Artificial Intelligence Oh dear… AI models used to flag hate speech online are, er, racist against black people Tweets written in African-American English slang more likely to be considered offensive

The internet is filled with trolls spewing hate speech, but machine learning algorithms can’t help us clean up the mess.

A paper from computer scientists from the University of Washington, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, found that machines were more likely to flag tweets from black people than white people as offensive. It all boils down to the subtle differences in language. African-American English (AAE), often spoken in urban communities, is peppered with racial slang and profanities.

But even if they contain what appear to be offensive words, the message itself often isn’t abusive. For example, the tweet “I saw him yesterday” is scored as 6 per cent toxic, but it suddenly skyrockets to 95 per cent for the comment “I saw his ass yesterday”. The word ass may be crude, but when used in that context it’s not aggressive at all.


An example of how African-American English (AAE) is mistakenly classified as offensive compared to standard American English. Image credit: Sap et al.

“I wasn’t aware of the exact level of bias in Perspective API–the tool used to detect online hate speech–when searching for toxic language, but I expected to see some level of bias from previous work that examined how easily algorithms like AI chatter bots learn negative cultural stereotypes and associations,” said Saadia Gabriel, co-author of the paper and a PhD student at the University of Washington.

“Still, it’s always surprising and a little alarming to see how well these algorithms pick up on toxic patterns pertaining to race and gender when presented with large corpora of unfiltered data from the web.”

The researchers fed a total of 124,779 tweets collected from two datasets that were classified as toxic according to Perspective API. Originally developed by Google and Jigsaw, an incubator company currently operating under Alphabet, the machine learning software is used by Twitter to flag any abusive comments.

The tool mistakenly classified 46 per cent of non-offensive tweets crafted in the style of African American English (AAE) as inflammatory, compared to just nine per cent of tweets written in standard American English.

“I think we have to be really careful about what technologies we implement in general, whether it’s a platform where people can post whatever they want, or whether is an algorithm that detects certain types of (potentially harmful) content. Platforms are under increasing pressure to delete harmful content, but currently these deletions are backfiring against minorities,” Maarten Sap, first author of the paper and a PhD student at the University of Washington, told The Register.

When humans were employed via the Amazon Mechanical Turk service to look at 1,351 tweets from the same dataset and asked to judge if the comment was either offensive to them or could be seen as offensive to anyone.

Just over half – about 55 per cent – were classified as “could be offensive to anyone”. That figure dropped to 44 per cent, however, when they were asked to consider the user’s race and their use of AAE.


Q. If machine learning is so smart, how come AI models are such racist, sexist homophobes? A. Humans really suck


“Our work serves as a reminder that hate speech and toxic language is highly subjective and contextual,” said Sap.

“We have to think about dialect, slang and in-group versus out-group, and we have to consider that slurs spoken by the out-group might actually be reclaimed language when spoken by the in-group.”

The study provides yet another reminder that AI models don’t understand the world enough to have common sense. Tools like Perspective API often fail when faced with subtle nuances in human language or even incorrect spellings.

Similar models employed by other social media platforms like Facebook to detect things like violence or pornography often don’t work for the same reason. And this is why these companies can’t rely on machines alone, and have to hire teams of human contractors to moderate questionable content.

Sap believes that removing the humans from content moderation isn’t the way to go.

“We managed to reduce some of the bias by making workers more aware of the existence of African American English, and reminding them that certain seemingly obscene words could be harmless depending on who speaks them. Knowing how flawed humans are at this task, especially given the working conditions that some companies put their content moderators in, I certainly don’t think humans are flawless in this capacity. However, I don’t think removing them from the equation is necessarily the way to go either. I think a good collaborative human+AI setting is likely the best option, but only time will tell.” ®

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New wave of Black films crests at Toronto festival

Eddie Murphy is Rudy Ray Moore in “Dolemite Is My Name.”


Nearly 500,000 film lovers flocked to the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), screening hundreds of films from all over the world. Artistry and diversity, the hallmarks of TIFF, were on view. 

Black artists, filmmakers and films were a key part of the mix. Big budget movies, small indie films, documentaries and shorts filled out the innovative programming. Check out the best of the best and the most noteworthy. 



An ill-fated romance in Senegal takes center stage in this visually stunning ode to passion and yearning. French actress-turned-filmmaker Mati Diop won the Cannes’ Grand Prix for co-writing this love triangle between a young woman (Mama Sané), an out-of-work construction worker (Ibrahima Traoré) she loves, and a wealthy fiancé (Babacar Sylla) she disdains. 

With Claire Mathon behind the camera, Dakar looks picturesque and the composition of each scene is as perfect as the lighting. Diop tells her story using lots of imagery and long scenes that test patience. The beautiful cast looks like they stepped out of Essence Magazine. Themes of class divide, spirits from beyond and girlfriends who like to party often crowd what could have been a simple love story. Still, the romance in this film prevails.

Alfre Woodard portrays a warden in “Clemency.’’


The debate over the death penalty gets a new spark with this very personal look at a humanistic warden (Alfre Woodard) who makes end-of-life experiences as compassionate as possible for those on death row. It’s as if Warden Bernadine Williams goes on cruise-control as she and her staff strap in inmates for that lethal injection. 

She thinks she’s fully prepared for everything. Then there’s an inevitable catastrophe that magnifies the toll her job takes on her psyche and husband (Wendell Pierce) and sobriety. Writer/director Chinonye Chukwu’s message is that executing criminals is inhumane. Slow steady drama builds and builds. 

Woodard creates a protagonist who is equally likeable and unapproachable. Her steely performance is complemented by supporting cast members: Aldis Hodge as the cop-killer next in line for death; Richard Schiff as the convict’s hopeful lawyer; Danielle Brooks as a person from the prisoner’s past. 

‘Dolemite is My Name’

When you need encouragement, comedian Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) commands, “Put your weight on it.” It’s a mantra he takes to heart as he shifts his talent from struggling comic and spoken-word pioneer to novice DIY indie filmmaker. 

Moore’s alter-ego is Dolemite, a feisty, martial-arts-loving character he pushes to the front of his first movie. Under the guidance of director Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow’’), with a hilarious bio/ script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Eddie makes a splashing film comeback as the outrageously bold and determined artist who became an integral part of the 1970s Blaxploitation era.

Never one to take no for an answer, the brash Moore gives Murphy a great opportunity to work his comic genius. And he does, along with a hilarious dream team who milks laughs: Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Wesley Snipes, Mike Epps, and the shameless scene-stealer Luenell (“I Got the Hook Up 2’’).

