Love is patient, love is kind . . . it keeps no record of wrongs. 1 Corinthians 13
My admission letters to graduate art school should have arrived with the following, tucked visibly into the envelopes:
Matriculation into graduate art school will entail the following:
#1) Your assigned weekly readings and classroom discussions will debase and deny the existence of Someone whom you love more than life itself – more than the six children you birthed and nursed and for whom you would instinctively give your life without any wince of hesitation – more than your spouse who has faithfully stood beside you for almost a quarter of a century, despite your shortcomings – more than your parents who risked their lives and sacrificed things material and familial to provide a better existence for you in the face of uncertainty – more than your siblings, relatives and friends without whose support you’d be nowhere.
#2) Some of your most liberally-minded professors will inadvertently ridicule the endemic scars which generationally riddle the subconscious of colonized Black people. These well-intending professors and others will also encourage you to erase, from your creative expression, references to your history, your culture and your spiritualism, which are instinctual and divinely inspired, and which they do not understand. They will also consistently omit the voices of non-White male philosophers from their theory class syllabuses.
#3) Like faithful servants, some of your cohorts will scoff at you and attempt to silence your voice of dissension in the classroom, until they realize that you are not a threat.
A large part of my graduate art school practice has been the constant fighting against the atheism, passive misogyny and subconscious racist rhetoric of art academia. The experience is in a sense a practice in existentialism in that Black students must persist through encounters of the absurd. I will, however, refrain from mentioning the names of the perpetrators of such absurdity and offenses characteristic of graduate art school, and will do so for the following three reasons:
#1) Love does not keep a record of wrongs.
#2) Most of us don’t want the mistakes we’ve made to be aired and published.
#3) It’s wise to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
During my time thus far in graduate school, I’ve had no Black instructors, outside of the one whom I had arranged to be my independent study professor in my third semester: Ulysses Jenkins who is currently the only fulltime Black professor at UC Irvine and is a performance artist whose work is rooted in Pan-African ideology, as is mine. Ulysses said to me what he says to all his Black students, “You’ve been invited to a fight. Get ready to put on your boxing gloves.” I hope Otis will except my request to have a second Black “outside” professor as my thesis adviser: the ever supportive Charles Gaines who is the only Black fulltime professor at CalArts.
When I had entertained the idea of applying to graduate art school and later was deciding upon whether to attend CalArts or Otis, both to which I was accepted; I consulted with many Black visual artists who had received MFA’s from various esteemed institutions. They all warned me of the White male dominance, the myopic pushing of Eurocentric perspectives and the self-aggrandizing elitism that I assuredly would encounter in graduate art school. They elaborated, in detail, on the racial insensitivity they endured at the mouths of some of their professors and peers. They shared that at times they ended up in tears or in fits of frustration and anger, or even ill, on account of the well-meaning verbal assaults. Most importantly, they’ve schooled me in posing strong questions against racist comments, which would efficaciously yield weak answers and contradictions from the tongues of the perpetrators.