Yeah, I'm going there. And you're coming with me.

"Oh boy... she's going to talk about black people again." Yes, I am. No, you don't need a special permit to Go There with me.
Photo courtesy Julie Molina

You may have noticed in the second-to-last post that I said I was going to talk about the last day of classes, "and why all the black kids sit together in the cafeteria." (It's a reference to this book.)
I just had to bring it up when Amy Lee and I met Laren, who's wearing the purple scarf.
Photo courtesy Julie Molina

I said, "You know, if one more of us shows up at the bonfire, we're going to qualify as a mob." (This is a reference to an old, not-really-funny joke that white people think more than three African Americans in one location means the black people are about to form a mob, probably to seek out and mug white people.) We all laughed, but then I pushed it a little.

Now that I've pointed out the elephant in the room... why is it that there are hardly any people of color at these retreats?

I'm plenty used to being either the only African American, or one of less than ten, in a room. This has been my life throughout grade school, college and my working life, really. As a consequence, my circle of friends tends to look like a United Nations gathering.

But I still look around every so often to see if there are any other African Americans in class with me, like this lady who said she came all the way from Baltimore.

I counted. There were six black women at Artfest, including me.

Let's get a few things out of the way: I in no way think this is some sort of conspiracy to keep black people out of this milieu. Nor did I ever feel like a bug on display because of my skin color. And I don't expect these retreats to go looking for people of color.

It's just... why are we the only [black] ones here?

Unfortunately, I can't remember how Laren found out about Artfest. But I think Amy Lee said she'd read about Artfest in the back of one of the Stampington/Somerset arts magazines, in the conventions/events listings. She's also a graphic artist, so she's a bit more likely to run up against this kind of thing.

Amy Lee also mentioned something that seemed to ring true. She said that when she was in school as a kid, art was not really something black kids were encouraged to pursue, as a career or as a hobby. Parents, especially, were more concerned that you got an education that would help you support yourself. (I hear that kind of reasoning from my friends with immigrant parents, only more strongly than in my family.) So: graphic art major -- okay. Fine art major -- not okay.

And it's not just Artfest: at the last moment during Art & Soul last year, I looked around and saw maybe one or two other African American women there. Forget about African American men -- it's astounding to see any men, who aren't instructors, that is.

The Ever-Gorgeous Earl (lots of photos of him in this post at Ricë's blog) had noticed this phenom too. In particular, we wondered: if black women hardly ever come to these things, then where are they? At local dance clubs? Watching TV? (That was the option we thought most likely.) Too damn tired from work and family to do something like this?

The EGE is a black man from Midland, Texas, and not quite the profile of the rare man who does venture into these estrogen-laden venues. But he does because he's a thinker, and he's lots of fun (and because Ricë wouldn't have it any other way).

The best we could figure is maybe it's a combination of money issues, and comfort level with art. I mean, pitching close to $2K, in one shot, at what most outsiders would consider a hobby is something not many black people I know would do. They'd be more likely to recommend you have your head examined (another thing many black people are deeply resistant to doing. "Take
your troubles to God" is what you'd most likely hear, or some version of "suck it up, weenie.")

TV, on the other hand, is cheaper than traveling to any retreat or conference. (I myself spend quality time with our big-ass TV.) So is going dancing with your friends. And no one will call you "bougie" (bourgeois, snooty) or some kind of freakjob for doing either one.

I really don't know. But it bothers me sometimes that so many people who look like me have no idea Artfest exists, much less how much fun it is.
Posted on April 21, 2008 and filed under "Art and Soul Portland", "Artfest", "deep thoughts".