Songs for the Struggling Artist


A Day Without Immigrants
December 31, 2016, 2:28 am
Filed under: Racism | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

UPDATE: I’ve noticed that some people are ending up at this blog after searching “A Day Without Immigrants” or “A Day Without Immigrants NYC.” The good news is that it is actually happening on February 16th. The bad news is that it seems to be more well publicized in Washington DC. I’ve heard rumors that there will be another Day Without Immigrants in April. But meanwhile – this article may get you the info you’re actually looking for: http://fusion.net/story/386686/washington-dc-day-without-immigrants/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=fusion

Now – back to the blogpost from a couple of months ago:

London. 2016. The day after the Brexit vote. The city was in shock. I was visiting and that day I saw multiple friends, coincidentally all of them born in other countries but residents of the UK for well over a decade. One of my friends proposed a response to all the immigration hysteria gripping the UK. She suggested organizing everyone who had emigrated/immigrated to the UK to pick a day to not go to work. The country would inevitably grind to a halt – and everyone would see what a vital contribution immigrants make. I thought this was a brilliant idea.

NYC. 2016. My own city is devastated by the news that our election yielded us a xenophobic, racist, sexist, internet troll who ran on an anti-immigrant platform. It seems that a lot of my fellow countrymen voted against immigrants.

I’m heartbroken for a lot of reasons that it will likely take me years to sort through. Meanwhile, the most heartbreaking emails come from the college where I do some adjunct work on occasion – they’re about how to help undocumented students, how to assure immigrants’ safety, how to get the message out about keeping them safe so they can get through the end of the semester. The xenophobia is already destroying people’s lives. Already. And it’s only just begun.

And then – on the subway – I see tourists whom I imagine made this horror waterfall happen. (I know, I know, #NotAllSoutherners, #NotAllMidwesterners) And I can’t help feeling my own version of xenophobia – a fear of xenophobia – a fear of xenophobes. Is there a word for this ? Xenophobicsphobia?

And then I hear these tourists talking about where they’re going to find good Thai noodles in the city and I become irrationally furious. It kicks off a whole imaginary rant in which I tell them:

“Oh? You voted out of fear of immigrants? And now you want to eat Thai noodles? No. You don’t get to. You can’t eat Thai noodles or Chinese dumplings. You definitely shouldn’t get to have tacos anymore or burritos. No hummus. No pita bread. If you’re afraid of immigrants, you shouldn’t get to benefit from their contributions. Why don’t you commit to your old school America? You can now only eat the foods of your white ancestors from Britain. It’s Hard Tack and Ale for you from now on. Maybe you can have some canned veggies but be careful! Most of our agricultural goods are farmed by migrants – so if you want to really commit to your traditional white-only ways? You’re going to have to grow your corn yourself.
And you’ll need to turn in your iPhone. The founder of Apple was the son of a Syrian refugee so his work is not for you. Turn it in.
Like Broadway shows? Too bad. There are a lot of immigrants on Broadway stages. And not just white ones, either. Plus, given the concurrent homophobia that travels with xenophobia, you’re going to have to give most culture a miss – because we sure have a lot of gays in the theatre and I know how you feel about them. You’re not allowed at the theatre anymore. Or the ballet. Or the opera. Or popular music – which, by the way has been very much influenced by people of color who are really what you’re afraid of let’s face it. So – sorry – you can’t listen to pop music, not rock, not hip-hop, not R&B, not country. It’s only English folk songs for you from now on.
If you can’t support the people who make the things you like, you shouldn’t get to have them. You wanted new rules? You get them.”

But of course I know this would be exactly the wrong strategy to take. I know it is through art and food that bridges can be built and it would be counterproductive to deny their diplomatic power to people who need it the most.

It is, perhaps, lack of exposure to this sort of difference that causes people to behave in this nationalistic isolationist way.

There’s a Trump voter I know who, when I knew her, was a big fan of the word “different.” If she had a food she’d never had before, she’d report it was “different.” And if she saw a show she’d never seen before, that too was “different.” For her, even just a new flavor of Dorito might qualify as “different.” There was a hint of both excitement and distaste in her use of this word. And I think she is not alone in her response to things (i.e. foods, people and culture) that are different. I think that’s maybe what she was afraid of. Difference. At the heart of xenophobia is just a fear of difference.

But everything was new and different once. Even original flavor Doritos.
And it is that difference that has historically made the United States great. It is that difference that a lot of us embrace and celebrate. Maybe anti-immigrant voters embrace more than they realized as well. If we take their tacos away – their Thai noodles and culture – maybe they’ll start to appreciate them and the diversity of the people who make them.

We can’t do that, I know. Not yet anyway. But maybe my English friend’s post-Brexit protest idea would work here as well. One day without immigrants – documented, undocumented, long term and new. One day.