Add in cameos by T.I. and Snoop Dogg and a plotline that leads to euphoria and this bit of hilarity becomes an amazing crowd-pleaser and an inspiring movie. 

Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in “Harriet.”


The responsibility for getting Harriet Tubman’s legacy as an abolitionist and the history of the Underground Railroad told right is a weight few filmmakers could carry. Director Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou’’) is up to the task and has a vision.

Her efforts are helped by Terence Blanchard’s emotionally charged musical score, John Toll’s evocative cinematography (he makes everyone’s complexion incandescent) and Paul Tazewell’s costumes. The script, by Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard, pulls the characters into one epic tale of inhumanity, humanity and legendary acts of bravery. 

Cynthia Erivo (Tony winner “The Color Purple;’’ film “Widows’’) plays “Minty” (Tubman’s nickname) with conviction. The evildoers (Joe Alwyn, Jennifer Nettles) and saviors (Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe) are perfectly portrayed. Lemmons can be heavy on the flashbacks (black and white clips of a family breakup seem redundant), and the footage looks like a cross between an art/indie film and a Lifetime network movie. 

But overall, she has accomplished a difficult mission that brings the life of an extraordinary liberator into full view. Finally. the film medium has produced a public record of Harriet Tubman’s heroism. Now it’s time for Tubman’s image to be on the $20 bill. 

‘Just Mercy’ 

A young Harvard educated lawyer, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), could have his pick of law firms, instead he heads to rural Alabama to set up a small law practice that seeks to reverse death row sentences for wrongfully convicted prisoners. There are many in need, but one of his primary clients is Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who was convicted of killing a White woman.

The film is set in 1989 and stars Jordan, but if you close your eyes and imagine a young Sidney Poitier in the lead role, you’ll get a feel for the tone of this well-intentioned but typical crime drama. Director Destin Daniel Cretton’s approach to the genre is formulaic, but gets the job done.

Cretton and co-writer Andrew Lanham use the real lawyer Stevenson’s award-winning nonfiction book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption’’ as source material to depict poor Black men being railroaded into death sentences in the south— well into the late ‘80s. Foxx gives his best performance since “Ray.’’ 

Jordan breaks out of his normal hero-ish mold to play a goodwill attorney, and that’s refreshing. Supporting cast of Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Karan Kendrick are particularly interesting to watch. 

A very northern and stiff lawyer learns how to acclimate to a friendlier rural southern Black community and it’s a startling juxtaposition that adds depth to the proceedings.


Filmmaker Trey Edward Shults made an impressive directorial debut with the ultra-realistic family drama “Krisha.’’ This return to familial themes in “Waves’’ focuses on a wealthy Black household. 

A dad (Sterling K. Brown) and stepmom (Renée Elise Goldsberry)—helicopter parents—pressure their teenage son (Kelvin Harrison Jr, “Assassination Nation’’), a high-school wrestling champion, to succeed. He, however, is clandestinely living large, beset with injuries and having major girlfriend problems. 

His younger sister (Taylor Russel) waits in the wings for the attention she deserves. 

Shults’ script and direction jump-start start this teen saga with a kinetic verve reminiscent of filmmaker Harmony Korine’s wild and debauched “Spring Breakers.’’ 

Quick, flashy MTV-like edits (editors Isaac Hagy and Shults), a heavy-bass musical score (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) and an envious playlist of hip artists set the tone. The look of the film is perfect: production design by Elliott Hostetter; set decoration by Adam Willis; cinematography by Drew Daniels; and costume design by Rachel Dainer-Best.

The plotline in Acts I and II leads to a clichéd stereotypical interpretation of a young Black man’s life, which would be suspect coming from a Black filmmaker, and is almost insulting coming from a White one. Act III takes the film in a completely different direction, which is fraught with heavy emotion that doesn’t always ring true. 

Something like TV’s overly touchy-feely “This Is Us.’’ In fact, watching Sterling K. Brown shed tears on screen, like he does incessantly on the TV show, is like watching a rainstorm on a tropical island. It’s an event, but it’s no surprise. 


‘The Goldfinch’ 

The novel of the same name by author Donna Tartt won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This weakly developed screen adaptation will likely win a Razzie. Can’t blame the premise: A kid, Theo (Oakes Fegley), and his mom enter the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A bomb ignites.  She dies. He is taken in by a friend’s wealthy mother (Nicole Kidman). 

Theo’s worthless father (Luke Wilson) wrestles him away, eyeing the kid’s money. A missing painting of a goldfinch—worth millions—is lost in the explosion. Who has it? Years later Theo (Ansel Elgort) can’t shake his tragic past. Director John Crowley endeared himself to audiences with his sweet, simple period film “Brooklyn.’’ 

In this muddled and overly complicated interpretation of the book (Peter Straughan screenwriter), a series of preposterous circumstances and an overabundance of characters stymies any plausibility. Fegley’s performance fails to make a lasting impression. The photogenic Elgort is handcuffed by a poorly written character.

Veteran actor Jeffrey Wright gives the only spot-on performance, but even he can’t save a silly storyline from itself. And why cast a Canadian actor (Finn Wolfhard) and a Welsh actor (Aneurin Barnard) in a pivotal role as Theo’s “Russian” friend Boris (young and old) if they can’t master the accent? Tech credits are solid. Little else is. 

‘Honey Boy’ 

His public meltdowns were documented in the news. And now, it’s as if actor/writer Shia LaBeouf wants the masses to know that his erratic behavior is the result of an irregular childhood. Otis (Noah Jupe as the 12-year-old; Lucas Hedges at the 22-year-old), is a child actor being bullied by his ill-tempered father (LaBeouf). Life ain’t easy.

Though first-time feature filmmaker Alma Ha’rel directs what’s on the page pretty well, the story, lead characters and their conflicts never gel. LaBeouf lays the bad dad persona on thick, making him appear cartoonish. Bryon Bowers (TV’s “The Chi)” plays an AA friend.

Musical artist FKA Twigs portrays a neighbor in a rundown motel. Cast also includes veteran actors Clifton Collins Jr. and Laura San Giacomo. Well-intentioned project. Iffy results at best. 


A group of industrious strippers bilk Wall Street men out of thousands of dollars during the money-raining days leading up to the great recession. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria (“The Meddler’’) bases her script on a New York Magazine article that chronicles the con games run by Samantha Barbash, a scheming hostess at New York’s strip club Scores.

The women swipe credit cards, charge up clothes, buy houses and set up an enterprise that is quite profitable. Sets (production design by Jane Musky), costumes (Mitchell Travers) and cinematography (Todd Banhazi) provide plenty of eye-candy. The pacing (editor Kayla Emter) is tight too. 

