Tag Archives: racism

A look at racism, part 48

Today’s idiosyncratic tour of racism, reactions to racism, and/or the history of racism swings through a twitter thread.

Yesterday a WW (that’s “white woman” from now on) posted her horror at learning that, at some point, George Washington killed all his slaves’ dogs. Her tweet is circled in yellow below.

Here’s one possible source for this fact — a Frontline episode on PBS.

Even though I’ve read about some of the most horrific forms of torture employed by slave owners and have had to really think about the heartless mercantile interests of slave owners trafficking in black bodies, I also recoiled at the dog-killing.

Does this mean I care more about dogs than about the enslaved?

Of course not.

I thought Washington’s dog-killing was an extreme and sadistic act meant to deprive his slaves of the comfort and companionship of their pets. The Frontline article though seems confirming of the tweeter’s assertion — that he was acting out of economic self-interest. The dogs were killing his livestock, perhaps?

PBS Frontline

Anyway, I didn’t spend a lot of time reading the comments because I knew the dumping on the WW would, in this instance, bother me. It’s NOT EITHER / OR.

And BTW, sometimes it’s evident that people DO care more about pets than the people involved. Take the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

It seemed then that there was a lot of attention paid to the stranded animals and maybe not enough attention paid to the ravages of New Orleans’ largely Black parishes. Also, that the recovery effort was so botched could have been viewed through a lens of racism and generally wasn’t.

Another EITHER / OR that I’m thinking about and will come back to post about sometime soon is: how the fact that race is a scientific fiction across the board (not just for white people, in other words) can coexist with our profound acknowledgment that race as a social construct is profoundly and persistently problematic.

Collages are 2022 creations made to visual prompts from Paris Collage Collective.

If nothing else, give

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RIP George Floyd.

A post shared by Chawne Kimber (@cauchycomplete) on

It’s heartbreaking that Chawne Kimber had cause to repost her “I can’t breathe” quilt. After nearly every comment, Kimber asked, “but what are you going to DO?” A drumbeat. A call to action. “What are you going TO DO?”

Here is a link to Minnesota Freedom Fund, which among other things, pays criminal bail for those who cannot afford to do so. I gave a little this morning.

And here is a Medium article titled, “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice.” It was written in 2017 and things have only gotten worse since then, so it’s still relevant. You could get lost for years doing the suggested reading and movie viewing. Don’t. Get a parallel course of action going.

Massachusetts has been reforming their criminal justice system in recent years, supported by a number of advocacy groups, like Citizens for Juvenile Justice. I made calls to my reps about some aspects of these efforts back in 2017 and am putting the task front and center again.

In “The New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander describes the devastating impacts of mandatory minimum drug sentencing and forfeiture rules. In the case of mandatory minimums, judges lost the power to consider a person’s circumstances. Sentencing that should have been calculated in months was imposed in five and ten year chunks.

When I worked for Aid to Incarcerated Mothers in the 90’s, I met inmates who had received mandatory five year sentences for possession of small amounts of drugs. Drug sales were often motivated by poverty or to support a habit. If parents, these women were almost always in danger of losing custody of their children — a secondary and devastating consequence to ridiculously long prison terms.

Alexander delineates how the forfeiture rules not only created incentives for law enforcement to grab property, it incentivized the vigorous continuation of the drug trade itself.

I’m jumping all around here, but there is a through line.

When making investments, you can either choose a socially responsible fund (an ESG investment) or have an otherwise ordinary fund apply filters. We chose Trillium as our ESG fund and applied the filters of fossil fuels and private prison corporations to others.

Privatization of the prison system creates incentives for keeping incarceration numbers high. More bodies equals more profits. ICE has been housing people in private prisons as well.

While I’m not sure that I fall all the way on the side of prison abolition, I most definitely want the racist and other inhumane policies to undergo reform. Our numbers are beyond shocking.

In closing let me say how gratifying it was to watch Amy Cooper go down in real time. From “twitter do your thing,” to her identity being posted within hours, to her voluntary surrender of her dog before sundown, her termination from Templeton Franklin the next day, and finally, her being banned from Central Park. She went full Donham* and deserved every bit of it.

*Woman who cried rape and effectively killed Emmett Till. She recanted a couple of years ago.

This quilt is from my Middle Passage series.

strange fruit

“Strange Fruit” — 28″ x 26″

This piece emerged while I was making the “Middle Passage” quilts. In that series, I used a brown fabric with horizontal stripes to represent slave ships. That fabric shows up again here, notably under a white house. It’s one of those references that no one would get unless I told them, i.e. a white structure upheld by the slave trade. The central motif was pieced during the aftermath of the Zimmerman acquittal (blogged about here and here).

