BLACK dANGER: A conversation on art, politics, and race with Joaquin Calles Guzman

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BLACK dANGER: A conversation on art, politics, and race with Joaquin Calles Guzman
By Matthew Clay-Robison, Gallery Director

 

MCR: Joaquin, you were born in Cuba, right? How did you end up in York?

JCG: Yes, I was born in Cuba and lived there for 18 years. My parents waited almost eleven of those years in order to finally bring me and my brother over to the US. I lived with them in Phillipsburg, NJ, until I met my partner, Nate, and moved with him to York, PA. I have lived in York ever since.

MCR: This exhibition and performance wrestles with race relations in York. What has been your personal experience of race relations since moving here? What have you observed?

JCG: When I moved to York in 2008, the city felt quiet, things were accessible, and people seemed warm and friendly. As I started going to school and working I started to experience the day-to-day York. It wasn’t until about three years ago that I became aware of my place in the greater social environment, as well as the forms that racism and discrimination take in York City. Personally, I saw myself and other immigrants being constantly reminded of our condition as minorities who must make an effort to assimilate. Questions such as “Do you go by another name? I do not know how to pronounce yours,” resonate quite strongly today. As a brown, Latino, Spanish-speaking, gay individual, a lot of things became clear. This realization made me look further into how others who do not conform to social expectations of normalcy are treated and viewed. I did not have to look too far. You must simply open the local newspapers to see the photos of students who are in the “Best of the Class” section, the photos and issues chosen to be included in these newspapers, the composition of boards for organizations and groups, the types of business that are promoted in citywide campaigns and those who own them, the types of services that are in place and the quality of those services. I have become preoccupied by the greater implications of the revitalization projects for the city. Neighborhoods where blacks and Latinos used to live are being bought, house by house, apartment by apartment, to give place to luxurious apartment complex with rents that start at $1500. Other Downtown initiatives constantly fail to include small businesses owned by black and minority individuals, and activities around these initiatives neglect city neighborhoods, perhaps because they are deemed too “dangerous;” I mean, how are we ok with the police force and city officials naming a specific neighborhood in the city as “The Jungle,” especially when this neighborhood is mainly composed of Black and Latino families?

What might have seemed like small, unrelated issues, became, in my view, part of the national narrative of discrimination, perpetuating a system that was designed to keep certain individuals at bay because of their origin, the language they speak, the color of their skin.

MCR: The death of Lillie Belle Allen in 1969 is central to this piece. That murder and the violence and upheaval of the York Race Riots were consciously “forgotten” for three decades before finally being dealt with in a legal sense around the turn of the century. This remains a period of York’s history most would prefer to forget about. Are you concerned that you might be poking the bear?

JCG: Rather than concerned, I believe that is part of the intent of this piece. The killing of Lillie Belle Allen was the perfect point from which to center the discourse about racial relations in York City. Take one of the individuals who was directly involved in the shooting by providing guns, now imagine this individual, and 30 years later becomes the Mayor of the city. It sounds like a plot line taken from a crime thriller, yet it is more or less what happened here. Three decades of silence are, in my vision, the best illustration of complicity. However, I am not looking to point my finger towards anyone, especially because I am also part of this complicity, I have also been silent, and put my head down or looked the other way at some point. That sort of exploration is what I am trying to get at here, to look within ourselves and then place ourselves in the bigger picture, to understand our place and our position in the systemic and pervasive process of racial discrimination. What makes us perceive certain parts of the city as being more dangerous than others? Why do we perceive certain types of clothing, forms of speaking, body postures and gestures, as being more threatening than others? How did we get to this point? I am trying to establish a connection, to draw a thin line that shows how things are really not that different from the upheavals of 1969. Because of the way things look like today, one can say that we have not learned our lesson, and we will not learn it unless there is a conscious, mindful, communal effort to understand and bring about change. So yes, the bear needs to be poked, mainly because I am also the bear.

Racism and discrimination have been weaved into our national history, they are part of our national (and local) identity, perpetuated through generations and generations, they are maintained in place by the hands of a few individuals in power, and the silence and/or complicity of all others.

MCR: I love what you said about the need for a “conscious, mindful, communal effort to understand and bring about change” because this exhibition is being held in Marketview Arts, a building York College recently acquired as part of our commitment to community engagement and what you are proposing is, in my mind, the ultimate goal of community engagement – to bring about necessary, positive change. Aside from hosting and supporting this exhibition, how else can York College be the change we want to see?