Your eyeballs will pop out of your head when 50-year-old J. Lo, as ringleader Ramona, shimmies down a stripper pole displaying the abs of a twentysomething. 

As she leads her robber posse on an excursion filled with peril, joy, riches and life lessons, you will be thoroughly entertained.

Constance Wu, Mette Towley, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart and a cameo by ex-stripper Cardi B add magic as the women go from self-help to self-employment, to self-infliction. Enjoy, and don’t forget to tip! 

Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Black Restaurant Week Spotlights African American Restaurateurs

A culinary experience kicks off this Sunday aimed at highlighting African American restaurants. It’s called Black Restaurant Week.

General Manager Chamoria Clark of The Island Spot in Oak Cliff said it’s a time to take in the food, the history and culture that influences food.

“So, we say the three R’s. Reggae, rich food and rum are what we kind of bring to the table,” said Clark.

She says when you come to The Island Spot, you’re not getting a knock-off of Jamaican cuisine. You’re getting the real deal.

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“We still get several of our seasonings from Jamaica,” she said. “We have a lot of Jamaican chefs, Jamaican servers.”

It’s a family owned and operated business. A family eager to share what makes their beloved Jamaica so special.

“It’s not just the food, it’s the whole experience. We have little place-mats that have patois on them, so you can learn something you didn’t know before you came,” said Clark.

It’s why Clark says they’re excited about Dallas’ Black Restaurant week.

“Blackness encompasses so many kinds of ethnicity’s and backgrounds and heritage.”

Several restaurants throughout Dallas will be featured – each bringing its own flavor to the table.

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The restaurants include Records BBQ, Shells-n-Tails 2 Geaux, Peace Love Eatz, Lolo’s Chicken-N-Waffles, South Dallas Café, Kookie Haven and The Island Spot.

It’s not just about great food though. Organizers say it’s about putting a spotlight on sometimes overlooked black restaurateurs, helping them sustain business, and, in turn, add to the quality of life in their communities.

Dallas is roughly 25 percent black. Clark says it’s important that black culture is well represented in the food scene.

“I think that diversity adds depth, it gives perspective, it can help commerce, tourism, everything so I think it’s really important to have.”

Black Restaurant week in Dallas kicks off this Sunday, October 13.

Stereolab in 10 Songs

“John Cage Bubblegum” isn’t just the name of a Stereolab song.

It’s a catchphrase-worthy encapsulation of what makes the band great. Formed by Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier in 1990, the group have long walked a tightrope between accessibility and obscurity, crafting experimental pop songs that have transcended their time. Voracious music lovers with a deep interest in Marxist theory, Stereolab could pen songs that talked about the excesses of capitalism that sounded like futuristic French pop. You could imagine the characters in a sci-fi illustration by Shag putting on a Stereolab record while they sit back and drink martinis on a luxurious space station. And they did it all with a cheeky sense of humor, best exhibited by the calling card they carved into the runout etching on their first 45: “Neu Kids On The Block.”

After going on a long hiatus in 2009, the band have recently returned to touring as a wave of reissues for their early records have come out. They’ll be stopping by on Thursday, October 10, to play a show at Crescent Ballroom. If you haven’t been exposed to their dreamy, propulsive music before, now is as good a time as any to lose yourself in the Stereolab universe.

Here are 10 entry points into the Stereolab catalog — one from each of their records.

“Surrealchemist” (Peng!, 1992)

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This highlight from Peng! finds the ladies of Stereolab intoning lyrics like “over the cowering mendacity of bourgeoise/Christian civilization” with bucolic melodies in a hazy atmosphere before the song builds up to a heavy organ workout. It shifts from British folk-rock to White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground in the blink of an eye.

“Pack Yr Romantic Mind” (Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements, 1993)

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Transient Random-Noise Bursts doubles as both the band’s major-label debut and U.S. premiere. It finds the band in full krautrock mode. Embracing charging motorik rhythms and hypnotic guitars, Transient highlights like the 18-minute long “Jenny Ondioline” show off Stereolab’s Faust and Neu! fan club bona fides.
The highlight of the album is “Pack Yr Romantic Mind,” a chill slice of lounge perfection that fuses bossa nova, ye-ye, and ominous guitar licks into gorgeous space-age bachelor pad music.

“Fiery Yellow” (Mars Audiac Quintet, 1994)

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“Fiery Yellow” is the closing number on Mars Audiac Quintet. It sounds like the kind of music exotica legend Esquivel would have written if he lived in the age of The Jetsons. The track is Martin Denny’s “Quiet Village” floating in zero gravity, making it the perfect song to listen to while putting together a tiki party for visiting alien dignitaries.

“Metronomic Underground” (Emperor Tomato Ketchup, 1996)

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While earlier Stereolab albums built their songs around drones and compelling riffs, Gane was inspired to switch songwriting gears after remixing the work of legendary ’60s psychedelic band The Godz. The songs on Emperor Tomato Ketchup are driven by hypnotic patterns that inspired the band to try on new approaches, like their take on funk. “Metronomic Underground” shows off this looser, funkier side of the band as they apply their brand of cosmic cocktail music to blaxploitation soundtracks. The track sounds like vintage Curtis Mayfield stoned on some extra skunky Martian junk.

“Miss Modular” (Dots and Loops, 1997)

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In a parallel universe, Stereolab wrote music for the Katamari Damacy games. “Miss Modular” is Exhibit A for why it would have been a dream gig for the band. Their bubbly, eccentric melange of jazz, cocktail music, sighing harmonies, and drones would have been a perfect fit for those video games. Go ahead, try listening to Sadier and Hansen sing without picturing yourself as Katamari’s prince of the universe, running around and rolling up trees and pigeons and swing sets while Stereolab sing about trompe l’oeils.

“Come And Play In The Milky Night” (Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night, 1999)

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For all the sunny aspects to their music, Stereolab had a knack for creating unnerving soundscapes. Working with Tortoise’s John McEntire and multi-instrumentalist and studio wizard Jim O’Rourke as producers, the band explored more disquieting textures on songs like “Come and Play in the Milky Night.” Anchored by eerie radio noises and dark guitar strumming, “Come and Play in the Milky Night” is a song for the after-hours, when the party is winding down and the uncertainty of the future is staring you dead in the face.

“The Black Arts” (Sound-Dust, 2001)

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Sound-Dust is deeply significant in the Stereolab discography. It’s the last album to feature guitarist and singer Mary Hansen. She was struck by a truck while she was on her bicycle. She died in December 2002 at the age of 36. It’s a loss that would reverberate and shape their remaining albums. The band’s interpersonal dynamic would grow increasingly tense, especially after the breakup between Gane and Sadier, who were both musical and romantic partners for most of Stereolab’s existence.

