My perception of 2015 will forever be tainted by the small-minded bigotry of certain local and national political leaders.
I'll remember 2015 as the year that Governor Pence risked high-stakes financial losses for the state with his aggressive push to implement his backwards and unconstitutional religious agenda.
I'll remember 2015 as the year that Donald Trump's rhetoric inflamed a troubling wave of xenophobic hatred against Muslims and immigrants.
And I'll remember 2015 as yet another year where state violence and discrimination against Black Americans continued to manifest, largely unimpeded by any serious governmental intervention.
During these difficult times, I'm grateful to have the print and radio platforms of Cultural Manifesto to provide a space for the dissenting voices of artists, musicians and poets. I'd like to share a few excerpts from some of the most memorable exchanges I had in 2015.
The last couple years have been huge for the Indianapolis-based visual artist Anila Quayyum Agha. In 2014 Agha's installation "Intersections" won both the Public Vote Grand Prize and a split-decision Juried Grand Prize during the 2014 edition of Grand Rapids, Michigan's ArtPrize competition. Agha emigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan over a dozen years ago and when I spoke with her in November, she had some strong opinions to share regarding Governor Pence's attempt to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana. "It brought tears to my eyes when our governor decided not to support their relocation here. It's so heartless, especially with families who have faced such atrocities and violence," Agha told me.
"Diversity allows for so many good things to happen," Agha continued. "I'm an immigrant. I feel like if other immigrants are going to be rejected, I feel I'm rejected. We have to understand that people from other lands are not bringing violence to this state. They're bringing their stories. Haven't we learned anything from the Japanese internment camps of World War II? Have we not learned anything about what it means to exclude people and what happens afterwards?"
Mexican-American visual artist Beatriz Vasquez has continued to take the traditional form of Mexican paper-cutting known as papel picado into new forums. Earlier this year Vasquez created gigantic papel picado backdrops for the Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre's production of La Casa Azul. When I spoke with Vasquez in August she was eager to share her thoughts on Donald Trump's emergence as a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nominee.
"I hate to even mention that individual's name who is saying so many terrible things about me, my friends and my family," Vasquez stated in reference to Trump. "But I do have to say that it's scary. His words are powerful and I feel he's fueling a whole racist community against Latinos. I think we Latinos need to stand up and support each other right now and speak against it constantly. It's embarrassing for someone like that to be running for president. I love being an American and I thank God and my mother and father that I was born here in the United States. But I also love Mexico, that's a huge part of me. For him to degrade us, and to give permission to other White supremacists to attack us is so inappropriate and wrong."
This year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with three vitally important poets from the Black Arts Movement. Perhaps the most memorable of these encounters was my conversation with Indy's own Mari Evans. Recognized worldwide for the quality of her verse, Evans is also known for her avoidance of the limelight. Connecting with Evans was no easy feat, but once the conversation started rolling Evans was amenable to commenting on a variety of topics. I asked Evans if social conditions for Black Americans had degraded in recent years. "I have said and I continue to say that it's getting worse. I hate to say that because it suggests that there's been no change," Evans answered.
I spoke with Nikki Giovanni prior to her lecture at Indy's Central Library in November. I asked Giovanni to comment on police violence against Black people. "I don't know what policemen that are basically traffic cops are doing with guns. Someone will say, 'Oh my goodness, but if they didn't have guns the crooks would shoot them.' They're not getting crooks. They are shooting teenage boys in Wal-Mart who are walking around looking at things. They are shooting unarmed people in the back. We have to stop arming the policemen."
Poet Dr. Haki Madhubuti was one of the primary architects of the Black Arts Movement. We spoke last week prior to his visit to Martin University when I asked Dr. Madhubuti about the renewed surge of white supremacist philosophy in the U.S. "The question for me is, "Why do white people hate us so much? Why do they treat us this way? What did we do?" We didn't come here on our own will. We were raped from Africa and transported around the Western world, sprinkled around the Western world to build nations for white people. But we end up being the most hated people in this country."
To wrap up this year end reflection, I'd like to add a quote from my September interview with U.S. Representative Andre Carson. I was discussing Congressman Carson's past-life as a hip-hop MC, and asked him to share his opinion on the political value of social criticism in the arts.
"I've been part of the critique. I'm still part of the critique even though I'm now in the system. I think you need outside agitation and inside instigation to create the necessary friction to bring forth change. When you have those seemingly opposing views that are working at cross purposes you see change. I think change is going to come from the outside critique with the activist community pushing politicians to do better and to think more seriously about the language contained inside legislation."