I had a lovely conversation this week with a lovely woman. She’s not an artist herself, but she knows and appreciates artists. She’s well educated, intelligent, a mom, and she has a very demanding job. She’s also black. This a woman a lot like me, she says what she thinks, she takes no prisoners, she’s a grown woman. We began to talk about the arts, and how brown skinned people are represented in them. We spoke about Cliff Huxtable. We spoke about Spike Lee. We spoke about the role of the church and the role of hip hop. We spoke about how black women are the backbone of the community, yet still have trouble getting their voice, their view, their intelligence recognized. We spoke about how our community has bought into the stereotypes that were fed to us from the beginning of mass media to today. We spoke about how even though we recognize those stereotypes we play into them.
When I left that meeting I was energized in a way I hadn’t been Ina long time. I was literally tingleing. I was excited. I was happy. And then I began to question how I feed into those stereotypes, not just in my art but my life. I wondered, how do I perpetuate them and how can I stop?
It’s a complicated question. How do you be true to who you are and put forth a representation of your culture and community that lifts rather than denigrates? How do you blend your own personality into the mix? And as an artist, how do you make sure what you present is an extension of your own vision of your community? Especially as a black woman who’s visibility in the world, not the art world, is vague at best and invisible at worst, how do you do it?
That’s a huge weight. That’s a huge responsibility. That’s a lot of questions that I’ll admit I don’t have the answers to. I think the best space to begin, is to ask those questions. The best space to be in is being aware of them. Be present. In everything you do, in everything you create, be mindful. That mindfulness will lead you to something precious, something tender and true, something everyone else can recognize and not only understand, but connect with.
We won’t always get there. In fact, most of the time we may fail to achieve it. But if the intention is clear it will come through. And when you really get down to it, the destination isn’t important, the journey is all that matters.