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White Artists Need to Start Addressing White Supremacy In Their Work

1 September 2018

From The Literary Hub:

Lately, I’ve been thinking about ownership. I’ve been considering it within the context of writing and art making, wondering who has the right and responsibility to explore the problem of white supremacy, and how, or even if it can be done by white artists without furthering the trauma of marginalized people. I’ve been swimming through these ideas in one way or another for years now, but they all snapped into focus a few days ago when I was in conversation with another writer friend, commiserating over what he called “self-celebrating liberals”—those people who imagine themselves allies to people of color but refuse to address their own complicity in white supremacy. Specifically, we were discussing a growing trend we’ve noticed in the publishing world: that only people of color should make art about racism.

“What should white people be writing about if not racism?” he said. “I feel like half the work that means anything is trying to place and understand the destructiveness of my whiteness.”

This conversation came up, in part, because I am a white woman writing about the toxic inheritance of white supremacy. It is, admittedly, a fraught position to write from with no shortage of examples of seemingly well-intentioned white women (and men) doing their damnedest to address racism while contributing to it instead.

. . . .

White artists and writers have done such a poor job of addressing white supremacy in their work that it’s practically its own sub-genre. I’m not interested in shaming them further here, but these instances, in conjunction with the conversation with my friend, have made me question why we have so few examples of white artists who do this work well, and what that lack might point to.

When white art that is meant to address white supremacy fails, the reason most often given for that failure is that the white artist hasn’t taken the time to listen to the groups they imagined they were advocating for. In an interview in the Los Angels Times, Durant addressed his failure to engage with his subjects in a non-traumatizing way by saying that, “The museum—and I’m sharing the blame —didn’t reach out to the community. We didn’t think of it, to start a dialogue before we started building it. There was no information.”

This is, no doubt, a large part of the issue. But it doesn’t get at what seems to me to be the underlying problem at hand: white artists often fail at this work because they haven’t centered themselves within the violence of their own whiteness. Had any of them placed themselves in the position of the aggressor instead of the victim, and then asked themselves what it means to inherit the violent history of being born white, I imagine some different kinds of art might have been made.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG suggests the problems of white authors in discussing white supremacy could also be a rational basis for a white author to not write about the subject at all because he/she is blind to it.

Or a white author could sit in a cave and eat gruel so as not to contribute to the many ills of white supremacy.

Or authors of all types could simply write what they would like to write because they have not contributed to white supremacy and are in no way responsible for the previous bad actions of white people to which they did not contribute.

Books in General

43 Comments to “White Artists Need to Start Addressing White Supremacy In Their Work”

  1. These people talk about “white supremacy” like it is a wide spread epidemic!!! I live in Idaho and have for ten years and I’ve never heard one radial slur. Plenty on tv, movies, and music, but not here. And it isn’t for want of diversity, we have a large Hispanic community here since WW2. I just don’t understand this sudden panic over something. It’s not like neo Nazis suicide bombed people or shot up a gay night club or a Christmas party or a concert or terrorized a factory with a knife…

  2. First word out of my mouth on seeing the title was ‘WHAT?’

    “But it doesn’t get at what seems to me to be the underlying problem at hand: white artists often fail at this work because they haven’t centered themselves within the violence of their own whiteness.”

    Oh you self-serving little piece of crap. If a tenth of as many whites were the way you want to paint us all you wouldn’t be around to paint us.

    Agreed on all levels on PG’s comments.

  3. I like your site, follow you in Twitter, and genuinely believe that you have a lot to contribute on many topics. But if you sincerely can’t understand why white people of conscience might want to think seriously about ways in which they benefit from and/or unintentionally perpetuate racial imbalances—not in the past, but right now, in 2018–then maybe you should just steer clear of this discussion. I’m not offering an opinion on whether the piece you are quoting is good or bad, as I’ve not read it. But my point is, the question of how to address race in art is an important one and very pressing in the current environment. Respectfully, if you have nothing to contribute beyond mocking writers who care about these questions, maybe just focus on other issues.

    • Maybe you should go read it then.

      “… white people of conscience …” What the heck is that supposed to even mean?

      “… they benefit from and/or unintentionally perpetuate racial imbalances …” Gee, as a good old white boy I can’t get my toe into some places because they’re hiring for so-called ‘balance’ and not for needed skills – is that the ‘benefit’ you’re gabbing on about?

