys. It is hard uphill work. Especially during an administration that is actively inhibiting groups that work hard to deradicalize extremist individuals.

This hard work was not lost on the friend who posted this ‘unfriend me’ meme.
“I lack the emotional bandwidth to deal with folks in my social media sphere in addition to my professional life and personal life,” my friend told me.

And on the one hand, I get that. This guy is a leftist political radical, and does a lot of good work.

On the other hand, it reminded me of something a very different friend said to me once when I called them out on their racist joke, again via private message. I am too busy raising my family to get mixed up in all that.

And at the time, I didn’t know enough to point out that the ability to not have the conversation at all — the ability to just say ‘no thank you’ to those hard thoughts — was itself a shining example of the privilege they possessed and had all their life taken for granted.

I know now. And I try to bring that to the table now when I come knocking.

The burden of educating ignorant white people is on us white people, not POC.
POC are too busy trying to survive this.
POC aren’t going to be taken seriously by a doubting white person.
POC are too angry.
POC are the ones who truly lack the emotional bandwidth.
It’s spent and spent each and every day in every moment of living in what many call AmeriKKKa.

And.

As white people, to mirror the eugenic rhetoric of “THOSE PEOPLE are BAD” does not make the un-woke woke.
It only makes them more angry.
It only creates more factions.
It perpetuates the disease.
It perpetuates the myth that there’s only enough civil liberty for a limited group of people.

Do whatever you can, every single day.

I am not saying you personally have to radically de-radicalize the alt-right.

But what I am saying is that you need to push yourself to do your part, as a white person.
I am saying that it is your civic duty to use that privilege for good, not evil.

To ignore it entirely, to side-step the fight, to say “meh, if you don’t like what I’m saying just remove me from your precious racial-stress-free internet space,” … that is the opposite of helping.

Indifference feeds the oppressor, and oppresses the oppressed.

Her Own Wings

Not long ago I was approached by Andy MacMillian to be a part of a group show exploring Portlandia — the statue whose namesake television show is far more famous than the statue itself.

Despite the intentions of the people who commissioned the statue, she never took off as an icon of the city — she never became for us what the Statue of Liberty is for New York — in large part, it seems, because of Raymond Kaskey’s vigorous protection of his exclusive rights to the image. Arguably a wise art-business move, but in the end a misguided step in the stingy Northwest, where it was unlikely anybody was actually going to shell out the money to use her ubiquitously on mugs, t-shirts, etc., particularly after the large commission fee, funded in large part by the public.

So there she sits, atop the back of a strange building downtown, off my usual bus lines and therefore for me a completely forgettable thing despite being the second largest copper statue in the country. She is completely unrecognizable to most people, even to locals, if they haven’t managed to take a city tour or walk underneath her on fifth avenue.

Andy had been doing some research on this, and had been incensed that Portland essentially wasted a golden opportunity to personify the city with a strong female character. She is based off the woman on the city seal — itself a complicated and generally uninspiring thing because it is so cluttered up with symbols, to wit:

“… a female figure in the center thereof, representing commerce, and holding in her right hand a trident and pointing with her left to a sheaf of wheat and a forest, with a representation of Mount Hood in the background, and at her feet a cogwheel and hammer, and on her right a steamship coming into port.”

It may have been moving and thrilling in 1878, when this was written in the ordinance, but nowadays the seal just looks clunky. Tepid. All redesigns have faithfully adhered to the ordinance, but for some reason have also always been rendered like an etching, so never ends up looking modern or representative of the city in any way.

Andy wanted a fresh take on all this, so he put out a call to various artists — all women or female-identified — to take a crack at this concept and see what we could do with it.

I found it to be a weirdly difficult concept — encapsulate a whole city in a single, strong female figure. Portland has changed so much over the scant nine years I’ve lived here — and had changed a good deal long before I got here — that it’s a tricky story to speak to. After all, my Portland isn’t Chuck Palahniuk’s Portland, not by a long shot, and the Portland I found when I got here during the Great Recession is worlds away from the Little California it’s becoming now. A city that once revered its history is quickly being consumed by boxy, high-end condos, and many of my cornerstone locals have begun to seek their fortunes elsewhere. (And it so easily could have been us, lest we forget.)

So it’s not exactly a warm and gushing moment to be asked to personify your city. I think a lot more of us would have gone the route Cate Andrews went if we’d had the guts.

On the other hand, calls like this are rarely this meaty and specific. And it was stimulating to try and wrestle the concept into something visually satisfying.

In these angry and divisive times I find myself longing for redemption. For hope. And because I survived our eviction and managed to land within the city limits in a good situation, I am able to cling hard to the idea that Portland is still a good place for artists. Not absolutely everybody I know has moved to Cleveland or Detroit or Butte. There are still a lot of us here. And a robust handful of us were in this show, displaying our courage and hope.

 

 

The show is up until September 3rd at Land Gallery: 3925 N Mississippi.

If you happen to be out of town, no matter: you can still view the digital gallery and buy a print here.

Proceeds from this show go towards Call to Safety (formerly Portland Women’s Crisis Line).