I came across this thread from artist and curator Chaedria LaBouvier, who was the first black woman to curate a solo art exhibit at the Guggenheim. At the time, it was a very big deal, and given the constant chatter about social justice and representation from white liberals I figured it would continue to be a celebrated story. By all accounts, LaBouvier very much deserved this opportunity and a Basquiat exhibit will always be emotional, historical, and provocative. It was an exciting time in the art world.
And then it just…disappeared.
Some of you have asked about my experience at the Guggenheim as the first Black curator, woman & creator of the Basquiat exhibition.
I'm still super proud of it. Working at the Guggenheim w/ Nancy Spector & the leadership was the most racist professional experience of my life.
— No Quarter Will Be Given (@chaedria) June 4, 2020
Not being an artist myself, I really didn’t keep up with the story and assumed it was just another casualty to the churning news cycle. Reading her thread today, I see that was wrong. At the same time, I found myself emotional as I read through her experience. I do not for one moment believe that racism makes up the whole of who we are as Americans, nor do I believe I am in danger of being murdered by racists every time I set foot outside my home. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t experience racism and bigotry or that we still don’t have issues, flaws, and plenty of work to do.
Liberals try to tell us racism is everywhere all the time.
Conservatives try to tell us we’re imagining racism.
Both extremes are untrue and unhelpful and inherently dangerous.
A lot of that comes from the fact that we are simply not allowed to be represented in the spaces where white people say we’re welcome but don’t really mean it. LaBouvier’s thread explains it so well. Notice how she says she wanted to say something but had to be cognizant of how she would look if she complained. Black people in professional America have to walk that tightrope every day. We want to be represented, but when we get there we can’t look like a “trouble maker” because we’re never coming out on top on that one. Colin Kaepernick can get away with that because he’s famous and attractive. The rest of us don’t have the luxury. We not only have to think of ourselves but who is coming up behind us and how our actions and complaints will reflect on our entire community. My white friends never make such considerations. They don’t have to.
Liberals think they know our reality but it’s just lip service. Conservatives don’t even want to recognize the reality at all. “I don’t see color” is the utterance of those privileged enough to never have to think about race. LaBouvier had to think about it. So do I. I was so moved by her thread because there isn’t an accomplished, professional black person in America who hasn’t had to deal with this very same thing.
Last year I was forced to cut ties with my podcast network that houses most of the top conservative and libertarian podcasts in the country. As a co-host of a popular podcast, I was a proud team member. But then they “fired” me (I use the term loosely as I was never anything but a contractor). It was the stupidest thing ever in the history of stupid things. To tell you this story embarrasses me and I didn’t even do anything wrong…that’s how stupid this is.
I wanted to do a Hallmark movie podcast.
I love Hallmark Christmas movies. They’re delightfully cheesy and I’d promised myself I’d do a regular seasonal “bonus” podcast last Christmas just so I’d have an excuse to talk about the weird comfort of Hallmark Christmases. We launched it as an addendum to our regular podcast and recorded our first episode. Nine episodes were planned to cover the season. No big deal.
Except apparently it was. I got an email from the network manager telling me I needed to put away the idea and stop broadcasting because another network personality was already doing the same thing. I was annoyed but I figured I could reason to him that A) we’re a conservative podcast network so everything everyone does on here is just about exactly the same and B) my podcast is different anyway because I’m giving my perspective on this lily-white tv tradition as a black woman. That in and of itself had value, I supposed.
He did not suppose.
It angered me. No, it enraged me. Not only was this such a stupid thing for them to cancel me over, it was infuriating that they didn’t even consider how degrading it was that the only black person on their network had to cancel her content because it might divert attention from the more popular white personality (who, as far as I know, had nothing to do with this personally so there were never any hard feelings there). I mentioned it was not a good look. He accused me of pulling the “race card.” His “compromise” on the issue was to invite me to be a guest on her show.
Every black person knows exactly what I’m saying here — I’ve spent my entire career tiptoeing around difficult issues so I don’t get labeled as an “angry black woman” and in two or three email exchanges I was reduced to “you’re just overreacting” by the white guy in charge of the entire, nearly exclusively white network. I told him perspective matters, that having black voices on the network means adding a perspective that he couldn’t understand and I wouldn’t expect him to understand. I only expected him to make way for those voices. And in fact, in this case, it was one lone voice, who just wanted to talk about dumb movies.
I can tell you I was not looking good. I screamed, I raged, I swore, I lit into him. The silent burden black professionals must bear is that we will always be looked at as speaking for everyone, not just ourselves. We must consider how it will make everyone else coming up behind us or walking next to us look. We’re never allowed to just represent ourselves. To have to beg permission to be represented in the places white people proudly declare “equal and open” is a degradation of the highest order. I’m embarrassed at the rage that spewed from my heart but I was also helpless to do anything but rage.
I could have gone to Buzzfeed or HuffPo or some thoughtless left-wing outlet and busted them out. I could have done that and received a hero’s welcome for defaming a conservative outlet, but unlike the manager, I had an entire movement, an entire history on my shoulders. Not only would that be creating unwanted conservative resentment for other black conservatives, it would be a betrayal of my sincere belief that most people want to help, not harm. I know they would have taken that and made it into something that represented partisan rage instead of genuine frustration.
When word began to spread of my “firing”, I began getting messages from my fellow black conservatives, many of whom you know and read daily. They were private messages — the things we say to each other but can’t really say out loud. They expressed solidarity and shared my rage. They all — TO A PERSON — shared their story of the needles they’re forced to thread every day so they don’t get accused of “playing the race card” while at the same time representing the needs of their communities as black people and as Americans. For every single one of us, the sentiment was the same — white people don’t have to think about anyone but themselves when they get angry but we’re made responsible for every last black person in the industry when we speak up.
My experience there has not left me bitter, but it made me realize that no matter what anyone says about justice or representation, no one is going to make room for you. The people there didn’t see the business sense of having black voices being represented on their network. They certainly had no interest in the justice side of it all. There was no way for me to force that on them. Having those voices represented is really the only path forward to any kind of reconciliation, because it offers perspective. The conversation might have been a lot different if there were other black podcasters on their network, but it wasn’t. If they want to stay insulated and continue to talk about true racial equality and justice while keeping their space largely free of black voices, that’s on them. I can only control what is around me.
As Editor-at-Large for RedState, I decided that the only way to make space for more black voices is to make space for more black voices. I began a concerted effort to search for intelligent, engaging, thoughtful black writers looking for a home to express themselves. I have found some truly fantastic talent so far in people like Jeff Charles, Lenny McAllister, and Christopher Arps. I appreciate the perspectives they add to our site and to the conservative community in general. The Townhall family is happy to have them but I will not stop working for them to be properly valued and appreciated. Even when they’re writing things I disagree with, they add that incredibly valuable layer that is missing on too many conservative platforms…perspective.
LaBouvier’s experience rings so true to me because, regardless of our politics, every single black person knows what she means. We’re pawns for the left and the right. We’re useful as symbols but when we ask to be genuinely considered as valuable contributors the response is often what both LaBouvier and I experienced — we’re a threat to someone else’s popularity or position.
Lip service is useless without action. The conservative media community needs to take a good, hard look at themselves and ask what they are doing to provide the black perspective to their audiences. Some of the most popular conservative blogs in the nation have nary a black person in sight on their staff. That’s a problem, and it’s why so many on the left who are questioning their traditional Democrat representatives still look at us with such suspicion.
The black perspective isn’t at all what you think it is, but how will you know if we have no place to tell you that?