They say that there is always a calm before the storm but what if our notion of calm was the storm we see erupting right now? The Black Lives Matter movement has called into question how our country operates, but the real issue is how we have normalized the racism present in every aspect of our society. The understanding of race in a social context and how we identify our peers is embedded into our society. The progress that we are supposed to have made is like an invisible cloak that has been ripped away.
At the start of the Harlem Renaissance, a phrase coined for the golden age for Black arts, the cultural capital of Black America was Harlem. If we dissect that concept of Black America, then there has to be a White America, and that is our normal. History books are filled with movements that caused disruption to the normal, but more often than not these movements interrupted the normalcy that is White America.
Throughout the decades, groups in our society have assimilated from multiple socioeconomic backgrounds, educational paths and occupations. As we started along these various paths, the vocality of race in America took another path that was stigmatized and deemed as something not associated with the future.
African-American artists from the mid-1800s depicted landscapes without formal training, and now African Americans are present in top auction houses with record-breaking prices. Yet these monetary gains have not improved the treatment of African Americans in American society. The reality is that our culture goes beyond race. The cultural connection we have now with our peers is a deeper connection from the slaves who were brought to America, who didn’t speak the same language or share the same culture. Our country is divided by race since mainstream culture deems social progression and racial awareness linear. African-American culture grew separately from dominant American culture because of limitations and segregations imposed. The production of art by African Americans has occurred since slavery but has been accepted into mainstream culture only in the last few decades. While African-American culture developed on its own, it has greatly influenced mainstream practices.
The cultural landscape of America in recent weeks has undergone deep questioning, but the real question is why we have considered a racist, unequal society normal. The issue of police brutality for Black people in America has been prevalent since the first slaves arrived. We stray from conversations about race but interracial relationships grow. We talk about diversity in the workplace, but don’t implement systemic changes that will equalize opportunity for everyone. The normalcy that we have in our country is lopsided, and every so often, an event causes a shake. We now celebrate Black art on a universal level but is being unapologetically Black only okay in the media?
Thelma Golden and Glenn Ligon suggest that we are in a post-Blackness era. America’s understanding of race has been called into question, but only for people who have the privilege on not “seeing” race, and aren’t negatively impacted by systemic racism. Post-Blackness influences how people express their Blackness and identity but systemic racism takes Blackness as a one-size-fits-all. The reality is that every Black person in our country represents a different Black experience, yet the death of George Floyd brings us back to the narrative that we are in a box. We have normalized one image of Blackness, yet the complexities of race flow throughout our country’s daily activities. The reality is that it is not normal to ignore race, to not see race, but to judge race. Blackness in our country is a blind spot for some, but when the public killing of a Black person occurs, it becomes visible to all, and the values that we hold are questioned.
Kerry James Marshall paints Black individuals because growing up in the South and being surrounded by Black people was his reality. What will we paint now when we can’t even see race in front of us, or choose to ignore it? We are reminded that racial understandings are not treated with nuance but ignored. Contemporary America defines Blackness as ever-changing but the last several weeks have revealed that the perception of Blackness is a blackhole for many in this country. How do we not get sucked in? The normalcy in our country is not typical but racial. We should not expect systemic racism to change until we change; until we can grasp that this is not normal. The way we understand and exert human value in America is not normal. The way mainstream culture has normalized race is not normal and through this universal discomfort that was centuries in the making, there will hopefully rise a norm that is consistent with human value beyond pigment. (Caira Moreira-Brown)