Viewpoint: Colour Consciousness
An artist must resist being pigeonholed and stereotyped in ways that many may not realize.
I’ve literally been sitting on this one for years. I’ve had this particular sort of encounter more times than I can count since childhood that I decided to write this one down. I didn’t know if I would ever try to make it and my personal thoughts about this situation public, I just felt a need to write it down for myself anyway. Now, I’m going to get it off my chest here.
I’ve been stereotyped for many years, having acquaintances and complete strangers—mostly Caucasian, approach me out of the blue and ask questions like, “Why are you an artist? Aren’t you supposed to be, like, a Ti-Cat or something?” or “You just don’t think of black people doing the types of art that you do (or being visual artists at all). You sure you’re in the right market?”
Sometimes I respond with, what’s there to think about? People can do any type of art they want. It’s not restricted to the levels of melanin in your skin.
I asked one guy, a white guy, who came up to me this way in the public library, what kind of art he thought black people can or only should do? He shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I guess I never really thought about it.” Right after, he explained to me that he only thought we did African tribal masks, canes and art like that. I told him that while that art is beautiful and important, and my wife and I have collected some, black people are quite capable of so much more, as is everyone else.
In another encounter, a woman; who also happened to be white, was in total disbelief when my wife told her that I was a natural artist. The woman insisted that I couldn’t be. I must only have been taught how to draw and paint in school. Well, they’re both right. I am born with it but I also learned how to nurture and refine my art skills and knowledge in school, and will continue to do so for as long as I live.
Of course, not even blacks are exempt for inane thinking. Blacks can be highly repressive in regards to the arts, and some are quite content to see black artists limiting themselves to only producing Afro-centric art and performing rap, soul, R&B, jazz, blues or gospel music, and street dance. They’ll question my or their own children’s interest in sci-fi and fantasy art and will criticize it by making strange nonsensical comments that edge around what they really want to say about it. Some will even cite religious reasons as to why anyone’s love of sci-fi and fantasy art should be abandoned. Eventually, they come out with what’s actually on their mind.
“You’re not white!” they exclaim or ask insulting rhetorical questions like, “Do you think you’re white?” and “Are you trying to be white?”
These dismal fruits of bigotry and hatred—related to artistic expression and other aspects of life, actually exist in every demographic. For decades, tremendous amounts of art have been devoted to stifling these weapons of moral destruction. While that is, there are just as many artists who openly and deliberately create music, illustration and sculpture to perpetuate ignorance and hatred. Their message is getting out just as loud and clear.
Some would be shocked to discover that there is an actual large scale art war being waged each day. Some may be even more surprised to find that certain artists, who would be expected to encourage equality for all, are really promoters of prejudice. Let’s also face the fact that some art that is meant to uplift all of humanity can sometimes intentionally or unintentionally contribute to our downfall. I’ve been an active combatant in this hardly perceived conflict for many years now, and although I can swear that I’ve never successfully routed any of the saboteurs of world unity, I know that I must continue to do battle until the day I die.
Sure, certain arts are typically expressed by people of certain cultures, who practice certain traditions. Other arts; however, especially those ascribed to western art transcend racial divisions. If this wasn’t true, then The Beastie Boys and Eminem wouldn’t have made the millions they have from rap, and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Steve Miller wouldn’t have any place in American blues history.
An intelligent person realizes that you can’t build a prison big enough or strong enough; like racial connotations, to contain genuine artistic expression.