The first and most identifiable image of the 18th century abolitionist movement was a kneeling African man with a banner stating “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” below. (Left.)
It was an image commissioned by abolitionist Quakers, playing on religious symbolism to tug on the heartstrings of white folks. The kneeling black man looking feeble and in need of the graciousness of white people, underscoring the perception of black inferiority that’s continued in art and culture until even now.
I get the intent. It’s just bullshit. So I changed the slogan to something more appropriate for any shackled person of any age, broke the chains, and added a sidearm.
We live in a time where more black men are controlled by the criminal justice industrial complex than lived as slaves before the Civil War. From the drug war to a seemingly endless laundry list of laws aimed at social control, America has become a police state with the most incarcerated human beings in the world. The simple act of allegedly selling a few cigarettes on the streets of New York to fellow citizens got Eric Garner dead.
Even clear video evidence of the homicide viewed by everyone with a smart phone over the last year wasn’t enough to get justice.
People should be angry. People should stand up.
My argument has been that it wasn’t until the irreverent spread of hip hop in popular culture that the public perception of black inferiority was really challenged. That challenge took the form of a gritty, angry, beautiful, and often funny reflection of black life in our society. Through art, music, fashion, and language, our culture changed.
But not enough. My favorite quote by Mark Twain, which sits in front of me in the form or a 5 foot tall portrait in my studio, and gave me strength when I’ve fought my battles with authority states, “Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only defense.”
To change things I think you have to ruffle feathers. You have to take what’s accepted, tear it apart, ridicule what is stupid, and recreate.
The peoples’ power is being challenged by the institutions in society that rely on violence to exist. Not just black people, but all people. The state and those that give it authority have exhibited a pattern of abuses on our liberty. The result being effective slavery.
The state is a fiction. Without our belief in it, it does not exist - it has no real authority without our consent. In that way we’re all in some way responsible for what has happened. We give the institutions the power that gives the state the means to push us around.
I’m sick of it, and I think it’s past time we say “I’m not your slave motherfucker” through art, humor, music, language, and action.