• AN OPEN LETTER ON BLACKFACE AND BLACKNESS

    Minneapolis based Visual artist Junauda Alma Responds to a performer on stage using blackface. 

     

    I am up early as usual and I find myself listening to
    “Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” by King Stevie Wonder. I find my ass crying and dancing really hard. There was one lyric in particular that swiftly put me all up in my feelings. 

     

    Why must my color black make me a lesser man?

    About a week ago I was backstage at an event curated for performance artists, Culture Wars at Patrick’s Cabaret. I was getting ready when my sweetfriend/sis-star, Jayanthi called me out to see what was on stage. I look and see one of the other artists performing.
    In BLACKFACE and devil horns and butt ass naked, splashing fake blood, thoroughly into his ass and genitals and humping the ground and wiping his ass with black paper. It was confusing me.

     

    The BLACKFACE part of it.

     

    I walk back into the dressing room with Jayanthi and we talked about it. Da fuq? BLACKFACE? What were we going to do? And we didn’t know. Nobody else seemed disturbed but us. And we didn’t feel particularly brave or righteous, but we knew it was wrong and this was a disturbance to the love of Black people and respect to the ancestors. And we were about to do a piece on the healing space of sisterhood within white supremacy (how meta...). And then here go some BLACKFACE. We decided after reflection to call that shit out on stage. We started rehearsing sumthin...

     

    As part of the piece, I tell a story about feeling ugly in kindergarten because BLACKNESS (sweet, delicious, contemplatively divine and omnipotent BLACKNESS) was something I was taught to despise and misunderstand in me and in the world. After this I then said, “Then I grew up and became an artist. And got asked to be in the Culture Wars. And then here go some BLACKFACE.” Then Jayanthi and I looked at each other and said “Fucking BLACKFACE?” and stare at the audience for a little while. Then Jayanthi said “Are we giving it glory by mentioning it or staying silent? This is adding to my struggle.” Then we continued on with our piece.

     

    It burned me and Jayanthi’s hearts. We couldn’t stop talking about it for days and it was pissing us off that we were being preoccupied with this fellow artists’ work and he had no accountability to it. Since then we have talked to the curators, received what I believe to be heartfelt apologies for both allowing the work to be shown to an audience (twice) and even allowing images of it to be used for publicity, not recognizing the BLACKFACE as a fucking problem. Not noticing the BLACKFACE as noteworthy at all. Invisible. At the end of the day, we felt alone in calling out the BLACKFACE on the stage. Somehow no one involved seemed to have their heart up in it as much as we did and that hurt us.

     

    Someone showed me a Facebook post of the artist who performed in BLACKFACE and he was proud of himself and his mastubatory and boring (my opinion, maybe others were moved) artwork and additionally said “May Satan Bless her Heart” in reference to me for “offending” me. He categorized the work he did as “taking a risk.” Sigh... Okay. In 2015 when White and Armed AmeriKKKa is murderously struggling with seeing and loving Black people, BLACKFACE ain’t taking a risk. Sorry homie. White supremacy/fear is still psychically draining and killing Black people, even children, via the school systems, environmental racism, racism in hiring and pay, the prison system and with state-sponsored and vigilante gun violence. To name a few. Black Lives Matter. So being in BLACKFACE and saying it has something with being a risky artist falls flatly on the wrong side of history.

     

    It reifies the lies around BLACKNESS not being sacred and beautiful. And the church set this trend, when they made BLACKNESS seem like it had to do with craziness and evil and made Jesus look like a wholesome BeeGee. So devil horns in BLACKFACE...why? And for whom? Not for me. Who is art like that for? All the White people I saw staring back at us when Jayanthi and I said BLACKFACE out loud. Is that who that piece was for? I am really trying to understand. Actually, I am not...One of my sis-stars, another brilliant wild woman artist, who knows the BLACKFACE artist in the community, said if she was there she would have said, “Jaime?! Jaime!!!! Jaime, is that you? Get that shit off yo’ face!” The thought of her doing that makes me laugh and smile so hard. And wish someone would have done that.

     

    There is so much more to say and yet, I just want to go in my backyard and start working the earth for my garden. I love how the earth just got this spirit that reminds you of your truth and light, your sensuality and sweetness. Reminds you of your wholeness. A sis-star of mine, once told me when I was heartbroken to go panty-less with a big skirt and find a piece of the earth to sit down and get recharged and I must get back into that practice, now that it is warm enough. I am going to sit in the sun and recharge from the earth’s BLACKNESS and not fuss with this backwards, crazy shit anymore

     

     

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