Part 2/2 — Eric Marsh, Black Activist on the George Floyd’s Mural

Stanislas Berteloot
Sep 9 · 9 min read
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Barak Obama 0:00
If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them in real life.

Jon 0:14
Welcome to Back in America, the podcast.

Stanislas Berteloot 0:23
This is the second episode dedicated to the George Floyd mural in Minneapolis. If you haven’t listened to episode one yet, an interview of the lead artist Cadex Herrera, I strongly recommend you do so before listening to this episode.

Hi Eric can I ask you to please introduce yourself?

Eric Marsh 0:43
So my name is Eric Marsh. I am a community activist and father and located in the city of Philadelphia.

Stanislas Berteloot 0:50
Thank you. Yeah, I see on your LinkedIn profile that you indeed described yourself as a father, an educator, an entrepreneur, a community leader, and an adult For fathers and family, and we last spoke in November last year, we spoke about the experience of being a black man in this country. And the reason why I’m reaching out to you today is to share your experience as a black person and a community leader in regard to a controversy that surrounding the George Floyd mural in Minneapolis. I read that Kino Evol, the executive director of Black Table Art, an organization promoting black artists as voiced his concern about the lack of black artists in this mural production. And I was really wondering how that makes you feel, you know, and what you make of this controversy.

Eric Marsh 1:55
So first, let me start off by saying,

1- Thank you for having me back on as it I really appreciated our conversations previously and your sensitivity to the subject.

2- I also want to say, not being a resident of Minneapolis, you know, there are some dynamics that I can’t speak to. And I certainly don’t want to appear to speak on behalf of the arts community or the black community in the Minneapolis specifically. But having said that, you know, I am concerned about the disconnect between the artists involved, both the black artists and the artists who, you know, led the mural creation. I do feel like that there is an ongoing issue in this country with this idea of Black Lives Matter, black liberation, anti-police brutality, movements that target and And predominantly harm African Americans. But African Americans aren’t necessarily always at the forefront of the issue. I think there is an important dialogue to be had around it, which is why we’re just we’re discussing this but um, yeah, I feel like there’s a, almost a blindness when it comes to these issues that some activists, you know, many well-meaning activists and allies approach the issue of race and racism in a way that may appear to be or they may profess to be colorblind. But that just negates the actual subject matter and importance of the black experience in America. So I feel like that there is definitely a disconnect when it comes to white allies and black Americans when it comes to this. The conversation around race and racism

Stanislas Berteloot 3:59

So, there is a lot here. What do you mean by a disconnect? I mean, this is very sensitive and I am white, I took about in the black life matter march here in Princeton, there were a lot of white people. And at the time I heard that many black people said, ‘we are happy to see that white people start to engage in this topic’, and we heard a lot of black people say, you know, our condition, our experience, we kept it for ourselves. We rarely shared it. It was something that we only discussed within our family, among friends. And now we start to discuss what it is to be black in this country. So I felt that you know, there were some positive out of the Black Lives Matter movement after the killing of George Floyd And yet I hear you say that there is a disconnect. Can you can you? Can you speak on this disconnect?

Eric Marsh 5:08
I do agree like we are as African Americans very happy to see the outpouring, the global response to George Floyd murder, Brianna Taylor’s case and the numerous other incidences of not just police violence against African Americans, but systemic racism, right. And so, I’ve always said that, you know, racism is actually a white problem with black victims. And so, yes, it’s great to see this outpouring of support. I feel like that the disconnect that I was speaking about earlier comes in, where there are opportunities for leadership and guidance, and for African Americans to be centered in the discussion and spaces made for our African Americans in this country to lead these discussions, these movements, these events, and in this case, this mural, right. And so, the disconnect often comes in where you have white and brown allies and other allies, who are rightfully outraged by systemic racism and violence and oppression, acted upon black people, right, but are so engrossed in the act of protest, that they actually fail to elevate the voices of the black people around them. It’s very easy to be upset about a thing. But it’s also easy to go off in the wrong direction, if you’re not centering the people who are most directly impacted by the thing that you’re upset. So in this case, we’re talking about police violence, the death of George Floyd and systemic racism. And so in relation to this mural, you know, as the mural was considered to being developed and from and there being three lead artists on this project. It would have, it would have just made sense to look around. And I hate to use that phrase it would have made sense because clearly that is not what’s happening in it. And it’s it’s a condition, almost a tradition that black Americans have had to face, even when working with allies who are nonblack. We often are failed to be asked to what our opinion is, or asked to lead a movement or an event in some kind of way. And so, yes, it’s great to see allies of all colors and backgrounds and ethnicities and identifications. But when you have something so central to black life and African American life to not include Someone who’s African American at the forefront. And at the very beginning of the conversation, I think is is a disconnect is a missed opportunity.