JCG: The fact that York College has acquired Marketview Arts already places you in a privileged position, in the sense that as an institution you have the power to choose the type of works that are featured in your galleries. With this comes a great responsibility, that is, York College can decide to include artwork that touches on these issues that might not always ring as beautiful or conforming. Additionally, the gallery is strategically placed in an area where most of these issues take place, something to which you could, as many other galleries do, respond as the neighbor who chooses to close the door, ignoring whatever is going on in their street. You also could, as an institution, choose differently, in the artists that are featured in your venues, the issues that are presented, and the way these artworks take form; and perhaps, moving even deeper, engaging the community by promoting change from within, including minorities and African Americans in the decision making process, diversifying your panel. We must not forget that institutions like York College are managed and maintained by people, hence any change to take place at the institutional level must start as an individualized process of inquire, where each of the individuals within the organization realizes their place within the larger structure, and makes a conscious effort to bring about this change from their unique position.

MCR: The stereotypes that protect institutional racism are deeply embedded in our culture. We are saturated with messages in advertising, entertainment and other forms of media that tell us to fear black people, especially young men so when we hear that a crime has been committed by a young black man those fears become rationalized or justified, no matter how many positive or neutral experiences we’ve personally had with members of that demographic. What are you doing in this piece to address this overwhelming problem?

JCG: I see myself simply as a man with a voice. I can choose what to do with the privilege of having this voice and for this piece I have chosen to use it. In fact, BLACK DANGER has been conceived as a unified voice, a discourse that ties together past and present, fragments that we chose to forget, things we have heard many times before, these pieces of our collective history become words to be spoken by me and the audience as one. No specific piece to be read has been chosen with anyone in mind, that is, each individual in the audience will be treated as an equal, and as such, they can take the place of the person who said or wrote the piece they will be reading to all others. I conceive empathy to be one, if not the most central and necessary, aspects of any conversation around racism and discrimination. Without the ability, or at least the willingness to see the world from the perspective of the oppressed and discriminated against, no true change can happen, at least not the type of change that will be enduring and socially meaningful.

Martin Luther King Jr. said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I can only hope that BLACK DANGER starts a conversation about these issues in York City. As an artist, all I have is the intention, and my voice.

MCR: Have you considered a medium other than performance and installation to accomplish the goals you have for this piece? On the one hand, the interactive and somewhat unpredictable nature of performance offers the possibility of a cathartic group experience, but on the other hand it is a medium that one rarely experiences in this region and can be regarded as impenetrable, or worse, a silly curiosity by those unfamiliar with the medium.

JCG: Performance is such an expressive medium and at the same time so diverse that it can encompass every other artistic medium within itself. The process of creating a painting or a sculpture are performative in nature and can be shown as such within the right context. I try not to limit myself with the mediums I use to express my artistic vision, as well as the type of issues I choose to present. My next project deals with the same issues that I touch upon in this piece, and while it will have a performance component, it is limited to the process of giving life to the finished work in front of the audience. The finalized piece, then, stands alone and can be fully appreciated without having to experience the above mentioned process.

In this specific moment of my life I see performance, both live and documented through video and photographs, as the ideal medium for the issues I am presenting. On top of promoting this sort of cathartic response, the performative action allows me to connect with the audience in a way that no other medium allows, by inviting them to see in the mirror where I see myself painting my lips, by writing their burdens on my back, or by processing and exploring a difficult topic, together as a group, an impromptu community. I have embraced this medium because at times it feels like dirty work. You are presenting yourself, your fears, your preoccupations, your dreams, fully vulnerable, in front of others. You are processing the issue with your body as an instrument, and to me that brings tremendous power, the kind that can produce real, individual change. In a time where we have become desensitized consumers, performance allows me to connect, to reach to this primal quality that allows us to live together and move forward through natural disasters and unimaginable tragedies.

I agree that this medium is rarely seen in the region, in fact, I have struggled immensely to include my work in galleries downtown, mainly because they are unable to accommodate it in a space full of paintings and ceramics. As a performance artist in York, I also carry the stigma of being un-sellable, which makes me less attractive for these galleries since there will not be a commission associated with my current work. On the other side, my last two performances have drawn significant crowds, with responses that I could have only dreamed about. One thing I am sure of is that I am not afraid – of being rejected by galleries looking for a commission, or by those who are unwilling to expose themselves to something new. I have swam against the current most of my life, and I believe our current global circumstances demand artists who are willing to do just that.

