Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport: Reading #5 (January 3-17)

Paired with Caron Tabb’s current exhibition, “Humanity Is Not a Spectator Sport“, a selected series of readings seek to align messages and ideas formed in Tabb’s show with concepts and works of others in the real world.

In “Humanity is Not a Spectator Sport”, Tabb unflinchingly invites the viewer to both experience her own struggles with race, racism, and white privilege while also providing tools for others to take a similar look into their own lives. While never seeking to preach, Tabb instead extends an invitation to engage. She allows the viewer glimpses of the innate goodness we all have inside of ourselves through portraits of courageous women and her own introspection. She endeavors to reveal our common bonds while breaking down the artificial barriers we create so easily. 

Through a list of readings, Tabb hopes to expand the topics of these difficult conversations being formed in the gallery and exhibition and explore them within our own lives and introspective worlds. As such, the fourth reading provides a close, personal account of what it means to be black in America, from the larger life-long implications to the more minute details of daily living. Our fifth and final reading selection thus


About the selected reading:

Ibram X. Kendi seeks to highlight and provide reasoning behind why simply not being racist is not enough, and why we should all, instead, strive to be actively ‘anti-racist’. Kendi, a historian and author in the quickly expanding field of race studies, released his bestselling book entitled “How to Be an Antiracist” just as political and social relations – or, rather, divisions – in America were surging. During the age of a Trump presidency, Kendi explains rightwing populism’s abuse of our rights to freedom of speech, his own background and coming to terms with his own racist beliefs, and why there exists such a vast difference between those who remain self-proclaimed “non-racists” versus those who choose to practice “anti-racism”. In his book, Kendi asks us to take a closer look at the way we think about race, our history, and political relations from a more fundamental perspective. Kendi explains the phenomenon of ‘whitelash’ and how, when one is already accustomed to privilege over others from birth, the reintroduction of equality feels like a newly imposed oppression. By delving deeper into the makeup of current policies and practices in the United States, he shows us how and why certain systems continue to fail due to their misled and often misconstrued structures and underlying goals.

As the author of multiple bestselling books on the topic of race and racism, Kendi also hosts a popular podcast under the name “Be Antiracist”. Here, he discusses what a better, antiracist society would look like and what each of us, as both individuals and members of racial groups, can do in our daily lives to work towards achieving this reality. Kendi clarifies: “I think most people across the world are taught to believe – and believe themselves – to be not racist… I don’t think people realise that when they self-identify as ‘not racist’, they’re essentially identifying in the same way as white supremacists… the term ‘not racist’ not only has no meaning, but it also connotes that there is this sort of in-between safe space sideline that a person can be on, when there is no neutrality.”

In a moment shared side-by-side with our country’s president – Donald Trump, himself – stating publicly that “[he is] the least racist person there is in the world”, Kendi’s lessons and commentary come at quite an imperative time. This being said, Kendi also shares in his book a message of hope regarding the potential direction of leftwing politics given the rise of “the squad”, a group of outspoken politicians separating themselves out from the general democratic group. Additionally, Kendi reminds everyone that the first step in realizing hope comes from within: “You have to believe you can change in order to bring it about. I can’t engage in something when I think it’s impossible for that thing to actually happen. So I think, philosophically, that gives me hope.”


About the artwork:

Caron Tabb, Lip Service; Empty Vessels Hold No Promises, 57 x 7 x 9

As previously mentioned of Tabb’s artwork, it is true that those who visit the gallery are often taken aback by the unexpected size of her works. Though this piece may appear smaller in photos, it’s important to note that the piece is 57″ in length. Within the gallery, this piece stands, leaned against a wall, on its own. Affixed to the tall post are nine haggard ‘vessels’, each visibly empty. Tabb provides a hint into the meaning behind this symbolic work within the “Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport” exhibition catalogue, available for purchase here.

“Heather McGhee, author of The Sum of Us and an expert in economic and social policy, suggests that each of us find a cause that resonates. Organize. Get a clipboard. Go next door, work with your neighbors. Be in the act of organizing and changing policies and by doing so there will be a solidarity dividend that benefits us all. Equity, she claims, is not a zero-sum game.

If all we do is talk but never take action, it’s simply lip service.

A series of bottomless empty vessels with jagged rims, pierced with nails stand in for empty promises. Like performative activism or words of support with no follow-up action, these vessels cannot achieve their intended function unless somehow made whole.”

Each empty vessel affixed to the post marks or symbolizes an empty action in the call for change. Tabb highlights how many of the actions we can and do take in support of important causes are empty; when an action or choice of words promotes the idea of supporting activism but is not followed up or paired with actualized support in practical forms including, but not limited to, financial, time-wise, or direct aid, these actions are merely performative and do not serve anyone but the performer. As such, Ibram X. Kendi’s philosophy and book “How to Be an Antiracist” further clarify and highlight the key differences in playing an unhelpful, passive, neutral role as a self-proclaimed “non-racist” versus taking on the active, meaningful role of “antiracist”.

Tabb’s exhibition as a whole invites us to engage in a more actively involved form. She asks us to take the time, on our own, to question the ways in which our own existences have been shaped and altered by systems of belief we do not and cannot continue to support. By evaluating the bases of our own presupposed cognitions and positions in society, both Tabb and Kendi hope to guide us in playing an integral role in making real change happen. As the Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport show comes to a close, please take a moment to consider the following questions in conjunction with Kendi’s work, as well as all other previously discussed selected readings.

Additionally, if there is something you wish to see from Beacon Gallery in regards to these same issues or other subjects of social justice, please do not hesitate to open a dialogue with us. We thank you for taking the time to experience Caron Tabb’s Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport with us, and hope to have you with us again soon.

What might my existence look like on paper? How do others identify me? Do I agree with those labels?

What do my labels afford me? What does that privilege look like within my life?

What racist systems of belief am I carrying in regard to myself and my own identity?

In what ways can I choose to be actively antiracist, both in the short- and long-term?

Which harmful systems – belief, social, political, financial, work, cultural… – do I continue to support? Do they align with my values?


Ibram X Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist” can be found at his website, or at your local bookstore or library. His aforementioned podcast can be found on his website, as well, and should also be available on any podcast app or platform you normally use.

Caron Tabb’s “Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport” is on view now through January 17, 2022.

For more information or to contact the gallery directly, please direct all inquiries to contact@beacongallery.com

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