Jonathan Harris, a Detroit artist, uses his work to reflect the emotions of African Americans. “Critical Race Idea,” Harris’ most recent paper, has gone viral, prompting a reevaluation of the theory itself. This 33-year-old self-taught artist wants to preserve Black heritage for future generations. He believes it should not be erased simply to make White people feel better.
What is it about your “Critical Race Theory” painting that has everyone talking?
It just kind of took off. I had no idea it would turn out to be so severe; I just assumed someone would buy it and it would go away. However, after someone bought it, [it] simply took off. I’m hoping it will serve as a vehicle for continuing the discourse [about] critical race theory.
What did people expect from a Black musician, in your opinion?
Many artists, you know, get requests from individuals who want us to paint celebrities and things that aren’t necessarily relevant to us. Personally, I simply like to paint what’s important to me…. I just feel that as a Black man in America, I have to represent the things that Black people are going through, and I have to do so in a way that White people can understand.
I’ve gotten a lot of favorable replies from White people. It’s simply emails, direct messages, and comments, yet there are more positive than negative reactions. Many individuals have given me nice comments, but I have also gotten some bad feedback, which is acceptable. All I want is for people to have a discussion about it. We can have a discussion about what this is actually all about.