      .

      As far as ‘art’ – as in storytelling for most of us here, if ‘it’ doesn’t have a place in the story or doesn’t move the story forward why would someone put ‘it’ in?

      (‘it’ being anything at all – from bad supposed PC jokes like this to a cat …)

      There need be no race (or even sex) in art – it’s all to get a thought/idea across.

    • Oh, I dunno. Some opinions are made to be mocked…

      • And not everybody wants to sink their business in the toxic swill of today’s politics. Most prefer to steer clear of our “destined” overlords who want to tell us what to think and when.

    • Racism is bad, we all agree on this. Beyond that, there isn’t anything anyone can do, ever. Other than to raise your children not to be racists. You cannot give me your “supposed” privilege, nor do I want it. So if you can’t do ANYTHING about your supposed ‘whiteness’ and you can’t give away whatever it is that ‘supposedly’ makes you better inherently (because that is what this is, talking about how one race is inherently better than others) then the only reason to talk about it, would be to make other’s feel guilty or bad for something they have NO CONTROL over. But since people love to control others through fear and guilt, they looked and looked for a weapon to do it. And low and behold PRIVILEGE was created. A weapon, that, no matter how good or decent a person you are, you can never make up for.

      So yes, we mock this person and anyone else who supports this idiotic idea. If I said you were bad for being born black you would skin me alive. But hey, let’s say people are bad for being born white… and we have a winner.

    • white people of conscience might want to think seriously about ways in which they benefit from and/or unintentionally perpetuate racial imbalances…

      How do white people of conscience “benefit from and/or unintentionally perpetuate racial imbalances?”

    • I guess you miss all the conversations white people have about what we can do to halt the progression of discrimination. What to do about stopping the hatred and making it possible for marginalized people of all types to have the opportunities that white privilege allows us. How to make things better, without being expected to immolate ourselves on the bonfires of some of our ancestors’ actions.

      Give me a break.

      It’s not like some of aren’t working very hard to change the way things have been, and still are, or anything. Now I’m restricted to only writing about it? I guess I also can’t write about anything other than my experience as a poor female growing up in the sixties and seventies, or about my experiences with difficult childbirths, or that time I drowned and was dead for a minute?

      Man, this white guilt thing is getting out of hand.

  4. Maybe white (and non-white) authors aren’t interested in politicking? Maybe they just want to tell stories and live out their lives in peace? May e they’re sick and tired of hearing they’re evil oppressors?

    Some people seem to think everything is partisan politics. That everything can be fixed by politicking and community activism.

    Boy, are they in for a shock when the asteroid impact hits!

  5. Maybe they don’t write it because nobody wants to read it?

    • Or maybe they’re just upset because nobody reads them – because politicking is all they ever try to write about.

  6. Racism Is The Most Challenging Issue Confronting America.

    Promoting The Oneness Of Humanity Is The Solution

    Racists come in every human color. A racist is a human being that believes in and identifies with the idea of race. If you think that you or another human being has or is of a race, then you are a racist. Racism will not end until the psychological dependence on the idea of race is clearly seen as illusory and absurd. The idea of a race is nothing more than a belief imposed by society. Everything else is an effect of belief in that idea. You cannot end racism without seeing the falseness of the idea of race. Humanity has one race, the human race.

    When the idea of race no longer dwells in an individual’s heart and thinking, then that person is truly free of racism. The freedom of oneness and global unity is a society of such free individuals. World peace is a natural consequence.

    • My participation in some Facebook groups taught me about folks who worship white supremacy. It is all they think about, all they post and talk about and they attack anyone that questions their god. They claim to be helpless and powerless victims of their all powerful god. They blame everything on white supremacy and privilege, like an insane religious fanatic. I do not repeat and believe in the negative narrative of victimhood, powerlessness, dependency and helplessness.

      The key is to focus on solutions. Energy follows focus. If you focus on the problem, the problem grows. When you focus on solutions, the solution grows. Racial and national identification is a disease of the mind. Lasting change begins within. World peace begins with inner peace. We are one human race. Let’s live that way!

    • My participation in some Facebook groups taught me about folks who worship white supremacy. It is all they think about, all they post and talk about and they attack anyone that questions their god. They claim to be helpless and powerless victims of their all powerful god. They blame everything on white supremacy and privilege, like an insane religious fanatic. I do not repeat and believe in the negative narrative of victimhood, powerlessness, dependency and helplessness.

