Cosmopolitan Love: Contextualizing and Reimagining Race in America
This project was inspired by my personal experiences, different encounters that I had and stories that I heard. The idea of racism in America was not new, and so was the idea of fighting towards liberation. However, the concept of love as a powerful force that drove people to engage in justice dialogues and organize social movements was not familiar to me until the end of summer 2017. This new perspective, looking at organizing as an act of love, has helped me heal in many ways, while grounding me in my purpose and moving me to never stop working.
My Independent Study thesis has three parts: (i) critical comparison and analysis of philosophical race theories; (ii) a collection of fiction and poetry on race and activism; and (iii) an installation of drawings and texts that visualize different backbone theories of the project.
In my critical writing, I offer various definitions of love that are helpful in the context of this project. “Cosmopolitan love” is a selfless love that one extends to nurture the collective growth of humanity, to both those who are fundamentally similar or fundamentally different from one, both those who are kind or evil. An effective practice of cosmopolitan love would require strong understanding of one’s own limits and opportunities to grow simultaneously. To effectively practice cosmopolitan love, the white race needs to develop “privilege-cognizant love,” which is acting love out of the understanding of their privilege and socio-economic-politico power. For members of marginalized (racialized) groups, they need to practice “insurrectionist love,” which is organizing social movements, disrupting the racist structure and forming multiracial coalitions of resistance as acts of love.
The installation purposely breaks the gallery into two spaces. The first space contextualizes the racial tension in America, looking at historical and contemporary figures and events. The second space serves as a reimagination of the racial climate, portraying different powerful historical social movements. Each chosen topic for each piece aligns with a theory that I discuss in my critical chapters (see pamphlets for details). Spectators are asked to follow a specific viewing order, starting from the more confrontational materials to the more uplifting ones: from hate to love, from injustice to the never-ending fight for liberation. On the wall, corresponding with the suspended visual pieces are short poems from the poetry collection.
This project, specifically this installation, follows the steps in the Theology of Resistance: encounter – disrupt – reimagine – take prophetic action. I, hopefully, have touched on and communicated the first three steps. However, the last step – take action, is on each person individually to take on. I hope you leave this gallery with something in your heart and on your mind. I hope your heart would ache as much as that of mine, for both the unjust, and for the progress we have made so far. I hope that you too, will do something different.
The White Nationalist Movement. Watercolor and marker on paper. 18"x126". 2017.
It can start with socially acceptable, sweep-under-the-rug-able micro-aggressions.
It doesn’t rise to the level of racism, you say, or sexism, you say, or homophobia, you say, or fascism, you say,
excuse yourself all you may, understanding that you wouldn’t have to worry about walking out on the streets and wonder if you were going to get yelled at
or get killed.
Charlottesville, VA, 2017: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/us/charlottesville-virginia-overview.html
State governments’ attempts to maintain white superiority/black inferiority were not the only factor that furthered the exclusion, separation of and discrimination against blacks; law-enforcers and white citizens also outwardly exercised their racial biases to keep the racial paradigm in place. White supremacist groups were founded – specifically the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War – to further the efforts to exclude blacks from political involvement, despite continuous legislation passed by Congress
Leonard Harris describes this exploitation and degradation of blacks as the “unspeakable terrors, holocausts, vicious rapes, cruel beatings, tortures, and maiming rituals” that aim to exercise the race-based denials of humanity (Harris 437).
[The Klan] did this by threatening and murdering black political leaders, disarming blacks who carried guns, burning down black schools, harassing and intimidating blacks who attempted to participate in the political process, and destroying black farms and business establishments. (Higginbotham 68)
The Klan thus sustained the racial paradigm in America through the humiliation, symbolic subjugation and the dead of the suppressed population, i.e. black Americans.
Harris, Leonard, “What, Then, Is Racism?,” Racism, ed. Leonard Harris. Amherst, New York: Humanity Books, 1999, pp. 437-450.
Higginbotham, Michael F., Ending Racism in Post-Racial America. NUY Press, 2013.
Police Brutality. Watercolor and marker on paper. 18"x90". 2017.
Blood on brown bodies and blood on black bodies
Blood on the streets and blood on the news
Blue sirens wailing and red dyes the scene.
Blue bodies surrounding red brown bodies and blue bodies surrounding red black bodies.
White tears shed.
