By ANTONIA WILLIAMS-GARY
Once there was a time when it was necessary to paint our faces, wear certain fabric patterns, and carry specific insignia to announce who we were, e.g. royalty, servants, warriors, etc.
How else could we recognize one another except for those certain markings and symbols?
But that was so long ago. We don’t do those things anymore, or do we? There are still plenty of signs, symbols and regalia that we use today to signal our status and standing in American society.
For one, we wear other people’s nameson our clothes, shoes, and jewelry. They’re called designer labels and they shout out messages about us. Sometimes, we even spray a designer’s named perfumed on our bodies.
Young folk are especially dependent on outward symbols to define themselves.
Adults? It shouldn’t be, so much, but I admit to following some fashion trends.
Too many are hung up on outward symbols, and have become numb to more important matters.
For example, take certain words, or labels – those other forms of symbols often used to define folk.
Last week, Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson was called an “empty barrel” by John F. Kelly, chief of staff at the White House. We have since learned from Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC host, that the term is a euphemism commonly used in Boston (where he and John Kelly went to school) for ‘nigger.’
During that same week, Sarah Huckabee Sanders used her podium as the White House correspondent to call Rep. Wilson an “empty gun” for wearing ‘cowgirl’ hats.
Sanders claimed that where she comes from (Arkansas), wearing such a hat symbolized being impotent.
So now we have an elected Congresswoman being labeled as a ‘whacky’ (as tweeted by “45”), impotent nigger!
As a reminder, Congresswoman Wilson began wearing hats as a fashion statement years before entering the US Congress, and the item quickly became a well-recognized part of her wardrobe. Seemingly, she has one in every color! They’re called accessories!
Cong. Wilson’s hats are not like Secretary Madeleine Albright’s lapel pins/brooches. She wrote a book explaining their significance, and like certain lapel pins (flags, political party affiliation, etc.), Albright did use hers as symbols/statements of her political position.
But this past week, Wilson and her hats got entangled in the nation’s feud with “45”; becoming larger symbols than intended.
I’m not worried about Frederica. No, Rep. Wilson is formidable. She makes a worthy opponent to any attacker, and she can fight her own battles – to a glorious end. After all, she is from the 305!
There is another symbol being used as a purgative on the delicate American body politic: the flag. May it forever wave over a nation of thinkers.
Most recently, a discussion has begun about the University of Miami art faculty’s show, which is scheduled to open this week. One of the faculty, artist Billy Grace Lynn, has installed her art which uses the US flag in the fashion of a pointed hood, aka, the KKK uniform. This is not her first time using the American flag in her art.
Provocative? You bet. Its art, and art is supposed to evoke emotion (“like” vs “dislike” are two of the weakest responses). Strong emotion is better: “loved it” vs “hated it”. And, “why do you feel that way”
is the real question.
Lynn’s is certainly not the first time the US flag has been appropriated for political statement. And hopefully, it won’t be the last.
In fact, this past Sunday’s NY Times has a full two page announcement from the Over Holland Foundation which purchased one of five flags from the contemporary African American artist, David Hammons, who, in 1990, created an American flag in the colors of the black national movement created in 1920 by Marcus Garvey: red, green and black.
The Foundation is donating their flag to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, in honor of Barack Obama’s eight years as President of the United States, and in recognition of his dedication to civil rights.
The 88’ x 56” woven fabric is an in-your-face example of calling our attachment to an external symbol of so much that is wrong with America – today, two decades ago, from its beginning, and still ongoing. Painted with red and black stripes, with black stars on a green background, this piece of art smashes so much of what is held sacred; it forces the debate about who/what is American.
I can’t wait for that firestorm of debate to ensue.
But why do such impotent symbols hats, confederate statues, false labels, and colors – still have so much power and weigh so importantly in our individual and collective identities? Our fundamental existence should no longer be threatened. We have evolved from having to defend our small villages and tribal allegiances.
We do live in a nation that is a super power.
I can’t help but wonder how much it matters which flag drapes over the casket of fallen soldiers killed in unjust wars.
We’ve come a long way but we are still fighting over impotent symbols when so much more important matters are ignored, and every day we get distracted by non-issues being tweeted by the sitting president.
Sticks and stones … and still we rise. Toniwg1@gmail.com