For the last two years I have been touring the installation I Am My White Ancestors: Claiming the Legacy of Oppression. My goal is to bring this project to communities, schools, and art venues all over the country. So I have been working non-stop to follow up leads and make contacts at likely places. Using the assumption that I need 20 rejections for each acceptance, I am right on target. I will soon be able to announce an upcoming exhibit at a local college as soon as the date is confirmed. I want to thank the many people who have gone out of their way to help bring the show to their communities.
Given that the subject of my project is controversial and designed to challenge the current oppressive system, rejection is to be expected. This process has shined a light on my own racism that is instructive. Recently I learned a gallery decided not to choose my work because they wanted to feature artists from disenfranchised groups rather than work by white artists. Of course I support that direction. Nevertheless, my first reaction was outrage. How dare anything limit my opportunity? Don’t they know how important my work is? I am not proud of this reaction and don’t like to admit that thoughts and feelings like that ever cross my mind. But they did and do.
At least I knew that this reaction was white privilege talking rather than my rational mind. So before I started believing it, I looked further inside myself. Underneath the anger was fear that I might not always get to be first and that I would have to move to the end of the line. Again, this was a feeling not based in reality. In truth, I have a ridiculously long list of advantages due to having white skin and am nowhere near the end of the line. Why couldn’t I let someone else have an equal chance for a change? Not being first felt so uncomfortable I assumed something was wrong. The only thing wrong was that I believed I should be first and get what I want no matter the consequences for other people, communities, countries, land.
The next thought makes me cry. Unconscious isolation is built into white identity. What I thought was a normal life was based on separation. Sleeping alone, playing alone, being scared and worried alone, and crying myself to sleep alone. At some point, if we keep righting the boat, I will be where I belong, on the same level as all other people, not better or worse. And being the same means that I am not alone. I am connected.