We need to think. This is what's missing from us, energetically speaking...
We can't out-fight them, but we can out-think them. -
John Trudell

Friday, December 26, 2014

There is no right way to be in white supremacy.

I am thinking of Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Coco Fusco, their work “Couple in a Cage”.  They toured museums in a cage as the last known primitives.  You could “observe” them in their cage or for a dollar they would perform a tribal dance, tell a traditional story or you could have your picture taken with them.  

The Couple in a Cage

Everywhere they went white people either:

Didn’t get it was satire and thought they were real. Some of these white people were fascinated and marveled at how they had never seen a TV before or were upset by the fact that in the 1990’s people were being toured around in cages. 


They “got it” and assumed they were in on the joke.  They paid for the dances and stories and to have their picture taken with the savages, laughing the whole time.   Or they “got it” and were upset by the responses of other white people acting in all of the above ways.   

I did not see the work in person but I did see a later piece at The Evergreen State College with Guirromo and another collaborator Roberto Sifuentes which had a similar idea but invited the audience to dress the artists up with various stereotypical outfits like living dolls.  This time no one thought it was “real” but white people’s responses fell into the “I’m in on the joke.”  or “The joke isn’t funny.” category. 

For white people this work speaks deeply to the experience of whiteness in a white supremacy.  In the face of history, racism, whiteness there is no “right way to be”  and that is a very uncomfortable space to be in.  Often those that think they are most in the know or in on the joke can act out the most racist behavior which proved true at both of these performances.  

Another truth is that the behaviors of white people in that space can cause people of color pain and anger. And people of color will have different and to be clear many differing experiences with being there.  I attended the Evergreen performance with several friends that were not white.  One of them left she was so upset by the racism being displayed in the space, another woman was playing with the dynamic, laughing and egging on the white people who were so sure they were “in on the joke” while dressing up the men in racist costumes.  

So there was no right way to interact with “Couples in a Cage.”  or the other work by Gomez-Pena because there is nothing right about it and the bloody history it draws from.  Messy, painful, confusing.  That is the reality when confronting white supremacy.  The work white people need to do is not going to be neat or easy and often that work can be painful to people of color to witness. 

But to figure out what to do next is going to require some real thinking, some real daring.  And this process is not one that many People of Color are going to enjoy witnessing because it is confusing and messy.  We as white people are behind in many ways and as painful as it is to deal with that it is time now to do the real thinking and from that thinking the real work.    But we need to do that work not to be liked by anyone, or to be the good white people or the white people who get it or thinking there is a right way to act within white supremacy but to figure out how to rejoin humanity in the struggle to transform and heal our world from white supremacy. 

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