Vanessa Place

Artist’s Statement

In May 2009, I was in Berlin, where the multifarious reminders of Nazism seemed more properly to be Germany’s historical focus, rather than the Holocaust. For the Holocaust was an event, a singular horror, whereas Nazism was the formal manifestation of anti-Semitism as sociopolitical philosophy and ethical/aesthetic modus operandi. Similarly, slavery is not the issue for the United States today as much as racism is as ever was and ever will be, at least historically. This piece—the gleaning of all passages in Gone With the Wind in which “nigger” features prominently (omitted are other racial epithets or denigrating enactments), then set in a block of text, a slave block—aims to remind white folks of their goings-on and ongoings. Self included, for there is personal guilt there as well, given my family is not just Caucasian American, but Southern, Virginian, as they say, “by the grace of God.” And God’s grace carries with it a certain responsibility for the error of blind loyalty (see, Abraham & Isaac). Too, GWTW is still a very much beloved bit of Americana (Molly Haskell recently published a book on Scarlett O’Hara as feminist icon, and last year’s Best Actress Oscar was announced to the soaring strains of “Tara’s Theme”), with very little attention paid to its blackface, or that its blackface is blackface. Or that, in such texts, characters are to people as people may be to property. So I have stolen Margaret Mitchell’s “niggers” and claim them as my own. In a funny way, I am replicating Huck Finn's dilemma/conversion: to understand that keeping (not turning in runaway) Nigger Jim is stealing, for which one may well go to hell, and to do it anyway.