As a working artist in Seattle for many years, I’m dismayed that so many Seattle artists and art lovers embrace a Seattle artist who promotes himself on social media as a White supremacist, Nazi-defending Holocaust-denier.
Charles Krafft creates art demeaning and mocking Jewish people and African-Americans. Using a public Facebook account, he also disseminates hateful graphics and memes showing ugly, vile portrayals of Jewish people and Black people. Famous Holocaust survivors are mocked.
I guess the desire to embrace him on Facebook is justified by the idea that “He’s OK! He’s an artist!” I bet many of his Facebook friends would express dismay were a church group of African-Americans to be shot to death in Seattle by a White supremacist, comparable to what happened in South Carolina in 2015.
“Shhh! Don’t tell anyone!” Krafft’s Facebook friends include the former Klan leader and professional Jew-hater David Duke. Now running for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, Duke has endorsed Donald Trump and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
Few artists make a great living within their lifetimes. They’re innate outsiders. To the art-making, art-going and art-loving intelligentsia in Seattle and elsewhere, they’re to be respected, not made pariahs of.
Even though Krafft makes figurative ceramic imagery demeaning Jews (e.g., as money-grubbers), and demeaning Black children (e.g., shown with watermelons and the words “Black Lives Matter”), the logic has it that one shouldn’t repudiate artists or writers because of their politics or just because the artist hates Jews, Blacks, Asians, Muslims, disabled people or the LGBT community.
Does Seattle want to be known as a city with an arts community whose members embrace someone whose entire agenda is hate?
Rather than becoming a pariah, Krafft’s Facebook page has a long list of friends, including dozens of artists I’ve either met or known of during my many years in Seattle. They include numerous arts professionals, print journalists and faculty from colleges, universities and art schools.
How have all of these well-intentioned people managed to lose the ability to tell right from wrong, morality from immorality, bigotry from respect, tolerance from intolerance?
His Facebook photo album graphics include images that are direct descendants of virulent anti-Jewish hate imagery published by Nazi Germany between 1933–45.
For me it brings to mind the recent resurgence of old-fashioned British anti-Semitism. Described in British newspapers as “fashionable anti-Semitism,” supporters include educated and well-heeled people. That’s well beyond those traditionally involved in the xenophobic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic far-right.
Yet antipathy toward Jewish people has a long storied history in Britain: Shakespeare’s Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” Charles Dickens’ Fagin in “Oliver Twist,” even the late children’s book artist-author Roald Dahl was well-known for anti-Semitic views during his life, albeit his anti-Semitism is not so well-known now. Many Americans believe anti-Semitism has been eradicated in the U.S.
While the Trump-Pence campaign has made intolerance acceptable today, I see nothing virtuous about hating people because of their skin color, faith or religious identification, national background, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability.
The June 16 murder of British Member of Parliament Jo Cox points out that the internet dissemination of demeaning, condescending and ugly depictions of minority group members doesn’t exist in a vacuum; promotion of hate always leads to deadly violence.
Tadeusz Borowski, a non-Jewish Pole who survived imprisonment at Auschwitz and Dachau, titled his 1959 published book of short stories about his experiences as, “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen!”
Published in English in 1967, I find the title superlative today.
As each one of us is a witness today to all manner of atrocities and human rights abuses locally, nationally and worldwide, his title offers us a mirror for personal contemplation:
As individuals, do we go with the dishonor, collaboration and shame of silence? Or do we choose to speak out when injustice bares its deadly fangs?
Supporting the bigotry of Charles Krafft is to support injustice. I ask the readers of Real Change to reject bigotry and support tolerance.
Seattle artist Akiva Kenny Segan offers tolerance education with art classes and art therapy workshops in schools, colleges, houses of worship, art museums and prisons.