White Supremacy in the Art World (and How to Fight It)

“I love being an artist,” tweeted artist Patrisse Cullors, “but I don’t love the art world. So much white supremacy. So much disconnection. I want to make art that connects us. Connects our ancestors. Our present and our descendants. That’s the art world I’m fighting for.”

White Supremacy in the Art World (and How to Fight It)

That’s a feeling many artists can relate to. There’s a fatigue that comes with being told—directly or indirectly—that your art doesn’t belong. That it isn’t what buyers are seeking. You didn’t put in all those late nights, fighting exhaustion from your day job and squeezing in the time to make your art, only to end up here. And you certainly didn’t come here to be told “Isn’t white supremacy just awful?” by me, some white woman on the Internet. So, how do we combat it?

Huey P. Newton said that “the American people are colonized… simply because they’re under a capitalist society, with a small clique of rulers, who are the owners of the means of production in control of decision-making.” While a battle against capitalism may not be the most practical solution to the problem, there are ways we can make the art economy more equitable—by taking the fight, so to speak, to the decision-makers, the people who have the buying power.

Disrupt Business as Usual

The business side of art is something that artists often avoid, separating it from their art instead of including it as part of the process. Failing to define your aesthetic can be tempting because it allows you to avoid being pinned down and put into a specific frame. Once you establish your “unique brandTM,” it feels final, but that’s just not true.

You can evolve over time and still remain loyal to yourself and your core message. It starts with a crucial first step: Don’t listen to what the “art world” tells you is valuable or marketable. Instead, you as the artist must define this value for yourself and on your own terms. Waiting for someone to give you permission and offer you the space to do what you want is a wait that will never come to an end.

Embrace your culture and identity, bravely and authentically. No matter who you are, what your background is, or what kind of art you create, you need to be you. Celebrate your unique message, and then use every tool at your disposal―including business skills―to succeed. Or to use the blunt words of artist Oasa DuVerney, “Create panic. By making them think you don’t give a fuck by not giving a fuck. And of course keep your day job and your head up.”

What Patrisse Cullors said is true but instead of interpreting her words as an expression of fatigue, I choose to view them as a battle cry.

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Emi Dammers
Copywriter Emi Dammers is a comedian, writer, and hobbyist pie-maker living in Brooklyn. In addition to regularly performing stand-up in and around New York City, she deploys her wide range of talents as the host of the comedy-review podcast Sorry, Just Saw This, and is the co-creator and star of the scripted podcast Wizazon.

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