Art Responders

CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

COLORISM

In 2017 Art Responders plans to curate its second exhibition, Colorism: The Spectrum of Internalized Bias. This multimedia community art event will be launched in 2017-18, and will include extensive education programming, documentation and assessment, including publication of an educational toolkit on combatting intra-racial prejudice.

Hate crimes during and after the 2016 presidential election have highlighted America’s struggle to confront a tumultuous racial history and a heterogeneous racial future. While most members of marginalized groups can attest to their own experiences of institutional bias by the white majority, few ethnic groups have considered the far-reaching consequences of racial constructs as they are internalized among their own tribes, or how this internalized bias perpetuates unattainable physical standards and damaging self-imposed racial hierarchies.  

Colorism, or the phenomenon of discrimination based on skin tone and other physical traits within the same racial or ethnic group, has been a tacitly accepted set of practices among many cultures for centuries. Physiological traits are assigned rankings based on their proximity to age-old white, Anglo-Saxon beauty norms; darkness is always disadvantaged, and the superiority of ‘whiteness’ reinforced. One better-known example is some 20th century African-American churches’ use of the ‘paper bag test’ to determine community members’ fitness to join. These practices appear to exist within a vast array of ethnicities across the globe.

Recent discussions among white allies of the Black Lives Matter movement have begun to problematize the construct of whiteness itself, but ethnologists and sociologists have long questioned its validity. The New York Times recently pointed out how whiteness became the default racial identity that enables whites to live ‘free of race’. Naming all the forms of racism inherent in cultural hierarchies is crucial in enabling this country of immigrants and natives to upend such a system of beliefs; a broader understanding of the illusions behind colorist attitudes is instrumental in this shift.

Colorism: The Spectrum of Internalized Bias breaks down the codes that ethnic groups have used to apply anachronistic physical ideals to today’s hybrid population. It will consider how and why minority groups, including European indigenous groups, have developed aspirations toward unattainable physical features, what forms this intra-racial discrimination takes, and how to dismantle this kind of habitual bigotry. It uses music, creative writing, video, and new media as well as more traditional cultural products to incite dialogue and solicit tools for confronting bias and changing perspectives. Programming will target multigenerational members of underserved East Bay communities, through public education workshops, performances, interactive graphics, and more. Viewers will be encouraged to connect with how they have been affected by internalized bias as well as how they might think and act beyond current constructs of racial identity while understanding past harms these have caused.

In 2017, Wells expanded Art Responders’ mission from a singular focus on artists’ responses to police brutality to a larger goal of tackling issues of social inequality through cultural literacy and activism. Colorism: The Spectrum of Internalized Bias will enlighten audiences on this largely unspoken phenomenon, offering audience members tools for addressing self-hatred and implicit bias from within their own communities.