But that all comes later. For now, we have the delightful “The Black Arts,” which solves the question of what Vince Guaraldi’s music would sound like if he composed it after taking an entire sheet of acid.

“Cosmic Country Noir” (Margerine Eclipse, 2004)

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Opening from a bed of video game sounds and rinky-dinky beats, “Cosmic Country Noir” builds up to another cooing Stereolab vocal reverie until the guitars begin to sprawl out and twist into knotty shapes. Like many of the songs on Margerine Eclipse, it has a subtly disorienting effect on the listener, thanks to the record’s dual-mono mixing (where each instrumental and vocal part is hard-panned to hit in either the left or right channel only). It’s a fitting testament to Hansen’s work with the band: The production creates a hole by design that none of the songs manages to fill.

“Pop Molecule” (Chemical Chords, 2008)

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This is the band’s ninth and final studio album. Gane and Sadier offer varying reasons for why the band split, including exhaustion from touring (and the strain it placed on their families) and creative conflicts. For most of the band’s run, Gane wrote the music while Sadier was the primary lyricist. She ended up forming a side project, Monade, to flex the songwriting muscles she wasn’t able to use in Stereolab.

As curtain calls go, Chemical Chords is as good a stage bow to go out on as any. Especially with a marvel like “Pop Molecule,” wherein the Stereolab boys and girls earn their acid rock merit badges with this drum-driven freakout.

“Laserblast” (Not Music, 2010)

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While Chemical Chords is the last “proper” album by the band, they later put a collection of unreleased tracks that were recorded during that same period. While many of the songs on Not Music share the same Motown/Brazilian music/French pop DNA that can be found on Chemical Chords, there are interesting deviations from the Stereolab formula on this P.S. to their swan song. Take a song like “Laserblast,” which combines intricate, tangled guitar chords with New Wave-y textures and percolating percussion that would sound right at home in an old Merrie Melodies joint. No matter how well-worn their sonic territory was, Stereolab could always find new combinations of retro sounds and make them sound like transmissions from the future.

Stereolab are scheduled to perform at Crescent Ballroom on Thursday, October 10. The show is currently sold out.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Middle Class Racism


What do you picture when someone refers to the “Trump’s base”? If you’ve watched television coverage of his rallies or read any of the dozens of articles in which reporters and commentators try to explain Trump’s appeal, then you probably imagine white people wearing “MAGA” hats and t-shirts chanting “Lock her up” or “send her back” in an arena in a mid-size Midwestern or Southern city. You might assume they include laid-off industrial workers, residents of declining cities or rural areas who view immigrants as a threat, people who spend their weekends at gun shows, and uninsured people who resent the “government intrusion” of the Affordable Care Act.

These are probably the people you picture when you read that polls show support for Trump increasing when he tweets what many consider racist jibes at women of color in the U.S. Congress or calls a black Representative’s district a “rat and rodent infested mess.” While you shake your head in frustration at these poor foolish dupes, you might also feel some empathy. It isn’t their fault they were “left behind” by the global economy or laid low by the exploitations of the opioid scandal. They just aren’t smart enough to see that they’re being manipulated.

As several recent articles have pointed out, this story is wrong. It ignores Trump’s real base  while reassuring the  educated urban middle class and elites that the problem with this country lies somewhere out there, among people who can easily be labelled as racist, xenophobic, homophobic, old-fashioned, and most important, working-class.

If you detect some exasperation here, you’re right. We’ve been making presentations and talking regularly with reporters and about working-class voters – by which they almost always mean white working-class voters – since 2007. We study class and race in Youngstown, Ohio, a racially-segregated deindustrialized community, so reporters called then to ask whether white industrial workers would vote for an African American or a woman. Now they’re asking why white working-class people would be drawn to Trump’s anti-immigrant, racist, and sexist bravado.

We could say plenty about the complicated relationship between racism and the working class, but we also know two things. First, although Trump does attract significant support from the working class, but his real base is the middle- and upper-class. Second, while his white working-class fans might respond with open approval to Trump’s racist appeals, his more educated, better-off real base embraces it, too.

In reality, the base for Trump, and the core of the Republican Party, is whiter, more rural, older, and more religiously conservative than Democrats. They are also richer. Democrats benefit from what some have called the “diploma divide,” winning more votes from people with college degrees, the most commonly-used basis for pollsters to talk about class, but Republicans take the lead – as Trump did in the 2016 vote – among those with incomes of $50K or more. It’s simply not true to Trump’s appeal comes primarily from economically-insecure voters.

The sad reality is that many voters don’t just tolerate the President’s nasty remarks because they appreciate his tax cut or his anti-abortion, pro-business Supreme Court nominees. Both racist attitudes and an investment in the racist policies that reinforce inequality in this country also appeal to many voters who, we’d like to think, ought to know better.

In part, Trump’s racism appeals because it violates the social rules that many white middle-class people resist. Since at least the 1990s, they’ve been hearing that they have to be careful what they say about women, people of color, and LGBTQ people, and that rankles. Some genuinely don’t get why it’s racist to call a black Congressman’s district “rat-infested” or to suggest that Representatives of color should go back to the troubled countries they supposedly came from. When critics call these statements racist, many white middle-class people hear a different message: it’s never acceptable for white people to criticize people of color. As Kevin M. Kruse suggested in a New York Times op-ed, Trump voices the resentment many white voters – of all classes — feel about not being able to say what they think. For many, Trump’s statements reassure them that they are not racist, they’re just not “PC.”

This points to a core problem in discussions of racism: the focus on individual attitudes rather than on structural inequities. To call someone racist is to judge their character. And most white middle-class people – like most human beings – think of themselves as good people. They don’t hate people of color because of their skin. That would be racist, and only bad people are racist.

What they tend not to understand – and what Trump’s tweets repeatedly distract us all from discussing – is that racism is structural. Hating people of color isn’t a prerequisite for investing in a system that provides most white people with better health care, better educations, more power in the workplace, higher incomes, and more opportunities to get ahead and secure a comfortable life. We can see this in several of the letters to the New York Times after it ran a commentary arguing that white people’s rejection of school busing in the 1970s and 80s reflected their resistance to having their children go to school with black people. Several white parents wrote in to insist that they weren’t racist. They just wanted their children to attend a better school. Yet this ignores the likelihood that the school in the white neighborhood was better because of the higher incomes of white families and the higher property values in white neighborhoods, or because the children who attend that school deal with less day-to-day anxiety and disruption than those in more challenged neighborhoods.