MCR: Luckily, the mission of an academic art gallery should be to educate and challenge rather than to sell, so collaborating with York College is a good fit. I do wonder though, if it might be possible to monetize some of your performances through the production and sale of limited edition, hand-pulled posters or objects. Or even editioned videos. Have you considered that?

JCG: Yes, in fact I have kept the remnants of previous performances, these include objects that I have used and have become transformed by the actions themselves. There is always the opportunity for selling photographs and videos as well.

The process of creating and leading to a performance is in itself very fruitful, also very costly at times, with research costs and materials. Yet, selling these artifacts is contingent on an audience that understands and recognizes their value, going back to the discussion about understanding what performance is or should be.

I have envisioned the idea of charging an upfront/door fee for a performance that would happen only once at a specific set time and date. This would be the quintessential definition of performance; an action that lasts a specific amount of time and ceases to exist forever once it is done, and can never be repeated or replicated because the artist nor the audience will ever be the same. I also understand that some of these things start to occur naturally as I expand the type of venues where I show my work and as I begin to be known in the artistic community.

Somehow talking about money (and “monetizing”) still feels a little uncomfortable for me, but yes, I have considered all this, especially when I embark on a new project and start to see the monetary costs.

MCR: I understand your discomfort. The socio-politically motivated artist is first and foremost selling ideas and trying to effect change and it can seem inappropriate or even downright callous to profit or benefit from this kind of work, yet the issue of financing is inevitable. You either have to find institutions or donors willing to support the work or figure out a way for it to sustain itself. This is a major problem for artists and arts organizations that is related to some of the larger issues of gentrification and displacement that you’re exploring. A thriving art scene is very beneficial to a city’s economic development, but if the city and business community expect the artists to fund it themselves it will ultimately lead to mediocrity as the artists find themselves forced to produce “sellable” work. York is lucky to have many generous donors who support the arts, but do you think we should be concerned about this?

JCG: I think we all should. We should be concerned that when funding is reduced in a school district one of the first programs to go is the arts; or that when pressed with a tight budget, the city chooses to eliminate positions related to the arts, as well as others that relate directly to ethnic minorities. When I walk through a gallery downtown I am also seeking a level of engagement that I rarely see, because often the topics and themes represented in the artworks are relatively traditional and commonplace. I wonder if this has to do with the pressure you mention, that is for artists to present “sellable” pieces that might adorn the walls of a restaurant or end in the vast collection of one of the donors you have mentioned.

And here, we get to a point in the discussion about money where one must ask: What is power, and who has it? Who are these donors? Who do they represent? Is social change or community engagement a goal in their philanthropic endeavors? How are African American or Latino artists benefiting from their generosity, if at all?

In the past few years I have observed several shows or events that revolve around the topic of York city, usually a call for local artists to show their work and ultimately receive some form of compensation. In one of those occasions a handful of local art makers were featured prominently and compensated accordingly for an event that featured the diverse and colorful York art scene. There was not a single ethnic or racial minority represented among those artists, not black, not brown. We are talking about a town with a huge African American population, where Latinos make close to thirty percent of its people and yet, not a single artist belonging to these groups was included. Are there no Black artists out there? Out of all Latino artists none was available?

Do we want a vibrant York city that reflects the diversity of their inhabitants? Then, the arts must show this.

MCR: I have not researched this issue well enough to offer a very informed opinion, but the anecdotal evidence I have gathered suggests that the segregation you’re describing in our art scene is a by-product of the segregation of our city rather than a purposeful exclusion, meaning that opportunities arise from relationships born of proximity and shared experience and those in your circle are more visible to you than those that aren’t. This is largely what Gaia was exploring in his Invisible Boundaries mural/installation in the Perspectives on Peace exhibition. He was looking to identify what physical and/or symbolic boundaries were keeping people apart in our city and whether they can be bridged through dialogue, which of course takes us back to your performance. Boundaries played a major role in the 1969 Race Riots. How do you hope to overcome that with this piece? What are the ideal demographics of your audience and do you anticipate varying reactions based on the racial/ethnic/class one identifies with?

JCG: When discussing deeply embedded issues such as segregation, one can expect that it can permeate through every layer of society. This, of course, includes the arts and its institutions. I saw Gaia’s installation, I sat and listened to each of the testimonies/dialogues and felt both moved and concerned about our community. However critical I might seem, I am very hopeful for our city. I believe that as a community we can join efforts in including everyone in the revitalization and transformation of York.

