SPACE | R A C E

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I made "SPACE|R A C E" to challenge the idea that any point of view about the space program or race relations is definitive, neat, clean, or unchangeable.
Colette Gaiter

Issue #33, September 1997


I, like so many blacks, have been trying to pin myself down in history, place myself in the stream of time as significant, evolved, present in the past, continuing into the future. To be without documentation is too unsustaining, too spontaneously ahistorical, too dangerously malleable in the hands of those who would rewrite not merely the past but my future as well. So I have been picking through the ruins of my roots.
— Patricia J. Williams

My brother, sister, mother and I were at the airport in Jefferson City, Missouri — the capital city we had lived in for the last three years. My mother had finished college there at Lincoln University, where my father taught ROTC. "Jeff City," as the grownups called it, was the kind of small city where we wore gloves and our best patent leather shoes to go downtown shopping. The summer day was sunny and clear, good for flying. When my brother, sister and I boarded the small airplane, from a ladder on the hot asphalt, we were each given a wing pin with the airline logo on it. I think it was TWA. Back then the pins were still made of metal. The ones my son now gets on airplanes are all plastic. I was seven years old and taking my first airplane trip. I don't remember being afraid. I had already learned not to question most things I was told to do by my parents. We were going on an airplane, and that was that. There was nothing to gain by being afraid — we still had to go.

It wasn't until years later that I realized how unusual it was to go on an airplane trip at such a young age. My good fortune was due to the fact that we were going to Frankfurt, Germany to join my father, who had already been in Germany for a year doing his job as an officer in the U.S. Army.

A long and hard trip probably is a good indicator that the destination will present a big change. We spent the better part of two weeks on almost every form of modern transportation — car, plane, boat, and finally a train from Bremerhaven to Frankfurt. On that first plane trip, in a small propeller plane, I remember drinking Coca-Cola (a rare treat) to settle my stomach, and being walked up and down the aisle by the stewardess (as they were called then) to alleviate my airsickness. After reaching St. Louis, we boarded a larger plane to fly to New York City. Even though we saw mostly unglamorous places in New York, I was still impressed. The density made the biggest impression on me — tall building after building after building. After that the thing that stood out most was the dirt. All the buildings looked like they had been washed with dirt. From the streets and highways, the landscape seemed to be made up of windows, framed by dirty stone and brick.

We stayed at a military installation that had the usual dreary institutional and utilitarian feeling reserved for everything associated with national defense. The walls were probably painted two colors, the darker color on bottom to diminish the marks from fingerprints and scrapes. The colors were usually from the green, brown, and gray palette. We must have missed dinner the first night we were there. I remember going a long time without food. I can still taste the rubber scrambled eggs I ate the next morning in a cafeteria. I was so glad to get something to eat.

I am not sure how long we stayed in New York, but the next leg of our trip was going to be on a ship across the ocean; seven days on the water. I was about to take a cruise. Again, I had no idea at the time how few American children my age ever did such a thing. I was so used to the military way — just following orders.

From the boat trip I remember looking off the deck and seeing only water in all directions. Everyone was so excited when small bumps of land were finally visible in the distance. We shared a cabin with another black Army wife and her two little boys. It was probably fun in some ways, but I'm sure five children and two adults were too many people for the size of the cabin. All of the other people on the ship were in the military and most of them were white. One of the boys in our cabin was a dinosaur fanatic and he ended his prayers at night with, "God bless the dinosaurs."

We may not have had to get dressed up every night for dinner in the huge dining room, but I distinctly remember putting on a fancy velvet dress that I'm sure my mother had made, its wide skirt held out by a stiff white multi-layered slip, having my hair put into a bun on the top of my head like a ballerina, and wearing white anklets with lace and my dress-up black patent leather shoes. My sister and I used to shine our patent leather shoes with Vaseline. I have a vague memory of playing card games, like Old Maid, but I can't think of what else we did all those days out in the ocean. My father says they must have shown movies, but I don't remember them. There was no swimming pool on our ship. My guess is that we spent a fair amount of time being bored.

Looking back on this time now, I see clearly how I couldn't have, as a young child, had any idea how this relatively simple act of getting on a boat and going across the ocean would have such an enormous impact on my life. Through a sequence of events set in motion before I was even born, in 1962 we were an American Negro family getting a short respite from the racial tensions quickly coming to a head in this country. When our ship slowly pulled out of the harbor back in Brooklyn, most of the passengers gathered on the deck to wave good-bye as we passed the Statue of Liberty. I probably waved too, not realizing that where I was going I would be able to do things that would have been impossible at that time in the United States. I was too young to know that children only have as much freedom as their parents have.

