Confession: I wasn't going to post this reactionary essay here on CamilleMaurice.com. I felt that it would be better for the personal site that I have going live soon or for an an online wing of a print magazine. In the interest of immediacy, however, I changed my mind, because the article reference below was published on Monday, which was eons ago in the Internet world. So, please indulge me as I stand and shout from my off-topic soapbox for a minute. We will return to business as usual tomorrow! (and I'll re-post this to the new site as soon as it is live)
Race is not a space that I usually visit in the aesthetically-minded niche that I have created for myself in the blogoshpere. On my site, CamilleMaurice.com I discuss objects that can make a mark on how we see the beauty of the world and highlight the people who help shape those views. It is a wide world with many opinions that can be infinitely combined by the individual who wants to curate a lifestyle that grows with new experiences of all shapes and sizes. This attitude is very much the way I was raised.
My parents spent their younger years participating in the civil rights movements of the South. When they met and married, they went about building a comfortable upper middle class life for themselves as they went on the have my two brothers and move around the country and to Asia before finally settling down in the Midwest (and then, thirteen years after my youngest brother was born… Oops! Here comes me!). They fought the most obvious and visible battles and then went on to live the example of what had been the unattainable ideal when they were being spat upon at lunch counters. Once the barriers that had held them back had been deemed unlawful, they trudged through the sticky mud of social integration and made great lives for all of us where the color of our skin was not what determined our fate, but rather the merits of our hard work and success. This has been the foundation upon which I have built my own lifestyle as an adult.
So when did living the dream that my parents’ generation set out for their offspring become a horrible thing that now means the downfall of the race? Lately it seems that everywhere I turn there is someone postulating that there aren’t enough black men for black women to marry, or that someone’s work is invalid because it does not apply to the culture of their other dark-skinned counterparts. Why do people act as though African Americans are a dying culture for whom action must be taken to “preserve the race at all costs”? Isn’t that one of the phrases once used to justify Jim Crow?
This frenzied panic that is gracing the media highlights a troubling result of this attitude of solidarity at all costs. The push is attempting to inspire cultural consensus in all things Black is doing so in the most insidious way… by fanning the flames of insecurity that ultimately keep individuals from moving forward and creating a type of success that they can own.
Earlier this week Allison Samuels wrote a generally flattering piece on The Daily Beast about Shala Monroque’s appearance on the January 2012 cover of Town & Country. But when she called the dark-skinned 32-year-old’s appearance there “jarring,” I was snapped to attention. Jarring? Perhaps if it were Redneck World magazine. But let’s consider the subject. Monroque, girlfriend of contemporary art mogul Larry Gagosian, has proven herself in the art, fashion and cultural circles as an accomplished writer and editor, art critic and style maker. Perhaps the problem is not, as Samuels quotes from a black editor, that “She’s pretty much put herself in white arenas and in the white world. She’s not living in the black world from what I can tell. Until that happens… I’m just not sure if she’ll have an impact in the black community at all.’’ If it were 1972, my parents and their contemporaries would be lining up to include Monroque in their cocktail parties, cultural discussions and editorial pages. Perhaps the problem is that today’s black media, in it’s fervor to adhere to the rules of blackness, is not willing to open it’s cultural circles to accept ideas that don’t loudly yellThis is what black is about.
I often hear blacks of my parents' generation lamenting the closed off attitude that author and commentator Touré calls “the Blackness police”. A person shouldn’t listen to certain kinds of music because it’s not black enough. A person shouldn’t pursue a career in the museum world because it’s not what black people do. A person shouldn’t join certain clubs, patronize establishments, or read certain books because it does not, in the eyes of no one in particular, maintain the integrity of the people. I’ve specifically heard my parents ask, “Well what were we fighting for, then?” This attitude disrespects the work, the blood, the sweat that my parents’ generation put into making it possible for us to even have this conversation on a level of public discourse. Aside from the fact that Monroque wasn’t even rasied in America, and therefore does not share this history that still obviously makes us uncomfortable, she meets all of the standards that a magazine likeTown & Country would need to put someone on their cover. She is a sartorial thought leader. She is an intellectual thinker. She is an artistic and fashionable muse. She has high-minded interests. And most importantly, no matter how one sees her wealthy boyfriend’s role in the matter, she has turned her talents a successful career. Why is everyone so surprised to see her on the cover, exactly? Very few whites in the public arena are questioning her appearance. The majority of those crying foul are those who were taught to applaud the accomplishments of fellow people of color because those accomplishments are where the proof lies that our parents did not have fire hoses and dogs turned upon them in vain.
Shala Monroque's appearance on T&C's cover is a wonderful personal and professional accomplishment that should be applauded by the art community because it helps to bring awareness to contemporary art, something that is desperately needed during these times that lean more toward the outrageous tabloid than the thoughtful consideration of new and out-of-the-box ideas. The fashion world should be doing cartwheels at the appearance of an "it-girl" who is intelligent, witty and intellectually active. Most of all, the world of black culture should give a nod to the fact that thanks to its forbears, a person of color can pass through the intellectual circles of both the mainstream and the high-minded without having gain heavy battle scars of acceptance. These are the kinds of accomplishments your parents and mine fought for, after all.