I have been thinking about "This is America" since I saw the first clip on the Instagram." I don't get it," I pleaded in a group chat. I mean I get it. Something about it wasn't, hasn't been sitting quite right, but the universe works in mysterious ways.
Donald Glover does not represent me. His image of America is not mine. He willingly plays a Minstrel, likens himself to Uncle Ruckus and we all smile and clap. We say, we as black America are this. We say this is just how it is. We a chorus of voices that are not all black.
I saw no black babies being born, no groups of people protesting. I saw no flowers and teddy bears laid where black blood was shed.
I saw a mockery of black joy by black hands. A contemporary Uncle Ruckus. A modern-day minstrel. I saw Travon Martin's father on the guitar then a person in his clothes and stance but with a bag over their head be shot then reappear still playing with the same bag over their heads. What does this mean?
I news I thought was unrelated, but nothing ever is, I saw What Remains To Be Seen a the MCA this week. I woke up this morning looked at Met gala images and got to work exploring the exhibition website where I came across this article.
When I read the titles in the long list of essays by Pindell, this one stood out. I was jolted by the memory of a docent telling me how sad he was that I would miss the Kara Walker Exhibition that was going to open a few days after I left town. I remembered how I didn't make it through my first and only Kara Walker exhibition. I felt ashamed for having conflicted feelings about her work. Ashamed of my lack of refinement.
Pindell describes a "pro-negative-racial stereotype Kara Walker bandwagon" and her essay questions the use of negative stereotypes by black artists noting:
"I do not see the exultation of negative stereotype images as being in a vacuum. Negative images are usually created and disseminated as part of the oppression of people of color in order to justify stealing their land, labor and resources."
Many of Pindell's concerns about Kara Walker's work brought me back to my discomfort while watching "This is America". This is not the portrayal of black life in America. He is not truth-telling in the general sense, and if we miss his positioning of himself as an Uncle Ruckus character, then we are missing the point.
It is men like him that make us ashamed to dance, eat chicken and watermelon, look at a white woman with a black man at all for fear of looking like fools. Black joy is nothing to be ashamed of. We use phones for much more than recording the latest dances, and we do no drag our dead brother and sisters off the street.
I'm also pretty sure I saw a black woman to the left of the frame where his is running in fear. I couldn't help but notice that she is not running with him. He is running from her which made me consider the roles black women played in his America and the conspicuous absence of black love.
Good art makes you think, it creates conversation, but it is not in a vacuum as Pindell notes. What is exalted as genius is not objective or absolute.
What Remains To Be Seen is on view at the MCA in Chicago until May 20.