By choosing to be in the military, my parents traded rootedness and stability for excitement and possibility. A canal ride in Amsterdam In the two years that we lived in Frankfurt we visited Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, and other places nearby in Germany. I have a black and white postcard photograph of our tour group at the Eiffel Tower. I show it to people and challenge them, "find my family." They always laugh after they look at it because we are the five black people on the end of a long line of white people all posing in front of the familiar tourist attraction. In the United States, we would never have been on a tour bus with those people, let alone taken a photograph with them. In Europe the omnipresence of white people made them benign to me.

On the same weekend trip in Paris, my brother and sister and I used spoons to beat on our outdoor cafe table near Notre Dame Cathedral. From my parents' swift and harsh reprimand, I knew that we had done more than make too much noise. The more serious offense was to call attention to ourselves, black people, among all the white people at neighboring tables. My parents knew that any black person becomes all black people in certain situations. They knew our behavior was likely to be perceived as "how black people act," rather than three children having fun making noise. Even though they were less restricted in Europe, my parents still carried the racial self-consciousness they had practiced all their lives.

In third grade, at school on the Army base, I got into a physical fight with a white girl who called me "black," which was a fighting word back in the days before we were black and proud. The respectful words then would have been "Negro" or "colored." I was the only black person in my class, so I had to fight, since I was the sole representative of my race. The teacher called my mother and told her she was really surprised that I got into a fight because I was usually so quiet and well-behaved. I suppose it didn't occur to her that sometimes "good" behavior is not the required response. Racial prejudice (or was it mostly ignorance?) was at work on our military base, but the visual impact of enforced and de facto segregation was absent. One of my white friends, whose little sister played with my brother, told me that her sister said she wanted to marry my brother when she grew up. When their mother told the girl that she could not marry my brother because he was colored, her sister said, "He's not colored, he's brown!"

Our trip to Germany delayed my understanding of exactly what it meant to be black in the United States. On the balcony of our apartment building, Frankfurt and Main I knew that life was externally the same for me and the white kids who were in my class at school, lived in our apartment building, and played on the playground outside. We were not separate. There was no racial inequality in everyday accommodations. That was a significant difference.

Later, as an adult, I realized I had been an outsider during two of this country's most turbulent years in the last century. We enjoyed a favorable money exchange rate, raising our standard of living, and missed the direct American experience of the Kennedy assassination and the trauma of the early civil rights movement. We had a white German woman, who we called Frau (Mrs.) Hilda, come to our apartment to iron for us every week. Now I know that any black service person for white people in the U.S. was called by her first name, even by children.

The thing I am most grateful for is getting to see Europe when I was young. I think that is part of the reason that I became a graphic designer and visual artist. The intense aesthetic detail was so different from what I had seen before. On the old buildings, every surface decoration looked carefully considered — every architectural cherub, floor tile pattern, and brick color. I appreciated the neat flower boxes in most apartment windows, the statues and fountains, narrow streets, and the obvious visual order. People took so much care with how things looked. I loved the density; there was just so much to see in relatively little space. I probably went to live in New York City at the age of twenty-five because it is the only city in the U.S. that has the same kind of physical and visual density as European cities. Because I spent two years in a foreign country where just about everything outside of our military base looked different from what I was used to, I learned to look carefully. Not knowing the language, I observed to interpret my environment. My understanding of typography may have started by looking at the color, size, shape, and context of letters to get a clue to their meaning. I loved the design of packages and wrappings, and I learned to look at the text as abstract shapes, since I couldn't read it.


Summer 1964: Colored water fountains and three dead civil rights workers

I remember my excitement and nervousness before we left Germany to come back home to the United States. Again, I didn't acknowledge any feelings I may have had about wanting or not wanting to go, knowing that they would be irrelevant. I had a pastel green dress, my best one, with a contrasting pink collar and a large embroidered flower on the bodice, that I was going to wear on the plane across the ocean. There would be no leisurely cruise with games and fancy dinners this time. We dressed up, as was the custom, to sit in a crowded, noisy airplane for what seemed like days. On a fueling stop in Nova Scotia I drank the worst-tasting water from a water fountain that I have ever had in my life. At least the fountain wasn't marked "colored."