Those economic conditions reflect racial disparities as well as government and business practices designed to reinforce those disparities. Did white parents create those economic conditions? Not directly, though they probably elected the politicians who implement the policies and may well have had an economic interest in the businesses that also contributed. Did they and their families benefit from those policies? No doubt. 

The racial resentment we see today is rooted in the idea of meritocracy. In the land of opportunity, no one wants to believe that their success might stem from any unfair advantage. This is another reason why Trump’s racism appeals to white middle-class voters: they believe in meritocracy.  If the system is fair, as they believe it is, then whatever getting ahead they eked out reflects their intelligence, abilities, and hard work, not a system that is rigged or unequal. They may well see Barack Obama’s two terms as President as proof that meritocracy works. If America elected a black man, isn’t that proof that racism doesn’t hold back those who deserve to rise? And it that’s true, then why should we believe that racism is what keeps others down?

They either don’t know or don’t believe what a 2018 report from the Economic Policy Institute shows: that African Americans continue to lag far behind whites in every economic category, from education to income to home ownership, unemployment, and incarceration despite their rising education rates and incomes. Perhaps they base their vision of the black experience in America on what they see on TV, which today offers more and more positive images of people of color, especially African Americans, than a few decades ago. In recent years, in part because of Black Lives Matter, the rise of white supremacist activism, and anti-immigration efforts, racism and racial inequality have become center stage issues in American politics. That all of this has occurred while the white middle-class have seen their wages stagnate, their jobs become less secure, and their children struggle to achieve the trappings of middle-class life all contributes to resentment.

That may explain why instead of blaming corporations or Wall Street for not raising wages or for cutting jobs, many white middle-class voters hold on to the belief that good business principles require companies to make those choices. They worry over how to pay for their children’s or grandchildren’s college tuition but don’t question Republican policies of cutting state funding for education. They worry about their children’s futures, wondering if they will ever find good jobs or afford to buy homes of their own. Yet they hold on to the hope that they or their children will someday be in a position to reap the benefits of conservative policies for themselves.

To be fair, Democrats also make choices that shore up their economic and racial privilege, though might be somewhat more likely to wrestle with their choices or to acknowledge the inequities they are supporting. Republicans seem more likely to see hope in policies that support corporations or in cutting taxes, while Democrats may believe that everyone will do better if our society ensures more opportunities for those without their advantages.

The geographic divide also contributes to these perceptions. It isn’t just that Trump’s supporters are more likely than other voters to live in racially segregated Rust Belt cities or mostly white rural areas, it’s also that in those regions, white middle-class voters are less likely to recognize how people of color contribute to the economy. In coastal cities, many of the progressive white elites rely on immigrants and workers of color to do the lower-paid jobs that make their lives easier. They work as nannies, home healthcare workers, landscapers, janitors, bus drivers, and food service workers, and their relatively low wages make these services affordable for the white middle class in high-cost urban areas.

While benefiting from the low-cost services that working-class people of color provide, many middle-class homeowners don’t want them living nearby, so they support exclusionary zoning laws that bar low-income housing in their neighborhoods. Some localities have pushed back, passing local ordinances that emphasize more inclusionary zoning, but at least, eleven legislatures have in turn passed state-level rules that block such rules. This fall, the US Supreme Court will take up the legality of inclusionary zoning ordinances — one of several cases focused discrimination that the Trump-stacked court will decide this year and the one that most clearly addresses structural racism.

All of this suggests that instead of just castigating Trump as a racist individual, Democrats should put more focus on the injustice built into the system. That means advocating for policies that help increase opportunity for everyone and reduce structural inequities. But it also means that instead of just responding to Trump’s racist tweets, candidates should use those comments as opportunities to talk about the injustice of Republican policies.

Sherry Linkon is a professor of English at Georgetown University and a faculty affiliate of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. Her most recent book is The Half-Life of Deindustrialization: Working-Class Writing about Economic Restructuring (University of Michigan Press in 2018.) She is the editor of Working-Class Perspectives.

John Russo is a visiting researcher at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, co-author with Sherry Linkon of Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown, and managing editor of Working-Class Perspectives.

Photo credit: Farm Security Administration (Public Domain) via Wikimedia

October is Black Fine Art Month at DuSable Museum

Self-taught artist and sculptor Debra Hand points to her work as she speaks at spoke at the launch of inaugural Black Fine Art Month. Hand said She selected this piece to represent the strength of women and as a tribute to Dr. Margaret Burroughs. (Photo by Mrinalini Pandey)

Contributing writer

Pigment International, a multi-media arts collective founded in 2017 and based in Chicago, partnered with the DuSable Museum of African American History to launch Black Fine Art Month in October.

This month’s inaugural program will highlight five “Salon Talks” scheduled every Thursday through October featuring artists, teachers, historians, and journalists associated with the art world and focusing on Chicago’s role in shaping the history of Black Fine Art.

In addition, an exhibition hosted by Pigment Intl. will be on display commemorating the Black Fine Art Month at the Harold Washington Skylight Gallery at the DuSable in recognition of 400th anniversary of the first arrival of African slaves in America.

The kickoff press conference took place at the Ames Auditorium of the DuSable Museum on Thursday morning where several artists, collectors, and curators had gathered to laud the contributions of Black aesthetic and tradition in art.

Addressing the press conference, Patricia Andrews-Keenan, Black Fine Art Month Founder and Co-founder and CEO of Pigment Intl., outlined the genesis of the Black Fine Art Month, explaining that the idea was born out of the need to celebrate Black Fine Arts and find ways to elevate the visibility of Black artists to sell their work.

With her background in PR and marketing, Andrews-Keenan worked diligently with her team to acquire the domain name and partners to launch BFAM, subsequently winning the support of about 60 partners across the country.

Artist Dayo Laoye; Chicago-based artist and one of the featured panelists on the roster for Salon Talks, and Rev. Marrice Coverson of the Church of the Spirit opened the press conference with an acknowledgment of the African spirituality, and actor/singer Leslie Michele presented a small excerpt song performance from a multi-generational musical drama “1619: The Journey of a People,” commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first Africans arriving on the continent in the British colony. The play, directed by Ted Williams III, will later be performed in entirety on Nov. 16 at the DuSable Museum.

