Drawing What I See
I'm a simple portrait artist, nothing fancy. I'm not the kind of artist who creates spectacular images from her mind, but the kind who draws what she sees, mostly kids and dogs. I'm scientific about it, and very good at spacial relationships. I'm a copyist. To be perfectly honest, if you send me a picture of an ugly baby, I will send you back an excellent drawing of an ugly baby.
You would never have been able to convince me on September 10th, 2001 that I suffered from any kind of astigmatism when it came to visual realities. But I was seeing things “wrong”.
I was wrong about size.
I thought a box cutter was a little thing for cutting boxes and paper, not for hijacking planes to take down the world's largest financial center, or tearing through the Pentagon. I never thought a few men could possibly destroy the Capitol, or that a few men could think so quickly and heroically to prevent it. I had no concept of the sheer magnitude of the Twin Towers. I thought that burning thing that had smashed into those high windows was helicopter. Maybe it had a broken rotor. But it was a large passenger plane. I thought I saw a white bird floating down. Maybe it had singed its wings. But it was a woman falling, her white scarf fluttering as she faced the sky.
I was wrong about distance.
Before that day, I thought the terrorists were over there and that was actually fine with me. Bad things happened Over There, because life Over There was harsh and people more prone to violent acts, and The Middle East had been like that forever.
I was wrong about my subject.
I was a cultural relativist. Once upon a time, those humans over there were smaller than me. They were the subjects of frightening documentaries. I wondered how they managed to live in their culture. I was glad it was not mine. I was allowing what I saw of Islam and the Middle East to be clouded by what I had been taught about tolerance, and how I must lie to myself and avoid the ethnocentrism of calling much of the things I saw coming out of the Middle East “ugly”. At the same time I was being told to treat the violent dictators and perpetrators of violence as babies incapable of self-control due to their circumstances.
What do I see now? Well, I lost my “nuance”.
I see that cultural relativism is the new racism, one that denies humans their dignity based upon their geography. Cultural relativism tells us that some of us are low, barbaric, and inhumane by nature and we should accept that inequality. That certain people are born to be enslaved, and that's okay. It tells us that democracy is for westerners. I am now the ethnocentric American that I had been taught to revile. I'm certain my culture is superior. A culture that honors life and freedom will always be superior to a culture of death and slavery. It's that black and white.
A human is a human. Freedom is freedom. Geography has nothing to do with it. Nowhere is a woman's soul saved by the breaking of her spirit. Nowhere is a man's life saved by his death. Nowhere is a child's innocence preserved by pedophilia and mutilation. Nowhere does a man make choices when he his only other option is torture or death. No culture that celebrates violence is a good culture, and I refuse to celebrate that culture as it exists today. I will call the baby ugly and I will refuse to “paint it pretty” until it really is pretty.