“Strange Fruit” addresses the fact that the racism underpinning slavery exists on a continuum — how it’s evolved rather than disappeared. Specifically, I was thinking about the Jim Crow era and all its brutality — which explains the tree motif and the quilt’s title. At some point during its creation, I researched images of lynching victims. These are hard to look at. Nevertheless, I printed three of them out onto a sheer organza with the idea of overlaying the human images on the tree fabric to make explicit the reference. But I found I couldn’t do it.

Instead, I carefully rolled up the three sheer rectangles of cloth and placed them in boxes or vases for safekeeping — away from human eyes, in a restful dark — until I could decide what to do with them. Bury them?

Around the same time, I came across notes about a visual arts show (in D.C., maybe?) that featured images of lynched African Americans. I read with avid interest how carefully staged and curated the show had been, specifically designed to account for the intense sorrow or rage that might arise, including the hosting of structured, public conversations.

It confirmed my decision to exclude the images.

I couldn’t retrace that research now, but here’s a link to a similarly themed 2017 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. This show was a collaboration between the museum and the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the organization founded by Bryan Stevenson, author of “Just Mercy / A Story of Justice and Redemption.” Stevenson’s new project, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice was the subject of a recent 60 Minutes episode, but it you’re short on time, I recommend watching the short clip at the top of the Memorial’s website, here.

To continue.

Last weekend, K and I attended Claudia Rankine’s play, “The White Card” — which addresses this very topic, that is, white people’s support of and use of images of black death in art — either art they create or art they buy. The black artist character, Charlotte, refers to the topic as “the black death spectacle”.

The play asked lots of provocative questions about cultural appropriation and they were all the more powerful for being aimed at white liberal progressives “trying to do the right thing”.

(I cringed when I saw Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, “Between the World and Me” on the living room coffee table. Is that a ‘meta-prop’ — a prop of a prop? You can just make it out on the white upholstered surface).

Needless to say, the black artist invited to a dinner party hosted by wealthy white potential patrons cringes over a lot more than that. The collectors mean well — ahem — but the conversations make clear that good intentions are not enough (when did I hear that last? — in a review of Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, “Detroit”.)

The play wrestles with the question: What does it mean to portray black suffering as art? More specifically, what does it mean when white artists do so or when white collectors collect it?

One statement and one question really stood out and apply to me (to this quilt and others, as well as the many-year project of setting a piece of historic fiction in 18th century South Carolina):

  • “Maybe you buy images of black death because that’s the only form of blackness you’re comfortable with” and
  • “Why don’t you make yourself your project?” (instead of black suffering).

Back to the ink-jet print-outs: I have looked for those disturbing cloth-printed figures a number of times in the intervening years and not been able to find them. This probably says more about my distracted self and less about the potency of the images, but still … Now, at least, I know that they will never, ever appear on any art work of mine.

I’ll end with a question Charlotte asks of her white patron: “Have you ever had the feeling that you’re ALL WRONG?”

The virtues of watermelon


Let me tell you how much I like watermelon. It’s sweet! It’s juicy! I like watermelon doused in lime juice and sprinkled with mint. I like the cool crunch of it, especially as July shoulders into August and the heat gathers its dull fury.

But why so small a domestic rave?

Well, otherwise I might find myself complaining about the relentless, interfering noise in my neighborhood. When I went out to pick the mint, I leaned into the street to see what racket had just begun, thinking it might be the planned driveway installation next door. But no, it was tree work two doors down. That’s usually good for at least three hours. Not long after I clopped my headphones on, the excavator that has been working sporadically across the street for weeks fired up its engine.

And if I weren’t complaining about noise, I’d be feeling some responsibility to articulate my rage and despondency about racism and unwarranted death and policing and gridlock and…  and… and… For a while now, I’ve believed that speaking out in clear anger was part of the solution, because, you know, ‘denying racism is a form of racism’. I’m not so sure right now. I’ve hit some sort of wall and silence feels like the better response, or maybe, the only one I’m capable of right now.

It occurs to me: America needs an etiquette for mass shootings. America needs an etiquette for racist murders. Think about that for a minute. “Dear Miss Manners, I can’t seem to wrap my head around the recent spate of race-driven murders. What is the most thoughtful response — too old to march. Signed, Weary White Woman.”

I “liked” the woman on FB who said (not completely jesting) that she ought to be able to “call in black” to work, just to give herself a few hours to grieve or find her own humanity (if you’re on FB, look for ‘Evelyn from the Internets’ and scroll down a couple of posts, or search #callinginblack).

Shaun King of the NY Daily News can always be relied upon to inform and respond in outrage. I follow him on twitter so that I will know when another atrocity has taken place (@shaunking). His recent article spoke about the need to end the despicable practice of asking African Americans who have just lost a loved one whether they forgive the perpetrator or not.

If you haven’t read the recent NY Times article by Charles Blow, I recommend it.

Otherwise, find your cool, crunchy sweets where you can?

Even though I’ve been writing at the kitchen table today, I’m going to escape the clammy, noisy air by descending into the basement. It’s cool down there. And quiet. I’ll enjoy my bowl of watermelon standing at the sewing table, with my laptop set up among the pins and scraps.