There is no ideal demographic for my piece, I am not targeting anyone in particular. I want everyone to come; those who might perceive Black individuals as threatening/dangerous and those who embrace diversity through understanding the other’s position, as well as those in between. I want us to be together in a room and begin to process this difficult topic through a collective action, filtering it through our individual predispositions, preoccupations, and stereotypes. That processing is the real performance, there is where the true action takes place. Naturally, the reactions to the work will differ accordingly. I am simply trying to plant a seed, whether that seed is received in fertile ground or rejected is up to the audience, ultimately their collective minds and hearts will be the real judge.

MCR: It will be interesting to see how different audiences receive it. The First Friday audience on June 3 will likely be different than the Big Idea Saturday crowd on June 25. The First Friday crowd is largely interested in a fun evening of art, music, nightlife and other attractions while the focus of the Impact Conference is about big ideas that make positive change in a community. I would love to also see you perform this piece at York College. I’d be interested in seeing how our students would respond to it. Some of our students performed a “die in” in the aftermath of high profile cases like the Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner deaths and it caused a bit of controversy.

JCG: Going into a performance I am never fully prepared for what will happen. The performance evolves as it is occurring, the mood in the room alters any notion I might have as the artist. Emotions are awakened within that I did not foresee. The audience and their willingness to be fully present will carry the tone of the performance. Additionally, two separate dates and times will lead to two distinct and unique experiences, that is the beauty of this medium. I would love to perform this at York College. It would be my pleasure to introduce some students to this medium.

In BLACK DANGER I touch upon the deaths you mentioned, and I see this type of protest tactic as a form of impromptu performance/live intervention aimed at producing a reaction on the intended audience by disrupting their daily routines or obstructing their walking path.

MCR: I would love for our students to be introduced not only to the medium but to the content of the piece. I am concerned that we’re facing a dangerous pendulum swing right now. The gains we’ve made as a society regarding equal rights are registering as lost ground to those who, whether consciously or not, have benefited from inequality. If you’ve grown accustomed to an 80% share of resources and it gets cut to 75% you might be upset at having lost 5%, even if it means the person beside you finally had their share raised from 20 to 25%. I think that largely explains the popularity of Donald Trump. He has tapped into the resentment of the privileged who fear they are losing their grip on dominance.

JCG: The current state of our election season is rather alarming. However, the Trump phenomenon was long due; this is what decades of complicit silence, masked bigotry, and institutional discrimination have left us with. This is what happens when we negate and hide a difficult issue instead of bringing it to the light and processing it as a community. Make no mistake, 8 years of a black president, who has been disrespected and seen a kind of opposition that is unprecedented in American history, have given way to a resurgence in racist and xenophobic ideals. Here is a rich businessman claiming that he will make America great again. When I hear that I cannot stop thinking about the Jim Crow South, Brown vs. Board of Education, the struggle for gay rights, long and painful decades of slavery.

Two years ago, a social work professor said in the very first class of the semester, “There is a revolution coming.” I believe this to be especially true today. The revolution is here, and is in our hands to define the future of our country, the legacy we will be leaving to those who will come after us, and the kind of America we want for today.

MCR: This is the first election I have experienced in which I truly anticipate the outcome to lead to violence. Just today I heard a representative of one of the pro-gun groups indicate that things may have to be settled by the bullet box if not the ballot box. I agree that it’s a long time coming but still shocking to witness. The “great America” they seem to long for is one in which minorities and women knew their place. Those who defend Trump by pointing out high profile minorities and women that he has hired or befriended don’t seem to understand that it no longer matters what is in his heart. He recognized a sickness in the heart of this country and fed and exploited it. To do anything short of denounce and discredit him is a moral failure.

JCG: It is a nightmare, a national nightmare that hurts immensely to watch. Ever since Trump came into the light, opening the door for bigotry to become trendy and even more, glorified, I have become wary of the people around me. As a minority, you become hyper aware, you start to notice things that you did not see before, as if your radar for discrimination suddenly becomes magnified. I mean, when every day you see the media showing images of rallies where black individuals are expelled and punched, and your ethnic group becomes targeted and deemed undesirable; and what is more, this type of behavior gathers even larger crowds, and a whole party stands for such hate.

All of the sudden, the country who people flee to, which stood as a global example for democracy and diversity, becomes the center for racist, homophobic and xenophobic hate speech.

