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The Peril of Black Mobility

Writer and activist Doreen St. Félix discusses the policing of black movement

American artist William Pope.L prostrated himself on New York City’s Broadway Avenue for nine years, intermitently. He called the performances “crawls.” Dressed in a Superman suit with a skateboard strapped to his back, the tall, thin, statistically average-looking black American man would crawl on the sidewalk as long as weather and upper body strength allowed, which never exceeded six blocks. Known as The Great White Way, 22 Miles, 9 Years, 1 Street (2001-2009), Pope.L’s drama featuring varyingly proscribed cosmopolitan movements—those of the disabled, of the homeless, of commuting black Americans—attracted dramatics from his unwitting public as well. A cameraman documented most of the odd sojourn and the reactions, which ranged in horror, boredom, disgust, delight, and confusion. One passing black pedestrian stopped, so incensed by Pope.L’s state that he nearly kicked the artist in the face.

I write. I argue. I’m equipped to analyze Pope.L generously, across disciplines and through time. There’s the artist as a darkly comic Sisyphus, some assessment of the artist’s inheritance of protest choreography, another one interpreting The Great White Way as grotesque flânerie. I choose the latter.

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