I Turned To Art To Be A Better Ally To The Black Community

Local art student, Melissa Licari, stands in front of her artwork. (Courtesy Melissa Licari)

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Throughout February, we asked readers what it means to be Black in L.A. But, as part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion, we’re also continuing to highlight race-related issues like what it means to be a white ally to the Black community.

Local art student, Melissa Licari, supported the Black Lives Matter Movement on social media following the death of George Floyd but felt compelled to contribute more.

By Melissa Licari

I did my small part in the moment by posting the black square on Instagram, donating what I could to various organizations supporting the movement, and having conversations with family members that didn’t understand. But I felt like what I was doing wasn’t enough.

So, I turned to my work as an artist.

I started with research on systemic racism. I watched documentaries, read books, and reached out to people more qualified than me. I found historic redlining maps of L.A. from the 1930s, which used to dictate where Black people could and couldn’t live.

(Courtesy Melissa Licari)

Even though redlining was outlawed, the impacts of this institutional racism remain. The impact can be seen through maps of 2018 census data that show where minority groups live.

(Courtesy Melissa Licari)

Racial minority groups, especially Black people, largely remain in the areas that were labeled the poorest back in the 1930s, while white people have remained in or migrated toward richer areas. The opportunities denied to families in the 1930s clearly had a generational impact on the mobility of future generations and results in the indirect segregation of cities across America today.

I also found a graph which showed the disparities in household income between black and white Americans. While the trend has been increasing for both groups between 1960 and 2018, the gap between the two groups has stayed consistent.

(Courtesy Melissa Licari)

I included a graphic that depicts the disparity in mortality rates between black and white Americans, split by gender.

(Courtesy Melissa Licari)

I layered these maps and graphs on top of each other and designed the composition of my piece in a computer software program.

Then, I transferred the design to canvas using acrylics, resin, and puffy paint. My intent was to catch viewers’ attention with bold colors and sharp contrasts to evoke emotions.

(Courtesy Melissa Licari)

My hope is that they might be more open to learning about the facts behind the painting if they can connect with it emotionally. And the process of creating this motivated me as a white woman to become a stronger ally to the Black community, and become more educated on the state of institutionalized racism in society today. I hope the piece inspires others to become educated and take action, too.

I believe my painting is important, particularly for people who look like me. Many white people feel threatened by the Black Lives Matter movement. I believe that this fear stems from a lack of knowledge of the issues. I know that many people know more about systemic racism than I do; however, I also know the unfortunate reality is that there are many people in the world who will not listen to the facts unless they are presented by a member of their own race. I hope that any white person who is fearful of the BLM movement can realize it is OK to change course and become an ally.

(Courtesy Melissa Licari)

I did hesitate to publish this piece because I didn’t want to take space away from Black artists. But, I do think it is important for white allies to use their voice to help educate other white people about these problems. There are many aspects of the Black experience that I do not know or understand, but I do think it is important to speak up rather than staying silent. It’s important to keep pushing the conversation forward because I believe it is small, incremental changes that result in big changes. I just think it is important for all of us to do what we can, whatever that may be.

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