Ignore my thumb.
Ignore my thumb. JK
I first encountered Adrian Piper's My Calling (Cards) #1 and #2 at my college museum several years ago. The two seemingly unspectacular cards were stacked in a card holder on a pedestal, with a red-lettered sign above screaming: "JOIN THE STRUGGLE, TAKE SOME FOR YOUR OWN USE." I pocketed 12 and scurried out.

Created between 1986 and 1990, My Calling (Cards) #1 and #2 deal with two very different, but extremely awkward situations. "My Calling (Card) # 1 (for Dinners and Cocktail Parties)" addresses a non-Black speaker who has said something racist in the presence of a (passing) Black person. "I am black. I am sure you did not realize this when you made/laughed at/agreed with that racist remark," it says rather politely. "I regret any discomfort my presence is causing you as I am sure you regret the discomfort your racism is causing me."

"My Calling (Card) #2 (Reactive Guerilla Performance for Bars and Discos)," is for women in bars and clubs, but its use extends to any situation where a women is free to be perceived by members of the public. "I am not here to pick anyone up, or to be picked up. I am here alone because I want to be here, ALONE," it says. "This card is not intended as part of an extended flirtation."

My Calling (Cards) #2
I have "My Calling (Card) #2" framed, but yes, it is dirty from knocking around in my wallet for so long. JK
Both cards are a passive-aggressive confrontation of the viewer—and that's by design. As a Black woman who passes for white, Piper's work deals in the stickiness of racial perception and performance, gender, and the accompanying -isms in America. The perceived aggression of Black woman standing up for herself is acknowledged in both the text ("this invariably causes [white people] to react to me as pushy, manipulative, or socially inappropriate") and form (there's a non-confrontational banality to a business card).

Piper would hand these cards out when she overheard a racist remark or when someone encroached on her privacy, a "reactive guerilla performance" that interrogates the racial and gender stereotyping of the receiver. And by making these cards free and available (in a gallery or museum setting), Piper argues that identity is a performance you take part in regardless of whether you consent to it or not. At dinner parties, cocktail hours, bars, discos, or small gatherings, we are all on a roasting spit of perception and stereotype.

I savored her cards so much, however, I could never bring myself to quietly hand them over at the appropriate moment. They were too novel and specific, it really felt as if I was really being seen by Piper—at the club, dinner party, bus, restaurant, what have you. Rediscovering My Calling (Cards) #1 and #2 in my desk drawer during quarantine they seem almost quaint. A weird memory of the unregulated interactions and public perceptions of The Before.