Monday, July 13, 2015

Monday Muse: Creative Work on Race

Reconciliation and healing are two words we hear frequently when tragic events, such as the recent murders at Mother Emanuel in Charleston, South Carolina, threaten peace of mind and deepen an already deep rift among races and cultures. And many of us turn to the arts to reconcile and heal because the arts not only help us to express our identity and make sense of what we are unaware of or do not understand; they also serve to reveal to us our own flawed selves.

Claudia Rankine's remarkable Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014), for example, is a damning narrative series that shows how entrenched and insidious discrimination is in America; video treatments of African-Americans' experiences exposed in Rankine's widely and deservedly praised prose poems and essays give us much cause to step back and take stock of racism, our contributions to it, and to ask ourselves what responsibility each of us has to identify and overcome our particular biases and to engage in activism leading to positive social change for all.

Rankin's book is just one of a number of creative initiatives that take race or ethnicity as their subject and long-term relationship-building as a possible goal. Take a look at the following and consider how you might use your own imaginations, creativity, and leadership abilities to promote frank, open, and honest discussions in your communities, whether physical or online.

✭ The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi has created The Welcome Table, a program that uses small-group retreats and storytelling as the means to improve race relations community-wide. An online program brochure describes a three-part process involving reflection, listening, and relationship-building in partner communities through the sharing of personal stories; education and discernment aimed at uncovering hidden biases and inequities, and understanding their consequences; and training and action to address specific local issues. That process can be duplicated in any community in America. A 15-minute video introduction explains the program and its objectives. A documentary about The Welcome Table is in production.

Among a number of excellent resources on the site is the handbook We Are the People We've Been Waiting For: Equipping Communities to Heal Themselves, available online as a pdf. 

William Winter Institute on FaceBook

✭ The Website Love Has No Labels offers a "Hidden Bias Test" and suggests ways to spot and stop bias and prejudice in all its hurtful, divisive forms.

✭ Storytelling also is at the heart of a recently launched community project in Richmond, Virginia. Called Battery Park Stories, the initiative aims to bring together residents of different ages and races to share what they know of their neighborhood's history and legacy and, most important, to bridge acknowledged cultural divides as people move in and out of the area. Recently, NPR's "Community Ideas Stations" featured the community in "Storytelling Project Brings Diverse Neighbors Together". (Audio and a transcript of the group's discussions are included at the link.)

Ideas Station

✭ How do we "transcend the stuff that doesn't lend itself much poetry" in our lives? A conversation in 2011 about a white male poet's use of a black female's body led Claudia Rankine to create "The Open Letter Project", a Web forum that invited writers to share how racial differences affected their artmaking and how art failed to help them "adequately imagine" responses to challenge racism's detrimental effects. Out of that initiative came the collection The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind (Fence Books, 2015), which was edited by  Rankine, Wyoming author Beth Loffreda, and artist Max King Cap; Rankine and Loffreda also contributed the anthology's introduction. Included are letters and essays by more than 40 writers and art by a dozen artists on the issue of racism and its consequences.

Read poet and essayist Muriel Leung's excellent review of The Racial Imaginary at The Blood-Jet Writing Hour. She describes the anthology as a mix of "as many collisions as there are connections" in perspective and concludes that the responses "end so that the dialogue [the book] has started may continue off the page." Communities of co-creators might consider how to use the book to jump-start their own conversations and creative approaches to the issue.

Fence Books Page for The Racial Imaginary (Note: There is a link, "read it now", on the page that allows the book to be read online.)

✭ The multimedia performance piece One Drop of Love, written and performed by actor, producer, and educator Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, explores how belief in the concept of race affects even our most intimate relationships. Here's a look at a segment from the show, which uses historical data and personal interviews between a father, daughter, and other family members to examine how racial attitudes and beliefs form and are perpetuated:

Read a one-page summary of how One Drop of Love can be used to educate and promote discussions in schools, churches, and other venues.

One Drop of Love on FaceBook

Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni on YouTube

✭ Another project co-curated by Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni is Mixed Roots Stories, which, as its title suggests, promotes awareness of "otherness" or "the mixed experience", whether in race, culture, or ethnicity, through the sharing of stories.

✭ Steven F. Riley's non-commercial Website, Mixed Race Studies "provides a gateway to interdisciplinary. . . English language scholarship about the relevant issues surrounding the topic of multiracialism." The term "Arts" is in the long list of categories covered.

✭ The Stronger Together Website features initiatives of organizations in Northern Ireland that work primarily with culturally and linguistically diverse communities to share knowledge and information, provide a shared resource to service providers, and identify opportunities for partnership and innovation in arts and culture, education, health and well-being, and employment.

✭ The grassroots course White People Challenging Racism "seeks to build a racially just society [by] providing the information, skills, and resources needed to spur people to action in standing up against racism." Comprising five weekly two-hour meetings led by pairs of trained facilitators, the workshop is available to adult education programs, college and universities, teachers, law enforcement and other public service agencies, social service groups, and others. A variety of films and videos, books, role-playing, and other resources are used.

✭ The Mixed Remixed Festival brings together writers, artists, musicians, actors and other performers, and filmmakers to celebrate people of all races, creeds, and genders. Members of multi-racial or mixed or blended families may watch live performances, listen to panel discussions, or take part in acting and writing workshops to share or explore their own experiences.

1 comment:

Maureen said...

Also listen to OnBeing's conversation with John A. Powell about "Project Implicit", a tool to identify assumptions about race: