The anti-black archive does not justify anti-blackness. The archive of black appropriation does not justify appropriation of blackness.
Acts of whiteness can never be codified into a system of historical right and wrongness. To claim a right or wrong side of history is to argue for a history of rightness over the recognition of black pain. A history of rightness is a history unconcerned with anti-blackness and its continued justification. It is a history concerned with the winning of arguments, not with the interrogation of them.
It is, first and foremost, a history concerned more with speaking than with listening.
If you’d listen, you’d know Emmett Till has nothing to do with the trope of the suffering white body. If you’d listen, you’d engage with Black’s offense and anger, rather than shy away. You’d focus on what prompted her call to action, instead of only on the call itself. You’d agree: though we don’t know Mamie Till’s intended audience, we do know the power of her actions. You’d see this power is not present in Schutz’s rendering. Instead, this (well-intentioned) appropriation.
Isn’t appropriation always well-intentioned? A well-intentioned forgetting of one’s whiteness?
This is to say: whiteness does not disqualify one from speaking on matters of race. Appropriation, however, does. When you reproduce an archive that already exists, as if that reproduction is good enough to be art.
When your reproduction is an abstraction, an erasure, of an archival object that already exists in its own right.
When your art, produced by your white body, does not account for your white gaze. Your white gaze, which selects an archive of pain and sees it as needing a reproduction. Your white gaze, which cannot see itself, cannot see its own body in this selection/reproduction process. Can we talk about the mechanisms of appropriation? How it’s both about the reproduction of the gaze AND the gaze itself? Can we talk about art as a process? Can we hold whiteness accountable in our process? Can whiteness be more than an identity? Can we see whiteness as a way of seeing, living, art-making?
Black is not making a critique of Schutz’s white body, her white identity, white justification rhetoric. She is make a critique of her white process: the selection of her archive and her abstraction of that archive. She is making a critique of Schutz’s white gaze, her making an art object of an archive of black suffering.
This photograph is, first and foremost, a record of white violence. Everything else is secondary. Appropriation forgets this. Instead, it peddles in affect, and nothing more.
To appropriate is to reduce another’s lived, raced experience to an object knowable to the white gaze. And the white gaze only knows raced experience through its desire to know, and the objectification of that desire. This, of course, leads to a surface level reading: whiteness’s belief that non-white experience can be felt, and so known. To feel race may be valuable. But you cannot equate feeling to the dismantling of racist structures. This, the sole value of Schutz’s piece: it makes white people feel. But it does nothing to change our understanding of race. Affect work is not good enough. Not when the work performs another, violent affect.
White feeling is not enough to justify black pain.
At it’s base level, Fusco reduces this piece to one of feeling. And then Fusco privileges white feelings over black feelings. Which is also a privileging the gaze of the white creator and audience over a black audience. Fuck that. We can do better. The solution, to me, is obvious: learn to make art that believes it’s target audience to be POC. As a white person, speaking to POC, what might make us feel appreciative for your work? Or on a more basic level: what might not hurt us?
Because it is not our hurting that is the problem. It is your avoidance!
I can think about thousands of things inundated with whiteness. Talk about innocence, objectivity, individualism. Talk about meritocracy, comfort, centrality. Talk about the things that make black pain possible.
Talk about whiteness. Talk about your complicity, not your aversion. Talk about your violence, not the result of it.
THIS is allyship. You can’t just make objects that make you feel things. Call attention to whiteness. White feelings are irrelevant in this equation. In the face of black pain, you retract your fucking feelings. And you listen.