Emmett Till painting raises concerns of cultural appropriation

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Emmett Till painting raises concerns of cultural appropriation

in the world. Because Schutz is a mother who feels pangs of angst and outrage about how black youth are presently policed in this country, she also feels her expressed empathy- both verbally and artisitically- represents all mothers, ignoring how such a claim both essentializes and erases the particular pain, history and context of how and where black mothers’ pain - like that of Trayvon Martin’s mother’s -derives from.

For example, like the film sensation and bestseller, “The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett the white protagonist  helps black maids -because of the love she had for her own-  to expose racism in 1960’s Mississippi as if a civil rights movement isn’t already afoot. Schutz and Stockett with all their good intentions reinscribes the trope of the “white rescuer” suggesting they know how best to represent and tell black people’s pain and history.

Some critics have suggested that Shutz’s should have done what many artists do concerning their art work by merely not offering explanation and let viewers interpret. I’m glad Schutz didn’t because such approach doesn’t resolve the issue whether white artists have a right to tackle thorny issues concerning race. I feel white artists should do so more often than not, highlighting it’s an American problem and not the province of only racial groups.

Painter Norman Rockwell, for example, depicted  a horrific moment of our racial past with his famous 1964 painting “The Problem We All Live With” with Ruby Bridges, a 6-year- old African American girl, escorted by deputy U. S. marshals during New Orleans 1960 desegregation crisis. The painting invites the viewer's point of view  because protestors are not visible as you see the smashed and splattered wall behind Bridges written with the n-word and “KKK.”

Cambridge academician and artist Estelle Disch, who’s white, doesn’t shy away from racial issues and offered her advice:"If white artists are going to deal with race, we need to be ready to take the heat and be accountable if we offend people, and then be ready to make things as right as possible, Disch told me.  “In the Whitney case, the artist could do the right thing and ask that her piece be removed. An empty space on the wall would make a statement in itself. And she could post an acknowledgement and apology where the painting was.”  Schutz refusing to acknowledge that her painting “Open Casket” aestheticizes black pain and suffering as a piece of art not only cultural appropriates a tragedy, but she violently dehumanizes Emmett Till, too - which is what his mother wanted the world to see.