Josh Schonewolf presents … racism?!
That’s what a pair of local bloggers are claiming after marketing materials for his upcoming event “Once You Go Black” recall images from the American minstrel show era, and include a few questionable choice of words. (We obtained the original promotional poster—since removed due to the public’s reaction—pictured left.)
Besides the obvious artistic styling of the poster, what seems to have caught the attention of critics are the phrases “Feat. some of Philly’s most innovative sparkly black performers,” and “You know, the girl you see on the street corner talking about, ‘Yo man, I saw one them thangs walking down the street.’” The title of the event alone, “Once You Go Black,” is a direct reference to the hyper-sexualization of men and women of color.
The writers over at 2 Queer Brown Jawns wasted no time vocalizing their outrage over the event. In a post titled "Culture is NOT Couture," the ladies took on Schonewolf's event, first asking, "WTF. Is.This. SH*T?," and later expanding on their critique:
This summer when you are looking for a good time to celebrate being brown and qweer, don't flock to L'Etage so you can watch modern-day white voyeurism toward communities of color through "sparkly" blackness performances. ... Josh Schonewolf has clearly spent far too many evenings watching Paula Deen recall fondly the benefits of the Antebellum South, then (after following a few of her cobbler recipes to success) decided to mix together this batch of disastrous identity dessert. (We call it Poor Choice Privilege Pie ... a little too sweet, not enough substance for us.)
So is it safe to say that you won't be coming to Once You Go Black? Haha. I just wanted to reach out. I'm not a bad person. I'm actually the opposite. I champion people of all backgrounds, and being an event producer for two years … (never saw you at anything of mine) I'm always finding new and innovative ways to rase our community up. I don't view people as color. I view them as people. […] I grew up in the hood, and when I was a kid I didn't know any white people, aside from my family. So I've done my homework. So please don't try and paint me as anything but an ally.
That didn't help. The ladies at 2 Queer Brown Jawns rebutted, claiming Schonewolf's "I'm not a bad person" line is the type of response an "8-year-old" would make. They called his response "pearl-clasping, gasping, open-mouth, offended squealing," and panned his claim that he doesn't "see color":
Not "seeing" color feels affirming to say, but is not affirming to hear. We want you to see color. We want you to see when we get ignored by a hostess at an expensive restaurant, or get followed in an upscale store. We aren't paranoid; we see color and the effect of color. But not seeing it means we are making shit up, and that's denying our experience. Plus, it is in itself a privilege to not see color."
I reached out to Schonewolf for a response to the commentaries posted by 2 Queer Brown Jawns:
"When we put out that initial poster for 'Once You Go Black' my co-producers, Gemini Rose and Icon Ebony Fierce, and I didn't recognize that the imagery would reflect back on an unfortunate time in African American history. While we are mindful of the painful history of racism, we never imagined this poster would evoke a connection to that legacy. I issued a public apology immediately and had the flyer redesigned, although the original image was featured on the blog of 2qbjawns.com. I would like to apologize again, as that image is not reflective of the heart of this event. I am however glad that the 'Once You Go Black' event has been able to generate such passionate conversation, around race, culture, gender, and above all an honest-look at African American history. The articles on 2qbjawns.com are really quite amazing and filled with a history lesson that many of us need to hear. Myself, Gemini, and Icon are so excited to present this event on August 2nd at L'Etage, and all of the phenomenal artists that are associated with it. As the cast performs pieces chosen to express themselves, it is my hope that we see you all in the audience, including my new friends at 2qbjawns. For the evening is bound to be a celebration, and far from anything controversial."
Although I'm not sure the ladies at 2 Queer Brown Jawns would go so far as to call Schonewolf a "friend" (even though they did sarcastically invite him over for tea in one post), this entire conversation opens up quite a dialogue about the fine lines between what's appropriate and what can deeply offend. Ironically, we can take a page from an article posted yesterday in Time Magazine titled "Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture" by Sierra Mannie: "So, you aren’t a strong black woman, or a ghetto girl, or any of that other foolery that some of you with trash Vine accounts try to be. It’s okay. You don’t have to be. No one asked you to be. You weren’t ever meant to be. What you can be, however, is part of the solution. Check your privilege. Try to strengthen the people around you."
UPDATE [7/14/2014, 2:39 p.m.]: Josh Schonewolf cancels "Once You Go Black," opens up about his mistakes. More here.