Throughout this semester my writing class has discussed systemic racism and it’s effects on colored people’s society, economy, and psychology. Ava DuVernay’s film 13th really decoded systemic racism for me. It revealed the origination of systemic racism and explained why things are the way they are today. Prior to watching the film, I was aware that racism existed but I didn’t understand why. 13th was able to explicitly reveal the events that shaped the stereotypes people believe today in the order they occurred.
When I began brainstorming my final project for the class, I knew I wanted to create a piece that would expose the systemic racism 13th mentioned as well as the systemic racism the class discussed throughout the semester.
While listening to J. Cole and Childish Gambino’s music, I discovered the vast amount of personal racial experiences they discussed. I began to research the meaning and stories behind their lyrics and was amazed with the references they used to create their artwork. While researching, I came upon a poem that Childish Gambino wrote the week of Mike Brown’s shooting. He had gone on a Twitter rant claiming he wished he was white. The series of tweets exposed white privilege in the music industry on August 14, 2014. The twitter rant explains that he has been “threatened by police twice this year hand on holster and i'm (he’s) Childish Gambino”. Although he is often referred to as a ‘white rapper’ he doesn’t receive the same benefits a white rapper would. The poem not only exposed the racial prejudice a black rapper experiences but the racial prejudice colored people experience as a whole.
I decided to display the systemic racism we discussed in class by illustrating a black individual with white privilege based on Childish Gambino’s poem “Childish Gambino is a White Rapper”. Determining the details of how I would illustrate this poem required a lot of decision making. I had to choreograph a scene that would successfully expose systemic racism through the poem’s lyrics. I decided to have the the model stand in a relaxed pose as if they had nothing to worry about- like most white people do. Next, I had to select what objects I would include and how I would integrate them in a natural manner. I think this was the most important decision of this process because they were what I was going to use to symbolize systemic racism. I have annotated the poem below with how I will illustrate this concept and what objects I will include. The poem is underlined and the annotations are seen below.
CHILDISH GAMBINO IS A WHITE RAPPER
i wanna be a white rapper. the individual in the painting will be black instead of white to create a controversial image
i wanna be so white i'm the biggest rapper of all time.
The portrait will be painted on a large canvas to represent this line of the poem and to represent the supremacy of the individual himself
i wanna be so white i can have a number one song with cursing and parents are fine with it. There will be cursing words in the background of the painting written in an old English font. Writing these explicit words in a fancy font will distract the viewer from the fact that they are inappropriate. They will also be a metaphor from a personal experience of mine: I often listen to music while I paint back at home. If I ever listened to rap music, my dad would always say “if I hear one more curse word I’m turning it off” while he doesn’t seem to notice the swearing used in pop music produced by white artists. An old English font will symbolize the ignorance people often have when dealing with white individuals. Things don’t seem as ‘wrong’ when a white person commits a crime.
i wanna be so white and so big i get eat dinner with the koch brothers. i hope I'm so big and white i can go to clippers games and it not be a statement. the individual will be wearing a Clippers lanyard
i hope I'm so white they let my friend out of jail sooner. i hope I'm so big and white my cousin wasn’t shot and stabbed twice in the neck twice last month. The individual holds a knife
i wanna be so big. so white. i wanna be so big and and so white that white dads feel comfortable sending their daughters, who are home for the summer from Stanford, to my show. the individual wears a Stanford t-shirt to represent the small amount of black individuals who attend Stanford. The minority is exposed in this illustration.
and after the performance they come hang with me on my bus and we smoke and then we f--k to young dro the individual will be holding a cigarette in one hand
and she holds my face in her hands and her eyes roll back in her head.
then she goes home and her dad says “how was the show?” and she says “it was fun. they had lasers.” i hope i become so big and and so white that G-Eazy will say “damn, this n---a is white” and everyone will agree and nod. i want to be so big and white that people are scared. “what if this spreads? what if everyone starts to get big and white? what if this works for everyone and everyone can experience this whiteness and this bigness?” i hope i become too big and too white. but i am just a black male. i am a n---a
I did have some trouble when choosing the objects to include. For example, I considered having the individual holding handcuffs, but after discussing this with the model, we decided a colored person with handcuffs would most likely give off the stereotypical idea that colored individuals are criminals who belong in jail.
For the background, I chose to have an American flag to mock the famous American portrait paintings white men are traditionally painted in front of. This can often be seen in American presidential portraits. This part of the painting would symbolize the authoritative position whites have over the country.
In order to strengthen my piece I did some research on white privilege. The article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” informed me with common privileges colored people lack in everyday life. The statement ‘white lives matter’ will be integrated in the lanyard which was inspired by the statement “I can worry about racism without being seen as self-seeking or self-interested” from the article.
I originally wanted to paint this piece with oil paint because it is the medium I’m most used to working with, but also because it allows me to capture the realism of an individual which would help express the reality of the point in trying to get across. However, due to the lack of time I had to complete this painting and the time oil paint takes to dry, I decided to use acrylic paint instead. This medium won’t look as realistic as oil paint, but it will be close enough to what I was aiming for. Using thin layers of acrylic paint will dry in a matter of seconds and allow me to work at a faster pace.
The final decision I made for this piece was to not fully render the painting in order to let the grid I used show through. This grid is a system I use to accurately produce paintings like this one. I decided to let the audience be able to view this system as metaphor for the system that restrains African Americans today.
I hope this piece helps bring systemic racism to light. Each object is meant to symbolize the white authority that exists in systemic racism today. I would like to know how the illustration makes the audience feel. Were the curse word hard to recognize or did they stand out? Was the font distracting? What’s it like to see a black person in control? Is it scary like the poem describes it? Does it seem out of place?