Then I’ll turn my attention back to mid-eighteenth century, South Carolina.It is strange to feel the permeability of history, which is another way of saying: it’s awful to acknowledge how the hate from those years lives on.

Nitty gritty for Hearts for Charleston Quilt

 

NBC News

Does thinking about the nitty gritty offer relief in the face of the unthinkable? Perhaps.

This link provides short bios of the victims: NBC News.

nbc news

Nine victims of the Charleston church shooting. Top row: Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton Middle row: Daniel Simmons, Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders Bottom row: Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson          Via Facebook and Getty Images

christ-deemallon-assemblage

African Christ – work in progress

I am rethinking the stitching of names onto the squares. Hold off on that for now, please. I think they might look better embroidered on strips that go all around the edge of the assembled nine block, rather than on the hearts or strips themselves. Some of the names are quite long and I don’t want them to get lost.

WEAVING STRIPS

This weaving method is simple. Some of the genius variations that Jude Hill has created are listed in links toward the end of this post. I encourage you to take a look at just a quick sampling of her work– even those of you who have been following her.  The method here is hers, the tricks are learned from her. The artistry will be all yours and mine — I hope!

Jude teaches two basic approaches. You can lay your strips on top of a backing cloth and weave (which is what I will demonstrate), or you can ‘anchor’ an uncut cloth to a backing with a single row of stitching, then cut that top piece into strips and weave into that.
IMG_9745The finished area should measure 10″. Please leave at least 1/4″ all round, or more, for flexibility at assembly.

I have chosen light and dark blue for a checkerboard affect, because symbolically I think that speaks to the intersection of people of different colors. In a checkerboard, each hue has equal weight. It is harmonious. So, I like that here. You are welcome to go in another direction. IMG_9717

It is easier to start in the middle and work toward each edge in turn.start in middle and work to one edgeLaying a ruler or piece of cardstock on top helps keep things from moving around too much. When you approach the edge, the strips won’t want to stay folded back, so you might want to use a weight. A ruler is good. Here I use scissors.
IMG_9721

To turn the square when you are done going in one direction — slide something firm underneath, like a plastic placemat.
IMG_9728Then rotate and repeat process.IMG_9730

IMG_9739Then, pin. I use a lot straight pins, knowing I may get stuck. As Mo pointed out yesterday, it might mean bleeding into the cloth. I can think of no better cloth to offer our blood to. But the point is (no pun intended), you may want to use safety pins. I find them too fussy.

Then, to adhere the layers with thread, it is up to you whether you want to do a LARGE BASTE, an INVISIBLE BASTE* a la Jude, or just dig right in and start stitching — across and down, in matching or contrasting threads. A woven square this large will flop around quite a bit without a lot of basting, so I will do a fair amount.

For both the basting as well as the initial finish stitching, it helps to have a firm work surface — one that a needle can encounter without you worrying. If you have a glass top table, that works. I have been using a laptop lap desk that a friend gave me. It has a hard plastic surface and is the right size. Once the layers are integrated enough, you will be able to lap quilt without these concerns.

The heart can be a color of your choosing. Except for the red, the ones I have shown are a little too big, covering up too much of the weaving. As mentioned earlier, I will use traditional applique (with turned under edge), but you may use raw edge applique.

FABRIC

Any fabric is good. I like, though, that so many of you have indicated that you plan to use indigo. This will unify whatever other fabrics come in, making it easier for me to trust this, the way one trusts a potluck. Just please do me the favor of selecting fabric that a needle will easily stitch (i.e. no batik!! no jean-weight denim.)

DATE: August 31. Email me for my address when it comes time.

INSPIRATION

So much inspiration from Jude at Spirit Cloth! It would be impossible to overstate how much I value this generous, extraordinarily talented, ever-evolving and yet humble and curious, artist.  Here are just a few samples from her blog: ‘one step further‘, ‘weaving sanity‘, ‘just corners and squares‘ (this post includes a YouTube video), ‘creative growth‘, ‘some old moon‘, and ‘lining things up in December‘.

Here are a few of my weavings created after taking one of her online classes.
tops for sachetsreturning to 'treasure map' idea, this time with star map and red X's marking the spotIMG_5845I’ve archived some of the heart pieces I’ve made or photographed on flickr, here.

People stand outside as parishioners leave the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Sunday, June 21, 2015, in Charleston, S.C., four days after a mass shooting at the church claimed the lives of its pastor and eight others. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

People stand outside as parishioners leave the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Sunday, June 21, 2015, in Charleston, S.C., four days after a mass shooting at the church claimed the lives of its pastor and eight others. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

* Invisible baste is when you grab just a teeny knick of fabric on the top and let most of the thread between stitches run underneath. That way you can leave the stitches in when you are done, even if the thread is contrasting.