Stanislas Berteloot 8:11
Yeah. At the time you spoke about the experience of being black in the US, you spoke about systemic racism already. And since then, obviously, a lot of happen since among other the killing of George Floyd. We spoke about the white allies, you spoke about the disconnect. I am wondering, do you think or do you notice in your experience any changes?

Eric Marsh 8:39
Well, I mean,it’s definitely become the forefront, the biggest topic of conversation. You know, previously, we were able to kind of America was able to kind of just brush it in a rug or push it off to the side when the reality is it is central to what makes up America. Right. And so, in terms of changes, what we’ve seen, as we spoke about the increase in protests, that the number of non black allies and protesters and people who are coming out in the streets to speak out against this system has really exploded as a result of not just the murder of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Ahmad Aubry, and others. But I think the pandemic has had a lot to do with it. People being on quarantine, we have been able to get out of the rat race off of the wheel of like, being caught up in this, you know, capitalist consumer-driven Work, Work Work mentality, and people have had a chance to take a step back and look around and actually see what African Americans have been talking in about four generations, and that is the systemic reasons that’s, that’s happening around us.

And so as a result of that people are becoming aware and awakened to this issue. I think that’s the biggest change that we’ve seen. However, we also see a lot of pushback in the other direction, which is typical for American society. And I think, probably human nature. All right. We see a lot of people who are taking offense to the term Black Lives Matter, we’d see a lot of people were taking offense to, you know, other instances of people protesting and crying out. There was a lot of conversation, particularly here in Philadelphia, about so-called looters, right. We’re, we’re property damage. And people were, you know, offended at that and, you know, outraged by that, but the reality is that materialistic items and goods and property should always be secondary to human life. If it takes that kind of action, to raise awareness and raise some sense of outrage, or to at least highlight the level of outrage that people are feeling, have I seen things changing? Yes. Do I feel like they’ve all changed for the better? that’s harder to discern only history will be able to tell. I do feel like the rhetoric in our country, a language itself is becoming more and more divided and divisive. So I don’t know. I don’t know if we’re, we’re definitely changing. But where we end up is, is anyone’s guess.

Stanislas Berteloot 11:40
I want to stick to the art world. And I was wondering, do you think that you have to be of the race for which you fight when you’re not activist?

Eric Marsh 11:55
No, no, not at all. You know, I don’t feel that it’s necessary. I think that’s one of the things about art that provided provides that create a creative license, that we can step outside of ourselves and into another person’s life or existence in a way that allows us to create and to be creative. Now that that doesn’t negate the fact that if you are trying to pass something off as being authentic to another person or people and the lived experience that you haven’t lived, then that’s where the disingenuous comes in. That’s where the phoniness for lack of a better term comes in. And that’s where the pushback comes from. I mean, it happens in within the art culture in art circles, amongst people of the same groups as well. And the example that comes to mind, I think about specifically hip hop calls You’re right. There is an ongoing debate inside hip hop culture. When different MCs and rappers talk about experiences in their songs, there’s always this question. Well, are you did you really live those experiences, right? And so as artists, there’s this debate that’s always happening internally. However, it just becomes more exaggerated and heightened. When there is a, sense of cultural appropriation or misappropriation of likes, as I prefer to say, when someone from an indifferent culture or lived experience, tries to replicate or recreate the experiences, the life, the words of someone that was something that they’ve never lived. I want to want to go back to this to the original story about the mural. And the fact that one of the lead artists was actually a person of color.

He, I think he described himself as mestizo, again, the license the creative license of an artist to be able to express themselves and to express the allyship for a black lives matter or, you know, black life in general. I feel like we need to honor that. And there is a space for that. I think the offense that is taken by black artists who feel like they’ve been left out in some kind of way, needs to be heard and it needs to be validated. But I also would encourage black artists to also step up to the forefront and don’t allow these other projects by people who are not of African descent, to upset us to the point where we stop creating our own stories. Right. I think it’s important. The number one thing that we have to do as African Americans tell our own stories. And that ends in whatever medium that you as an artist are capable of. Whether it’s your spoken word, you’re telling your own story, whether you’re writing it, whether you’re painting it, whether you’re singing it, whatever it is the only way that the rest of the world will hear and know and understand not just our stories, but the nuances that are different in what a black man or woman would would create, versus someone of any other ethnicity or culture we’re create is by seeing the thing that African Americans would create. So we have to create our own we have to tell our stories. And if somebody else wants to come along, and they want to share that, you know, I encourage allies to just be mindful, encourage allies to just be mindful about centering and elevating and uplifting the voices of the people who you want to be an ally to and in this case, We’re specifically talking about African Americans and black Americans.

Stanislas Berteloot 16:04
Thank you so much. Thank you for sharing your insight and your experience on this very difficult matter.

Eric Marsh 16:11
Thank you for having me. Appreciate

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