My return to the United States was like a crash landing. The first thing I noticed was the garbage. After living in orderly Frankfurt, I was shocked that people just threw trash on the street. My big rude awakening would come later that summer. It was called Freedom Summer because of the black and white students who rode buses together through the South. For me it was the summer when I took a car trip through the South and learned that according to the laws of this country, I was not free.

The closest I came to experiencing the civil rights movement firsthand was when my family drove from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in that summer of 1964. I started to get a sense of what had been going on while we were across the ocean. On our car trip, we slept in our German Volkswagen station wagon (not yet available in the U.S.). Years later I found out we had done that because most roadside motels in the South did not allow Negroes. All that time I thought my parents were just trying to save money. When we stopped at gas stations, we used the restrooms and water fountains clearly marked "colored." That sign must have also kept all the cleaning people away, because our facilities were inevitably dirty and smelly. A few months earlier, we had stayed in hotels across Europe, swam at public beaches, drank any water we wanted, and urinated freely in any restroom.

Our two year trip across the ocean had shown me how absurd American racism is. I spent two years in Germany, limited by childhood and foreignness, but not consistently by race, before I was guaranteed some basic civil rights in my own country. I was fortunate. I had a chance to really believe in possibility before I understood the limitations some people tried to put on my potential.

On our car trip, we heard news on the radio every hour of the three civil rights workers who were missing in Mississippi. Eventually, the police found their inevitably dead bodies. The news reports scared me. I sat in the back of the hot car between my brother and sister, my legs sticking to the plastic seat, worrying that something could happen to us, just because we were Negroes. I asked my parents what the word "segregation" meant. I kept hearing it on the radio and I didn't know what it meant. My parents exchanged looks across the front seat. Then my mother turned around and said to me, impatiently, "You don't know what segregation is?"

We had just left Germany, where most of my playmates, neighbors, and schoolmates were white, along with just about everyone else. There had been racism on the Army base in Frankfurt, but not segregation. My parents didn't understand that in my nine years of life I had not yet fully experienced the thing had been the overwhelming force and defining factor in their lives — that if you are colored, or a Negro, or black in America, there are places you cannot go and things you cannot do because of this simple fact. They were shocked by considering that this seemingly unalterable, ubiquitous, overwhelmingly oppressive force in their lives might not have the same effect on their children. Or, that nothing really would change after all, and we would not be prepared for it.


May 1994: Mining the Archives, looking through my past

It is clear that the idea we have of ourselves is drastically different from the images propagated and promoted by nineteenth-century Europe and twentieth-century America. What we lack is the ability to give the ideas and images we have of ourselves a widespread presence, to give them legitimacy and credence in the same manner in which the debasing and denigrating images that provide other Americans with a basis for their fear and dislike of us are legitimized by constant repetition through myriad avenues of broadcast and dissemination.
— August Wilson

As an official registered researcher at the new elegantly post-modern marble and glass National Archives building in Greenbelt, Maryland, I could look through drawers of index cards with small photocopied reproductions of photographs in the collection, decide what I wanted to see, then fill out request forms to find the real prints in boxes. Taking the treasure-hunting-on-the-beach approach, I decided to scan everything, and see what turned up that looked interesting. After I filled out request forms, staff people brought me the boxes I needed. Because the pictures are sorted by government agency and date, not subject, there was a wide range of 60s memorabilia.

Jacqueline Onassis had just died in New York that week, and all the news media were full of remembrances of her. I was flipping through photos of her and the president receiving various world leaders and their wives in the White House, or visiting other countries — Jackie's long-white-gloved hand held out to be kissed or shaken. Glittering in long dresses with sequins and beads, expensive jewelry, and meticulous hairdos someone had spent a lot of time creating, the women looked the most impressive. The men were properly suited or uniformed, standing self-consciously straight, and providing conservative visual contrast to their female companions. Younger than most of their guests, the young president and his wife were a striking couple. It was clear to me, looking at those pictures, how easy it was to construct a myth around such attractive and charismatic people.

I was diverted from my intended research by looking at the White House photographs, but I couldn't stop. Many of the civil rights photographs that were supposed to be there were mysteriously missing. The worst of it was that none of the staff people seemed to be particularly concerned. At first I was disappointed, but something happened later that made me realize it was just as well. Mixed in with the photos of political figures and official government events, there were pictures of astronauts — some in space suits and some in civilian clothes — that I absentmindedly dismissed as irrelevant. I thought I knew exactly what I was looking for.

women I was at the National Archives finding materials to compare with my family photographs and memories of the 1960s. What I really wanted to know was what my life and experience had to do with the events and pictures that were in magazines and newspapers. I decided to start with the civil rights movement because it seemed so far removed from my day-to-day reality, but ultimately changed my life in ways I can only begin to comprehend in retrospect. By doing this research, I would be filling in the gaps in my own personal history.

