On October 12, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts are partnering to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph on a keyword associated with one of the summit themes: Inequities, Occupations, Making, or Tactics. This posting is by Scott Tsuchitani, a socially engaged artist based in San Francisco who co-teaches a UC Berkeley Arts Seminar with Prof. Gregory Levine, “Socially Engaged Art and the Future of the Public University.
Keywords: racial inequity, occupy whiteness
One of the keyword statements for ARC’s “Occupy as Form” last February, “Occupy the Hood — We are the 99%” by Gina Acebo, eloquently spoke to the need to center a racial analysis within the narrative of the Occupy movement because people of color are disproportionately affected by the issues that the Occupy movement raised. In response, one commenter expressed thanks while at the same time questioning how this focus on race could potentially displace Occupy’s focus on class—as if the two are somehow mutually exclusive—in other words, thanking the author while at the same time casting doubt on her basic premise: that given the linkage between racial inequity and economic inequality, racial discourse deserves a place in the narrative of liberating the 99%.
The denial that racial inequity remains a glaring issue well into the 21st is, to me, itself an expression of the same white privilege or whiteness behind the false notion that we have arrived at a “post-racial” or “color-blind” social utopia. “Color-blind” is easy to say when one is in a position to continue benefiting from historical privilege; not so for those of us expected to accommodate that privilege on a daily basis.
If “post-racial” were true, then why would radically inclusive movements such as Occupy be dominated by white folks, for example, in progressive San Francisco where whites are a minority? Based on the most recent census data, “We are the 49%” would have been more accurate. The fact that one of the most popular and iconic posters of the OWS movement featured the slogan “Occupy Everything” speaks to a normative disavowal of genocidal history that reinscribes colonial power relations in the present, disenfranchising people of color while reaffirming white supremacy in the process.
Racial inequity only gets worse when you look at the art world. Last week I attended a panel on “Social and Subversive Practices” hosted by Yerba Buena Community Benefit District, where the entire panel was white, as if there are no socially engaged artists of color in the Bay Area community. Is it by accident or mere coincidence that the present Creative Time event at ARC here in Berkeley features a select group of nine facilitators and respondents who, outside of a token exception, appear to be about as racially diverse as the Republican National Convention?
If one of the aims of social practitioners is to address social inequity, how can we expect to do so through structures that marginalize those most disproportionately impacted by the very inequities we seek to address? What changes need to take place in order for the most privileged and entitled among us to learn how to take direction from those most impacted? These are kinds of questions that a group of artists and activists of color aim to explore through a project called Occupy Whiteness.