A Q&A about modern Black activism ft. Pierce Cruz
On Nov. 2, 2018, Pierce Cruz debuted six pieces at the Stony Island Arts Bank in their "ICONIC: Black Panther Exhibit" commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party. After Cruz made this feat, Javanna invited him as a guest on Rwebel Radio.
In the 50-minute interview, Javanna and Cruz talked Black activism, art, and social consciousness. To hear Javanna's analysis on the interview and the exhibit, listen to Episode 1 of Rwebel Radio. Below is an excerpted transcript.
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The museum called Cruz's exhibit "Projections." Cruz's "projections" touched on many social issues that have a common thread: injustice.
In modern America, these injustices prevail. New leaders are emerging to address them, but only few will go down in history as revolutionaries. Why?
Many potential revolutionaries are deterred by fear: fear of ostracism; fear of failure, and in extreme cases, fear of death.
So, although anyone can want to be a revolutionary, most will not cross that threshold.
The scene opens with two high school friends just holding a conversation. They are inside the Stony Island Arts Bank. While they look at six portraits hanging in a grid on the wall, soft music plays in the background.
Cruz: These portraits all stem from my Senior Exhibition in college.
Cruz is a recent graduate of Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois.
Well, at first, I wanted to focus on the minorities on my campus because it's a Predominantly White Institution in the Southwest Suburbs. I was concerned about the minorities on campus because there have been a lot of issues based on race that have happened.
I did another project the previous year that kind of opened this [conversation] up, but after a critique with peers and professors, one of them suggested, "How about focusing on you? If anything, you know yourself more than anyone else." And that kind of struck me because I don't really think I know myself as much.
Cruz and Javanna are still looking at the images while Cruz explains the exhibit. Once Cruz finishes speaking, Javanna motions to an image on the bottom left of the grid that looks like a cross between Cruz and the late reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cruz says that, in this image, he is cosplaying as Dr. King.
For this one, you said this one is called "I Wanted to be a Revolutionary"?
You can see the rope around his neck. Was that based on the history of lynching?
I know when you're trying to be a revolutionary, it's kind of hard because, like you said, you have this constant fear that you might get killed. So do you think that an alternate interpretation of this image could be that trying to create the revolution drove him to suicide or it was an act of political suicide?
Oh, my gosh...that is true, because it is a lot of pressure. It really is a lot of pressure. Honestly, I feel like I personally can't handle all of that...If you're Black, you're representing a whole group of people. You're the whole sponsor of the whole group...Not to mention you have to deal with so much pressure coming back at you, especially with people like Tomi Lahren.
Tomi Lahren is the conservative pundit who is always in the news for her blatant racism. Most recently, she called the tear gassing of Central American refugees the "highlight" of her Thanksgiving.
She is so annoying.
You gotta fight against those people on a daily basis, and you're going to need some serious patience. You really have to be strong for that and, honestly, we have to commend the people who are doing that. Bless their souls.
I know you said this picture is a dedication to Dr. King, so can you talk about how people try to water down his legacy and try to make it seem like he was just a peacemaker and not a revolutionary as well?
I think it's just what happens with time. They white wash all of the people who were like heroes, and Dr. King was just the main one. They always quote the "I Have a Dream" speech, and it's like don't you realize your grandparents kind of thought he was [dangerous]? He was part of the FBI's most wanted list. You know that, right? They kind of thought he was a threat. Oh, now you guys want to be nice about him? Yeah, no...
People like to say, "Oh yeah, he died for civil rights."
No, he got killed.
So what do you think of that? Well, that's a really big question because you can't really pinpoint why people are racist, but what are some reasons that people don't want to acknowledge who Dr. King was as a whole and not just the "pretty" parts of Dr. King's legacy but also the "scary" parts where he was denouncing the War in Vietnam and the economic deprivation of Black communities in America?
[The economic deprivation] still exists today. Basically, it's just that ignorance is bliss...[People] want to change stories to fit their narrative and make it seem like America wasn't [Dr. King's] killer. So, [revolution] came at a cost. Basically, whatever means to make America look great.
So, make America great again?
Yeah. That's the only reason why I feel like this man is being humanized as a God when they made him see like he was Public Enemy #1. It fits their narrative better.
Cruz and Javanna have not moved from this spot. While still staring at the grid, Javanna has some questions about this simplistic piece Cruz calls "3 Months Tops."
Then, for this one, I know it's called "3 Months Tops." Is that name related to the incident with Brock Turner?
Yeah, it was mostly commentary on that.
Turner was found raping an unconscious woman in an alleyway but only served three months because he was a college swimmer and the judge "didn't want to ruin his life." With America's rape culture, perpetrators' lives are valued more than the people they abuse. Additionally, Black people who commit lesser offences are given much harsher sentences, so this case became indicative of white male privilege when it comes to law and order in America.
The way America treats survivors is really sad.
Yeah. For a lot of these paintings, I think I tried to look for as many generalizations from what I have seen on TV and what I've seen on the news, and there's this overwhelming [question]: "Why are people getting these small sentences for these serious crimes?" This woman's life is messed up, and he's getting three months.
As they continue gazing at Cruz's provocative pieces on this 2-by-3 grid, Cruz and Javanna discuss segregation and "The Black Exodus."
You went to Trinity, right?
Where is that?
I know you said that the White students on your campus use that as a bubble because they can be isolated from the stuff that happens in Chicago...
They're oblivious...A lot of the stuff that happens in the city, they're oblivious to it, or their parents might know and try to tell them: "DON'T GO TO THE SOUTH SIDE. DON'T GO TO THE SOUTHSIDE. STAY DOWNTOWN AND GO UP NORTH. DON'T GO WEST EITHER. DON'T GO WEST."
Considering the recent incidents in Midlothian and Country Club Hills, which are suburbs outside of Chicago, how does that fit into this narrative that "Chicago" is this violent place?
It's basically the same as people saying they're from Chicago when they're from the Suburbs. It's basically how people are seeing it [Chicago], especially if you're not from Illinois. Anytime they see a shooting and it involves [Black people in Illinois], they're going to say, "Oh, this is Chicago."
No, it's the suburbs of Chicago.
And it's not helping because if you think about it, reverse gentrification is happening.
Cruz is speaking about what demographers call "reverse migration" or "Black Exodus." This name refers to Black Chicagoans emigrating the city in "record numbers." The Chicago Tribune reported that 12,000 Black Chicagoans left the city between 2015 and 2016, and one Blavity source said it was because of violence, and not just gang violence but also economic violence.
There are a lot of reasons why we have these shootings in the first place. The crack epidemic, that's number one. Purposeful redlining, segregation, and making us poor by default, number two. And the list goes on...A lot of this stuff is happening because people are making it happen.
Through his 6 projections, Cruz shed light on social injustices that lead to things like the "Black Exodus."
Javanna Plummer, Rwebel in Chief
Javanna is the editor of "Rwebel Magazine," the architect behind "Rwebel Radio," and the pioneering force of "Xscape." Through her words, Javanna hopes to inspire creativity, passion and forward-thinking.
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