As a visual artist I want to create work that puts people like me, a middle-class black woman, at the center of a mediated discussion about race. So much information about race that comes from the dominant media is about extreme situations — extreme poverty, violence, discrimination, or success. These stories are important, but they are not they only ones. African Americans who weren't out marching, protesting, getting rich or famous, going to jail or rioting were also part of the civil rights story. I am the daughter of professional black people who went about their lives, quietly fighting racism every day, and cheering the movement on from the sidelines.

My plan was to find photographs of the civil rights movement that haven't been overexposed in the media and put them together with photographs of my family from the same time. Even though we might have been in Germany when a particular march went on, or a speech was delivered, we still were ultimately affected by it. I wanted to inject some everyday reality into the mediated reality, and give my personal experience historical background.

On my final day in the archives, one of the more helpful staff people informed me that there were videotapes of old newsreels that I could look through and even copy with their video dubbing equipment. They were the old Universal newsreels that used to be shown before in movie theatres before the featured film.

After I looked through a few tapes from the relevant years I started to notice a relationship between stories about the civil rights movement and the space program. A piece about a successful rocket launch or a skeptical report about Russian space achievements almost always followed a civil rights story. The creators of these reels were well aware that people had come to the movies to escape the reality of what was going on in their world, and even in the context of news, needed to have troubling stories followed by positive ones. Using a somber tone when reporting on the most recent civil rights march or obvious denial of Negro humanity, the announcer brightened considerably for the space news, as if to say, "and now, for some good news!"

After seeing this a few times, I felt the cartoon light bulb go on in my head. These huge missions, the civil rights movement and the space program, which seemed to belong to different segments of our society, were happening at exactly the same time and are remembered as if they have nothing to do with each other — not even chronology.

Space and race — they seem divergent and parallel at the same time. I knew that two huge events unfolding together over a long period of time had to share some common elements of our societal character. I started listing them. People hadn't given up, despite huge setbacks. Each mission had the spirit of religious fervor. Masses of people were involved, although a select few became heroes. The civil rights movement and space program celebrate our most important cultural fantasies as Americans — that no goal is out of reach, that technology will improve any situation, and in spite of vast historical evidence to the contrary, that we are benevolent and moral.

smallstep New racial archetypes created at that time still dominate our national consciousness. The white hero/astronauts, the guys with the "right stuff," had the necessary combination of military and technical skills. John Glenn, who was the most celebrated individual hero of the space program, represented the perfect American male. It was only natural that he would become a politician.

In the public mind, the space program belongs to white men, who have successfully used science and technology to economically dominate the world. The civil rights movement belongs to black people, whose designated job is to feel and express emotion for the entire society. Science and technology are still regarded as rational, emotionless, irrefutably significant pursuits. Emotional speeches and the singing of spirituals by blacks were antithetical to the rational voices of white men giving us news and information through broadcast media. While the white astronauts were being technically capable, black civil rights leaders were being saintly. It was not a coincidence that most of the leaders were ministers. In exchange for basic civil rights, the black man had to promise the magnanimity of Martin Luther King. When he could not do this, he was branded incorrigible, dangerous, and violent.

I just watched a recent movie that did not have a single black person visible in it as a character, but had a soundtrack by mostly black popular artists from the 1960s and 70s. I realized that few white people who saw this film would notice the irony. As the nation did during the civil rights movement, white filmmakers borrowed the "soulfulness" of black people, and used it as background music.

Thirty-five years later rational, scientific thinking still dominates our societal systems, and African Americans are still required to prove our worthiness for equality. I would challenge the idea that scientific thinking is always rational. The decision to go to the moon was an emotional one, a lofty goal set by a president who posthumously came to represent American idealism. A truly rational discussion of the pros and cons of the Apollo mission would show that a strong case could be made against it. Had John Kennedy lived, partisan politics alone could have killed the space program. All of the emotional appeals on the legislative floors would have been viewed as the rational discourse of intelligent and powerful people.

Boosters of the space program appropriated a crusading righteous spirit from civil rights leaders. They told us that going to the moon was something we had to do, for the future of the world. Neil Armstrong's "One small step..." statement had just the right amount of spiritual brotherhood in it to tap into the country's newly discovered emotional self.

