Video Still from Burying Racist Presidents, 2020, 43:38 minute video with sound
Influence: The current controversies raging in the United States about whether to retain Confederate statues and rename buildings and streets dedicated to avowed white supremacists.
Burying Racist Presidents, 2020
Scene: Symbolic funeral ceremonies of sculptural busts of American presidents. Traditionally burials are a farewell to the dead. In the funerals portrayed here, we are staring down into freshly dug graves as the earth trickles down like rain (or tears, perhaps?) covering immortalized forms (busts) of ten American presidents. Between us and the busts–embodying the idealized conception of our presidents–face up in their graves, quotes, descriptions and translucent images appear and dissolve similar to the memories one might experience at a friend or family member's funeral.
Except the evil and utterly repugnant views and utterances expressed and represented in the words and images by each of these American presidents evokes a different kind of grief, more akin to shame and anger. These presidents’ beliefs, that white people were superior to those of other races and thus should dominate them, was the key justification for: colonialism; removal and genocide of indigenous peoples; enslavement and denial of equality to Blacks; white fear of extinction under an onslaught of genetically or culturally inferior nonwhite interlopers.
Video Stills from Burying Racist Presidents, 2020
One shocking grotesque and racist revelation after another reveals a history of the bigotry of American presidents and how complicit they were in legitimizing American racism. “It was America that taught us that a nation cannot open its doors to all nations," Adolf Hitler admiringly noted. Centuries of racist policy, both explicit and implicit, have left Black Americans in the dust, physically, emotionally and economically. Many believe chattel slavery was brushed into the dustbin of history after the Civil War, but the evidence shows the country never did a very good job incinerating its traumatic remains, instead leaving embers that still burn today: an education system that fails Black Americans; substandard health care that makes them more vulnerable to death and disease; and an economy that leaves millions without access to a living wage.
I hope this project will encourage debate about what to do about our shared American reality. This graveside experience should provide all the reason required for reparations and fiscal contrition of these genocides and enslavements of non-whites and poverty plagued society. If not, no one can call us anything but the evil empire we are and always have been.
To those who strive to make this a more perfect union:
The most important and painful realities of any society’s past tend to be forgotten unless constant efforts are made to remember them.
And to those who don't:
You should grow like an onion with your head in the ground and your feet sticking up.
– Yiddish curse
Note to Uncle Joe: Sorry, but Donald Trump (not included in this video) is far from the first racist president. More of just the most recent in a long (too long) tradition. If there is a constant thread throughout the historical fabric of America and its presidents, it's racism and white supremacy. The United Hates of America is and always has been our uncomfortable reality, and is to this day the very foundation of how we elect our presidents and how we govern.
Credit: Manita Brug and Charlie Read for their editorial contributions