Wednesday, November 14

Culture Clash

Race relations are hardly an American issue, nor is it "news" as in something new and unexplored. However, for me, it has been a topic of serious reflection this week.

A total stranger blogged about our little family internet shop with a link to the same, mocking my 'racial ignorance' based entirely on a handmade whimsical design for a $15 craft can. The title of the blog: "i AM black".

My initial response was pretty much what a heart-attack must feel like. Not only was the accusation a dizzyingly cheap-shot, but it was also a total surprise! Up until the day I was invited by the author to view the blog, I had received nothing but generous e-mails exclaiming "I love it!" as more racial stereotypes were added to the design by request. We have since kissed and made up and the modified design featuring "afro puffs" and dreads is on its way to Atlanta via the U.S. postal system.

What's going on? I am not addressing the hip-hop culture of thug-celebrity, or ghetto stagnation where women and children are abandoned by Black men in a cycle of poverty from which there is rarely an escape. What about educated Blacks; buying condos, working in corporate America and shopping at Ikea ~ main-streaming with the rest of us who are enjoying self-expression on our P.C.'s in our spare time? Are they really still so angry? A revealing study on NPR yesterday basically agrees that "they" are: ...with a major difference~the relative satisfaction with life of Blacks polled is directly related to class distinction, not race.

Is it a regional thing? I'm sure that makes a significant difference. My new friend in Atlanta still encounters the Confederate flag on a regular basis. Plantation mansions are listed on the historic registry and many families are direct descendants of the civil war era who have remained in home territory for generations. But the accusing blogger was not an Atlanta native. The assumption I was racially ignorant or worse was based primarily on the fact I had not offered a totally Black representation in the design in the first place, since I knew my client was Black. But who would do that?! Is it only White-American culture that prohibits me from presuming ethnic stereotypes are appropriate for an ethnic client?

Two other scenarios weigh-in: a) the client is racist b) my ethnic artwork is lacking authenticity. Both have potential merit. As for drawing racial features, I have a letter from a children's curriculum editor in my portfolio praising my ability to depict a wide variety of races and cultures with sensitivity and realism. The generous apology I eventually received spoke for itself; the client admitted being racially motivated without substance to do so. I had over-reacted as well, and likewise apologized. The Race Card had been extremely hurtful to me - yet obviously something comfortable for the client to pull without warning. One of the weak justifications initially offered was that the blog meant to teach me how to appropriately interact with a Black person.

I still have a greeting card some Navajo friends sent us a few years ago. Two dumb-founded Indians were asking a wide-eyed pilgrim, "Why you use poison ivy for toilet paper?" Inside the card read, "Happy Thanksgiving".

I thought it was really funny.

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