Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Racism Exhibit sneak peek

I've been working on an artquilt to be included in another exhibit by my Beloved art quilt group, the "Obama Quilters". This time we chose to address racism. The exhibit is in the early stages as we each complete our work. We are looking for venues to add. As the touring develops, I will post the details for the show entitled, Racism: A Dialogue in Art Quilts

My work, Racism is a Weapon was a joy and a healing to create. As I worked, I literally and emotionally worked on the message. My working title was "things folks have said to me" and that's what I chose to address. So many times we think of racism as the "out and loud in your face" kind of thing. But for me, I find the most painful is the subtle, sometimes intentional and often times clueless comments directed toward me. Bottom line is racism is racism no matter how it's served up. I chose to re-purpose a vintage tablecloth I found in the thrift store. It's sweet flowers and simple design reminded me that this kind of racism is served at the table with a smile and most times you don't see it coming. And maybe that's why it hurts so much.

One of many studies on racism and mental health states that "racism-related stress has the potential to affect the well-being of an individual: racism-related life events, vicarious racism experiences, daily racism micro stressors, chronic-contextual stress, collective experiences, and transgenerational transmission (Harrell, 2000, p.45-47). The first type of racism-related stress is the result of specific, time-limited experiences of racism in which one feels discriminated against, harassed, or judged (Harrell, 2000, p. 45). One may also experience stress as a result of hearing about or seeing another person’s experience with racism. This constitutes a vicarious experience of racism (Harrell, 2000, p. 45). Racism-related stress however, is not always overt, and this is exampled in the subtle daily reminders that one is different. These racism micro-stressors may be as simple as being watched in a store or overlooked and discounted in an office setting; however their effects are no less deleterious (Harrell, 2000, p. 45-46). To this point, racism-related stress has been discussed in the context of specific events that either compound one’s stress level directly or vicariously."  

This stuff hurts and after awhile its starts to wear you down. I have learned over the past 6 years of working in a community that is not like me, that if I don't get my injection of familia/ community, well, it just wears my Spirit down. I long for the safe space to just be, blend, and not feel like the spot in the room. A place where I don't have to be the "dial a token" and "speak for my people" or be on yet another Board, task force or committee. I put up my shield of ancestors to protect my heart as depicted in the center portion of the work. But in reality each wound hurts; whether its the scars of childhood experiences or the comments said this week.
Now I am honored to "represent" in my day job and help folks build some kind of bridge to understanding and set aside their ethnocentrism long enough to understand we are all different and that's OK. Or at the very least acknowledge there is more than one way to approach life. But its the subtle comments like little wounds that can leave me bleeding to death. And if I don't recognize it and get some kind of validation and support, it can lead to some health issues as another report stated. " Women of color often suffer more from health and mental heath issues when subjected to subtle racism in the workplace."
So the center of the work is dedicated to the protection and the Warrior Spirit it takes to keep moving through the generational racism that continues today. Outside of that section are the obvious weapons I chose to embroider as a soft version of a hard weapon. Then in between the images are quotes of things real people have said to me over the years and it's sad to say some of them are oldies that keep on repeating.

It was healing to get this out in public . Sometimes when these things are said I take a deep breath, try to control the look of shock on my face (oh no she didn't just really say THAT) and then assess the situation and ripples. Who might get it next if I dont speak up now or is this one hit I will let slide just because I am tired. When I can muster up the wherewithal  I take the teachable moment and have a dialogue with the commentor. Once again assuming the role of educator with my unassuming perpetrator. Other times I take the hit and just look for a place to nurse my wounds with some kind of dignity.

The border is a patchwork of bright "happy" vintage reproduction prints, symbolizing the patched possibilities. I do this kind of work because there were those that came before me that walked the fire. Now its my turn, and one day I pray that my grandson won't have to hear these words spoken to him. So on the patchwork border are facts about racism. It has a history, its taught and learned, and racism kills the human Spirit. Also on the border are my warrior cries to dismantle systemic and institutional injustice, promote dignity and respect and embrace human differences. More photos of the overall quilt coming soon, stay tuned. Gracias.

"Racism is a Weapon" detail c Sabrina Zarco 2010

"Racism is a Weapon" detail c Sabrina Zarco 2010

"Racism is a Weapon" detail c Sabrina Zarco 2010

"Racism is a Weapon" detail c Sabrina Zarco 2010

"Racism is a Weapon" detail c Sabrina Zarco 2010

Update to this post: I am working on a second piece addressing the not so subtle racism in Arizona. More on that to follow.


  1. Dear Sabrina,
    This is such a powerful piece. I love the strength that the domestic linen gives it. Thank you, too, for your revealing words about racism.
    Best of luck with your exhibit.
    Kind regards,
    Dana Fisher

  2. All our lives we are taught to forgive--and with a single act of forgiveness we can erase the past healing ourselves in the process. But... sometimes the past cannot be erased and is brought into light as you say "subtle." It lives on in hearts & minds of the stubborn bigot. By not forgetting the "Evil Racism," they lay the foundation of injustice for generations to come as you speak of, "Generational Racism."

    Well done and well said Sabrina. Like with all your work, "turning water into wine;}"