Perri Irmer, president and chief executive officer of the DuSable, also addressed the press conference, recalling the legacy of Margaret Burroughs, the museum’s founder, and the rich history of the institution since its inception in 1961. Reminding the audience about the significance of the Black Fine Art Month in

“There is no such thing as Black History Month. Every month is Black History Month. Black history is American history,” Irmer said during the press conference, adding, “Black art is world art. It is American art. It is worth our attention. It is worth our investment.”

“One of the efforts that we are making at the DuSable Museum following Margaret Burroughs’ mission is to show black excellence, to educate all people through African American history and art and culture. And especially reaching our youth. And especially supporting and encouraging our youth; young artists and story tellers.” Irmer said.

Recognizing the importance of black aesthetic in art, Irmer emphasized on telling one’s stories themselves and encouraged young black artists to tell their stories in their voices and narratives. Irmer heartily extended her gratitude and excitement in DuSable’s partnership with Pigment Intl. to continue the story of Black people and their experiences.

Echoing Irmer’s thoughts, Andrews-Keenan said, “We have seen so many unique things come out of the African American experience in art. We at Pigment International attempt to shine a light on the entire black experience in the arts. [We] Formed an artist collective in Chicago to help promote, celebrate, and expand the reach for their work.”

Extending gratitude to Irmer in support of DuSable’s collaboration with Pigment International in the inaugural launch of the Black Fine Art Month, Andrews-Keenan said, “This was the right way to begin this.”

Andrews-Keenan and her team at Pigment Intl. believe that it is paramount to recognize the importance of Black aesthetic in art and gain footing at local, national, and global levels because they believe that Black art has always been important.

“Unless majority culture lifts things up, people don’t know about them. This is the way to lift things up within the Black culture and recognize the value of Black art.”, she said, adding, “What makes Chicago such a great place for this is that some of the great art movements out of the country have come out of Chicago- Works Progress Arts movement, Afrofuturism, AfriCobra, the Black Art movement and others. So, we think Chicago is one of the epicenters in the world for Black art and it seemed fitting to launch the Black Fine Art Month in Chicago.”

In the past, Pigment Intl. has represented its artists at Gold Coast Art and Art Miami/Art Basel exhibitions and welcomes artists of color from diaspora population in its collective. Currently, the Chicago-based art collective has over 15 artists, painters, photographers, and a sculptor. Blake Lenoir, a contemporary artist from South-side-Chicago, whose piece titled “Saline Synapses” is displayed at the gallery exhibition at DuSable, was documented as Viridian Artists “30 under 30” after his work at the Art Miami/Art Basel gained recognition.

Like Lenoir’s other paintings, “Saline Synapses” has a powerful message to offer. It is a painting depicting generational health in the African American population affected by years of diabetes and heart disease. Other works that speak to generational experiences and family history of the African American population are works by artist Lesley Martinez Etherly that are also on display in the gallery at DuSable.

Other Pigment Intl. artists whose work will be on display at the DuSable include Debra Hand, Minnie Watkins, Dana Todd Pope, and Eddie “Edo” White.

Black Fine Art Month runs through Oct. 31, and the schedule of events is available at The next Salon Talks are scheduled for Oct. 19, Oct. 24, and Oct. 30.

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How a Superwoman Persona Affects Black Women’s Health

StockSnap / Pixabay

(FuturityA new study finds positive and negative health effects for African American women who use a “Superwoman” persona to cope with the stress of discrimination.

The Superwoman persona refers to the idea of feeling a need to be strong, self-sacrificing and emotionless, says Yijie Wang, assistant professor of human development and family studies at Michigan State University.

Wang and Amani Allen, associate professor of community health sciences and epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted the study with 208 self-identified African American women in the San Francisco Bay area.

“Research has already identified discrimination as a risk factor for health outcomes,” Wang says. “We want to know whether the Superwoman mindset helps buffer the deleterious effects of discrimination on black women’s health, and if so, which ones.”

The researchers found that, when faced with high levels of racial discrimination, some aspects of the Superwoman persona—such as feeling the need to be strong and to suppress one’s emotions—seemed to protect health and reduce the negative health effects of chronic racial discrimination.

At the same time, other facets of the persona, such as having an intense drive to succeed and feeling an obligation to help others, seem to further exacerbate the damaging health effects—such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes—of chronic stress associated with racial discrimination.

“For those aspects of the persona, or what we call ‘Superwoman schema,’ that worsen the negative health effects associated with racial discrimination, how do we lessen those risks?” Allen says. “And for those factors that are more protective, how do we leverage them to inform interventions designed to promote health and well-being for African American women?”

In the study, researchers asked participants to rate their experience of racial discrimination in different contexts, including finding housing, finding employment, at work, at school, getting credit for a bank loan or mortgage, and in health-care settings. They also rated to what extent they identified with different aspects of the Superwoman schema.

The participants also received a physical exam, with researchers recording their height, weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and other health indicators.

Some surprising relationships emerged. For example, the study found that women who reported suppressing emotions had less stress in their bodies. This contradicts psychological studies, which commonly show that suppressing emotions, rather than openly expressing them, can increase stress and be detrimental to health.

“The Superwoman schema also reflects gendered racial socialization that African American women receive early in life and throughout their lives,” Wang says. “By identifying the protective vs. risky dimensions, we also hope to figure out the types of messages that should be conveyed to African American women and girls.”

19 members confirmed in Partnership Advisory Group to determine NHRMC’s future

NHRMC President/CEO John Gizdic and County Manager Chris Coudriet held a media round table discussion on the next steps of the NHRMC’s future. (Photo:Monique Robinson/WWAY)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Wilmington City Council is set to discuss a resolution urging the county to table the proposal to sell the hospital for at least a year to spend time addressing community’s concerns. However, President and CEO John Gizdic and County Manager Chris Coudriet say they are not changing the plan.

The council’s resolution asks New Hanover County to spend the year discussing health care issues, funding, hospital economics, and antitrust issues.

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“I believe what the City Council is requesting is exactly what we’re trying to accomplish through the process that has been outlined,” Gizdic said.

On Tuesday, Wilmington City Council plans to vote on pushing back the process of creating a request for proposals for a year to “hold extensive community discussion… so that the community may have a thorough appreciation of the issues and be confident that their best interests is paramount…,” as stated in the proposal.

Gizdic says this should not be tabled. He says he’s surprised by the timing of this resolution, but this plan is still a go. Gizdic says this has been a long deliberate process that has involved the community.

“As part of the resolution that was approved by the county commissioners on September 16, they approved a Partnership Advisory Group (PAG),” Gizdic said. “This would be a group that is representing the community that would come together and take point on this process.”

Coudriet says, as of last night, 19 people have confirmed their position in the PAG.

