Mercena’s Aesthetic of Liberation

So a few days ago my child Mercena sat down at the dinner table as I cooked for her and said she needed to draw a castle. When her muse strikes, everything else stops, and she works until she’s finished (or until we have to pry her away to school or bed). This drawing came quickly, and she was done before dinner was ready.

Mercena doesn’t like it when I get too proud of her. We’ve developed a look we call Subtle Pride, and in most cases, it’s all I’m allowed to show. But it was hard to manage this time round. Still, she didn’t seem to want to talk about it too much. She was quiet, the way she gets when she’s working something over in her mind.

We’ve talked with her about anti-Blackness and racism. We’ve role-played how to interrupt racist behavior. We’ve talked about colonialism, transphobia, sexism, and anti-Semitism. We don’t press hard, but we introduce things lightly and let her curiosity guide her way through difficult things. As part of a queer trans Jewish family, she needs to know. And as a White person, she needs to know.

But it had been a while since we’d talked about anti-Blackness.

Mercena is like me, her Mama, in this way. Sometimes we have to live with a thing a while before we feel ready to know anything about it.

Then a few days later, as she shared the picture with Heather, Mercena explained the drawing to her, what the different areas meant. The King and the Queen, the trees, the banners. Heather asked about the highest part of the castle, and Mercena answered:

“That’s where Black people are treated the same as White people.”

Later, she explained the role of love in the castle, brought there by Martin Luther King, Jr, and how it helped create that space.

There’s some Subtle Pride in that answer, but also some pain. Why can’t they be treated the same way everywhere in the picture? Why can’t we see them? Why do we need a king and queen, or a castle at all? (And we’ll trouble the waters of the charismatic leadership model and White appropriation of King’s love message and not his more radical critiques at a later date.)

But I’m so grateful to have a child who, as young as she is, understands art can be a place for difficult things, a place to envision liberation.


Published by CorinnaSchulenburg

Artist and Activist

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