Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Le Rêve Américain

When I was a child, I dreamt of America: of revolutionaries and cowboys. I dreamt of brave men conquering the wild frontier, battling their way westward toward the ocean to achieve the natural destiny that God laid before them.

As an adolescent I dreamt of the savages and the slaves in the field, cumulus clouds bending over their backs. I dreamt of the war between brothers, and the glory of the southern cause. I celebrated abolition and the great march toward freedom, equal rights for blacks, not realizing my hypocrisy. I lived in the world of fantasy - of white picket fences and suburban cul-de-sacs. But only in my slumber. I did not know that all my life I dreamt white dreams - the dreams of white men. It was my legacy for the taking, and the wealth of the American dream was for me, but it was not for the blacks, or the Indians, it was not the legacy of women. No, it was built upon their backs. It is only now that I can begin to understand it myself. What profound romanticism in what we aspire to be, and such tragedy in what we are! America is a pantheon of martyrs. It is the illicit seduction, the taboo, the forbidden. The American Dream is a warm gun.

Though I do not claim to entirely understand experiences I have not had, I have witnessed my share of tragedy, violence, and injustice; manifest in school shootings, drugs, abuse, and death. But what I do understand is that human suffering is comprehensible to all of our species and through empathy we may know the hearts of others if not their memories.

America is not whole. It is entirely impossible to understand it without understanding the profound scars of our history, without understanding that invisible wound that divides our country between the north and south, between the urban and rural, between empowered and the powerless, which we seem unable to dress and heal. Though in my work I seek answers, I do not presume to answer them myself. The best I can hope is to contribute more nuanced questions. I believe that art can affect the direction of culture. It can inspire more constructive dialogue through distilling and re-contextualizing our most divisive challenges to reveal new perspectives and transformative experiences. This body of work marks the path of my search, the half remembered phantoms of awakening. It follows my questioning, both those that lead to fertile fields of understanding and those that lead to dead-ends. I hope that you'll find it as enlightening as I.
Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world. But you cannot arrange your life around them and the small chance of the Dreamers coming into consciousness. Our moment is too brief. Our bodies are too precious.
-- Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me.