The “Anti-Racist” Michael Brown Art Exhibit is the Epitome of White Privilege
Michael Brown, Jr. was murdered in cold blood last August in Ferguson, MO. Now, a life-sized model of his dead body is on display in an “art exhibit” in the historically Black neighborhood of Bronzeville in Chicago. Sadly, it epitomizes the very definition of the White Privilege and racism it seeks to rebuke.
The eighteen-year-old was shot at least six times while supposedly holding his hands up to submit to Officer Darren Wilson. For hours, Brown’s body was left in the street. He became a spectacle of Black death. Media outlets, family, and friends looked on as the Ferguson Police Department gave Wilson the opportunity to run away from the crime he committed meanwhile, Brown’s body was mishandled and exploited for Ferguson Police to manipulate the narrative surrounding his death. Now, almost a year later, artists in Chicago have erected an “art exhibit” using Michael Brown’s likeness. They did this without consulting Michael Brown’s father at all. They did contact Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, but she was surprised to find – when she visited – that the exhibit was a physical model rather than a photograph.
The artist is a White woman from New Orleans named Ti-Rock Moore says that the art exhibit is a part of “healing” and “self-help” for artists who are expressing themselves as a part of this “movement.” She identifies herself as an activist and praises her own work and the work of others who have taken to the #BlackLivesMatter movement through an artistic lens.
However, Michael Brown, Sr. – father of slain Michael Brown – sees the exhibit in a different light. He sees the exhibit as violent, harmful, and exploitative of his son’s untimely death.
What is striking is how different the language is in each of the videos above.
When discussing the exhibit with the artist herself, the reporter describes it as “provocative” and “courageous.” However, the second video makes it clear that these types of images can re-open wounds in families. In particular, Michael Brown, Sr. explains that, while the artist reached out to Brown’s mother, she failed to discuss how this display would impact him.
The fact that Moore found it important to reach out to the family at all suggests that she understands how difficult these types of exhibits can be for victims’ families. However, her not discussing this “art” with Michael Brown, Sr. suggests that he was not even considered an important factor in its existence. This act reinscribes negative assumptions about the Black Family. These are mythological narratives which suggest that Black fathers are not connected to their children in the same way that other fathers are and they’ve been disproven. Yet, the very real hurt this exhibit causes Michael Brown, Sr. seems unimportant to the artist at all.
What is also concerning about the exhibit is where the artist chose to display it. The predominantly Black neighborhood of Bronzeville has been home for Black activists and writers like Gwendolyn Brooks and Richard Wright. Now, it houses an “art exhibit” about White Privilege and Black Death created by a White woman. In 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that he wanted Bronzeville to be “The New Harlem.” Many have expressed concerns regarding the increased gentrification of Bronzeville. But the audacity of this art group to use the neighborhood to house slave imagery, a Confederate Flag, and other insignias of White racial hatred in this country truly devalues the history so many Black people have shared in Bronzeville.
The notion that it is courageous to decry racism by reproducing it in Black neighborhoods is disturbing in and of itself. It implies that White people should take up space in Black communities even when they aren’t asked to do so. It also suggests that Black people need help dismantling oppression. These are two factually inaccurate implications.
Black people have had boots on the ground across this country and abroad for years. While these efforts have increased as of recent, they aren’t new. White peoples’ desire to insert themselves in this movement is not a sign of solidarity. Instead, it is another privileged act of racial aggression and oppression which devalues the lived experiences of Black Americans while valorizing White guilt. Hopefully, the exhibitors will come to terms with the contradictory nature of this “art exhibit” soon. Otherwise, this will be yet another installation in the audacious disregard of blackness inherent to White Privilege.
Photo credit: YouTube/Still
Jenn M. Jackson is the Editorial Assistant for The Black Youth Project. She is also the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of Water Cooler Convos, a politics, news, and culture webmag for bourgie Black nerds. For more about her, tweet her at @JennMJack or visit her website at jennmjackson.com.