“White people can’t be trusted with power,” from Dread Scott on the Street in Manhattan

Trust artist Dread Scott to perfect the provocative phrase that can raise the prickly ire of certain street passersby, simply and succinctly. And trust the self-elected censorious social media platforms like Instagram to actually ban it.

Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based Scott says, “White people can’t be trusted with power” in this new public artwork at 42nd near 10th Avenue in Manhattan. It may remind you of a Jenny Holzer “Truism” that she may have wheat-pasted on the street in the past, a pertinent pique that strikes at the heart of the matter, minus the sense of irony. But in the current context of white people’s reluctant awakening, Mr. Scott writes, “When this was originally posted, Instagram banned it as ‘hate speech.’ ”

The “opening” for this piece at the Playwrights Horizons performing arts theater was this week and will be up through May 9th.

Dread Scott. White people can’t be trusted with power. Manhattan, NYC. 2021 (photo © Jaime Rojo)

It remains unharmed as placed safely behind thick glass in a nondescript contemporary vacuum streetside, – leading street artist and conceptual artist Ann Lewis to compare it to a single layer stencil by Bristol’s Banksy further that lies north about 30 blocks, which is also behind protective perspex eight years after it appeared.

“Though,” she writes to us, “that was meant to protect it because people ‘loved’ it, not because its radical enough for folks to want to destroy it.” In fact, the piece she speaks of depicts a small boy in the act of destructive vandalism – hardly an act normally worth preserving for posterity, but there you have it. Speaking of Scott’s taut text, Lewis comments on his posting, “I love that it’s sitting behind glass as if to say it will likely be vandalized because we white folks can’t take this sort of blatantly obvious criticism without attempting to destroy the truth.”

While the sentiment may or may not be the artist’s, more powerful perhaps is the reaction it engenders – again providing a mirror to the viewer as much great art on the street does.

Predictably, IG commenters on his artwork run the gamut, from the hands-down agreement to the mildly put-out to the outraged and whiney. “Seems to me – “PEOPLE can’t be trusted with power,” writes a poster called Lil Oak Productions – clarifying that one shouldn’t single out the predominant race that has held power on this continent for centuries for specific criticism.  

Artist Steve Locke responds directly to this comment as if calling to a cabaret singer, “Great. Now do ‘All Lives Matter’ since you are playing the hits.”