Cornel West wrote an essay on black folk art in America. The black, unschooled artist by the name of Horace Pippin swept the modernist art scene by a storm. Through the study of black folk art, West clearly articulates the staggering gap between the black and white gaze.
Before taking Art and Otherness, I was completely unaware of what a “gaze” was or could mean. However, understanding gaze is critical to grasping just how massive of a difference different perspectives hold. West talks about the black struggle for artistic validation, whether trained or untrained like Pippin. African Americans walk around with a double-consciousness (West, p 335), as if they are wearing a pair of eyeglasses and sunglasses at the same time. This double lens view of life forces African Americans to “feel his twoness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings” (West, p 335). Why can’t blacks be seen as both black and American “without being cursed and spit on by his fellows” (West, p 335)?
It’s pathetic to me that white culture has dominated black integrity as intently as it has. The white vs black gaze forces blacks to be “too preoccupied with how black folk appear to the white normative gaze, too obsessed with showing white people how sophisticated they are, how worthy of white validation and recognition” (West, p 328). I don’t know about you, but I still see evidence of this in contemporary culture. It’s incredibly unsettling how much blacks still have to “prove” to whites in order to gain societal recognition. In college admissions, job applications, housing accommodations…the list goes on, blacks have to hop through many more hoops than whites just to prove that they’re of “standard” (standard being nonsense rules created by whites to cultivate their supremacy.)
I crave a day where people of color can create and breathe as they are, who they are, without the howls of white whispers down the back of their necks. I crave a day where one can be of color and be viewed whole within their skin, without the pressure to prove their validation on systemic racism that is pathetically upheld out of power hungry, fear-filled ignorance.
Michaela Stock, Hope College, 2020.