It all started when…
we found ourselves asking the same questions.
Shades Collective (est. 2019) is a multidisciplinary collective dedicated to fostering mindful, equitable, and intersectional exchange and scholarship. Though we are aware of the broader communal challenges faced by the dismissal of intertwined systems of oppression, our collective is primarily focused on examining the advanced study of visual and cultural studies, in relation to the academy, and the workplace. Our mission at the present time remains an active commitment to challenging the limitations created by racial, patriarchal, and socio-economic oppression, specifically for artists, educators, and intellectuals of color (not limited to, but particularly in the Baltimore community.)
“Moving forward, this collective is focused on stimulating dialogue and critical reflection for those who are ready to DO THE WORK; which to be honest, is uncomfortable, upsetting, and yes, it can really hurt. These issues are polarized to be two-sided (right or wrong for example) but there has to be some room for nuance, which comes from critical thinking.
our mission, revisited
Updated July 19, 2019
As a collective, we’ve been taking a step back to look at our individual roles within the group and our mission as we continue to expand our community. A few days ago, we posted an image to our Instagram featuring a piece by a local (Baltimore) white female artist, whose career has largely been built off the imagery and stories of black people. In a moment of transparency, we make sure that we conduct careful research on everyone that we feature on our platform, but out of a lack of time and low mental energy to do that work, the photo was posted; without the awareness of the race of the artist. Only one member of our collective was aware of the identity of the artist, who is not the member who posted the piece. This spurred an important and valued question by a viewer, and ultimately led to us all questioning the intentions and consequences of white artists whose careers have been built off the pain, trauma, and experiences of black people.
We want to first make it clear that we will ALWAYS center, uplift, and value the voices of POC, especially women of color and even moreso the voices of trans women of color. That was the goal and still IS our goal. We are a collective composed entirely of women of color, all at different points in our lives, our careers, and our identities as artists. Our goals have and always will be to provide a safe space for artists and academics of color that are inundated by the overwhelming whiteness of our fields. We are you. The same questions you ask us, we ask ourselves, because we’re also being faced with those issues every. single. day.
When we created Shades, we did so out of a desire to be able to uplift one another, have conversations about our experiences in our individual careers/practices, and to ultimately be able to grow as a resource and network for other POC in the arts/academia to create a network of people who understand. This has been such an enjoyable process and is truly one that was built out of the void we were experiencing in our own lives. But we also understand, that not everyone will understand.
The question that was posed by the viewer, was one that we have been taking a while to directly respond to, primarily because we’re also three individuals that have very different (but equally valid) ways of navigating these situations, and sometimes we don’t always have the same stance! But that is the beauty of a collective….we don’t always have to agree! Despite this, it made it clear that our mission is probably a question to a lot of you, so we want to address that.
As a collective, it is and always will be our goal and mission to center our energy on the POC community, especially those POC that are also within the queer, trans, immigrant, first generation, and female identifying communities. We are proud to be women of color, we are proud to be artists, we are proud to be educators, we are also proud to be individuals that don’t always agree with each other. We welcome that, and we hope you can too. It’s important when moving forward in this work, that we all acknowledge that just because someone is POC, does not mean they approach things the same way, and that is okay, that is valid.
We also think it’s important to clarify that this space was not created with the intention of focusing on our energy on every white person or white artist who talks about/makes work about black people or any POC. We are aware of the painful microaggressions, we’re aware of the ignorant comments, and those oblivious (yet often very conscious) statements that cut you to your core. Please remember, we are all brown/black women of color in largely white institutions and even larger, in a racist as hell country that was built on the massively overlooked genocide of indigenous people and the destruction and reduction of blacks as anything but human. We feel everything that you feel.
Moving forward, this collective is focused on stimulating dialogue and critical reflection for those who are ready to DO THE WORK; which to be honest, is uncomfortable, upsetting, and yes, it can really hurt. These issues are polarized to be two-sided (right or wrong for example) but there has to be some room for nuance, which comes from critical thinking. And we say this with the most genuine tone of understanding, because y’all, even we are tired.
We are all women of color in this collective, who are facing our own exhausting, overwhelming, and angering encounters with racism within the arts and academic communities. What we do (as a collective), is not to say that as (individuals), we don’t find issues with clear displays of the ignorance, privilege, blindness, carelessness, and pain to others that is afforded by whiteness. But as a collective (composed of very different WOC who come together to do this work), we set out to provide a platform for POC to tell our stories and lift each other up. But ALSO to have a space where we can have those uncomfortable conversations and address the statements that are ignorant, insensitive, and just plain racist, transphobic, sexist, etc. We want to be having this conversation with you, these are things we experienced and no one was talking about it! That’s why we created this collective, so we CAN talk about it.
In no means, has our work ever been an attempt to allow white voices to dictate or control our narratives. We aren’t idolizing or empathizing with white voices. And we are very aware that there needs to be space and boundaries set on who is joining the conversation and the impact of those voices. If anyone feels like we haven’t been considerate of that, we truly do apologize.
We’ve aimed to provide the questions and thoughts that many of us have, but not always with the people we should be having them with. What we aim to do is to allow those blurred lines between “saying” you understand and actually “trying” to understand, to reveal themselves. This is an opportunity for those white allies who claim to do the work, TO ACTUALLY DO THE WORK. We’re aware that this isn’t always a stance that everyone is okay with or may even be ready for. And we value the aversion just as much as we value the conversations. But we ask that it’s done with respect to the fact that not everyone is walking the same walk, not every POC feels the same about dealing with the realities of being a POC (not just in this city or country, but everywhere) and THAT IS OKAY.
At no point will this ever be a platform that centers our work on white people just because they seem to be “aware.” We’re not naive and we have no interest in that. But if white people join the conversation, we’re not going to put walls up and throw a fit, simply because they’re white. We might do that in our personal work because we have the right to. But that’s not what we have chosen to do with this specific platform. We feel strongly that we can do this work without discrediting and invalidating voices simply because they don’t agree or understand, or yes, even because they’re white. AND THIS IS NOT AN EXCUSE FOR BLATANT RACISM AND IGNORANCE THAT IS CLEARLY INTENDED TO HARM. But it is a clear stance on challenging ourselves and our communities to do the hard work of listening to one another without always having it feel like a battle. And trust us, IT IS HARD WORK. We are just as exhausted as you. But we’re open to doing it, and we hope you will be too.