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Racism is not a Black person's problem
The BLM mural is beautiful and in its beauty it exposed the ugliness lurking in Worcester
“Racism is not a Black person’s problem,” Richelle Gray told me. That’s her in the picture. She’s one of the artists that worked on the large and fantastic Black Lives Matter mural on Major Taylor Boulevard yesterday.
“Racism is a white person’s problem. A white man created racism, so a white man needs to end racism, so with this being here this is just another addition to our culture, another addition to our memory, so that you know that even on your best day you can never undermine us.”
Gray sat criss-cross on the ground in front of her letter, the first T in “Matter.” In front of her was a sketchbook with a hand-drawn concept of her letter, a spiritual riff on a tarot card reading she took several days ago. Gray has never created anything that has left her sketchbook. Her letter in the mural is her first piece of published art. She’s a little shook, but excited, she told me. As she spoke, several friends helped her paint out her vision.
“Right now this needs to be a time for us to feel, a time for us to really find what's going on in ourselves and get it together, because that's the only way as a community we are going to be able to overcome this,” she told me.
Hundreds of people came down to the DCU Center yesterday to help Gray and all the other artists complete the mural. Almost all the artists are Black, and most of them are from Worcester. Each was given free reign to come up with whatever they wanted for a concept, and the final product pops. It is a beautifully animated blend of concepts, colors and messages. It really is one of the coolest things that’s happened in Worcester in a long while, and for the few hours I was there yesterday, all I felt was love and pride for my city and the people in it.
This is, of course, completely alien to the way the many, many racists among us in Worcester took it. If you went to the right corners of Worcester Internet (and the police union’s Facebook page was unsurprisingly the Right Place), you’d see the racists whipping themselves into a frenzy, hooting and chortling like jackals and posting all sorts of completely racist stuff that will live forever in screenshots despite some too-little-too-late, bad-faith moderating. Racism in Worcester is real as it's ever been, and the racists showed their true colors yesterday.
Here’s a little bit of it.
And a little more.
If you remember, this whole thing is about cops carrying out extrajudicial killings in the street with impunity so… yeah. Worcester has a lot of racist idiots, and these racist idiots here are threatening to deface a piece of public art that was made with love for and by the Black community here. If this mural does happen to get covered in burnouts, it’s good to know that the plans for said burnouts were made on a police department Facebook page! That’s why I wouldn’t hold my breath that the Worcester Police Department would do anything about it should the mural get defaced in some way because let’s be real that would make a lot of people down at the station very happy.
See, this is the power of the symbol. The mural was an act of love, and that act of love is taken as a provocation for people who hate. Seeing this stuff, you cannot say that Worcester is different or say That Stuff Doesn’t Happen Here. Worcester is as bad as anywhere else, and everywhere is bad.
But let’s not waste too much breath on these cowards. Let’s have a good laugh at their expense and move on, because every time these people get whipped up into a frothing racist frenzy and nothing comes of it and they realize there’s nothing they can do about it, we win.
Yesterday was a big, big win. And all the artists I spoke to (and I spoke to almost all of them) felt as much.
Nicole Coleman, a Worcester artist who came up with a kickass Spike Lee inspired design for the B in “Black,” told me that growing up in Worcester, she never really felt like she was a part of the arts community in the city, and she didn’t feel all that represented.
“Being an artist from Worcester, it's really important for me to be a part of this, so that other young artists that are growing up now can see that people from where they are do this stuff,” she told me.
This is a really important point. I don’t understand and I can never understand, but I can imagine the impact this mural would have on a young Black kid in Worcester who wants to do art and wants to get involved and wants to be included. It’s a big fat green light. It’s a message that you belong here and your art belongs here, a message which is counter to just about every other message this nightmare society gives young Black kids—and that’s by design, by the way. It’s a world of red lights, and if we want green lights, we have to build our own.
So yeah, I get the argument that the mural isn’t going to get the bad cops fired or money for tanks and bazookas taken from the police department’s budget, but the potency of the symbol does untold good in the war for consciousness awakening.
Rush Frazier, the artist who did the A in “Black,” told me they see the mural as just one piece of a multifaceted approach to attacking inequality in Worcester.
“I’m definitely grateful for growing up in this town, but we definitely have problems, and I don’t think an art mural is going to fix everything, but this is going to continue a number of good conversations,” said Frazier.
“I definitely believe in resistance on all levels. Different ways to approach the problem of inequality in Worcester.”
Rush is part of a group called Shades Worcester which is all about diversity and inclusion for the LGBTQ community. They do great work, and if that’s something that interests you, you should get involved or give them money.
I want to return to the idea of consciousness awakening, because the artist Tiger Tattz, who had the V in “Lives,” had something really cool to say about that and I want to include it. I asked him about the racist backlash to the mural online, and he had this to say:
“I think the individuals who are able to find the negativity in something like this, I think they might be dealing with a different battle on their own,” he said.
That’s such a good way to put it. The people with consciousnesses so small they react poorly to this, they’re dealing with some other stuff. There’s something in the way that’s making them nasty and hateful. That’s why I think you can’t try too hard with these people, save to tell them online to suck their own farts a couple times. They will be dragged along kicking and screaming as we continue the work of making a more equal and just society. They are on their back foot and they don’t know what to do about it.
William Thompson had another cool thing to say about that. He focused his work around South Africa. Here’s a picture of the rendering:
Free South Africa, he said, is a mindset. “I guess what I’m trying to say is, once the mindset of Free South Africa is understood, that’s where it is. Stop this shit you’re doing, the oppression, the murdering.”
Later, we talked about the cop-kissing shitheads online, and when I was transcribing his comment cracked me up before dipping into poignant realness, so I’m just going to let the whole thing rip and get out of the way for a second, despite that being very hard for me.
“Listen, we were getting it before we even started. We didn't even start this shit yet and y’all crazy about it. Look, we didn’t even start it. The letters weren’t even outlined on the fucking pavement and they were going crazy. So imagine that. The idea that it was going to go down felt threatening. You felt uncomfortable with the idea. And it’s just paint on pavement and you were already talking about shutting it down or whatever the fuck you were doing. It wasn’t even on the fucking ground yet and people were worried about it. Wow. Answer that shit honestly. Tell me why you feel threatened, homeboy, why? You were in a tizzy for what? And that goes to show you there’s a conscious and aware mindset of oppression, even to the idea. Dude, how the fuck do you not want it to happen?”
Racism is a white person’s problem, indeed.
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