Friday, February 3, 2012

Now From the Other 1% - An Interview With John H. Sibley

Today my guest is John H. Sibley, painter, writer, and author of Being and Homelessness.
Q.What do you think is the most pressing problem in America today?

A. Wealth and income disparity. We are talking about 400 wealthy Americans that have more  aggregate wealth than 150 million Americans

 As I state in my book, blacks are still reeling from the horrific effects of four hundred years of institutional racism. Released from slavery in 1865 -only 147 years ago, but without the ' fourty acres and a mule', without equity for centuries of free labor has had a devastating effect on black economic growth in US.

 Only twenty five years after Lincoln freed the slaves, much of American industry had merged into huge firms. In fact, of the fortune 500 largest corporations in 1994 more than half were founded between 1880 and 1930-----75 years after blacks were freed. Companies like Kodak, Johnson and Johnson, Coca Cola, Westinghouse, Ford Motor and Walt Disney.

 None of those American industrial colossus of the first decade of the twentieth century were owned or controlled by blacks. I think of black inventors like McCoy, Matzellger, Latimer, Carver and Garrett A. Morgan , who patented an automatic traffic signal which directed the role of the traffic. What if Morgan had retained his patent instead of selling it to General Electric Company for the paltry sum of $140,000.

Q. How do we introduce a discussion of class and poverty into the discussion of race?
 A. I think without the shackles of historic institutional racism, black's generational poverty' would not be as  persistent. The only way to introduce this volatile issue into the national discussion on race is education in schools. Which would increase the awareness of the economic impact of slavery on blacks. Black's have to also blame themselves for not making capitalism work for them rather than against them. Since 2008, 530 black youths have been killed in black on black genocide. The so called black leaders have been sold out via the allure of status, wealth, women, using entitlements as their bargaining tool. Black people must become more scientific, frugal, and abandon individualistic greed.

Q How did you end your downward spiral into hopelessness?
A. I was hired as a temp by a hi tech accoustic company. I have worked 23 years as a supervisor. A Polish production manager named Mark Sokolis hired me and changed my life forever. I made a vow I would never be jobless...... and I would pursue my creative impulse after working. Being homeless taught me not to have illusions about how the effects of depravity can happen because of  not understanding how to navigate in a brutal market driven capitalist system.

Q. Do you still paint?
A. I still draw and paint. But writing is so much easier. No turpentine. No brushes. No canvas. No mask from the carcinogenic toxins in paint. No pollution. Writing is more cerebral. Easier. When I say easier, I mean it is not as cumbersome. Not as subjective. A Jackson Pollock painting needs a narrative to understand it. You don't need that to understand the words I am writing.

I believe like the streetwise artist David Hammons that gallery paintings are just one of the objects that's in the path of your existence. The Chicago art world is a metaphor( globally) for galleries, art brokers, art magazines and agents. Unlike literature, too many people have to critique your work on a subjective level. The Chicago art world is so full if nepotism, cronyism, and racism it makes me ad nausea .

Q What supports do you think homeless people need to survive?

A. The essays in my book are meant to give a micro and macro view of Homelessness in the US and also grabble with the global impact. I hope this book, which is a plea to maximize this nation's resources,  both public and private, helps the wretched existence of the homeless.

 The homeless problems had become a Malthusian nightmare not just in Chicago but in urban areas across the nation and the world.

It would be disingenuous to state that the homeless only need shelter when the problem is much deeper than that. The government needs to invest in creating what I call IHRC integrative-holistic-rehab Centers that combat the multiple causes of Homelessness.

We must always keep in mind that the homelessness in the US is wretched. Yet when you consider that there are 2.4 billion people in the world living on $2 a day or in Uganda 25 cents a day, those problems are even more dire.

Thank you, John, for your thoughtful answers to these questions. Readers if you have any more questions for him, you can contact him at