From left to right:
Unknown (unknown - unknown)
The issue of police killing young black men and racially profiling people of color quickly gained public attention after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. While considered a historical turning point for the racial progress in America, Obama’s 2008 election has brought back the historic threat to white supremacy in America, causing the surge in violence aimed at black men (Johnson 217). History repeats itself, as people of color in America have developed more tension with law enforcers than trust and reliance on the authority to prevent and protect them from racial violence. This is because along with white terrorists, law enforcers are also “empowered and enamored by the prevailing racial power dynamic that privileges whites” and practice their own racial biases (Johnson 219). The problem becomes more troubling and frustrating as recent court hearings have declared white police officers who committed these racial crimes to be innocent.
Johnson, Clarence S., “Cornel West, American Pragmatism, and the Post-Obama Racial/Social Dynamics,” The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Race, ed. Naomi Zack. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 214-224.
The Racialization of Non-white Immigrants. Watercolor and marker on paper. 18" x 72". 2017.
The same practice of de jure white privilege is evident in American immigration policies, which in the past and present have presented “new racial categories […] that have outlasted the eventual repeal of these discriminatory laws” (Espiritu 103).
The treatment of Chinese-Americans during the eighteenth and nineteenth century is emblematic of America’s racialization and separation of non-white immigrants. Legislation directed towards Chinese workers is among many legal exclusions of immigrants in U.S. history, including those against South Asians in 1917, Japanese and Koreans in 1924, Filipinos in 1934 – that also “consolidated immigrants from Asia as ‘non-whites’” (Espiritu 104)
Espiritu, Yen Le, “A Critical Transnational Perspective to Asian America,” The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Race, ed. Naomi Zack. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 102-113.
The Black Panther Party. Watercolor and marker on paper. 18" x 108". 2018.
For liberation to be achieved, there needs to be more than just a change in ideology (cf. Harris). Racism, as defined in Chapter I through the words of Leonard Harris, does not just strip (racialized) groups of autonomy and dignity, but also of assets and material sources.
The practice of insurrectionist love takes carefully into consideration different moral intuitions and strategies so that one can still achieve their mission of resistance, while not bearing ill intentions or inflicting harms on others.
Insurrectionist ethics, according to McBride, espouses four core tenets:
(i) Practitioners are willing to defy norms and convention when those norms and convention perpetuate injustice or oppression. They are willing to endorse various forms of resistance to disrupt social order when needed.
(ii) Practitioners are cosmopolitan – in the sense that they work to maintain personhood and secure human dignities and human rights.
(iii)Practitioners work to achieve a broader, more universal liberation through the advocacy of particular oppressed groups.
(iv) Practitioners give esteem to insurrectionist character traits.
Power to the people: The rise of the Black Panthers:
The Black Panthers: Revolutionaries, Free Breakfast Pioneers:
McBride, Lee A., “Insurrectionist Ethics and Racism,” The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Race, ed. Naomi Zack. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 225-234.
Third World Liberation Front Strike. Watercolor and marker on paper. 18" x 90". 2018
Different (racialized) groups have different experiences within the racist system. Nevertheless, they share the same mission of liberating themselves from oppressive and debilitating boundaries, especially those boundaries that mark particular populations as subhuman or preclude them from basic human dignities (cf. Harris, McBride). Members of one (racialized) group need to understand the suffering other (racialized) groups experience, and come to an understanding of this shared mission.
They can form impure coalitions of resistance that are inclusive to all members of (racialized) groups, and particularly, mixed-race people.
Third World Liberation Front (1968-1969):
Third World Resistance (2015):
McBride, Lee, “Race, Multiplicity, and Impure Coalitions of Resistance,” Philosophizing the Americas: An Inter-American Discourse, eds. Jacoby Adeshei Carter and Hernando A. Estévez. New York: Fordharm University Press, forthcoming.
The Sanctuaries, D.C.. Watercolor and marker on paper. 18" x 90". 2018
This piece is dedicated to The Sanctuaries, Washington, D.C.
The Sanctuaries is an interfaith, social justice based artist community, located in Washington, D.C.
More information: http://thesanctuaries.org/
They have significantly inspired me to work on this project, as The Sanctuaries is a real life example of a reimagined life in America, where people connect in communion regardless of their background, demographic, culture and belief.
Through them, I have learned the power of the arts to touch hearts and souls, and most importantly, the power of love in transforming people and the world.
Much love and deep gratitude to all the people portrayed in this drawing.
I would not have been here without you all.
A few shots of the gallery show: