Guets Post: Dr. Mira Reisberg, PhD, on the Invisibility of People of Color

From Nathalie

Hi everyone,

hope this post finds you well, reading a ton, writing and illustrating even more, if you’ve embarked on a publishing journey. Talking of which, allow me to briefly introduce you to Mira Reisberg, who is a friend and has been my art teacher this year. Mira has a way of stirring up students’ creativity. She will challenge you, encourage you to give it your all, and you’d be glad she did. Mira and I talked much about her workshops in the past, and I wish I could take credit for her finally offering online classes. *grin* Anyway, through Mira’s Hero’s Art Journey, people anywhere finally have the opportunity to explore art through various media and why not, even give it a try at illustrating. If you are a picture book writer, I hope that you consider Mira’s e-course. Having a glimpse at the thought process of an artist might be helpful when you write your next story…

Without further ado, I’ll let you enjoy the following post. Thank you once again, Mira, for your help with Multiculturalism Rocks! logo and for your contribution to this blog.

P.S: Sisters of the Sari giveaway’s winner will be announced tomorrow, September 08, 2011. Several people emailed telling me how much they enjoyed reading it. If you’re looking for a great read, check it out. :)

From Mira Reisberg: author, illustrator, Educator
When I began preparing to teach my first online art, mythology, and personal growth course, I started taking lots of online art courses – many of which were wonderful. But I began noticing how few inspiring art examples there were from “artists of color” and how lacking in “diverse” subject matter most of the courses were.

I’d written and published quite a few articles about ”the invisibility of people of color” critical race theory and critical multiculturalism and taught many courses incorporating this subject matter, but it was all so academic. I realized I wanted to create something for the art fearful, beginning and experienced artists that was really magical and experiential for people all around the world, that included world mythologies, and diverse artists, and that was loosely based on Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” where everyone is a hero on their own journey, complete with obstacles and hardships to overcome. I hope you check this material out on my website out at www.herosartjourney.com

During that process, I started reflecting on my own work and journey as a cultural and social justice worker and decided I wanted to write about it. I apologize for the slightly academic tone of this blog post and promise that my e-course is much lighter-hearted than this, if you are adventurous enough to take it. So anyway, here goes…

I’m “white”, or that’s my official designation. The difficulties of language and race politics have gotten us to this point where the language of culture, race, and ethnicity have become fraught with fear, anxiety, and resentment. As a Jewish woman, the working-class daughter of Holocaust survivors, and the direct recipient of violent racism and sexism, I’ve struggled with owning my “whiteness.”

Nevertheless, as a white person, I have all sorts of privileges. In stores, people don’t watch me suspiciously. I’m less likely to be pulled over by police or have to grow up in a poor neighborhood or go to lousy underfunded under-resourced schools making higher education and with it higher status/higher paid jobs less of a possibility.

If I were a white American, I would have been more likely to come from a family that owned their home and/or had been to college because of the GI Bill following WWII. The GI Bill provided free higher education and super low cost housing loans to returning soldiers. Unfortunately, because of the virulent racism of the time (slightly less virulent now), many of the returning soldiers “of color” (another clunky, awkward, alienating term) were shut out of this process so any possibility of an “even playing field” or “colorblind” society was nipped in the bud. Generational wealth accrued with home ownership/property value escalation and the benefits of job training or higher ed. and were passed on. But, not all white Americans benefited from the GI Bill and working class folks continued struggling generationally.

With the Civil Rights movement, the advent of “multiculturalism” in educating against racism/for inclusion/appreciation, and “affirmative action” attempts to encourage racial equity in hiring policies and scholarships etc. big dents were made but racism continued (check out schools and housing in primarily poor/”minority” neighborhoods and the wildly different levels of incarceration for drug and other crimes among different racial groups, or ask a dark-skinned friend their experiences of racism).

Issues of class, were/are also totally ignored creating further alienation, resentment, fragmentation and further reinforcing a lack of any kind of class unity that could address a social system that reinforces wealth for the wealthy (with the occasional exception to give lie to the concept of a “meritocracy” where everyone can pull themselves up by their boot straps – if they try hard enough). Affirmative actions did not include class as a criteria in their attempts to change “all-white” looking environments in many jobs and universities but of course this created great resentment from working-class people who felt shut out without truly understanding why.

In education, because of a desire to compensate for a near absence of images and stories of “non-white” (another ugh term) children in children’s picture books and curriculum – multiculturalism came to mean “pretty much anyone except white people”, creating alienation and resentment for those who felt excluded without understanding why multicultural inclusion was so important and creating the ridiculous concept that white people a) have no color and b) have no culture.

So as you can see, I’m very passionate about all this. I was lucky enough to illustrate some of the earliest multicultural picture books (Uncle Nacho’s Hat, Baby Rattlesnake, Where Fireflies Dance, Just Like Me, etc.) which I would now find problematic because I’m not of those cultures (that’s another huge issue that is too deep to go into right now) and to have majored in art and cultural studies while doing my PhD in education. From my own background and what I’ve learned throughout my life, I have a deep and passionate commitment to anti-racism and cultural appreciation of all cultures (including “Caucasian”).

Now I’m hoping that all kinds of people from all over the world will join me on this incredible adventure, learning to draw and paint, learning about ourselves, each other and about some of the many incredibly rich cultures on our planet. I hope this guest post has been helpful both individually and on larger levels. If I’ve piqued your curiosity do think about taking my course and help me get the word out by sharing this link www.herosartjourney.com

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the artists I’ll be featuring but before I do I’d like to share a quote that applies to all the terms I’ve put in “quotation marks” by either Laurie Anderson (or William Burroughs) “Language is a virus from out of space.” I love how elliptical, fantastical and yet strangely true sounding it is – when the limits in language make it even more difficult and sometimes poisonous to communicate about challenging things.

Fore more information on the Hero’s Art Journey, click on the following links:
Hero’s Art Journey Website
e-course registration

About Nathalie Mvondo

Nathalie Mvondo lives in Northern California and studies anthropology and nutrition. She is a Christian and children's story writer. Nathalie Mvondo vit dans le nord de la Californie, aux Etats-Unis, et fait des études d'anthropologie et de nutrition. En tant qu'écrivain, elle se spécialise en litérature chrétienne et pour enfants de tous âges.
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