An assumption of the right to explore partly motivated the space program. Media accounts of the moon mission made endless comparisons to Columbus's voyage, which in the 1960s had not yet been widely reconsidered as imperialist. The civil rights movement challenged white Americans to prove their professed love of freedom by extending the rights they took for granted to African Americans.

speech I don't remember seeing much on TV about protest marches and events. When my family was in Germany, we could only watch German TV, so we didn't watch much. My father said that after the March on Washington, he bought a recording of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and played it on Sunday mornings. He said it was his church. I don't remember that. Maybe he did it while we were still asleep. I do remember the rocket launches and the moon walk. When I was in fifth grade, at a black elementary school in Washington, D.C., the teachers brought a TV into a classroom so we could watch one of the space launches.

When I look at video tape of civil rights speakers, protesters, and marchers, it is clear to me that there is something fundamentally human about what those people did that is connected to me, one individual black woman. The cruelty of white police officers, and the hatred in the eyes of white hecklers and anti-protesters is chilling. I think about what it must have been like to experience that level of hatred and abuse of power, like my parents both did when they were growing up in Louisiana. I would never know what that felt like any more than I would know what going into outer space was like.

When I remember my third grade incident of hitting a girl who called me black, I wonder how exactly I knew to get so angry. I don't have specific memories of my parents talking to me about race when I was that young. Maybe they did and I have conveniently forgotten. Maybe I learned it from listening to their adult conversations and from picking up inferences in what they did tell me. Or maybe there was just something in the way that girl said the word "black" that made it clear her intention was to insult me. I probably learned my racial identity the same way she learned hers, from breathing our cultural air that is contaminated with racism. Studies have shown that American children understand our racial hierarchy by the age of three. That is what I had in common with those black people in the South, who were insulted daily and decided it was time for it to stop.


July 1997: Space and race; the final frontier

Paradoxically, the black American has served as a kind of barometer of what is most American about America.
— Fabre and O'Meally

Most people don't know that the Mars rover vehicle is named after the freed slave and abolitionist, Sojourner Truth. When I first heard the vehicle's name the thought entered my mind that there might be some connection with Sojourner Truth, but within a few seconds I decided that it was too progressive for NASA to name a space vehicle after a 19th century black woman activist. Sojourner Truth was probably best known for declaring at a women's rights convention in 1851, "Ar'n't I a woman?" to dispute the idea (at that time reserved for white women) that women are fragile of body and mind and need to be taken care of by men. Previously she went to court to win back her five year old son, who had been illegally sold out of state.

A 12-year-old African American girl won an essay contest to name the Mars rover by making parallels between Truth's mission and the Mars Pathfinder mission. The word "sojourner" means traveler. This story seems like an essential "I Have a Dream" moment — the merging of scientific exploration and humanity, brought together by a young black girl.

"It's only logical that the Pathfinder be named Sojourner Truth because she is on a journey to find truths about Mars," Valerie Ambroise wrote in a contest to name the chunky vehicle, the star of NASA's landmark exploration of the planet.

Truth, the girl wrote, was "a heroine to blacks, slaves and women... She went on many journeys and told many truths. She spoke with such eloquence that she moved people with simple words and understandings."


The research I did years ago in the National Archives has developed into an interactive multimedia computer piece called "SPACE|R A C E." I have created an environment for looking at the complex relationships between events in the 1960s, particularly the space program and civil rights movement.

As part of "SPACE|R A C E," I asked people, through a survey, what comes to mind when they think about Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech" and the first moon landing. I chose those two events because they seem to be the mythological high points of both endeavors. The responses, hundreds of them, can be read by viewing the piece. I was surprised by the sense of melancholy longing in so many of the responses, especially in terms of race. People also mourned the loss of bravado in the space program. Others expressed pessimism about our ability as a nation to accomplish anything great anymore.

response part 1

 

response part two

Survey responses as seen in "SPACE|R A C E"

This sense of disappointment is the expected fallout from a barrage of unrealistic expectations. Americans have been set up to believe that any inability to reach goals is always a failure. The simple act of making progress too often gets dismissed as insignificant. Our mythological memories of transcendent moments in space exploration and the noble and pure heroism of the civil rights movement are stuck in grief in our collective consciousness. Good memories of these events have become part of our societal mind's white noise as we adamantly refuse to take a critical look at what they mean to us now. These quintessential moments have become icons of America at its best and are trotted out regularly in advertising, our most accessible form of mythology. Microsoft uses sound and video bites of the first moon landing and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech to sell a software program. MTV uses the white-suited astronaut and King's face and voice to evoke an era that belongs to the parents of its viewers. Variations of the "One small step..." speech proliferate in ads as testament to the power of a simple metaphor.

