Deconstruction: Challenging the Privilege of Denial
The foundation of our country was built on white supremacy. We declared that all men were created equal at the same time that we enslaved African people and forced them to build our country upon stolen land. Today, one hundred fifty one years since the thirteenth amendment abolished slavery, we are much closer to that concept, but we still fall short. There has never been a time in our nation’s history where we have not struggled with the concept of racial equality. We have built our institutions and written our laws in ways that silently reinforce white supremacy through systemic racism.
It is not always apparent, especially for someone like me who only experiences the world as a white person, to see how our laws and institutions disadvantage people of color. When presented with evidence of such, often our first line of defense from the shameful truth is denial. We have the privilege to ignore, deny, and make excuses for problems that we do not experience firsthand. Even when we do acknowledge that racism exists, we tend to think of it as a problem to be solved by people of color. We do not see our own role in it, we do not own slaves, we no longer use the “N-word,” and we even have black friends and family members. We therefore believe that we can claim the privileged status of colorblindness. Our individual and collective silence then leaves the entire burden of racism on the shoulders of those who experience it. I made one hundred fifty one plaster bricks, one for each year since slavery was abolished in our country. Each brick is inscribed with a commonly used phrase that denies or excuses racism. The repetition present in the bricks alludes to the way we no longer question the validity of the statements, because we hear and repeat them so often. I am inviting participants to challenge their own privilege of denial by removing a brick and taking it away. As the bricks are removed, statistics and facts on racism and its effects will be revealed on the gallery wall. My project will be completed by the participants through the removal or the leaving behind of the bricks. It is my hope that through this deconstruction, conversations will be initiated among those of us who otherwise have the privilege to stay silent.