Artist Hebru Brantley Is Finding It Hard to Parent During the Black Lives Matter Movement
Photo credit: Hebru Brantley
From Harper's BAZAAR
Hebru Brantley is a Chicago-born artist from Los Angeles whose work is shaped by street culture and Afro-Futurism. He imagines stories that put blacks as hero characters - especially his most productive character, Fly Boy - in an expanded universe that is lively and bizarre. The struggle that he and his congregation face every day is not lost in the slightest. And the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, as well as the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, in which the world called for an end to institutional racism, only increased his outrage. Brantley is the parent of two children (a five-year-old daughter, Hero, and a 17-year-old son, Jayden) who, in addition to dealing with his own frustration, are finding out how best to be brought up during this racial uprising and the coronavirus pandemic. He explains to BAZAAR.com in advance what steps he is taking to inform and protect his children and why he believes that there will be no real changes in his life.
It was difficult as a black man who raised black children. One of my children is at an age when you have to think a lot and be extremely careful in explaining the situation. I took my daughter on a family march in Encino with a number of other families and children this weekend, and it was difficult to explain to a child this level of hatred, level of abuse, level of violence, and still feel did you do your job as a parent to inform. But then they have to be protected too. It's tough. I'm trying to find out. I try to navigate the scales. It's not an easy time for anyone.
It is not a single conversation. There are several conversations. First of all, she had to process the idea that she couldn't go to school and deal with her friends because of this because we are in a pandemic. I also have to explain to her that people with color are seen that way before they are born. How do you explain this level of fear and hatred to a five year old and make it so palatable that they can understand it? I don't think there really is a way to make it fully accessible to them, except to bump them into this shit. As a parent, you do the best you can and find as many ways as you can to talk to them and continue them so that they begin to understand slowly but surely.
My daughter attended a predominantly white preschool. She was the only black face there. How do I explain that certain people from other races in their school don't seem to have a problem with people who look like us but others outside? That is their world; that's all she really knows. It was an enormous struggle. Not only that, but I also had to think about parenting through a pandemic. This is a crucial moment for her because she is going to kindergarten. She won't get this normal goodbye. The transition can be shattering for some children, from pre-school, a day care atmosphere with naps to a structure where there are no more naps in a new room, a new building, with new children and new teachers. I take it all one day at a time. There is a lot to unpack. There is a lot to talk about. I'm just trying to do a little bit every day.
We talked a bit about it before we went on the march. She saw me one day when I was really sad and asked me why. I told her in a very simple way what I was sad about. It is affected because I am affected. She is five and cannot fully grasp 400 years of racism and injustice.
Photo credit: Hebru Brantley
My son, on the other hand, grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and Marietta, Georgia, and his mother and I had conversations with him very early. He understood what was going on much faster and much earlier because he was pushed into it. There are mainly white republican families in Marietta. As a small child, he was referred to as [N-word]. He saw first-hand discrimination from some of his teachers in the classroom.
One of these children who is very calm is the last child who is in trouble or on the list of suspects. He had a teacher early on who went out of his way to make things difficult for him. And it came to a point where there were no excuses to get to. We had to be absolutely honest with him. We told him that this is the situation you are in, my son. It's unfortunate, but that's how you have to deal with these people and this ignorance. Since then he has faced it a dozen times and knows how to deal with it accordingly. He knows who has to be there, whom to avoid and so on.
My son is 17 and will be 18 this year. He fully understands what's going on. We talk about it all the time. He knows he has had a goal on his back all his life, and it will continue to be so. He understands the harsh reality that we have to move differently than other races and other cultures. It is a reality that you have to accept as a young black man. What is going on is an old hat. It is nothing new.
He is not yet an adult to vote and there is only so much he can do on this side of racial relations in the United States. At the same time, he is a very conscious young brother. He holds a circle of other conscious young brothers who move in a certain way. They are aware of their potential power, who they are and what they can do in the long term. You move with this intention.
Still, I don't think there will be a day when a black father doesn't have to have these conversations with his son. We are a new country. We are progressive in certain areas and snaillike in others. Until social and economic changes take on new faces - until these people who hold these positions, these high-ranking officials, these senators who look like us, really speak for us and grew up where we actually come from - there won't be much change . I have a theory about why black people and most colored people don't watch science fiction: we are not represented in these things. Essentially, there will be no colored people in the future, right? There was a black man in Star Wars for 30 years.
Photo credit: Raymond Boyd - Getty Images
That's why I create things that I want to see in the world. There are very few examples of the meaning, skill, and power of blacks in these fantasy, science fiction, adventure, and heroic stories. When I was growing up and attending public school, the only real symbols I had were cookie cutters: Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and now Barack Obama. There's nothing wrong with them, but that's it. When my friends and I played superheroes in the playground, it was a litany of white men to choose from. There were only a few who looked like me, and those who looked like me were just crazy. They came through the pen or lens of an interpretation of someone who I looked, acted and sounded. These people didn't live in our neighborhood. Most of them didn't even have a friend of another color or race. It was a guessing game. It was based on stereotypes. Fly Boy came here. I just wanted to see something cool in the world that resembles who I am.
Photo credit: Hebru Brantley
At the moment we are only scratching the surface. There is always room for improvement in all industries, but I don't think anything will really change. There are many big companies trying to deal with me and other color artists because we are the hot topic. They believe that if they could get this artist to campaign, then they woke up, they are responsible. But it's all so damn transparent. I don't like to sound bitter, but that's just the reality. It doesn't feel like it's a step in the right direction. It's more of a circle. It's the same shit: something happens, people are in arms and react to it, and then something else happens and we forget it. We put it on a shelf and dust it x years later. At the moment black is the new black again. At the moment, many are collecting their Token Blacks to speak for their company, which is likely to have five or six Blacks in power, if any.
I know that I am extremely cynical, but I am depressed and exhausted. There is a lot to unpack every day. I'm also trying to find more and more ways to get involved, play my part and put an idea into action instead of throwing money on a problem - because that never helped the problem. For someone like me, a creative, political campaign or revolution starts with us. It starts with the visual representation of an idea. So I'm trying to use the skills I've developed for over 30 years and improve something that I can use my voice to drive change, real damn change.
I don't think this change will happen in my life, but I hope it will happen for my children. It's about small steps. If you asked my parents that God would rest their souls if they ever saw a black president, they would have been said hell no at the time. I don't want to say that it will never happen. Of course, I would like to testify of major forms of change and major steps towards racial equality and changing a system that is structured against us and has always restricted our rights. to be on a balanced playing field. I hope that my children and their children will continue to be that voice and maybe one day see and experience this change.
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