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“Art under fascism is good, actually”

As soon as it became clear that the worst had happened on November 8th, my friends and fellow artists began saying things like, “Well, it’s horrible. But at least we’ll get some great art out of this.” and “Repressive regimes make for great art movements.” Ethan Hawke in a recent Hollywood Reporter interview said, “The Artistic Community thrives when fascists are in charge.
While I understand the impulse to look on the bright side, this is not really a bright side. Nor am I 100% sure that this is true. I think, artists make great work in repressive regimes in spite of the repressive conditions, not because of them.

It might be comforting to imagine the great art ahead but meanwhile, every artist I know is practically paralyzed by the current political climate. Everyone I know is just barely holding on. Where is this great art going to come from?

Listen, I’m marginalized already due to my gender. People of color are marginalized already. People with Disabilities are marginalized already. People without economic privilege are marginalized already. If we’re not in the mainstream now, how will our voices be heard when all the progress on social issues starts to fall apart? We’ve been making the greatest art we can on the margins but in the new landscape, what hope is there?

If feels like the most vulnerable artists, already straining to break through, are now vulnerable on multiple fronts. Sure, there were some great Jewish artists during the Holocaust. But not as many as there had been. And where are the great women artists of the fascist era? Trans artists? Artists with disabilities? I mean – sure. Let’s celebrate the possibility that we MIGHT survive and we MIGHT make great work despite the oppressive regime that we are likely about to experience.

Sure – yeah – let’s get excited about some paintings that a white dude might make in response to the very real life threatening conditions for women, for Muslims, for LGBTQ people, for people of color and people with disabilities.

It is cold comfort to me. My feeling is that mainstream culture wasn’t listening to us before and I have no real hope that we’ll be listened to now that we’re looking at a fascist future. Before November 8th, the real I hope I held for my work as an artist were all the progressive policies that encouraged and supported the inclusivity of women. I bet the same is true for other marginalized communities.

If we’re busy fighting for survival, if all the resources are engaged in fighting for justice, I don’t see a lot of hope for making inroads in artistic equality. We have been making great work all along and the mainstream culture gave no shits. Why would it start listening now, as alarms are ringing, as people are screaming, as the sprinklers rain down on the burning building?

In times of crisis, most things return to a kind of status quo. People rely on the familiar when the chips are down. And the familiar is sexist, racist, homophobic and ableist.

Is there a way to shift this? Is there a way to respond to the four alarm fire in politics and simultaneously make space for artists on the margins? I don’t know. But I certainly don’t expect it.

I will keep making art, as I have always done but I don’t do it with any hope or expectation of it being recognized as great at some point just because I’m doing it in the new repressive world order. And I will not celebrate the loss of progress for all the vulnerable, marginalized artists, already at the edge.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



A Universal Symbol for “That’s Racist.”
November 24, 2016, 12:35 am
Filed under: Racism | Tags: , , , ,

The couple got on the N train and asked in their best English if the train was going to Scent Pearl. I asked them if they meant “Central Park” and if so, yes, it was going there and they settled in. They were from Brazil and delighted that I could understand their English sometimes and occasionally bits of their Portuguese. We had a companionable ride, misunderstanding one another at every turn. (Example: “How long are you here?” “We’ve been married 25 years.”) They told me I was very nice and friendly (I think this is what they were saying) and that they were happy to meet me. I told them I was also happy to meet them. They told me their names and I told them mine. I was pretty pleased to have made a nice connection with some strangers from far away.

Then the man made a gesture that I decided couldn’t possibly be what I thought it was because it was so racist. Then he did it again, bigger and clearer and I heard “chines” and I realized he was, in fact, making an incredibly racist gesture. I said, “No!” which he somehow interpreted as a license to keep going and so followed a series of gestures and sentences I couldn’t understand – but I presume added up to an unfavorable rant about Chinese people. I was horrified. And given the language barriers, I could not figure out what to do. I wished there were a gesture for “That’s Racist.” It would come in handy – not just when there’s a language barrier like this but in situations where it’s just not a good time to have a full discussion. Just a simple hand or finger wave of some kind. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a universal symbol for “That’s sexist,” too. It’s amazing how much racism and sexism can be expressed without language; I would love for a way to express the opposite some way as well.

And unfortunately, given the current climate, we will likely have many many opportunities to use a gesture that expresses that something is racist or sexist. With hate crimes on the rise, it’s ever more essential to address the stuff when it comes up in the moment. It occurred to me that so many people were okay with voting for racist candidates because they didn’t fundamentally understand what racism is. They missed the multitude of racist statements because they didn’t recognize them as the racism they were. If we could do call it out with a gesture, we could register our response and keep moving. We could express ourselves, en mass, when our new elected officials denigrate their target of choice. I don’t know how gestures become popularized, but now is the moment for us to get one.

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This gesture might work.

Like the blog? Become my patron on Patreon.

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read it on Soundcloud, click here.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist




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