He says the group is made up of 5 hospital trustee members, 5 physicians, and 9 community members with it almost evenly men and women. He says around 25% are African American. Coudriet adds some of them have been outspoken against the sale. He says the NHRMC Board of Trustees endorsed all 9 of the community members, which include a clergy, a finance expert, business expert and a nursing expert.

Gizdic says the 5 physicians were chosen by the NHRMC staff.

“A very important part of the Partnership Advisory Group in place…is the very fact that they represent the community,” Gizdic said. “It’s not just John Gizdic or Chris Codriet that is driving this process. It will be all 19 members of that Partnership Advisory Group who come from all different parts of our community.”

He says their tasks will include “..issuing the RFP on behalf of the county, coming up with the organizations we would send that to,as well as then, evaluating those proposals when we get them back probably sometime in the late Spring.”

The City’s resolution pushes to keep the hospital locally controlled, but Gizdic says a sale is not the only option.

With a rapidly growing community, he says it’s a matter of figuring out what is required to be successful. Gizdic says, over the last several years, there has been a significant increase in surgeries, inpatient admissions and physician office visits.

“I really don’t see delaying or tabling this process for a year as being helpful at all,” Gizdic said.

Coudriet says, with only two business days until Tuesday, the PAG members will be announced before the hearing, but will not meet before then as previously stated.

The county is holding another public hearing on Tuesday at Snipes Elementary School from 4 to 7 pm. The community will be able to share feedback with commissioners. It will also be streamed live on the county’s Facebook page.

We reached out to Wilmington City Council members. Those, who responded, did not want to comment.

Phillips Chairman Ed Dolman Reflects On Dramatic Change In Global Art Markets, From Intimidating Grandeur To Accessible Emojis

Building on decades of experience setting selling records and launching careers of now wildly popular artists is contingent upon nimbly embracing all aspects of the dynamic art market, from anticipating seismic shifts in buyer appetites to harnessing the broad reach of technology to collaborating across cultures and generations. Ed Dolman exudes a calm intensity that sets the stage for the forward-looking auction world.

During his five years as chief executive officer at Phillips, the auction house has transformed with the record-breaking sale of Pablo Picasso’s La Dormeuse for $57.8 million and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Flexible for $45 million. Perhaps more significantly, Phillips has introduced to auction artists such as KAWS, Mark Bradford and Urs Fischer.

“It’s been an undeniable progressive change in taste as far ago as the mid-1990s. By the end of the 1990s, the Post-War Contemporary market was still relatively small, but you could see it was building,” Dolman said in an interview at his New York office. “YBA (Young British Art) movement with (Charles) Saatchi’s support of Sarah Lucas, Rachel Whiteread and Damien Hirst, really forced a taste in collecting among some of the most influential collectors.”

Demographics play a major role. “It’s the fact that art isn’t now collected by a small club of well-established families on the Upper East Side and Paris,” said Dolman. “We are now seeing newly enriched collectors coming to us from the emerging markets. They tend to be younger and they have made money faster, and they are interested in the culture they are living in now, not to aspire to 18th-century grandeur.”

Works by two artists sold by Phillips at auction for the first time on September 24 handily exceeded estimates.

Leidy Churchman’s Big Kali (Goddess of Time and Death) (2014), a signed and dated oil on canvas fetched $50,000, more than triple the high end of the $10,000 to $15,000 estimate. Ad Minoliti’s Queer Deco Intervention (2014), a signed, acrylic on printed canvas, generated $16,250, more than double the high end of the $6,000 to $8,000 estimate.

“I think people look to us because within the DNA of Phillips is support and staging of sales to bring new artists to the attention of the market and collectors. We do a good job there. It’s a balancing act, because we don’t want too much to disrupt the careers of young artists, because prices inflate and then crash. We are proud of bringing new artists to market,” Dolman said. “When we talk about the rise of Post-War Contemporary, you see cycles within it. Certain artists reach great levels at auction and some fade away. We have seen recent significant interest in the work of African American artists and female artists, and that market will grow considerably in size.”

Post-War and Contemporary Art is now the biggest sector in the art market. Impressionism and Modern Art remain important, but sales are dependent on master works coming to market at outrageously high prices.

“New buyers are coming in from around the world, and they tend to buy Contemporary Art. You can’t exclude the U.S.,” said Dolman. “The art market itself is very interesting to collectors. The Chinese have been the most dominant in last ten years, and that market continues to grow. I think it’s very important for everyone in our business to continue to look at Europe and Asia without forgetting the U.S.”

Dolman credits Phillips’ team of experts working across Asia, Europe and the Americas with tracking the pulse of global trends.

“They are totally immersed in the art world and art market, and we rely on their judgment, and that is very important for them. We have a very seasoned and respected team, but also a young team,” he said. “We strive to have integrity, credibility and expertise. We like to feel we’re more entrepreneurial, more dynamic. We hope to continue to create a market for young specialists to bring this evolving taste. We rely on this cross-generational input.”

Technology has had a dramatic impact, especially over the last five years.

“We’ve reached a tipping point where our clients expect to engage with us over the internet. Certainly, online bidding is now the most popular part of our sales. We now have sales with more than 700 online registered bidders,” said Dolman. “It is also being reflected in work of artists with what we are now beginning to see in virtual reality and augmented reality.”

The global art world is increasingly relying on blockchain technology to boost buyer confidence in provenance and record keeping. Verisart, a pioneer in using blockchain to verify valuable items like fine art, last week announced it has raised $2.5 million in seed financing in a round led by Galaxy Digital EOS VC Fund—a partnership between blockchain-focused merchant bank, and, the publisher of EOSIO, the blockchain protocol—bolstering the investments from Sinai Ventures and Rhodium.

“I’m very interested in what blockchain can do to shared ownership of works of art,” said Dolman.

While at a conference last month in Seoul, Dolman learned about Korean art-blockchain project ARTBLOC, which introduced the world’s first fractionalized ownership sale of David Hockney. The British artist is wildly popular in Korea.

Those investors “own a piece of Hockney that you can sell and trade. People have looked at this before, and creating a shared marketplace for these works of art has been challenging,” said Dolman. “I think people’s comfort with blockchain technology as an asset-backed digital key will enable trade. People are trying very hard to create a blockchain authenticator. The art market is very small in comparison to most markets.”

Technology also plays a key role in increased access to information of global art sales and prices.

“The pricing database of art has had a huge impact,” said Dolman. “Before Artnet there was no place to get prices on the art market. Now people are given great comfort with more pricing data.”

Despite the rise and necessity of technology, collectors aren’t ready to abandon the thrill of live auctions.

