My Life, My Humanity
Tomisha Lovely Allen
Oil on canvas
36″ x 48″ | $2,800
“My Life, My Humanity” has positively challenged my ability to communicate my opinions on social issues artistically. My opportunity to create is a gift from God that I don’t take lightly. I understand the privilege and responsibility to use my authentic voice without violating my values. I have always seen my work as an opportunity to encourage viewers to connect with the humanity of other people, who express the same types of emotion as themselves.
Having the opportunity to participate in the “Momentum” Exhibition helped me dig deeper than just connecting people to humanity but also communicate in my work my perspective of the injustices I continue to see against black people.
In this work one sees in the foreground a teenage girl holding a sign with the question “Does my race determine my humanity?” In the background one sees a black woman holding a small child in her arms.
The woman and child in the background represents every enslaved woman and child of America. The woman and child gaze down at the girl as if curious of what she is doing. The teen girl stands as in protest for the ancestors of the past and black community of the present. The question is directed at the viewers and is not as much a question as it is a response to the contradiction between what America says it represents versus what its actions speak.
She knows she is a person of equal worth and value as the next person. Her ancestors were people of equal worth and value as people of other races. She also has been taught that America is the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave”, she has heard that people have fled to this country for the “American Dream.” Knowing all this is in stark contrast to how her ancestors over the past 400 hundred years have been treated.
From enslavement, to the 3/5’s clause, to sharecropping, to not having the right to vote and equal education, to lynching, to Jim Crow laws, to the abuse that was the answer to peaceful protesting in the 1960’s, to the constant intent to enslave black men and boys through the penal and detention system, and abuse by the system that says that is supposed to protect and now the fear in knowing that her loved ones, friends and even herself could be the next Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin or Breonna Taylor.
The photo I referenced to partner with this painting is of a pregnant black woman holding a sign that states “We are not carrying for 9 months, then struggling through labor for 9 hours, just for you to kneel on their neck for 9 minutes.” This young expectant mother was protesting in Washington D.C. against the injustices to George Floyd and other blacks murdered by police throughout the country.
Her statement gives a voice to the fears of every woman raising black children which includes myself. This sentiment that has been the greatest tragedy of a black woman since the enslavement of black people 400 years ago. It is a mother’s natural gift and privilege to nurture, hope, teach and equip her children. This gift and privilege was not awarded to every woman.
As we know, an enslaved woman was considered property and so were her children. She would, with the minimum resources available to her, carry a child she loved and anticipated for nine months, labor with minimum support to deliver, “ween him/her” with the fear that this child could at any moment could be snatched from her, abused, sold to another person, raped and even murdered by those who profess to own her. She had no power to defend, protect, or fight for her children.
The greatest injustice to kidnapping and enslaving black people from Africa to their continuous murder and imprisonment began with the decision to strip them of their Humanity. The moment white men decided that a “black” person was not human, but an animal (and when it became convenient 3/5’s a person); is also when white men felt they had the freedom, without guilt to treat the “black” person inhumanely. The fight of every black person these past four hundred years is for the validation of their humanity. With that validation comes a right to equal protection under law, the ability to fairly compete for jobs, pay, housing and education; and the ability to pursue the “American Dream.”
In the painting the girl in the foreground is not a mother but a hopeful, dreamy teenager who just like her peers is trying to find her footing in this world. She is working to accomplish all she has dreamed to achieve. She realizes that her beautiful brown skin will always create challenges for her simply for the reality that there are those who are determined to strip her of her humanity, place as many obstacles in her way so that she does not succeed and worse, incriminate her by her appearance and say she is a threat. The question she is asking the viewer to contemplate is “Does My Race Determine My Humanity?”