A Question of Diversity

by Bryan Hopkins

As some of you know, there was a video posted by @pots_gettingaction on Instagram, which was subsequently taken down. Here it is:

The sticker on that dildo is one made by Roberto Lugo. It’s a riff off of a Woody Guthrie sticker that he had on his guitar that read, “This machine kills Facism”. This motto and hashtag (#thismachinekillshate) have become symbolic of Roberto’s work to raise consciousness around issues of race and inequality in our field and in America.  As he states here: “Those stickers were produced to pay tuition for a mother of 2 that I met while she made pots on her porch.” Did the maker of that video intend to comment on that? Was this just something done for the shock value? Is the maker a racist, a naive undergrad? Unfortunately the intent of the maker of the video is unknown because they have not come forward to speak to this issue. But intent does not matter- what matters is that this video has wider implication about our field and country, especially given the racially charged dialogue we see in politics today. What is missing from this dialogue is the maker of the video, as well as the owner of potsgettingaction. We all do things without a lot of thought. What separates the assholes from the good people is admitting we were wrong, and learning from the incident.

Ayumi Horie says it really well: “While it’s easy to dismiss this as another raunchy, juvenile joke, it’s a pointed reference to a prominent figure in our field who has made it his central mission to speak directly to issues of racism and inequality in ceramics and the larger world. By appropriating Rob’s message without any knowledge of its context, this “sex positive” video invalidates the power and importance of Rob’s work, perpetuating the normalization of silencing voices of color.”

I am not writing to defend Roberto- he is much smarter and better spoken than me, and needs no defending. And I know at this point he would like to move on from this. I am writing to help keep a dialogue going. If you think race and gender and sexuality issues are not important or do not affect you or our field of ceramics, then you have your head in the fucking sand.

As a straight white male I have had privilege in my life others have not had. Simply walking in to a retail store and not being looked at or followed around because of my skin color is that privilege. Holding hands with my (female) partner walking down the street without fear of getting beat up for doing so is that privilege. I feel that privilege comes with responsibility, and that is why I have written letters to magazine editors and congress people, and gotten arrested protesting everything from nuclear arms to the KKK, and why now I am part of a small group (started by Roberto) trying to address inequality of all sorts in the ceramics community. This is why I write this today.

Diversity in our field matters. Diversity gives depth, adds texture, and leads to acceptance in a larger scope. Talking about diversity and a need for it is not enough, however. Action must be taken by the people in positions to affect change. Me, you- we are the first steps, but our message needs to get to those people “higher up the food chain”. Art history departments still teach from a white male European perspective (is there a need to always say that Lee Krasner was Jackson Pollocks’ wife?), ceramics teachers still use the term “primitive” to describe firing techniques used in non-white countries like Honduras.

Time for a fact check, coming from the National Center for Educational Statistics:

79% of all full time instructional faculty at degree granting institutions in the USA are white. Link to that here: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=61

Now this next one is not currently quantified, but look at the make up of the top ceramics schools for graduate studies in the USA, as listed by US News and World Report here: http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-fine-arts-schools/ceramics-rankings

Pretty fucking white, and male. It is my belief (because I know a lot of them) that those people teaching in those colleges are mostly left-leaning progressives who have well developed senses of empathy. But how does a high school senior looking at a ceramics program know that? How does the kid of color or the kid in the closet know their voice will be heard, let alone understood, in the college they apply to? I know those kids. So do you. Know a person of color in our field? Ask how it was trying to get their white professor to understand how it was growing up for them. To get that professor to understand why they did not want to make Euro-centric pots to express themselves. Think that should not matter in 2016? I am telling you it fucking matters.

People share with and relate to people they are comfortable with, so it is no surprise people of color would not choose to attend college for ceramics when they do not see a familiar face on the faculty. That goes for gender as well. One of the reasons I chose to go to grad school where I went was to study with a strong female potter, as I was raised by strong women, and that is who I related to best. There was a comfort level there and that is what I needed to be open and vulnerable, leading to producing work that was about me.

Should race/gender/sexual orientation be considered in hiring practices in higher education? Yes. I have heard from people sitting on hiring committees that “no one of color applied”. Well, maybe they did not apply because of where the job was advertised? Maybe applicants saw an all-white faculty and were discouraged because they feared their voice would not be heard once hired?

I don’t fucking know, but what I do know is if higher education does not change at a very rapid rate our field will not change either.

How we - the clay community- go about changing is not a simple issue, and the topic brings up a lot of questions, and I apologize for not having any definitive answers. Those answers need to come from the intellects of our field. The people in positions of power who SAY they are all about diversity need to DO something about it, to step up and take a fucking stand.