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Black Art Matters

an antiracism resource kit to support
education, conversation, and action

Image is among many to offer a list of recommended resources in recent days. Our collection features titles that will be familiar to the masses alongside work by our contributors and theologians engaged with the Christian tradition in which we are rooted. But as Lauren Michele Jackson reminds us in her interrogation of antiracist reading liststhe creation and consumption of these lists can provide a sense of satisfaction that undermines their actual use. The reading still has to be done. We hope this guide will kickstart—or deepen—your own engagement with the beautiful struggle for a more just society. Our work will look different, but we can each put a shoulder to the plow.

We publish this guide because we believe that art and artists have the power to shape community, spark conversations that change history, and help us see afresh the image of God in each person. This is one very small step in our own journey to become a space that genuinely reflects the full spectrum of work being done at the intersection of art and faith.

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“Beauty was not simply something to behold;
it was something one could do.”
—Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye


A Statement from Image

After George Floyd: A Confession and a Pledge 

Sorrow and anger in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have occasioned a national reckoning with systemic racism and the injustices inflicted upon Black Americans. At Image, we are reflecting on the role that a small arts nonprofit can have in perpetuating systemic racial injustice. It should not have taken another murder for us to make our own reckoning with racism a priority. We were offered chances to start this process much sooner, and we missed them.

As we’ve reflected on our thirty-year history, we’ve become more keenly aware of actions and omissions that were wrong, hypocritical, and contrary to our faith. We hurt people and damaged relationships. We apologize for our mistakes and our shortcomings. We will do better.

We acknowledge that our methods have often shut out Black writers and other people of color and ultimately caused them harm. We didn’t examine our actions and their effects closely enough. We missed opportunities to call out racism, didn’t face up to our part in maintaining racist systems, and let cynicism, fatigue, and the comfort of familiar faces and habits get the better of us.

We publish disproportionately few Black writers and other writers of color. Our networks do not include enough communities of color; we have done little to change that. Most significantly, we haven’t invited enough people of color into leadership roles. One result is that our magazine and events haven’t told nearly the whole story when it comes to artists and writers who grapple with faith. We’ve missed our mission by a mile.

At our events, for years, conversations acknowledging racism were vanishingly rare, and we didn’t examine how chilly our gatherings felt to the handful of people of color who came. The few conversations that broached racism happened without enough reflection and preparation. They often unfolded in ways that valued white people’s “learning experiences” over Black people’s comfort and even their sense of safety.

Again, all of this was wrong, hypocritical, and contrary to our faith. We apologize for our mistakes and we pledge to do better.

Members of our community have expressed hurt that we haven’t said more sooner. We accept this criticism. We know that the amount of time it has taken us to prepare our short initial statement and this longer one shows we still have much to learn if we’re going to use our platform to confront racial injustice. We will do better.

Our vision statement lists some of our core values. The first is incarnational humanism. We honor every human being because each one of us bears the divine image. Seeing the sacredness of each person implies that equity must also be a core value for us. It should be reflected in our pages and in all our programs. And more, being antiracist must also be a core value—first in our own house, then in the wider world. Like the protest signs say, All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter. Incarnational humanism supports the logic of that statement.

Another core value is anchored hospitality. We have thought of this language in regard to showing hospitality to all faiths, in our pages and at events. Meanwhile, we’ve not seen our lack of hospitality toward people of color, and quickly forgotten it when people were brave and caring enough to raise the issue with us. We need to quit being a white-led organization that worries about how to invite people of color in and become an organization where Black leaders and other people of color are among those doing the inviting. Our core values call us to do better. We pledge to start living up to them.

“We will do better” is simple to say. For a thirty-year-old organization like Image, it’s going to take continual self-examination to live out these changes. We pledge that in six months, in a year, in five years, we will still be doing this work. We are hopeful that these habits of self-examination and reflection will soon begin to shape our character, and an antiracist posture will simply become part of who we are.

We know that statements of solidarity do not make for real change. Actions are what truly speak.

In the next few weeks, Image will hire a consultant to work with board members and staff in a formal process to identify ways Image can change internally to increase equity and inclusion in our work. We are committed to appropriate compensation for such work and will not presume upon the charity and goodwill of Black writers and artists in our community.

We have much to learn, and we need to listen to Black voices first of all.

Until that listening begins to shape our work, the strategies we offer here can only be a draft. But it feels important to lay out concrete steps. In the next few months, we envision that Image will:

+ Accelerate efforts to attract people of color to our board of directors and commit to adding at least one Black board member within one year.

+ Continue to increase representation of Black artists and writers and other people of color in our journal, programs, and at our events. That said, we also acknowledge that representation itself is not sufficient to the ends of true equality.

+ Dedicate ten scholarships to the Glen Workshop for Black students and other students of color. We recognize that the Glen Workshop is a space primarily shaped by white people, and that this dynamic must change in order for Black people and people of color to experience the Glen as a nurturing space. Changing the Glen Workshop so that it more successfully hosts people from non-white cultural backgrounds requires work and planning beyond merely fostering a more racially diverse attendance. We are committed to this deeper level of change in order to make real progress towards greater inclusion and equity.

+ Announce new guidelines that will earmark the Milton Fellowship for a Black writer for the next five award cycles and establish equity requirements beyond that period. The Milton Fellowship—a postgraduate award that supports writers of faith while they finish their first books—is a substantial investment in the career of each recipient. We intend this funding to help counterbalance the larger forces of systemic racism that have left Black people and people of color with less financial freedom to pursue careers in the arts.

+ Make public our compensation guidelines for all contributors to Image programming. As a nonprofit that has often been on the brink of insolvency, Image has long leaned on free labor from friends and cheap labor from employees. We see more clearly that seemingly innocent transactions of mutual goodwill and support privilege those with the means to provide free or cheap labor, which means privileging the already privileged. We commit to transparency in compensation and fair pay to all those who contribute to Image.

We believe that art and artists have the power to shape community, spark conversations that change history, and help us see afresh the image of God in each person. Our hope is that Image will become a space that genuinely reflects the full spectrum of work being done at the intersection of art and faith. We commit ourselves to opposing racism and promoting a more just society in the fulfillment of our mission. We invite our community to hold us accountable to our hopes and our commitments. If you’d like to be made aware of developments, please sign up here.

Greg Pennoyer, executive director
Crosby Haffner, board chair

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