I also remember the entire left of the country being told to just “shut up and accept that Trump is our president. Get over it.”
And sometimes I think maybe I should just move on, maybe America really is post-racial, maybe Obama’s presidency made this country everything minorities knew it could be.
But then I remember Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, and watching videos of Natasha McKenna being tazed/murdered and Eric Garner being suffocated by a pile of cops.
I remember watching Samuel Dubose being shot in the head, causing his foot to reflexively step on the gas pedal while the trigger happy cop chases his car as if in pursuit of a runaway convict until the car crashes into a power line pole, with wheels still running from the weight of Dubose’ dead foot.
As I get older and accumulate more of these types of memories – not by choice – I feel increasingly strangled by the reality that is my ethnicity in the context of this country. The recent social climate hasn’t helped. The recent political climate hasn’t helped. The recent tone policing by the Right in general hasn’t helped – and I feel more and more strangled.
I realized I needed to say a couple of things:
1. That my experience as an American minority is a complicated layering of emotions. Wonder at what American can be, concern at what I peripherally see, and disgust at the disturbing tragic reality that so many of my fellow minorities experience.
2. That tone policing exists, and serves to quiet any rational fact-based and phenomenological conversation from the oppressed. This only renders progress stagnant. We need to stop this as soon as possible, and be more willing to listen to the experience of those traditionally silenced by our culture.
3. That people should not reduce the residual generational trauma resulting from centuries of slavery and oppression to something that a few decades of flimsy civil rights legislation can rectify. That the experience of most minorities in this country is that of “hanging”, while only being supported and prevented from death by knowledge of the oppressed narrative in contrast to whitewashed western history, and faith.
This is why I created this installation. I felt the need to jolt people back into reality, to remind them of a reality not too distant in our recorded past.
I needed to not just say, but show explicitly why people of all minorities and I cannot just “move on” and “get over it.”
I. Layered Minority
The starting point of this work is the quintessential symbol of America: the american flag. I wanted this to be the backdrop of all other moving and giving images, as it cleanly expresses the cold, static, but powerful and pervasive presence of patriotism. Onto the flag I am projecting a black and white video, so that all color is coming from the american idea as represented by this symbol of the flag.
The video is in three layers. The first layer is one of wonderment, the initial awe that most immigrants feel when entering the country, or that most second and third generation minorities feel during their youth. It has been easy to see America with childlike wonder. That’s where most people start, and some people never progress past this point.
The second layer is that of concern, and attentiveness. Two parents stand on either side of the child still in wonder, looking straight at the world and preparing to protect innocence. They are static – constantly on guard.
The final layer is a reality of the country portrayed through found footage. Videos of the current political and social climate, recent conflicts between corporate america and Native Americans, and police brutality/violent acts against the “others” of the country pile on top of the protective parents drowning out the child in wonderment, while all are still colored by the flag.
This is my personal reality, and I don’t believe it is a unique experience. Being a minority in America is living a layered experience, one of wonder, constant guard, and violent awareness of the onslaught of horrors committed in our country every day. And each layer will always be tinted by what our original interpretation of the country was, and what it will become.
Performer: Darian Thomas
Only in private can they tell each other their truths. Only when in private are these individuals free to actually practice “free speech” without being shut down by the tone-policing society has forcibly instilled in all of us.
II. On Tone Policing
“Tone policing (or tone trolling or tone argument or tone fallacy) is an antidebate appeal based on genetic fallacy, which attempts to detract from the validity of a statement by attacking the tone rather than the message.”
Two performers in the newfound face of oppressive America try make themselves heard, while adhering to society’s idea of how their protest should be handled. What they find is their attempt to remain “polite” or “educated” or a “good woman” only hinders them from saying what they need to say. The obvious action is to remove these filters, but this leaves one speaking in a way that can leave the performers labeled as any of the following cliches: “loud”, “angry”, “libtards”, “negative”, or just “backwards”. This is the catch 22 they must endure while in the face of the new oppressive America.
Only when they are in private can the tone restrictions come off and can they converse freely with each other about their experience in America. Only in private can they tell each other their truths. Only when in private are these individuals free to actually practice “free speech” without being shut down by the tone-policing society has forcibly instilled in all of us. Notice: their speech is never loud or angry – merely phenomenological and factual.
Performers: Wendy F. Fanny MT.
And every time I’m told to “get over it” or that “racism doesn’t exist” – or any time I’ve been called a “nigger”, that noose gets a little tighter.
This work is phenomenological at its core – in other words solely based on heavy study of my own experience. The older I get the more aware I am of a noose around my neck – a noose coming from the history of my ancestors that I’ve tried to subvert in an attempt to fully belong to American society. With each murder of an unarmed black person at the hands of corrupt police, with each family severed apart through deportation or trafficking, with each treaty broken between the natives and our country’s government, I am made more and more aware of my worth in this country. Of my place in its history. Of my noose. And every time I’m told to “get over it” or that “racism doesn’t exist” – or any time I’ve been called a “nigger”, that noose gets a little tighter.
There are only two things stopping me from being completely consumed and erased by this noose: art and knowledge. For others, it is their faith, or knowledge of history, or decolonized way of thinking that saves them. Thus I am standing (precariously) on religious texts and history books. For many, it is art and music that keeps them up – but acknowledging how art is a servile occupation, in a way it encumbers me more (because at the end of the day, I as an artist am still a servant). This is why I’m holding myself up by gripping the rope – in addition to a pen, a brush, and the bow to my violin.
Through globalization America has expanded it’s hand and reached with force into the lives of other countries. Thus, I am holding a “quilt” of flags: flags of the African countries from which most slaves were taken, flags of countries with the most plantations, flags of those who built our country’s infrastructure, or were shunned to internment camps on our soil, flags of countries demonized by our government (despite those same countries being the origins of many american citizens).
I’m holding on to America at the center of it all, but the weight of every country it has become involved with only serves to pull me further down. I’m holding myself up with art, but the weight of pulling myself up and holding my tools is exhausting. I’m supported by religious texts and history – but the amount of decolonized history texts is meager in comparison to Eurocentric interpretations of world history, making my foothold feeble at best.
As I get older I become increasingly aware of my predicament.
As I get older it becomes increasingly difficult to get over it – to “move on”.
Performer: Darian T.
This installation was possible because of two things: Darian’s family, who supports him through all artistic endeavors; and Daniela Rioja’s Studio 111 Multimedia Arts in San Antonio, which has served as an epicenter for experimental, cutting edge, politically charged and daring art in the city.
Special thanks to Daniela Riojas, Fanny Mayahuel-Thomas, and Wendy Figueroa.
Author: Darian Thomas
Photography: Alex Scheel
Editing: Darian Thomas
Videographer: Darian Thomas
Performance Artists: Darian Thomas, Fanny Mayahuel-Thomas, Wendy Figueroa
See more of Darian Thomas at darianthomas.myportfolio.com
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