Jonathan Blanks Calls Dana Schutz' 'Open Casket' Painting A Bridge Between 'Us' & 'Them'

2017 Whitney Biennial painting 'Open Casket' by Dana Schutz

2017 Whitney Biennial painting 'Open Casket' by Dana Schutz

The Atlantic weighs in on the furor surrounding Dana Schutz' controversial painting 'Open Casket', a white woman's reflection on the savage 1955 lynching and murder of young African American Emmett Till. The young man's horrific murder and mutilated body displayed by his mother in an open casket at his funeral helped galvanize the Civil Rights Movement.

AOC has covered this event in great deal. Our earlier articles follow this update. Atlantic writer Conor Friedersdorf and Cato Institute scholar Jonathan Blanks explore the issue of cultural appropriation and demands by Britain & Berlin-based artist Hannah Black that the painting be destroyed. Blanks is a researcher at the Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice. 

Blanks has no opinion on the merits of the painting, but he fully supports -- not so much her intellectual freedom to paint whatever she wants in a free society -- but her engagement in an empathetic process. Blanks explains: 

In my experience, one obstacle to stopping those injustices is the unfortunate human tendency to conceive of even sympathetic victims from a different racial or ethnic group as "bad stuff happening to them," not "bad stuff happening to us." Even folks who don't want bad stuff to happen to anyone react with less focus and urgency when an "other" is the victim. No one wants any child to be kidnapped, but the little blond girl leads the local news; her black analog might not make the newscast.

The artist who painted 'Open Casket' was trying to bridge the gulf between “us” and “them.” She began with the general attitude that bygone travesties against a racial group to which she doesn't belong were properly of concern to her. And in this particular, she achieved a measure of empathy. “I don’t know what it is like to be black in America, but I do know what it is like to be a mother," she said, explaining her desire to engage with the loss of Emmett Till's mother. "In her sorrow and rage," she wrote, "she wanted her son’s death not just to be her pain but America’s pain.”

If you are not familiar with the 'Open Casket Story' controversy, these articles round out the story: