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March 19, 2011 / Claremont Art Events

Let’s talk about race…

As I type, there is a hate protest going on a few blocks from my house. A couple dozen racists have decided they want to come to Claremont and spout some venom on our public streets. There are also several hundred counter-protesters who’ve organized a few blocks away to let the haters know they don’t have a place in our community. This combination of events has led to a great deal of discussion in our family and with our friends about everyday forms of racism that go unspoken in Claremont. And there’s lots to discuss. The truth is, some of us rarely think or talk about race, while others of us live with issues of race and racism hanging over our heads on a daily basis. I’m fortunate to know two Claremont artists, Claudia Rankine, a poet, and John Lucas, a photographer, who address these issues together in their work.

I’m going to send you to the website claudiarankine.com to see their multimedia pieces, but first you need to know something about steering through the website. Claudia, a Pomona College professor, has done something inspiring.

The back story is that Claudia was a featured speaker last month at AWP, an annual writer’s conference. To give you a sense of scale, this conference attracts 8,000 people in the writing and publishing industry and there were over 60 speakers. Claudia chose to speak about her reaction to a former colleague’s poem that had been criticized for being a racist poem (you can read the poem on the website). Her lecture appears to have stirred some controversy. To address this and to get “away from the he said-she said vibe toward a discussion about the creative imagination, creative writing and race”, Claudia has posted the text of her lecture and the other poet’s official response to her statements. She then invited other writers to submit essays to the website discussing their writing and race. On March 15, dozens of the first wave of essays were posted. The collected responses have been the most intelligent contemporary discussion on the topic that I’ve seen. When you get to the homepage, click onto the “AWP” and “open letter” icons to get up to speed.

After you have lost your self in the essays (as I did) and resurfaced to find an hour or two has passed (as I did), you should spend another five minutes viewing two short multimedia pieces about race that Claudia and John made together. I can’t link you directly there, you have to go through the home page and click on the “situations” icon.

I’ve heard sirens twice since I started typing this. Let’s keep it peaceful at the protests, friends. See you there.

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