      The key is to focus on solutions. Energy follows focus. If you focus on the problem, the problem grows. When you focus on solutions, the solution grows. Racial and national identification is a disease of the mind. Lasting change begins within. World peace begins with inner peace. We are one human race. Let’s live that way!

      • But that would require that they admit that some white guy isn’t the reason they can’t do things – that they have to ‘work’ for what they want upsets them. Much easier to push blame off on someone else than to take it and deal with it.

        Just more of the ‘no child left behind’ and government backed loans to send kids to collage that never should have gone.

      • Brian Baskins,

        Energy follows focus.

        That’s really good. I shall quote you.

    • The idea of a race is nothing more than a belief imposed by society. Everything else is an effect of belief in that idea. You cannot end racism without seeing the falseness of the idea of race. Humanity has one race, the human race.

      Thank you!

      That doesn’t change the fact that many evil things are doing in the name of race, religion, and greed, of course. But if we ever get to the point that we can pull together as one people, humanity might survive another millennia or two.

      • As long as they keep making everything about race, race will be everything.
        To them.

        Not a game everybody *needs* or wants to play.

  7. If more than a handful of people who play my games or read my science fiction and fantasy novels know I’m white I’d be shocked.

    As for the following quote?

    “What should white people be writing about if not racism?” he said. “I feel like half the work that means anything is trying to place and understand the destructiveness of my whiteness.”

    It may shock the writer and their friend to learn that not everyone has the same life experiences or runs in the same social circles that obsess over any given topic. I write science fiction and fantasy. When racism is appropriate I’ll write about it, but I’m never going to shoehorn in the topic just because someone tells me it’s my “duty” as a white writer. I have no more interest in following that sort of pressure than I do injecting the topic into the games I script. And let me tell you, the market for anthropomorphic cute animals and puzzle games that preach politics? That market’s not putting dinner on the table any time soon.

    And “I’m not interested in shaming them further here[…]”? Bull, that’s the entire purpose of Pelster’s article here. She may claim otherwise, but why else write it in the first place?

    • “This conversation came up, in part, because I am a white woman writing about the toxic inheritance of white supremacy.”

      So, as a white female she doesn’t think she should be considered in that group. Any bets she also doesn’t see herself as sexist? My bet’s on her actually being both …

  8. The idea of a race is nothing more than a belief imposed by society.

    Regardless of what society imposes, there definitely are distinct populations. It’s perfectly reasonable to recognize those various population groups.

    One group left Africa about 70k years back and subsequently populated all the rest of the world. That led to other population groups as people settled and raised generations in a given locale.

  9. I wish Angela Pelster and her friend would focus on issues such as, for instance, Asian kids being discriminated against at college admissions. Very real racism, happening right now, and applauded by those who, like Ms. Pelster, condemn white supremacy.

  10. Y’know, the author would be much less obnoxious if he could realize that there is “inherent violence” in being born at all, and that this is not something unique to white people.
    It’s self-aggrandizement disguised as self-loathing, which is more odious and more dangerous than the former alone.

  11. “[T]he violent history of being born white”?

    You’ve got to be kidding me. HUMANS are violent. That isn’t limited to one race. A simple and shallow look at history demonstrates that.

    Was the person who wrote that blind, or just ignorant?

  12. This is not only unrealistic. It is bigoted and ultimately dangerous. For most propounding it it is hypocrisy of the highest order. It identifies people as part of a huge group which it presumes to be homogeneous. Then it presumes every member of that group to be “privileged”, whatever that is supposed to mean. And, by extension, members of just about any other group under privileged. Then, every member of the group is somehow tainted and should feel guilty about simply being born part of that group. And worst of all, members of that group are essentially fair game to be unjustly discriminated against not only as members of that group but as individuals. Privilege is very ill-defined, but does not extend to every member of a large group like “whites”. Certainly many who voted for Donald Trump, “white” or otherwise, don’t see themselves as privileged, and I imagine many of them bristle at the mere accusation of it. Demonising particular groups because of their perceived privilege is a slippery slope indeed. I’m going to stop just short of entering Godwin’s law territory.

    • Godwin’s law doesn’t address the Soviets, though.
      Their monoculture lasted much longer and they killed even more.

      Kindred spirits all.

