Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Beauty will Save the World"- Racism, State Violence, and Art (orthodox heresies)

Participating in the Glenwood Ave. Arts Fest did seem to make the Dostoyevsky quote come to life. As I sat on my perch in the window of Gallery B1e painting icons next to the Lifeline Theater performance stage I witnessed a steady stream of diverse humanity enjoying music and art (if you haven't been to priestly goth, I've posted pictures from the weekend there).  It may have just been me but it felt like both respite from the turmoil and resistance to the systemic causes of injustice and turmoil, in Ferguson, Iraq and Palestine (and many other places, that aren't prominent in the news and on Twitter).  I had been the past few weeks I've been focused on preparing for the festival and focused on being in my studio, just as injustices and conflicts long fomenting under the surface came to awareness through conflict and violence.  I felt it was important to let others act while I focused on the festival and art, and what I saw at the fest was not only hopeful, but a pocket of  resistance as a diversity of artist, performers, and festival goers came together peacefully in the presence of beauty.

For me he role of art in  addressingthe realities of injustice and racism playing themselves out in Ferguson, MO, is shown in part by remembering, that as Melech E. M. Thomas tweeted on Monday, NWA was rapping about the treatment of young African-American men by police in Fuck Tha Police back in 1988, and  in the early 1990's,  KRS-one as well (I posted the video at the end of this blog post from Friday).   These both highlight the role of the drug war and the targeting of African-American males in that war.  On top of the drug war we then got the War on Terror and the greater militarization of the police. (though, it has always seemed to me that police are a form of military, or rather they are one arm of the coercive and violent powers of the State)  For me NWA and KRS-one raise the question can reform of the system eradicate injustice and racism from the States exercise of its coercive and violent powers?

This post, The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail, by Christena Cleveland raises so many questions: For me the images tell of the depth of the problem of racism in this country.  We stopped literal lynchings, but not the structures and attitudes that perpetuate themselves.  the authors question of seeing the cross and the image of God in the image of young African-American men throwing Molotov cocktails, seeks for (white) Christians to not only see the rage as a response to suffering and oppression, but to identify with the humanity of those in that image.  What it doesn't address though is that part of what stops the needed identification is the identities we cling to that our other than Christ: namely the attempt to identify with the Nation-State perpetuating the injustice and the Christ at the same time with equal allegiance.  The failure to see the humanity of the other is seeing the system and the State as the only legitimate power. Something more radical, less certain and cruciform is required of the privileged, the renunciation of the powers that have granted them the privilege.

So, I wonder about the role the Nation-State itself in perpetuating racism, and thus the continuing privileging of those deemed white.  Is the liberal-democratic Nation-State really the solution?  And if it isn't what is there to be done, outside of continual resistance and subversion of the system?  Perhaps that's all we can really hope for from the powers and the system to watchfully keep their perpetuation of injustice in check?  Art and beauty may keep us awake and sane for this continual watchfulness in the face of the powers.

The questions of nation-state and liberal-democratic states, ties in to the necessity of coercive power and violence being wielded by the state through police and military and the rise of IS in Syria and Iraq as well as touches upon the conflict between in palestine between palestinians and Israelis.  After all the map of much of the world and certainly the middle east was drawn by the Western Imperialist powers and then sanction first by the league of Nations and then ratified again by the United Nations. There's nothing particularly just or righteous, natural or necessary about the boundaries of current Nation States, in fact all of them are at some point in their past drawn with blood and oppression.

This shouldn't in my view lead to apathy but it should lead us to see the limits reform injustice out of the systems of this world. It should lead us to the distrust of state and government and systems of politics. Or at least to question the degree to which reforming the system is possible. We simply can't trust any system we create to be just. Justice doesn't simply happen, even if we somehow managed created a system with a completely blank slate, whole cloth with all the right ideals and practices.  Or at least I believe watchfulness would be called for, systems accumulate power and seek to perpetuate themselves, that selfishness and desire for self-preservation is corrupting.

Making things beautiful can be a form of resistance, and a refusal to accept injustice and oppression (please here the emphasis on can, again very little is truly necessary in the world we humans create and respond to).  I also think the church as the Body of Christ, not Christians submitted to racial or national identities and powers, is a place of beauty that can be an opening for this resistance and subversion, through beauty. (again can, not is, or always will be or guaranteed to be even if its members submit to other powers and identities)

The above are challenges and questions. I hope they invoke further question in the midst of action.  Stuff I'm wrestling with and seeking to work out, some of the outworkings of this may find their way to a post over on priestly goth.