When you grow up white with other white people in a white family and maybe one black friend, it’s easy to not “get” racism. The more I experience and learn about different histories, the more I become an active listener and learn to pass the mic. Growing up, the injustices I knew about made me furious, but it wasn’t until I challenged my notions of race that I recognized that I’ve been living in a very whitewashed version of the world.
The sketch that started it all.
Several years ago I was in a bout of artist’s block, the kind that usually comes after finishing up a big project. Fed up and wanting to fill my head with anything but my own thoughts I watched a documentary about HarperLee. Something in my brain clicked as the documentary about a Southern white woman writing about black experiences played out. In that moment it was clear that the only thing I could possibly make new work about was “The South”.
Scout Finch from the movie To Kill A Mockingbird. Source of image unknown.
One day as I was sketching and mulling over the Southern stories I had gathered, I suddenly realized that I had never drawn a black person before. That’s messed up considering that I’ve been submerged in art and how-to-draw books since day I could hold a pencil! Somehow I had even managed to win a logo contest for Martin Luther King Day without even drawing a black person (the issues of a white girl winning a Martin Luther King Day contest is a whole other conversation…). My only references for how to draw black people were the racist charicatures from my 1960s drawing books, and I wasn’t about to touch those with a 10 foot pole.
My logo for the Martin Luther King Day competition.
That realization got me thinking, a lot, about the way black students in my majority black high school were perceived and valued by my white peers and family; it seemed that they were only valued if they looked and acted white, or if they played football. Anyone growing up in Texas knows that football is a huge deal. Certain black players were turned into a kind of mascot for white sports fans. To challenge my perceptions, I drew a whole football team, looking at each and every one of the individual faces in the group.
The result of sketching the football team: A Group Portrait of Home and Individuals. Mixed media on paper, mounted on plywood, 20.25" x 33". 2015
Drawing that football team changed everything. What started as a sketch for my private practice turned into a finished work of art. It was the catalyst for my solo show about growing up white in the South: Sotheby’sSuper Southern Social. The work was exhausting, and through it I learned how to listen to the truths of people of color, coming to terms with my past and present realities. Creating A Group Portrait of Individuals and Home gave me what I needed to get past my personal blinders and to see the 15 year old kid before me.
Jordan Edwards was shot in the head by a police officer over the weekend. He was 15 years old.