“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” ―Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
Dear AAC Network,
Like so many other Black people, I have experienced racialized incidents in every aspect of life. As a nature geek, world traveler, and person who is deeply interested in people and places, I spend a fair amount of time outdoors. I enjoy exploring the communities and museums in the places I travel to. I’m curious to understand how an artist might feel on their first day at a residency, what they might encounter when they arrive, and this in part shapes my work. I’ve been stopped or detained by police in more states than I can count for driving while Black. Racial epithets have landed on my body like spit while traveling through airports or walking on mainstreet USA or standing on streets outside our member residency programs. I’ve been surveilled at museums for looking at art while Black and policed in art supply stores while just trying to buy pens.
It gets worse. As I shared at the AAC Conference in Minneapolis, there was the time when a group of white people at a fundraising dinner, where I was the only person of color, did an improv performance of bodies packed in the bowels of a slave ship, making light of the horrors of enslavement when African people were stolen from their homes, raped and beaten, and separated from their families. Then, there was the white donor who told me that slavery had harsher impacts on the white southern businessman than Black people—a violent assault after which I was left to facilitate our meeting with him. And then there was the time when an all-white development team I worked with failed to put out utensils for an event and our white patrons asked me to do it, asking why I hadn’t put them out with the food because, in their minds, who else could I be but the help.
This is my lived experience and this will be my future if we don’t move from statements, platitudes, and the performance of solidarity to action. This is not a moment. We are living through a movement, a transformation.
Two weeks ago, I called on you to muster the courage to dialogue with people who are professionally, ideologically, and politically different from you. Today, I call on you to apply an anti-racist lens to your work. Anti-racist comfort for artists and your colleagues. Anti-racist accountability measures. Anti-racist performance reviews. Anti-racist resource allocation. Anti-racist vendor procurement. Anti-racist changes in leadership. Anti-racist strategic planning. Anti-racist incident management. Anti-racist marketing plans. Anti-racist programming. Anti-racist leave policies. Anti-racist compensation structures. Anti-racist selection processes. It’s easy to advocate for anti-racist practice outside your organization but turning the mirror on yourself is the real work. The time has passed to passively listen and learn, waiting to be convinced that what is being communicated is in fact true. You must commit to action. If you don’t, then you are not working to eradicate racism, which is woven into the very fabric of our organizations and institutions.
As James Baldwin asked nearly thirty years ago, “How much time do you want for your progress?” He was not speaking from a place of bitterness and neither am I. Without honesty we cannot change. This is an offering imbued with love and hope. This is an invitation to do better and work on behalf of justice. The time is now.
Lisa Funderburke Hoffman
Executive Director, Alliance of Artists Communities
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Image above - left to right: Lisa Funderburke Hoffman and YK Hong. YK led the AAC staff and board through anti-oppression training, and presented as part of the 2017 AAC Conference in Denver, CO.