Dear Post Gazette, your newspaper is a reflection of Pittsburgh’s deeply entrenched racism
Dear Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editors:
This is written in your response to your May 26 article, “Arts Festival withdraws Tamir Rice painting after controversy.” The article is biased and erases the voices of Black artists and activists who have spoken out against the painting.
In this article you centered the voice of Tom Megalis, the artist who wielded a great deal of pain upon the Pittsburgh Black community by choosing to bring his painting here. This community includes Black mothers who are impacted by police violence; women who have met with Tamir Rice’s family.
In the article, you reduced the issue at hand to saying that Megalis was accused of “cultural appropriation.” One questions whether death and violence at the hands of police is a part of Black culture. To me, this seems like it is a reflection of the white supremacist culture of the United States, which is taking the lives of Black folks.
You centered Megalis’s claim that the piece was not direct footage from the video of Tamir Rice’s shooting death because it included distortion of the figures of Tamir, his sister, and the police as well as text-based elements. You did not provide a counter statement to challenge this claim, as the painting does clearly evoke the scene of the child being murdered and his sister’s arrest.
You centered Megalis’s claim that his piece was meant to shame the white police officers. But Tamir Rice, himself, is not a reflection of these officers’ selves. If Megalis wanted to paint something that prompted these officers to reflect he could have painted the officer’s own reflection. Megalis could have included himself in the painting as well, as all white people — including myself— need to reflect upon how our actions perpetuate white supremacy and the systems that allow deaths like Tamir’s to happen.
You centered Megalis’s claim that the image of Tamir’s death needs to be shown again and again — ignoring the studies that have cited how circulating imagery of Black death is extremely triggering in Black viewers, especially when it appears without solicitation in their Facebook news feeds. You centered this claim and did not include the voices of Black activists who say no, it no longer has to be shown in this way.
Perhaps in an allusion to the fact that images of Black death triggers PTSD in Black viewers, you centered Megalis playing on the word triggering itself, by quoting his statement that he hoped his painting would “trigger real change.”
Does Megalis not think that the work of the Black Lives Matter Movement as well as grassroots organizations led by Black activists across the country will be the ones to initiate real change? Does Megalis not think that this fight has already been happening?
You centered Megalis’s extremely insulting and disrespectful statement that he painted this as a “tribute to Tamir Rice” — that because Tamir had artistic aspirations, he was doing the child an honor to include his corpse in his art. If Megalis had wanted to honor Tamir, wouldn’t he paint him how he lived? Wouldn’t he have painted the portrait of this beautiful boy as he appeared in photographs?
If you wanted to find out whether this painting is actually viewed as an honor to Tamir, wouldn’t you have sought statements from the Rice family? Tamir’s mother, Samaria?
Your article concluded by stating that Megalis created this work from a place of sympathy for the Black community. Nobody has insinuated that Megalis is incapable of feeling sympathy towards Tamir Rice and his family or sympathy towards other victims of police brutality. What has been said is that Megalis circulating this image is harmful. What has been said is that Megalis is triggering real mental health issues with his work. What has been said is that Megalis has been provided with a means to show accountability, which he disregarded. What has been said is that while Megalis is a father, his children do not live in fear of being murdered by police. He does not live in fear of this happening himself. What has been said is that Megalis could elevate Black artists who are making work about these issues in their community. What has been said is that Pittsburgh needs to think more about what it can do in its art scene to address issues that are caused by bringing paintings like this here. These things were said by activists, artists, and organizers Felicity Williams, Daeja Baker, Aubrayia Dowdy, and Julie Mallis, as well as other social media commentators who are members of the Black community.
But you did not include what has been said by folks directly impacted by the subject of Megalis’s work.
Instead, you included the voice of the Festival organizer, Sarah Aziz, who weakly defended the painting by saying that “art should make you feel something.”
Nobody has said that art should not make you feel. What has been said is that what this art makes people feel is disgusted, triggered, and in pain. Violent porn would make me feel something too — it would make me feel extreme pain. Would the Three Rivers Arts Fest include violent porn in its city-wide festival designed for public consumption? Why is your article implicitly supporting the work of somebody who depicts Black trauma porn?
This article makes the interests of The Pittsburgh Post Gazette evident. You are only interested in elevating the voices of the elite. You are not interested in providing space to accommodate dissenting viewpoints, or the voices of Black women who are articulating their real pain at Tom Megalis’s painting. You are not interested in even protecting your readers from the violent imagery of the painting, centering it at the top of your article.
I wish I could say that this exclusion makes your publication irrelevant. Sadly, it does not. It makes your publication a reflection of the deeply entrenched racism and segregation in Pittsburgh, and it reflects how little you are doing to change that.
I considered sending this letter through its ordinary means, and not publishing it as its own document on the Internet. But then it occurred to me, like the content you selectively include in your biased and skewed news stories, the publication of a letter I wrote to the editors of your newspaper would be contingent upon whether or not it fit into the amount of criticism you were comfortable with. The publication of that letter would be determinate upon what I choose to argue, how angry my voice comes across in print, and whether or not my view, ultimately, would fit within the scope of what you want to represent with your publication.
I am choosing to publish this on the platform I have, my online social media presence, because it was this same platform you disparaged in your article. In the very first lines you wrote: “Opening day is a week away and the 2017 Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival has already had its first controversy. Thank social media for that.”
The reason for the controversy is that Tom Megalis, a white artist, chose to depict violent imagery of Black death, which has been fetishized by white folks for centuries. Social media is the reason why you are hearing about it at all: because people, taking the lead of Black activists and artists, used the platform that would directly connect them to the artist. As one of my own online commentators brought up, the reason why the controversy happened was because of the artists own blatant insensitivity to using a dead Black boy’s body in his art.