Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Challenging Racism: Part I

When I suffered from insomnia I used to cuddle up under blankets on my family’s couch and watch PBS until dawn (the hills blocked us from getting full reception and sometime around my first year in high school we stopped receiving any signals at all, it was very sad). I always had to hurry off the couch and leap into bed before my mother would get up as she thought my late night doings were because I was a disobedient child and not because I could never sleep. Regardless, it is through watching PBS in my native Bloomington, IN that I first encountered Damali Ayo. Ayo is an incredibly talented artist, writer, activist, and environmentalist. All of these arenas are interconnected, as are her discussions of race, sex, education, and art. The program I was watching detailed her work on reparations and I was impressed by the creativity of her work and how she was able to explain racism in a succinct way. I rediscovered her recently and am very glad I did so.

Ayo has two new-ish publications that I have really enjoyed. The first item is a booklet on racism; Volume One of a series Ayo is calling “I Can Fix It!” This is part of her larger Now Art projec where she works to make art accessible and an agent of dialogue. For this publication she interviewed 200 people on 5 things individuals can do to create positive change. This particular volume is split into two categories: “White People” and “People of Color”. I’m going to pull some quotes and place them below, please remember that the quotes I’m pulling are very specific to my current situation and myself. I encourage anyone reading to go to Ayo’s site, download the booklet and to read it from cover to cover because I am sure that you will find different points of connection.

From “White People”:
- “Acknowledge that white is a color and a race. Learn how to say ‘white people.’”
- “When a person of color is sharing their experiences…Don’t make it about you or what you are feeling in reaction to them…Don’t cry. It’s not about you.”
- “Consider racism your problem to solve”
- “Challenge white people to talk about racism. Learning ‘what not to say’ is not the point. Understanding how racism works and how it can be dismantled is the point. Help fellow white people to learn not just react.”

My favorite from “People of Color”:
- “Practice self-love. Teach your children to love themselves and others for who they are…We have too much in common to not support each other. Don’t do things to tear each other down.”

Her second new publication is a two-page document entitled “Hello, My race is…White.” This document, which Ayo refers to as a Public Service, is a 12-step program for white people when tackling the question “What can I do about racism?” I recently printed it out and have hung it on my cubicle at work where I have yet to get any comments. What I enjoy about her work is her firmness and her sense of fun. Ayo uses silly analogies and funny metaphors to get across the reality of race and racism to white people. She clearly believes that white people can change, writing in the 7th step: “Truth be told, if white people really wanted to end racism, they would. White people are very smart. You’ve come up with some of the world’s most notable inventions. Racism is only one of these. No one is better qualified to dismantle it. Unless, of course, you decide you’d rather keep it.” I like how forthright she is, and I appreciate being challenged by her. Many white people get away with racism because we believe we cannot change. We were brought up racist by racist parents in a racist country, what can we do? Ayo is clearly taking that for the crap answer it is a setting a new precedent of owning and understanding the past, being aware of privilege, and challenging oneself every day. Having thesesteps by my desk everyday reminds me that it is my responsibility to make the world better, and that includes challenging racism.

More to come...stay tuned!

1 comment:

ms.cripchick said...

thanks so much for sharing, this is the shit.