It started out simple enough.
While traveling abroad in Rome with her boyfriend Karl Glusman, actress and singer Zoe Kravitz posted a picture of herself posing next to graffiti that featured a quote by Jean-Michel Basquiat. It was the well-known statement of “I am not a black artist, I am an artist.” To drive the point home that she agreed with the quote and didn’t want to be seen as just the Black actress as opposed to an actress, she shared examples of other times she felt it wouldn’t be necessary to speak about things in the context of race:
While her comments seemed harmless, they garnered a mixed reaction from her followers and people who believed that by saying not everything should be about race, she was in some way rejecting or denying her Blackness.
“But she’s going to play a black actress and get these black dollars from these black people,” one critic wrote.
“Zoe Kravitz likes being black when it’s convenient for her,” said another.
“Can somebody tell me what art Zoe Kravitz even makes that apparently transcends blackness?” another remarked.
The backlash in comment form was enough to motivate the Big Little Lies actress to take down the post from her Instagram page. In replacement, she put up a photo of a picture of Basquiat, originally using the caption, “Ya’ll are a trip.” But she edited her caption and left us with a period and the hashtag #artisart.
But were her comments really that wild?
I think we would all agree that when it comes to our professional lives, we don’t want to be known as just a Black writer, or accountant or musician or athlete or whatever else there is under the sun. When it comes to talents, we want to be known for that. I think what Kravitz attempted to say (hopefully) was that she wants to be seen as an actress who is Black. That doesn’t mean she’s not proud of it, it just means that she believes and is correct in saying there is more to her than that.
Still, she is just bubbling up in the mainstream and not necessarily Meryl Streep in terms of experience or “art.” And not to mention that sometimes it is important to be proudly note yourself as a Black artist, because there are people who like to act as though they “don’t see color.” All in all, it’s an important part of who we as Black folks, but it’s not the only part.
But hey, it’s not the first time comments made by Kravitz about race have left people with a weird taste in their mouths. Earlier this year she told Allure about the journey it was to feel comfortable identifying as a Black woman when she grew up around so many White people, including those who made her feel like she was an “other.”
“I am definitely mixed,” she said. “Both my parents are mixed. I have white family on both sides. The older I get, the more I experience life, I am identifying more and more with being black, and what that means — being more and more proud of that and feeling connected to my roots and my history.”
“It’s been a really interesting journey because I was always one of the only black kids in any of my schools,” Kravitz continued. “I went to private schools full of white kids. I think a lot of that made me want to blend in or not be looked at as black. The white kids are always talking about your hair and making you feel weird. I had this struggle of accepting myself as black and loving that part of myself. And now I’m so in love with my culture and so proud to be black. It’s still ongoing, but a big shift has occurred. My dad especially has always been very connected to his history, and it’s important to him that I understand where I come from.”
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