Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chinese man to sculpt MLK for eponymous memorial on National Mall

Maybe the acronym will be expanded to NAANYCP, to stand for the National Association for the Advancement of non-Yellow Colored People. Phonetically, nahn-neh-kip has a nice, Kit Katish sound to it:
The California branch of the NAACP has joined a growing protest against the selection of a Chinese artist to sculpt the tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. planned for the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Following a decade of approval hurdles, construction on the monument is expected to start in April, the 40th anniversary of King's 1968 assassination, and completed the following year. But now it faces criticism by black artists, American granite workers and others who are angry about the sculptor chosen as the lead artist, both because of his nationality and his history as an artist. Protesters also say American granite rather than Chinese granite should be used for the sculpture.
As less than an amateur, I'm not qualified to make a refined judgment on sculpting ability, but the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Project discovered him at a symposium of international talent in Minnesota. From the profiles of the artists represented there, Yixin seems to be the most gifted. He certainly demonstrates the greatest skill in lifelike representation (as opposed to Picasso-like abstraction and surrealism), which is what a monument of MLK on the National Mall requires.

I wonder if the WSJ will run an editorial poking fun at this call for 'protectionism' being made by black artists. Come on, they even want American, not Chinese, granite to be used! It's intolerable!

That a board with several major players in the business world did not foresee a problem the black community might have with the choice of a Chinese national to do the work is consternating. Black America is highly suspicious of free trade, and no nation epitomizes the downsides of such policies (when they are unreciprocated, at least) more than China does. As the NAACP points out, the PRC isn't renowned for the civil rights MLK putatively clamored for. To tap a Chinese national for the lucrative job of creating a monument of black America's most conspicuous hero, who enjoys a nationally recognized holiday all to himself (something George Washington can no longer match), seems like madness.

The top executive of the memorial project, who is black, counters by arguing that he is trying to ensure that the end-product is as great as possible:

"Dr. King was an international hero. We searched the world looking for a sculptor who could do this work in granite and stone," Harry E. Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the memorial project, said in a phone interview from China, where he was visiting for a look at a clay model of the sculpture. "I respect the NAACP's right to protest, but they need to review all the facts. There are no African American sculptors that do this type of work in granite.

"In addition, Dr. King stood for equality among all people and said we should not judge by the color of skin but the content of their character. He stood for equality among all people."

MLK's legacy, as it is popularly understood, more-or-less fits the bill of the second paragraph. Demanding that race determine who does the sculpting kind of flies in the face of that popular understanding.

In reality, MLK certainly did care about skin color, and his idea of equality was not one of means but of ends, to be realized through the granting of special privileges and the massive transfer of resources by and from whites to blacks.

A black artist from Atlanta, who has started a petition drive (entitled "King is Ours", it's reminiscient of the once popular clothing brand, FUBU) to have Yixin booted, better represents the actual sentiments of MLK than Harry Johnson does:
"It is disgraceful that there will be a sculpture to honor a black man for his fight against racism in this country and we couldn't find one black person on earth to interpret his likeness," Young said. "It is insulting and does not serve my people well. It makes us invisible.

"I do not think that anyone outside of my immediate community should have been looked at first. We need a black artist to interpret Dr. King and a black name at the base of the monument, because he died for us."
To honor an opponent of racism by specifying that only a person of a certain race should be able to do so strikes most whites as bemusing. But in black America, "racism" is not gauged by how greatly racial considerations factor into something. Instead, it is determined by gauging how strongly non-blacks, and whites specifically, resist granting special privileges and benefits to blacks.

The seriousness with which this criticism is being treated illustrates the double-standard that is hardly novel to readers: Group identity is celebrated when the group in question is non-white and condemned when the group in question is white.

That members of a non-white group may object to another non-white of a different group getting involved with the group they are member to does not change this. Blacks might protest Yixin, or Hispanics might censure blacks for favoring English over Spanish, but they all support the existence of non-white interest groups while condemning white interest groups.

Most of the world is tribalistic. Nations of European descent have offered a rare refuge from tribalism for the last several decades. Migration and birthing patterns are bringing that historical anomaly to an end. Backlashes will (and have already begun to) bring white interest groups into the mix as well. The future will not be raceless. It will be even more racialist.


Anonymous said...

How can the construction of this monument be based on race if it is on the National mall? That makes it commissioned by the government, no?

Audacious Epigone said...


You'd think so, given the way the CRA of 1964 reads. But government focuses on minority business contracting/hiring obsessively and at all levels. I don't believe the monument is receiving any government funding though, just the right to build on the Mall. The memorial project is soliciting donations, anyway.

agnostic said...

East Asians score very highly on visuospatial IQ subtests, while Africans tend to score higher on verbal. Given that and the difference between means, East Asians are probably 2 SD above Africans, on avg, for visuospatial skills.

So of course it's more likely an Asian will design and sculpt the prototype than an African.

You figure you'd need at least 1 SD above the Asian mean -- that produces 16% of Asians and maybe 1% of Africans.