At the same time there is this push to discredit the efforts of groups like Black Lives Matter that denounce violence against African Americans. The images that come to mind when thinking about protests by this group are a pharmacy on fire in Baltimore, or a police car that is turned upside down in Chicago. This reaffirms the stereotypes we talked about. I initially saw the violence in Baltimore as an extreme reaction, however, after watching killing after killing of unarmed Black individuals, I have to question: Is there any other way?

You have to look at the media as an institution, you have to also look at the media not as one, but a diverse collection of channels, newspapers, and websites. Each person is able to choose which channel to turn to, which website to follow, further limiting their worldview to whatever it is they already believe. Never leaving that narrow circle, any unfounded notion of the different-other can and will become supported by the way a neutral, perhaps irrelevant event is presented. While statistically speaking immigrants are less prone to crime, judging by what is presented in many media outlets, you would think that every drug business is run by Latinos. Without exposing ourselves to different and sometimes opposing worldviews, we will never be able to move beyond our narrow minds, further separating from each other and giving place to more Trumps to do what they do best, manipulate and play on people’s fears.

MCR: Fear is what it all boils down to isn’t it? Fear of the unknown, fear of the other. When you told me this show was going to be called “Black Danger” the first thing I thought of was Ice Cube’s “I’m Scared” from the album “The Predator,” which was Ice Cube’s reaction to the Rodney King beating and fallout from the acquittals of the LA policemen. It intersperses what sounds like audio of two white women and a black woman speaking about fear. It is incredibly simple, but captures the mutual fear that has existed for our country’s entire history, born of institutional violence and the threat of reprisal. Your title “Black Danger” captures that perfectly because one’s expectations of the performance will depend on their perspective.

JCG: I was not aware of this album, however, BLACK DANGER includes poetry and pieces that might be considered rather “incendiary.” Culture, especially African American literature and poetry, has been and continues to be a living, pulsating testament of the pervasive issues they have faced throughout history. Music, especially hip-hop, is a reflection of all this, as well as a form of protest. These mediums also carry with them the potential to be dismissed and considered “violent or dangerous,” deemed as lower forms of expression/art, or rather “trashy and ghetto.” The name of the performance evolved over time; initially the piece was exclusively about Lillie Belle and hence the title reflected that. A couple of months later, as I was going through the research process, things became extremely clear and I began making connections; it seemed as if being Black in America made you a dangerous individual. I began to identify this starting from the way the slaves were treated and “dealt with,” textbooks on racial relations referring to Black Africans especially as “savages” and “inferior,” less developed creatures. I think that the “white mind” pushes this constant sense of superiority over other races because it is, in fact, afraid of their otherness, and of what that otherness bring to the table. When you have police officers who are faster and more effective in shooting an unarmed, Black person, as opposed to a white one, you have to look beyond their individual actions, into the greater tapestry of racial and social perceptions of Black and Brown individuals.

I believe that it is dangerous to be Black in America today, nothing needed, just the mere fact of being born Black. I like to explore this perception by confronting the audience with writings that might be considered violent. I want all of us to feel and push through that uncomfortable, uneasy feeling, sort of as if looking for its source within ourselves. There is an image that has helped me to look at this perception of danger in an empowered way; that is, when Black/Brown individuals identify they are being discriminated/stereotyped against by another individual, at that precise moment, they look directly at the eyes of the individual, fear aside, with all the power their blackness confers them, to let that person know we hear him/her, and we are here, listening, getting IT. I have done that exact thing multiple times, and I tell you, there is power in the action, and I have seen the fear in the eyes of the other when confronted.

So, finally, BLACK DANGER is all of these things, and is a title that can easily be tweaked into BLACK (d)ANGER, I like to play with that also.

MCR: The power in that kind of direct confrontation makes me think of the Black Lives Matter movement and how uncomfortable it makes people; how quick they are to respond that “all lives matter.” It reminds me of the quote from Chris Boeskool’s blog of the same title, “When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels like Oppression.” Even the basic assertion that one’s life matters becomes threatening when it challenges the status quo.  Now that you have performed it once, how would you describe the response of the audience? Did you receive any unexpected feedback? Was I the only white male in attendance?