      • Yes. Kindred spirits all. And hypocrites of the worst type. Preaching tolerance from one side of their mouths and bigotry from the other.

  13. Let’s see now: the author of the piece and those who agree with her (and they are many indeed) are telling other authors what they should write about and how to write about it: with an officially sanctioned approach and tone.

    Since what authors write about, their approach, and tone, are all product of what they think, the OP is telling authors what to think. Because there is only one right and proper, only one acceptable way to think. Everybody must conform to the one true thought.

    If we follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, those that refuse to conform, that think differently, are not thinking correctly.

    In the old Soviet Union that kind of absolutist thinking led to institutionalizing those that didn’t think “correctly”.

    A while back we had a discussion about how totalitarian thinking couldn’t possibly hamper writing in the US.

    Might be time to rethink that idea before someone rethinks it for us.

    We’re not that far from totalitarianism.
    Not any more.

    The excuse may be different but the minds are the same and the Soviets would agree with the goal. One thought to rule them all.
    And their numbers are not insignificant. They’ve been laying low in their closed little circles but they’re now coming out into the open to claim their dominion.

    Everyone must conform. Or else…

    • Just another reason to sell ebooks on Amazon. No back cover page, so no room or need for a shot of my ugly mug. They can guess my sex by my name (or is it just a pen-name? 😛 ) but not my race.

      Luckily I have nothing to fear from the PC crowd as they are far too narrow-minded to find my stories to read – and if they were able to read my tall tales they’d have to look at their PC stunts in a new light (If I push anything it’s that it’s far more important to world-proof the child that it is wasting time trying to childproof the world … 😉 )

  14. I’ll agree to holding all white people responsible for white supremisists when all musicians take responsibility for Millie Vanilli.

  15. In addition to all the “violence”, Pelster-Wiebe says [emphasis added]:

    I also want to acknowledge that white people have a history of taking things over—countries, industries, cultures, movements. We get excited about something, even a good thing like ending racism, and pretty soon we’re pushing marginalized people off platforms in order to take center stage ourselves. We’re not very good at following someone else’s lead (and following the lead of people of color in this is absolutely necessary), because we are used to power and used to leading everything ourselves. We’ve had centuries of standing in the spotlight with no intention of widening the circle to include other people. We’ve taken up all the publishing spots, lecture spots, teaching spots, student spots, governing spots, but have taken only the smallest pains to show we have any intention of really changing things in a meaningful way.

    It’s an easy fix.

    Didn’t she just say she’s part of the problem, taking up one of those lecture spots?

    So if she really wants to do something, she needs to stop the white-splaining, and let someone who has felt the violence of her whiteness give the lectures and take the college pay. She needs to give up her job to someone she’s oppressed. She needs to stop her oppression.

    And it will also save all of the rest of us from her hand-wringing.

    • Yeah, that ‘only whites do this’ fails when you consider that if only whites did that there wouldn’t be anything left but whites – problem solved! But non-whites do it too, so the world keeps turning. (Was flipping through youtube videos and came across someone shutting up BLM protesters with one little fact, most black killings aren’t done by whites – most blacks die at the hands of other blacks. And the guy shutting them down was not white …)

      Any time we hear: ‘someone should do something about this’ the one whining never considers that that someone should most likely be ‘them’. 😉

    • She needs to give up her job to someone she’s oppressed. She needs to stop her oppression.

      I saw a wonderful clip of Jordan Pederson addressing a group of students at a very expensive university. ( I forget which one.) The students were going on about white privilege and how unfair it was.

      Pederson said the solution was simple. If they really believe that, then give up their privileged positions as students at the university, and let someone with the appropriate skin pigmentation take them.

      He asked how many would follow his suggestion and stand behind their words. Silence, followed by more silence.

    • The best thing we can do to help marginalized people is to get out of the way and let them have every opportunity they care to take advantage of. Moaning puppies aside, it seems to be the single strategy that gets their voices out there.

  16. The fatal flaw in the entire OP is at least openly displayed in the title. That anyone assumes to tell me or others what we “need” to write.

    I don’t allow my own conscious mind to censor my writing. Why in the world would I allow anyone else to do so?

    “Or authors of all types could simply write what they would like to write.” Agreed. Period.

    • There’s an implied threat behind the OP’s command.

      You *need* to think the right way and you *need* to prove it by putting it in writing.

      Or else.

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