June 19, 2020 is Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the last emancipation of enslaved Black people in Texas. On this day, a group of incredible creatives known as Black Artists for Freedom released a list of demands and action items to elicit change in the cultural systems that can either help propagate white supremacy, or help dismantle it.
“Culture alone cannot fix systemic racism,” says the group in their official statement. “But culture is strongly connected to racism’s material effects, and the representation of Black people in the media has long been used to justify the violence against us. Racist stereotypes of Black criminality, monstrosity, unchecked range, hyper-sexuality, immunity to pain, and so on, are still recycled in books, films, and on the Internet. Consciously and unconsciously, these stereotypes are invoked — in everyday interactions and in courts of law — as reasons why Black people do not deserve human rights.”
The group of signatures to this open letter and list of demands is astonishing. Ava DuVernay, Tessa Thompson, Trevor Noah, John Legend, Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, Cynthia Erivo, Gabrielle Union, Janelle Monae, Niecy Nash, Thandie Newton, André Holland, Sterling K. Brown, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lena Waithe — all of these incredible artists and more have lent their names to this cause.
Here, explicitly, are the group’s demands towards those in positions of power at the top of cultural institutions:
- Break ties with the police.
- Put their money where their mouths are.
- Advocate for Black people.
- Get educated.
- Imagine Black freedom.
The time for change is more than past due. As Black Artists for Freedom writes about the context of Juneteenth, “it seems like much of America is just getting the news, more than a hundred years late. The fact is plain: Black people are still not free.” The folks who have penned this letter and made these demands have put in so much effort, so much labor in simply, thoroughly highlighting the importance of culture, and the entrenchments of white supremacy; work and labor they simply should not have to have done. It’s time to listen, yes. But more importantly, it’s time to act. After all, as this group simply writes, “We do not wish to modify or alleviate this this racist culture. We aim to eliminate it.”