JCG: I have been reminded of this quite often actually. It amazes me when people, usually whites, try to “teach” you about civil rights and oppression, when they speak about discrimination with the same command and demanding tone used to oppress the same groups whose oppression they pretend to know so much about. There is an urge within myself to yell, “No, you shut up and listen!” But, you see, both their false understanding and my reaction to it are not good vehicles of change, on the contrary, they prevent it. This is because we both leave the encounter/conversation with a stronger grip on our beliefs, me of them, and them of me. “All lives matter” represents that underlying, consenting, silent racism being voiced. It is an attempt to diminish the cry for justice and equality by a group that we thought was far beyond needing to do such thing. I mean, are we truly examining this today, in 2016? Have we learned nothing? There is a truth here, that is, that you and I will never be able to understand, I mean truly understand, the struggle that Blacks face day in and day out. Instead, we should focus on understanding our role within the larger system of racism and discrimination, our complicity, our own attempts to diminish their struggles, our perceptions.

This is hard to do, and that is why it is difficult to sit through this performance. It is difficult for me as I examine my own complicity, and even more difficult to look in the eyes of others who like me carry on this pervasive and destructive pattern of discrimination. But the most important thing is that 90% of the audience members sat through the whole performance, some of them cried, and some of them seemed and were visibly uncomfortable. The audience of the first day was quite diverse, there were 3 or 4 males, and you were not the only white male, actually there was only one Black male, and if I am not mistaken about three Black females. In the end I could not be happier with the response, there was a willingness to participate with me in the readings, some individuals cried, and the energy in the space was one of true presence and examination. After a performance, I am less interested in knowing what people thought right after than in the time when they get home and sit in their bed or their sofa, that moment when they are able to reflect on what was experienced whether alone or in a conversation with another person. That is what I am looking for.

MCR: On the topic of defensiveness and the feeling among some white Americans that minorities are seeking special treatment or rights, I have noticed that when writing, you capitalize black and brown but do not capitalize white when identifying people by their skin color. Why is that?

JCG: This is about identity, and when I speak of this, I am speaking about the way I experience and perceive these identities. In my choice, I am also including notions of power and its overturn. When you take a word that has been ascribed to you by others, or assigned with the intent to define you by those who know nothing about you, and you make that word yours, you are exercising your own power. I am making a conscious attempt to use my power to denote that Black and Brown individuals are important, alive, deserving, pulsating, inspiring, luminous, and precious. I choose to capitalize these adjectives so they can stand in their own, to elevate them from a simple description of color into a charged statement about history, their/our history, the struggle, the victories, the dangers, the anger. When placed in the same sentence as the word “white” these choice becomes even more charged, and I understand that it can cause for the reader, if white, to become defensive in their inquire. Yet, this is less about declaring the supremacy of one over another than empowering and elevating a couple of words that have so many negative stereotypes associated with them.

One of the readings in BLACK DANGER is an excerpt from a study conducted long ago about the pervasiveness of racism in our country and about how deep and far its reach is. In this study, children of different races are given a choice between a white or a black doll, and then asked about the choice they made. The researchers found that children, regardless of their race, consistently chose the white doll over the black one, and when asked they said this happened because the white doll was the “nice” doll, as opposed to the black doll being the “ugly” doll. I emphasize, these were children. By capitalizing these two words I am also making my choice, but mine is an informed choice, one that has experienced and understands what this study was trying to point at; I choose the Black doll, and I would choose the Brown doll, they are perfect for me, just perfect.

MCR: The example of the dolls is a clear illustration of how deep institutional racism runs in the soil of our culture. The scale of the problem brings me to the final topic that I’d like to address, one that is particularly fraught. In your performance you bring up the issue of reparations, which is a complicated issue, but important for us to discuss. What are your thoughts on the topic of reparations?

JCG: When discussing reparations, the numbers are simply beyond belief. When you start counting the years of slavery, discrimination, wage inequality and inaccessibility to things like housing and jobs, segregation years and police brutality, the amount of money is simply too big to be even disclosed. Today, reparations has become a rather abstract, intangible topic. I chose to include a commentary on this simply because it needs to be discussed, examined, and understood. Putting the entire history of racism and discrimination of Blacks into an amount of dollars can be quite challenging, if ever possible, however it allows us to look at the system in a very different light.

When discussing reparations, cost analyses usually focus on the many years of slavery, wrongly assuming that with the end of slavery a time of love and equality followed. Instead there was segregation, institutionalized discrimination, and currently the killing of Black bodies by police. That is what I wanted to bring light to, and in the process, admit the impossibility of putting a number to a damage that is still being done.

MCR: Thank you very much for this conversation. I appreciate your willingness to speak so frankly about some of the most challenging issues we face as a society. I am looking forward to your performance during Big Idea Saturday at Marketview Arts this coming Saturday, June 25 and again this October at York College.

JCG: Thank You, Matthew.