Artist’s Statement—The race question and my art answered.

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When people see images like this one, The Black AmeriKKKlan Experience: Murdered While Black, they envision an enraged black painter contemplating the same fate the subject of this painting experienced for all white people.

I can’t say I wasn’t enraged when I painted in 1974 to confront the white supremacist police brutality that was being perpetrated against black men even then. I was, and justifiably so. But, because of artwork like this that conveys that rage projected by white supremacists onto black bodies, I’ve always been considered a “controversial political artist.”

My art makes white and other people uncomfortable in their denial, complacency, and complicity in the destruction of black lives. Black lives have always mattered to me and most of my art expresses that. As such, others have given me many labels over the years intended to categorize me as an artist based on its focus and content.

Showing love for my own people through my art does not translate into hatred for other racial groups. Unlike white nationalists, I don’t have the need to exterminate other racial groups to prove my love for my own.

They include “Black Power Artist,” “Black Nationalist Artist,” “The Original Hip Hop Artist” and “Outsider Artist.” All reflect my status as a historical forerunner in the black activist art world as well as in the black political activist movement.

But many of these labels, typically given to me by white people, also have negative connotations. Some are meant to portray me as a dangerous, anti-American radical. It’s those labels that endanger black men who speak out against the brutality and injustices routinely perpetrated against us that lead to silencing us by incarceration and assassination. Threats have been made against me at times and had my art trashed and stolen.

I can’t let those who try to terrorize me into silence stop me. As I have since I was a teen in 1950s America and experiencing this country very differently from the way it’s portrayed in media, I must continue speak out on racism. It’s a matter of life and death for my African people group whom I dearly love.

Showing love for my own people through my art does not translate into hatred for other racial groups.

Nonetheless, many white people have not only accused me of being anti-government but of being a reverse-racist, anti-Semitic and misogynist.

It’s their response to have me afflict their comfort with my activist art aggressively confronts the vilest aspects of the global and American histories of institutional racism, misogyny, and genocide.

But confronting wrongs perpetuated under white supremacy, which our current presidential administration is continuing to do, doesn’t mean I’m seething in hatred for anyone resembling those constantly assailing us.

The fact is, the belief that I must hate all white people couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t hate all white people. Too many have supported me (and my children) and helped me throughout my life and career to achieve the successes I have.

I also have been joined in my fight against oppression by white anti-racist activists who despise systems of oppression as much as I do. I am forever grateful to those white people and the ones that continue to support me within my current community and globally.

What I hate is the structural racism driven by white supremacy that produces racist white people. My art reflects the sadness and dismay this system causes me and others of all races. My art also echoes the legitimate rage felt by people of color, particularly African American people. We are constant targets of the violence and oppression inherent in our white supremacist system.

Loving My People Extends Beyond My Black Identity

A look at my family shows that, like many African Americans, I have a white genetic heritage of my own that I do not deny. A cousin recently told us that that heritage is at least 30% Western European (after Europe was made predominantly white during anglicization.) Many members of my family are white, and not just by marriage, by DNA.

So “hating all white people” would be an act of self-hatred. “Hating all white people” would mean I hate my cousins, aunts, uncles and in-laws who are white. Try causing any one of them harm and you’ll learn quickly how untrue that is. (Believe they feel the same about their melanated relatives, too.)

What I hate is white nationalist racism, which is driven by white supremacy. I make no apologies for the content of my art because, quite simply, it depicts the ugly historical and current day realities that are part of white supremacy in America. And, that not much has changed since I painted some of the works in the 60s, 70s and 80s makes my art still relevant today.”

My self-love also extends to my black (and indigenous American) heritage. So, my art has, simultaneously, encouraged black self-love and self-determination, love of our African roots and black community-building activities while calling out white racists for their intentional and ongoing destruction of our community.

Using Legitimate Rage Constructively

I’ve never been one simply to rant about injustice and inequality. For me, while my art could be all-consuming at time, it was important I work beyond that for change. That led to my creating of programs like the African American Master Artist-in-Residency Program and demands that black art, including activist art, be displayed in places where art patrons and the public didn’t see it before. I’ve also advocated for diversity in other areas of endeavor.

That has led to my being called “divisive” and even “an angry separatist” suggesting that I by focusing on helping the people with whom I’m primarily identified, I’m being racist. People make that assertion despite being comfortable creataing programs and services that help their own.

Expressing rage about racism and encouraging my people to love themselves through my art and activism doesn’t make me an angry black man like many assume. At the same time, I make no apologies for the content of my art or my civil activism. My art depicts the ugly historical realities that are part of white supremacy in America. My activism fights to mitigate the damage and change the future. I’ve felt compelled to represent these facts in my art because, historically, these truths have not taught elsewhere, even at the college level. That meant my activism has had to extend to my work as a college professor.

