I was wrong when I painted my award winning piece, #ArtToEndViolence. But I was also incredibly right.
My error was using the hashtag for ‘all lives’ along side that of black lives, trans lives, and gay lives. Yes, the life of every individual should be measured with equal importance, but the use of all lives diminishes the real danger faced black Americans, especially at the hands of police.
I’ve been wrong before as well. I used to think that my queer experience was similar to the black experience — I too have been the victim of prejudice. But I also had all the associated privileges of my whiteness — first to be chosen by the teachers, over culture speech patterns, access to higher education, private school, etc. People don’t cross the street when I come their way; instead, they smile as if we’re long time associates. That is something black men don’t experience in the United States.
The painting went on to win an award that summer at the California State Fair in Sacramento. It struck at the hearts of thousands, illustrating in joyful tones the bow familiar faces of the dead. The blacklivesmatter movement gained momentum. I realized my mistake. No one had to tell me. I could see how I had whitewashed the very movement I was trying to help.
You see, when I used ‘all lives’ I diminished the special danger that faces black lives. Yes, in a perfect world, equality and value for life should be the same; but we do not live in a perfect world. In our world, people of color and people of difference are at greater risk than others. If all lives did matter, there would not be such disparity.
ArtToEndViolence has been quite successful. It showed in six locations in California last year and a replica is on a year long display in downtown LA. When I look at the piece now, I’m still proud. But I’m proud because I see how I’ve grown — I can acknowledge my privileges and I can correct them moving forward. It’s in part my testament to privilege; which, just like the lives chronicled, is a true part of my evolution.
So it’s okay to be wrong. We all are when it come to experiences we don’t know. The trick is accepting your mistake and doing something different the next time.
K Ryan Henisey is an award winning artist, writer, and teacher. For more of his paintings, illustrated children’s poetry, musings, and more visit http://kryanhenisey.com.