By Dylan Deprey
Following the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, three Black queer women banded together to launch Black Lives Matter. While some call Black Lives Matter the next civil rights movement of this generation, others have a drastically different opinion.
To further the ongoing discussion, Dr. David Pate, Jr. and his class at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee invited the campus community to a one day art exploration with, “A Seat at The Table: A Black Lives Matter Multimedia Art Exhibit” on May 3.
Over the past semester, UWM students enrolled in the course, “Race in America: Reconciliation and Reconsideration” have discussed topics including police brutality, environmental racism and the powerful role art and media plays in social justice movements.
Last year, Dr. Pate taught an honors class focused on BLM. This year it was open to all students with a broader scope of influences in America.
“We tended to lean more toward the idea of ‘what does BLM mean?’ and looked at it through a lens of policy,” Pate said. “What does the data say? What do the numbers say? How do I actually hear what the academic voices are saying about this particular movement, but also just about peoples’ lives who are black and brown in a historical context.”
He added that topics addressed in the class included: social construction of race, black feminist thoughts, mass incarceration, rise of the alt-right and environmental issues.
From video projects and painted canvases to spoken word poetry and photography, students showcased their projects in a gallery-style event in the UWM Union’s Wisconsin Room.
Luciano Rogers showcased his poem, I Wanna B White, on canvas. Words like hate, fear and slavery were splattered in red to represent the pain of oppressed people. Words in blue like equality, housing, freedom, rights and opportunity represented a neutral tone for all things the black community have fought for.
Rogers said he had some people ask if the title of his poem literally, he was simply sharing his thoughts and feelings as a gay black male in the United States. He recorded himself performing the piece so people could follow along with the canvases.
“It just came together so easy, just writing it out because you’re living it daily,” Rogers said.
Miela Fetaw, UWM senior, created “Between the World and Black Women,” a multimedia video project that discussed Black Womanhood. She said this class was something she had been waiting for her entire college career.
“I was hoping for the first time in my college experience, although I’ve been here for four years, that I could be in a classroom with people that looked like me, and I didn’t have to explain my blackness for once,” Fetaw said.
“It challenged the way I thought as a black woman, but it also challenged the way my white peers thought also,” Fetaw said.
Amanda Jay Asbel and Rachel Brown, UWM Juniors, showcased their project, Black Lives Matter: Truth vs Misconception. An array of photographs showcased headless portraits of people holding a piece of paper with their opinion of BLM written in sharpie.
“At times, it was a little disappointing,” Asbel said.
They asked professors, students and friends to give their opinion on the movement and they got a spectrum of answers, from “#transblacklivesmatter” and “Justice” to “A bunch a bullshit” and “rowdy cop haters.”
“We wanted to show people that the narrative is changing the way people see other human beings,” Brown said.
Both Brown and Asbel said that it was especially eye-opening being white women taking the class.
“You feel like you’re woke, but then you sit in the class and you’re like holy shit I had no idea,” Brown said. “It’s really eye opening and emotional, and it’s hard to know that everything we’ve learned and know about history and about society is a white washed lie.
It was a hard pill to swallow, but this class is a great environment and feels safe to discuss really hard things.”