whitey

I am as tempted as anyone else to accept the mythology as it is presented. American culture-makers are so good at making the stories seductive, easily digestible, and memorable. The images and sound bites from the 60s are still incredibly strong to those of us who lived through them. After hearing Martin Luther King's voice say "I have a dream" probably hundreds of times in the course of making "SPACE|R A C E," I can still cry when I hear it. Is that because it is so moving, or because I have been taught that it is so moving? I don't think it really matters. Mythology is working just as it is supposed to, as long as we remember the purpose of it.

Mythology's function is to explain the unexplainable in any given culture. In the United States, it naturalizes the constructed reality that we operate from and reinforces the values that prevail in our society. The writer Toni Morrison refers to this constructed and inherently biased mythology as "The Master Narrative." In this story, Martin Luther King had to be martyred to remind people that they are "good" because they respond to his mastery of rhetorical argument and insistence on the moral high ground. White people are especially pleased that they can do this in spite of his race.

The space program reminds us that we value science, technology and power. There is also a kind of spirituality associated with space exploration. We are hoping to find, out there in the universe, some clues to the reasons for human existence. Race and space have occupied so much of our attention in the latter part of this century because their mythologies are tied up with our fundamental beliefs about human nature and explanations for our presence on earth.

march Over the years inferences have been made by a number of people, from John Glenn to science fiction writers, that space exploration offers humans an opportunity to erase racial differences by seeking a common goal, or less overtly stated, meeting a common adversary. Like a scenario in a Disney movie, we hope to take a complex and fundamental problem of our national character and accidentally solve it in the course of accomplishing something else.

In spite of seeing the space program as an expensive and deliberate diversion from pressing human problems in our own country, I am connected to it by the simple fact of being an American. I was there, watching the launches, the moon walk, and being unexpectedly excited by the first space shuttle landing I saw on TV. I hadn't planned to watch it — the network interrupted my program. A vehicle had been projected into space by a rocket and landed on the ground like an airplane! I have been trained all my life to be impressed.

I am comfortable having ambivalent feelings about the space program. It seems legitimate to question the government's motives and priorities, while at the same time being in awe of what we have accomplished. African Americans are now an integral part of the space program, working in facilities around the country, and traveling into space as astronauts. I personally refuse to be written out of this story, the same way I have claimed a fundamental connection to the civil rights movement.

change Even though I spent two years of the 1960s out of the country and surrounded by white people, I have been able to connect my experiences to those of African Americans in the South who were on the front lines of the fight for civil rights. We have more in common than experiencing racism. We have a shared history as black people.

My personal journey across the ocean when I was seven, the age of reason for a child, has everything to do with my work on "SPACE|R A C E." I saw another way of looking at the world — one that was not available to me in the United States. Those two years in Germany offered a window I could look through with some objectivity about race. As a military child in a foreign country, I had to identify with being an American. I grew up in the 1960s as a colored person, a Negro, a black girl, and a U.S. citizen. I am creating my own story that considers the relationships between all those identities.

I made "SPACE|R A C E" to challenge the idea that any point of view about the space program or race relations is definitive, neat, clean, or unchangeable. These events and what they tell us about our society are paradoxical, ambiguous, and messy. My work in "SPACE|R A C E" offers an opportunity to take some memories of the 1960s off the shelf and out of the box, lay out all the pieces and contradictions, and look at them with new eyes. I want African Americans to write themselves into the story of the space program and think about how it can possibly be relevant to anything important in their lives. I want European Americans to think about what the civil rights movement meant and continues to mean to them. I want our discussions of social issues to consider alternative points of view without necessarily coming to conclusions. My hope is that the integration of space and race can seem as natural as the subtle and beautifully significant idea of Sojourner Truth exploring the planet Mars.


Note: Audio clip from the 1969 Gil Scott-Heron song, "Whitey on the Moon," is in the multimedia piece.


Colette Gaiter, Associate Professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, is an interactive multimedia artist. Her work has been exhibited widely and received several grants and fellowships. Combining images, sound, video, motion, text, and interactivity, she looks at the relationships between facts and mythology as presented in mass media. She can be reached at colette_gaiter@mn.mcad.edu.

Copyright © 1997 by Colette Gaiter. All rights reserved.
 

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