Charlotte Street Foundation has been considering what it means as an arts organization to act in solidarity against oppressive, systemic issues that exist within our country. While this has been an ongoing conversation for us over a number of years, in the past several days the focus has been on recent social media dialogue, where discussion has detailed previous acts of blackface and cultural appropriation that involves spaces and artists that Charlotte Street has supported.
Charlotte Street Foundation wishes to make its position clear: The organization does not support any act of blackface nor condone or endorse other culturally appropriative acts by Kansas City’s artists at any point in history. There is no way around it, blackface is a degrading and dehumanizing act against Black individuals. Historically, blackface was an act committed by individuals who meant to oppress Black communities and lift ideologies related to white supremacy. People who take part in blackface without explicit intent to oppress still contribute to the pervasive and oppressive forces of white supremacy in our culture. There is no excuse for anyone to practice these heinous acts.
Content Warning: The links provided below feature examples of blackface and cultural appropriation that could be offensive to some readers. Please open and read material with care.
Many in our country are still unaware of the cultural history of blackface practices and how dehumanizing the act can be. We can educate ourselves by reading the history about the demeaning act. Fighting Hate For Good is a great resource about the historical harm of blackface, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture includes a starting discussion about the origins of blackface.
Lack of awareness extends beyond blackface, and education is important when discussing acts of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is an insensitive and exploitative act that we as a community can avoid. Project Humanities at Arizona State University provides context and resources about the history and power dynamics that exists within cultural appropriation. University of Maryland’s It Means More Campaign provides details on how cultural appropriation isn’t exclusive to costumes on holidays.
Over the past several years, Charlotte Street Foundation has reflected on what white supremacy culture looks like within the Kansas City arts community, and within the organization. As a historically white-led and white-centered organization, Charlotte Street has made mistakes as an organization and has supported artists who have made mistakes as individuals. The repercussions of this can be seen throughout the Kansas City art community today, especially for BIPOC artists. We acknowledge this harm, and we are deeply considering what multiple actions the organization needs to take to hold ourselves accountable.
Most immediately, we are researching and developing an educational series around the practices that artists engage in that harm BIPOC communities, including blackface, cultural appropriation, and gentrification. Some community members have asked for us to delete references to artists related to this conversation from our website. In our internal discussion about what drives equity, we believe that factual representation of our past is important. Acknowledgement of past award recipients and grantees will remain. We will, however, audit our digital archives, web links, and promotion of programming for harmful content. These examples will not be our only actions, but they are crucial steps we can commit to that we hope will move our artist community toward a space of harm reduction and repair.