Important Talks at Suffolk County Historical

“We want to show the past and interject it with the living and contemporary so we can talk about the disproportionate prejudices that still exist in our society today,” says Erica Corbin, Director of Community Life and co-chair of the Diversity Council at the Collegiate School at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.

Last Saturday the Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead, along with the East Ends Arts Council, held a panel discussion, about “Discrimination in ‘Post-Racist’ America.” Surrounded by an eclectic collection of artwork in the historical society’s West Main Street gallery, the panel had seven members, including political activists, educators and local celebrities, such as playwright, screenwriter and artist Tina Andrews.

“It is through historic retrospect, now, that this part of American history is viewed, is shared and learned…and we have to have our children learn the truth,” says Andrews. “Art is on permanent display, showcasing one type of the ‘other’.”

The assorted artwork on display in the gallery ranged from classical depictions of slavery, paintings of slaves left in the field in harsh weather to cultivate crops; artworks recalling the Jim Crow laws; the portrayal of blacks in popular culture as pitiable exotics, childlike buffoons, obedient servants and self-loathing victims, as well as work depicting their upward mobility.

“We need to discuss race in a broader conversation,” says David Byer-Tyre, curator of African American Material Culture and Oral History Programming Director at Hofstra University. “So much of the discussion today on race wants to wash out or neutralize what it’s really like to be a person of color.”

Much of the conversation between the panel and audience focused on the title of the discussion, “Discrimination in ‘Post-Racist’ America,” regarding discrimination in post-racial America, and what that specifically says about our 21st century society. The dispute analyzed how our society has progressed in many ways, regressed in others and how much of our society’s willingness to avoid the issues at hand is largely related to the breakdown of the
nuclear family.

The evening, though often serious and sober, had moments of levity, where lightheartedness cracked the stern mood of the room.

“In the old days there was no confusion of the ethnicity of the people in the commercials,” says Byre-Tyre with a smile. “But nowadays you can’t tell because everyone is tan. When people want to act cool or chill they act black, as if it’s associated with being black.”

“Everyone today is saturated with information about race,” continues Byre-Tyre. “People first need to become sympathetic then, after all that, they can become empathetic.”

There was a time not too long ago where everything taboo was associated with people of color, racial stereotypes cruelly exaggerated.

“We need to learn more about other people’s cultures, not to forget about race, but respect people’s cultures and indentities,” says Andrews.

Tina Andrews’ play, Buckingham has just finished a run at the Southampton Cultural Center. The play was centered on aristocratic intrigue and ethnic scandal around Queen Charlotte Sophia and her arranged marriage to King George III.

The exhibit “Hidden and Forbidden: Art and Objects of Intolerance Evolving Depictions of Blacks in America” is currently on display at the Suffolk County Historical Society, 300 West Main Street, Riverhead.

On February 22, 5 p.m.- 8 p.m.

Focus 3: Eastville Community, A Freed Black Working Community, Patterns and Themes. Presentation by Georgette Grier-Key, Ed.D and Emily Button Kambic, Ph.D candidate. The Eastville community is significant as an integrated place for members of multiple diasporic groups, including African Americans from the northern and southern United States, people of Shinnecock and Montaukett descent from homelands on Long Island, and immigrants from Ireland and other parts of Europe. Sag Harbor’s Historic District represents the overall wealth of a 19th century whaling port, but the records at Eastville exhibits proof of its historic diversity and working class population. For more information call the Suffolk County Historical Society at 631-727-2881

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