This was actually a work event: A celebration of area murals, some restored, some new, all of them in places you might not expect -- on the side of concrete buildings, in doorways of affordable-housing complexes, across from an Auto Zone, under a viaduct. Even the event site was unlikely: the parking lot of a building that houses the mentally and physically disabled.
We had a dozen interactive art exhibits, including my shaker-making workshop. I brought all the stored jars and containers in our house; some dry beans, lentils, and rice; a box of ribbons, buttons, glue, and notions, then showed folks how to put it all together to make their own musical instruments. We eventually paraded down North Avenue, and adults and kids shook those rattles while a drum group played along and a couple of guys with Moroccan horns kept things interesting.
I wore a costume.
Now . . . I'm going to say something I never would have said, wouldn't have even whispered, as recently as two years ago. But there was something pretty liberating about being part of a work event that wasn't overtly ideological.
If you know anything about my job, you know that I spend a minimum of eight hours a day, every day, shoulder-deep in the throes of politics. I don't work for the government, but I work in a community (and am accountable to that community) that's in a political fight for its life. Its response to this fight has been a strident rise in nationalism. There are many who find themselves in a constant state of confrontation, and to give that up is to give up the ghost altogether. At times this response is downright inspirational, and I'm proud to work in a community that is unafraid to raise its voice and demand fairness, equity, and endurance.
At other times -- and in recognizing that I (or what I represent, or how some might interpret what I represent) am often the target of these confrontations -- it gets exhausting, depleting, and sometimes, for me, deeply deeply sad.
I don't want to wrestle these demons here. I've wrestled them internally for the last couple of years, and let me just say there's no easy answer to the questions.
I'll just say that it was refreshing, as a change of pace, to see black, brown, and white kids together -- making shakers, painting on canvas, assembling costumes from prop boxes, making god's eyes, sampling fresh-fruit smoothies and 'ants on a log,' then taking those healthy recipes home with them -- and not having to think or talk explicitly about what it means to have those black, brown, and white kids together, making art that might or might not be reflective of their heritage, and what this all means for their identity or the identity of the community as a whole.
For a few hours of a sunny Saturday morning, groups came together from every background and simply made art. They sang, they danced, they drew, they paraded. Together. No, of course it's not as simple as that -- the personal is the political, and there's no pure space outside of ideology. I believe those things fully in both my heart and mind, but let me tell you it's a heck of a lot easier to be a graduate student talking about those issues than a working person living under their weight, and within their inscription, 52 weeks a year.
Because in the end, simultaneous with those truths, there's also this kid, and this shaker she just made, and the light, thin air around her that filled up her lungs, and mine too.