Saturday, 27 September 2014

On Exhibit B & James Baldwin On Education

""We charge the Barbican with exhibiting institutional racism" - Sara Myers
Exhibit B was cancelled in London this week and much has been written on the case already. Firstly, I did not see the exhibition so my judgement, like most people in London, is based on A) the exhibition cost £20 - who was that money going to and who is this exhibition really aimed at? it reeks of classist cultural ownership, B) Brett Bailey, the creator is a white South African and was educated under the Apartheid regime, (a time when black people were denied education), bad move for the Barbican to not have had more dialogue before booking the exhibit and C) the promotional photographs of black people in cages aren't very imaginative if it's aim is to inspire a re-thinking of slavery.

"Accept the university of death" - Gwendolyn Brooks

I recently finished my Masters in writing and teaching, and I'm currently teaching in schools. My stance is that racist indoctrination is still alive and judging by the reading lists on every school / university / curriculum I have come across, our educational institutions still glorify and endorse racist literature, defended by creative writing and English Literature professors as "the mentality of the time". I'm not even saying to remove or censor these writers, I'm saying, it can't be taught without taking the painful narrative of colonial atrocity seriously. Without asking why all the "uncivilised, barbaric, savage" language is something that can pass without deeper interrogation of racism, how it translates today and why the establishment forgives it?

Much empathy is needed from teachers (I don't just mean qualified teachers in schools, but anyone sharing and accessing knowledge) in the presentation of this history. They need to understand that every time a white writer calls a black person a nigger, he / she is denying their humanity. It seems these "canonised" writers who are used as models of supreme literary achievement (such as H.G Wells, Darwin, Conrad, Kipling, Woolf, Lawrence, Larkin) and let's not even get started on the Americans, who assumed black people would never read their books, because the system they believed in would forever keep them illiterate. These writers were not stupid, they were racists, directly benefiting from slavery and defending white supremacy. To call black people human would be to admit that the only thing rich white people were by default is human rights abusers. What kind of teacher would not be able to empathise with this? Perhaps a teacher, who themselves are victims of a racist education? This requires a deeper exploration on race politics, particularly if you're a white teacher educating students of colour. How can we expect black and white students to have the same response to these narratives? Its about creating an honest history and debate between all students  and teachers (regardless of background). Would this not be a positive move in bringing us all together?

Toni Morrison and Chinua Achebe have written excellent essays on this

As our education system has such a miserable time confronting colonial history, people surely aren't ready for Exhibit B before they're ready to resolve the present institutional racism. Perhaps part of what has caused offence is that Brett Bailey has assumed racism and slavery are things of the past?

"It's hard to talk about education in a country where people take seriously such a creature as John Wayne and Ronald Reagan... for a black person to get an education in this country, you got to have a lot of guts first of all... and to endure a racist institution... and risk schizophrenia" - James Baldwin

In other news, the country has just started a war.

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