I must have been in the 3rd or 4th grade and was just learning how to cuss. My parents had heard me and washed my mouth out with soap. I must have really internalized their lesson because a couple days later I cussed again and didn’t even wait for them; I washed my own mouth out with soap and bit the bar so that they would see the teeth marks as proof. Another time I was staying the night at my friends house and Real Sex came on HBO. I called my Dad and told him we were watching “boobie movies.” The point is I’ve never been able to ignore the pit in my stomach, the overwhelming feeling I get when something is going down that ain’t suppose to.
I got that feeling tonight as I stared at the fence around the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden. Lined with banners and posters denouncing the sculpture “Scaffold” by Sam Durant which depicts the gallows used to murder 38 Dakota men –the largest mass execution in American history– the fence, the structure and the rent-a-cop standing guard on the other side are a grotesque reminder of where we are at. Despite the outcry from the Native community and others standing with them, and despite the acknowledgment of the history this structure is rooted in, the white folks in charge of the Walker have yet to choose humanity. Instead they put out a pseudo-apology calling it a learning moment and stated they were going to hold listening sessions where they will undoubtedly explain why they are right to keep the structure because we (white folks) obviously know best. The structure will be constructed as a sort of jungle gym where kids (more specifically wealthy white kids) will be playing on Native trauma. This is not art. This is a perverse satiation of white guilt. The learning moment is over, it came in the outcry.
The fucked-up-ness of this should be apparent. This piece isn’t trying to make that more apparent, or say the things that Native people are already (and have been) stating pretty damn clearly.
No. This piece is for all of us perceived as white who already know this is atrocious but are hesitant to do anything about it. We are the ones that need to step up right now. The time is now to make it very clear where we stand. It’s easy to stand up to Trump and Richard Spencer, but what about when the racism comes from the “cultured” liberal? Where are we then?
As I stood by my car a woman from the small group of protesters still there walked over to me asking who I was and if I was a cop. I totally understood why she was asking, I was the only white person there, and random white people don’t got a real solid track record in this work. It’s time to change that. It’s time to Retweet, share the post, make the status AND show up and put our bodies on the line.
We know, when we listen truthfully to our hearts, what the right thing to do is. We also know this is beyond disrepectful, it is dangerous. When we don’t do everything in our power to resist this type of fuckery we move, collectively, farther from our humanity. When we don’t act with courage in accordance with our values redress, repair and reconciliation becomes that much harder. Peace becomes more and more ellusive.
I refuse to accept that. I cannot allow any more space between me and the rest of humanity. I need to stand with the Native community and make it clear to the Walker that this structure needs to be removed immediaetly. I want art that tells the truth and moves us closer to humanity as oppossed to facilitating erasure and making a mockery of history. I am paying attention to the pit in my stomach, and like when I was younger I got to do something about it. I hope you do too.