But, I’m an equal opportunity critic. My art castigates my people and gender—African Americans and men—for their behavior. That includes like self-loathing, drug addiction and misogyny against our women. These pathologies are is as destructive to our community as racism. My art and worldview have consistently evolved to confront what ails black society, too.

Activism Beyond My Art

My art hasn’t been the only form of activism that has caused affront. I have vocally asserted that if you’re white and not actively fighting racism, you are part of the problem because you may justify unearned white privilege that oppresses people of color for your benefit.

Today, you’ll find me using social media as my primary protest tool because, despite years of fighting racial oppression, I still experience its ugliness. And, I still see it in the unjust and brutal assassinations by white supremacists defiling otherwise honorable blue uniforms as modern slave patrol race soldiers.

To stay silent would be to allow whites in denial about how they benefit from ongoing racism to remain there. To do so is dangerous to people of color who experienced the consequences of imposed white privilege in America through daily microaggressions and their direct aggression against us.

We have these experiences solely based on the melanin content of skin without regard to the content of our character—and too many others question our character because of the skin we’re in. It is these daily experiences, especially police brutality and attacks by white separatists that have led to the #BlackLivesMatter and white anti-racist movements in the 21st Century. These are movements I support with my current activism.

White Anger Doesn’t Evolve Even When My Art Does

Whites most experience outrage about and reject my earliest and most seminal pieces. These pieces deal so bluntly with our country’s history of violence and oppression against black and indigenous people.

But, this reaction also happened with my 1990’s collage Reprographics portraying global holocausts. This angry response to my activist art continued in the early 2000s.

At that time, I created installations that denounced American materialism. My interactive installations showed visitors American materialism is driven by global imperialism that exploits people of color. That practice made America the largest merchant nation on the planet.

Most Americans didn’t like being reminded that they are participants in the exploitation by constantly consuming goods made offshore. From iPhones to basketball sneakers, Americans aggressively pursue their material lusts with little regard for the consequences.

But the fact remains that it’s still mostly white people who are in a position to exploit offshore labor. It’s they who get access to the capital to put production centers and sweatshops in poor country whose citizens are mostly black and brown people. It’s they who get the executive roles that allow them to run operations in the United States or even abroad while maintaining an affluent lifestyle. It’s whites who are most able to afford and consume the goods produce this way.

So, I’ve found them as angry with my most recent art endeavors as those in the 60s-80s. They want to enjoy white privilege and supremacy without being reminded about the harm it causes, especially be a darker-skinned black man who might at another time in history been enslaved by their ancestors.

Why My Art Still Matters

Not much has changed since I painted some of my most seminal works. In addition to being arbitrarily slaughtered by law enforcement on American streets, African Americans are oversentenced for the same crimes whites commit. That means they’re either in prison or under correctional control at numbers disproportionate to those comprising the entire population.

There are multiple other issues facing the African American community, including high unemployment and poverty than in the white population. In fact, people of color nationally are under siege. From government theft of indigenous tribal lands to ethnic cleansing by banning of or mass deportation of those based on immigrant status or religion, the political policies of this country are wreaking destruction on lives an families in the quest by white supremacists to “make America white again.”

While they are complicit in white supremacy, white women don’t fare well compared to white men, either. Black women remain the least respected, least protected women in America.

That makes the art as relevant today as it was in the era during which I created the works.

It’s as critical now as it was when I created it that my art gets regularly shown and seen because it continues to confront these historical and present day realities.

Nonetheless, many white casual observers still become angry detractors of my art. They have been and remain offended by its often graphic content because they either misunderstand or outright reject my intent for the pieces.

They have been equally insulted by my other activism and advocacy for people of color and women. Through that advocacy, I demand both groups have of the same human rights white men they enjoy.

Frankly, there is no “nice” way to confront the brutality that racism—and other systems of oppression—that comes to victims from those operating under those systems. There simply is no pleasant way to represent inhumaneness against African Americans, Jews, and women that have been a part of American and world history.

I’ve done that through my art and continue to through my advocacy. It is my calling from God, and I will continue to honor God in that calling as long as He keeps me physically able. It’s why I’m still pursuing major exhibitions well into my 70s.

But, I don’t expect my age to mitigate white outrage toward my art, especially in the Trump era. In fact, it might engender rage anew. But, offending people with my powerful imagery has been a function of my life of as an artist.

So, when you’re on this site and look at my art and worldview, understand that my art offends because what it depicts is offensive to humanity and God. And, I am chosen to express, on behalf of God and humanity, that pain through my art to force human beings to recognize and end inhumanity to others.

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