“One of the reasons online-only auctions have struggled to get traction is it’s very difficult to capture the impact of a work of art digitally and transform it on a screen,” said Dolman. “I think online auctions where clients can’t physically inspect the works are hamstrung. The exhibition is very important to us. We spend a lot of time on exhibitions.”

Phillips will soon enhance its exhibition space with a move into 55,000 square feet of commercial space at 432 Park Avenue, the third-tallest building in the United States and the second-tallest building in New York City, behind One World Trade Center and ahead of the Empire State Building. Phillips will take over the double-height, column-free underground concourse of more than 30,000 square feet with direct access from Park Avenue and executive office space with an entrance on 40 East 57th Street across from the Four Seasons Hotel.

“It’s the scale of the space that will allow us to exhibit some of the largest works of art,” Dolman said. “Were looking to have the same impact in New York as we do in London with our new space in Berkeley Square, which has transformed the market.”

Prior to joining Phillips, Dolman worked at the Qatar Museums Authority after serving as chairman of Christie’s International. During 27 years at Christie’s, he held various roles including managing director of Christie’s Europe, managing director of Christie’s Americas and managing director of Christie’s Amsterdam.

“People feel much more comfortable compared with when I started in the business going back those generationally wealthy grandiose families,” said Dolman. “Sales in London at Christie’s and Sotheby’s were fantastically intimidating. That has changed dramatically with the spirit of contemporary art sales. I’m cautious of saying that the art market has been democratized, because it’s still expensive. Fashion houses have seen this, and the worlds of fashion and art are colliding now whether we like it or not. Artists themselves, whether consciously or not, have become brands in the art world. People in the art market are now so used to being excited by brand names. Younger generations are more comfortable with brand recognition. KAWS is an assumed name and an assumed identity, and then he produces characterizations that are inspires by cartoons. They way the younger collectors see the world is through images, like seeing the world through emojis.”

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Obama’s Portraitist Challenges Napoleon’s Painter

Arts, Europe, Featured, Global, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations

Artist Kehinde Wiley discusses his work. Credit: A. D. McKenzie/IPS

PARIS, Oct 11 2019 (IPS) – Fresh from unveiling a huge statue of a black man on horseback in New York’s Times Square, renowned African American artist Kehinde Wiley flew to France this week to “meet” 18th-century French painter Jacques-Louis David.

Wiley – most known for painting the portrait of US President Barack Obama in 2017 – is now “sharing a room” with David, who lived from 1748 to 1825 and was a painter and supporter of French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte.

In an exhibition titled “Wiley Meets David”, the American artist’s massive and colourful 2005 painting Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps can for the first time be viewed opposite David’s 1800 depiction Bonaparte Crossing the Great St. Bernard Pass (Le Premier Consul franchissant le col du Grand-Saint-Bernard), in a show that runs until Jan. 6, 2020.

“There’s lots of chest beating going on … that’s why when you look closely at my painting, you’ll see sperm cells swimming across the surface,” said Wiley at the Oct. 9 opening of the exhibition. “This is masculinity boiled down to its most essential component. All of this stuff, warfare, is about egos, about nationhood, about the formation of society.”

The two works of powerful-looking men on horseback are presented “in dialogue” at the imposing Château de Malmaison, just outside Paris. This is the former residence of French Empress Joséphine, which she shared with Bonaparte before they divorced in 1809.

Wiley’s painting comprises a reinterpretation of David’s portrait, and it is the first in his series “Rumors of War”, where African American subjects replace the historically mighty in a questioning of warfare and inequality. Here, a model named Williams is on horseback, in the same pose as David’s Napoleon, but wearing contemporary urban gear and a golden cloak. In contrast, David’s depiction was a “symbol of the glory of Bonaparte” when it was produced in 1800, according to the show’s curators.

Wiley stressed that his work was meant to make people of African descent visible in ways that they haven’t been in the history of art. But he added that despite the aura of power in his painting, he was also portraying “fragility”, even amidst certain social advances.

Wiley arrives at the Château de Malmaison with associates. Credit: A. D. McKenzie

“I want to caution us against a facile acceptance,” Wiley said. “These steps that we’re moving forward with, I prize greatly, but I also recognize their fragility. As powerful as that young man looks on that horse, it’s not his power that I’m concerned about, but rather his fragile position within that culture … that relegates artists like myself to even need to make utterances like the ones that I’ve done.”

Before being brought to France, Wiley’s painting had been exhibited for years at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the current show is a joint project between this museum and the Château de Malmaison.

After the exhibition in France, both paintings will be on display in Brooklyn, from Jan. 24 to May 10, 2020. David’s work is therefore returning to the United States, where it had spent time in New Jersey in the 1800s as part of the property of Napoleon’s brother Joseph.

“The partnership with the Brooklyn Museum will provide an opportunity to shed light on the current practices of North American museums with regard to groups of artists who have been overlooked in history and the history of art, and their links to audience development,” said Emmanuel Delbouis, a co-curator of the exhibition.

For Wiley, 42 years old, it’s high time for a change in the narrative regarding the contributions of people who have traditionally been excluded from mainstream stories. He said it was not a “trend” or a “movement” that so many artists of African descent are now focusing on historical issues affecting people of colour.

“We have been able and capable of contributing to the larger conversation globally, and now these conversations are happening,” he said during the exhibition’s press opening. “I think perhaps the culture is evolving. So, it’s not a trend … it’s simply another human voice being paid attention to.”

He said his painting was a criticism of colonialism and a challenge to its legacy, but that it was also an “embrace” of French art and David’s talent.

Wiley, who rose to fame with the portrait of Obama, has seen his artistic impact grow, both in the United States and internationally. He has held several exhibitions in France, and before the opening of this latest show, the unveiling of his 27-foot-high statue in Times Square, on Sept. 27, garnered global attention.

That work, his first public sculpture, will be on view at the famed square for several weeks before being permanently installed at the entrance to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, in Richmond, Virginia. It is being shown at the same time as the painting in France, sparking dialogue on both sides of the Atlantic about history and who gets to be celebrated in public monuments.

“We’re standing on the leading edge of story-telling, arguably on the leading edge of propaganda,” Wiley said in France. “Art has for centuries been at the service of churches, of state, of powerful men. And now artists have the ability to take that language and do what they will with it.

“So what am I doing? I’m engaging that language in a way that says ‘yes’ to certain things and ‘no’ to others,” he added. “The culture evolves, but we’re stuck here together, and we have to figure out how we’re gonna evolve together.”

This article is published in an arrangement with Southern World Arts News. Follow on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

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