Over the past months, as our nation has weathered the public health crises of racism and the pandemic, we sat down for a conversation with L. Anton Seals Jr., lead steward, or executive director, of Grow Greater Englewood, member of Mayor Lightfoot’s Economic Recovery Task Force and co-founder of The Future of Public. Excerpts from this interview were included in the print edition of the July issue of Newcity. The full interview appears here in three parts.
All this talk exciting white supremacist nationalists about “accelerationism,” and trying to get to this point where they enact some of these political or economic goals people may have held pre-COVID-19, without taking into account the lessons the pandemic is showing us…
Yeah, we’re beyond the Rubicon, way beyond the Rubicon and we have to ask ourselves, what is the future of the public? What does it mean to be in the Public Square and what is the trust that we are entrusting as people to the government when it seems to fail? This pandemic has failed as a public trust approach, public safety, when you look at the kind of policing strategies, it doesn’t work for the people at the lower end of the spectrum, and when we talked about that for Black people, part of why you hear Black people responding in so many ways to say, “Leave me the fuck alone,” is because a lot of people may have wanted to believe in this institutions, and if they would just play by the sets of rules that everything would be fair and the reality for many people is that they’re just now realizing that is not the truth. Now I could have told them that maybe thirty years ago, but I’m really clear it’s steeped in the history of who we are as African Americans, and the atrocities—you know, it wasn’t a Great Migration, we were run out of the damn South!
Yeah, this mythologization of oppression.
The oppression that we had to leave, that we had to go, that we weren’t going to make it and if they were going to kill you. So then you go from there to Chicago or Detroit and they are still killing you.
I think about similar kinds of racial mythologies, such as the Trail of Tears, and this white supremacist romanticization of displacement.
It’s dehumanization, and in this post-COVID-19 world, the white identity is going to be challenged because not everybody who’s white necessarily wants whatever that is, whatever we’re assigning to that, that doesn’t describe who they are or want to be.
Well, and that colonial white supremacist identity needs to die.
Right, for the human village. Because humanity is threatened, clearly with the pandemic, and now we’ve got the climate which is changing, I was reading more about this, that the plants, and the living organisms that are here will outlive us, they were here before. And this modern kind of way where we think of ourselves over nature, as opposed to being in harmony with nature, that has caused harm everywhere. Throughout the globe. And it is that thing that’s the threat, because if no one acts, how do we survive?
Right, And they’re even saying that the burning of the rainforest under Brazil’s nationalist leader Bolsonaro has contributed to the evolution of new forms of these viruses. This “You can’t stop progress” notion you’re talking about is the source of so much suffering, and that this could cause further mutations that could kill larger percentages of the population globally.
Amen. Then think about what it is we need to really live, and there’s a lot of rich conversations based on values about the individual versus the collective, and exploring those things and listening, because part of the experience for Black people in America is that it is what has added fuel to make this democracy what it is. Even in our times now, we have to even start thinking about it in our language, speaking the names of the lands on which we always sit on at this particular moment. These were indigenous tribal lands, people who had been the stewards of this land before the Europeans came, but that history has been completely erased and cemented over for new narratives. It’s interesting that we do whatever, while that history’s still here, it’s still teaching, it’s still informing and it’s engulfing these lives that are in castles that we put in the sand, because it doesn’t work.
And that might just be part of it, because of the times, if people may have felt more like a part of it in the 1950s, but not really. You know what I mean? So it’s an interesting thing to unpack, so those are some of my thoughts that in a post-COVID-19 world, there should be Universal Basic Income, we should be thinking about new ways to have public housing, to allow for it to be subsidized so that people can live there and it’s nice, and you can still work and live there, so we need to reimagine everything in the public trust. We should reimagine workforce in our schools, and ask why we are sending kids on a college track when we don’t need to? Our young people need to come out and find the work where they can support themselves. Be able to advance directly out of schools and get jobs. Like, what are we doing?
Greed is killing us.
So, there’s this recovery task force that I’m on for the Mayor. There’s a conversation, where I’m a co-chair of the marketing and business development task force, and so I’m like, “The City That Works” is dead. The Windy City. My pitch is that it’s the City of Color. It’s Black and brown-centered, particularly. By saying that you make it a call for people of color who want to be here to address these issues, right? And that will help spur, also just in terms of our imagination as to what Chicago is. I want two things that stuck out from this conversation: in terms of what people really believe in terms of development and the cost of what they want to do, it’s been an interesting arc in terms of the inability to tie it to something that’s real. That will transform the city, such as if we know a certain percentage of the population is unemployed, we shouldn’t be putting up a call to attract the skills for the people to come, we also need to build up the skills that we have here. So if you have all these corporate headquarters, they’re not hiring Black and Latinos at the same rate, what you’re seeing is young White folks being put in positions of authority, in management, and continue to be given opportunities that allow them to excel. It’s like, that’s what they do. and make it the idiots, it doesn’t matter. But that’s what the city’s got to try and grapple with is like, all the cards are going to be on the table now and gearing up for this election with Sleepy Sloppy Joe—it’s going to be interesting.
Michael Workman is an artist, writer, dance, performance art and sociocultural critic, theorist, dramaturge, choreographer, reporter, poet, novelist, curator, manager and promoter of numerous art, literary and theatrical productions. In addition to his work at The Guardian and Newcity, Workman has also served as a reporter for WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, and as Chicago correspondent for Italian art magazine Flash Art. He is currently producing exhibitions, films and recordings, dance and performance art events under his curatorial umbrella, Antidote Projects. Michael has lectured widely at universities including Northwestern University, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The University of Illinois at Chicago, and served as advisor to curators of the Whitney Biennial. His reporting, criticism and other writing has appeared in New Art Examiner, the Chicago Reader, zingmagazine, and Contemporary magazine, among others, and his projects have been written about in Artforum, The New York Times, Artnet, The Financial Times, The Huffington Post, The Times of London, The Art Newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Art In America, Time Out NY, Chicago and London, The Gawker, ARTINFO, Flavorpill, The Chicago Tribune, NYFA Current, The Frankfurter Algemeine, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Village Voice, Monopol, and numerous other news media, art publications and countless blog, podcast and small press publishing outlets throughout the years.