Enough Already with the Statements of “Solidarity,” Arts World

Kaisha S. Johnson
6 min readJun 5, 2020

“I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.” — James Baldwin

I’ve gone from awe to agony to anger in the course of three days. According to my spiritual goddess guide Audre Lorde, those uses of anger can be a powerful source of energy in serving progress and change. I’d say that my anger is more than a valid emotion in this moment. But actually, my ire hasn’t manifested from the state-sponsored murder of yet another Black man and the social unrest that has ensued since. That elicits its own rage. I’m angry at the arts field’s response to it.

As if moving to some syncopated symphony, arts organizations and cultural institutions across the country are parading out statements of “solidarity” in these moments. I’ve stopped counting (and reading) the endless emails I’ve received from arts organizations touting how they stand in solidarity with Black people. Statements which proclaim they’re shutting down their operations and programming — galas and town halls and education programs are “going black.” How cute. Now, all of a sudden, historically and predominantly white arts institutions want to be “in solidarity” with Black folks? I know what solidarity looks like. And it ain’t this.

Much of the past ten years of my life leading Women of Color in the Arts (WOCA) — an organization dedicated to amplifying the voices of women of color arts leaders — has been sitting in rooms of mixed company and talking about how systems of oppression, specifically racism, sexism, and white supremacy, impact the arts sector — from leadership and organizational culture to artistic trends and philanthropic cycles. I’ve had endless exchanges with the predominantly white institutions that dominate our field and let me tell you that not only have they shown me that they are not in solidarity with Black people — they have shown me that they are against us. Some of those exchanges have looked like:

  • A highly visible city institution, whom requested my help in their endeavor towards creating better “equity practices” for their organization to be accountable to communities they serve, back steps when it’s time to actually walk the walk. After hours of exchange, a written proposal, lots of free mental and…
Kaisha S. Johnson

Founding Director of Women of Color in the Arts, a national grassroots organization dedicated to creating racial equity in the performing arts.