Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Everyone's A Little Bit Racist Sometimes

You've seen Avenue Q, no?

There's a storm brewing on the mall as the California NAACP joins other state organizations in condemning the Chinese artist chosen for to sculpt the MLK monument.

Arguments against the Chinese artist based on China's crappy human right record carry some weight. Quite a bit, I suppose, when juxtaposed with King's life work.

But the condemnation jumps the shark right about here where we meet an Atlanta artist who's started a website to protest the Chinese artist's selection:

Young said he started his campaign last spring after he heard about the selection on television. He contacted civil rights organizations and American granite vendors.

"It is disgraceful that there will be a sculpture to honor a black man for his fight against racism in this country and we couldn't find one black person on earth to interpret his likeness," Young said. "It is insulting and does not serve my people well. It makes us invisible.

"I do not think that anyone outside of my immediate community should have been looked at first. We need a black artist to interpret Dr. King and a black name at the base of the monument, because he died for us."
And here I thought that was Jesus.

And what's a black name?

(Sidenote: during the research for my senior thesis on VRA as it applied to judicial elections in recently consolidated LA County courts, I tried to answer just that question. When you're looking for bloc voting patterns, it's much easier to categorize the potential Hispanic and Asian surnames than to figure out if voters can identify the African American heritage of judicial candidates.)

The article also mentions past controversial Mall artists - such as Maya Lin, a Chinese American who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Why? Because Chinese are basically just Vietnamese with different restaurants? Oh well, racist is as racist does.

The best summation of the conflict comes from a professor of museum studies (who know - but it makes sense):

"There are constant debates over memorializations," said Jeffrey Trask, an assistant professor of Museum Studies at New York University. "Monument building is always political and highlights conflicts within society. This doesn't seem to be an issue of what history will be represented but who has the cultural rights to represent it.

"Unfortunately, we can't figure out what the impact to the visitor is."
My guess is "not much" - which is, in itself, a sad commentary on the value we place on artists at this point in civilization.

If the argument is that monuments placed on the National Mall should be crafted by Americans, perhaps I can get behind that - at least it has a hint of jurisprudential support behind it. But if the argument is that only an artist of a certain color has the right to pay tribute to an American leader, well, you're not going to win me over with that at all.

Everytime I think we're moving forward, I'm proven wrong. In the words of a great billboard, and a high school friend's t-shirt: nobody's born a bigot. Too bad so few of us seem to avoid it later on.

1 comment:

Ursula said...

Excellent post. Racism can occur in any group, and does.