In the end, art that stems from knowing that we actually don’t have all the answers, art that refuses to serve as a moral compass, art that doesn’t “make nice” may be our best hope. (115)
As well, the series on Knowledge Network by Dr Gus Casely-Hayford, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, and the PBS series Black in Latin America with Dr Henry Louis Gates both demonstrated how much of the history we learn is incomplete and so obviously biased. (More on this, the modernist project, and my son’s opinion later.)
I have also been asked to think about my project in terms of auto-ethnography.
Born to war-damaged, immigrant Dutch parents in Canada (who divorced when I was 10), I was surrounded by a strict religiosity characterized by conservatism (so you can imagine how the divorce went over), Puritanical zeal, insulation from the secular world, and labour. Canadian women wore their hair in rollers to the supermarket, we did not. Canadian women walked while they were smoking, while I was taught to sit down while smoking (after my mother reluctantly acknowledged my new cigarette habit). Our Canadian neighbours laughed outloud on their front porches for the whole street to hear, where we were instructed not to be too loud. Handel’s Messiah was on the record player every Sunday before, inbetween, and after the two services we attended.
As a six year old my mother gave me a black doll to play with. I named her Rosie. I liked her and I recall being really angry at my baby sister for pulling some of the hair out of the top of her head. My mother tells me that she saw the doll in the hardware store and decided to get it because of her own feelings about “zwarte mensen” (black people). When she was in the hospital labour room in 1961 another woman in labour was brought in. The woman was black. My mother who had never been so close to a black person was suddenly feeling unsure of herself. “How do I talk to her,” she thought. She struggled with feelings of fear. Not feelings of fear directed toward the woman, but feeling fear of finding herself being in a totally new situation. She had no idea how she should relate to this woman. So when the doll presented itself to her in the shop she decided that she should buy it for me so that I would not have to feel the same way that she had.
Not long after, my parents redecorated the living room and above the stereo hung a print of Rubens’ Head of a Man.
What do those examples have to do with whiteness? They are a part of my own personal experience while in a body that is accepted as white. At the time I did not think about the reason I had a black doll when none of my Dutch school friends did, or why I didn’t see pictures of blacks in any of their homes either. My first conscious encounter with racism came when I was 17, holding hands walking down the street in Malton with my Jamaican boyfriend. A vehicle drove by with a group young men (looked white) who yelled out the window at us “What a waste!” I wondered what in the world did they mean? I had to ask “John” what they meant. In some ways I was so naive. I did not seriously begin to unpack and examine my own whiteness until I saw William Pope.L’s work in the book The Friendliest Black Artist in America.
It’s at this point that I imagine text based works that say things like “serve me nicely because I am white” or ” I know that I am white.”
So…auto-ethnography…I am not yet convinced. It is true that all art I make is informed by my own experiences (all of them), but I am not certain that I want to address them directly at this point. I’m not sure how that would look. Maybe it could simply involve an acknowledgement of my own influences.
A few resources on Auto-Ethnography (it’s a start):