by Guest Blogger, Dawn Downey
I was the only black person touring 30 Americans--an exhibit of American life seen through the lens of thirty contemporary black artists. I felt out of place among the white onlookers, even though I was an onlooker, too, gawking at my own life. Four hundred years of black emotions—mine, the artists’, our ancestors’—compressed into claustrophobic passageways and alcoves.
I chuckled at a historical montage of black hair. Yup, I’ve used that hot comb, endured the sizzle and odor of burning hair. I levitated with joy at the human-shaped sculpture made entirely of flower blossoms. You couldn’t identify gender, race, or age. Yes, let me see only gardenias when I look at my enemies. Let me breathe in sweet bouquets, instead of noxious opinions. But as soon as each happy piece disappeared from my sight line, its inspiration evaporated.
Maybe I have a greater capacity for despair than optimism. Despite the intermittent uplift, four hundred years squeezed me down to: It’s hopeless to be black in America.
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