This Homeless Artist Challenged Racism With His Shocking Art

Untitled canvas by Jean-Michel Basquiat
Shonda Buchanan
January 29, 2021

The bruises on Jean-Michel Basquiat’s arms stung as he climbed out his bedroom window. When he got to a quiet street, he cried. He decided his father had beaten him for the last time

He’d rather live on the street, tagging political graffiti that challenged authority, then live at home. But then something extraordinary happened.

When he and his friend Al Diaz began tagging “SAMO” on buildings and elevators all over New York, the art world went wild trying to discover both the artist and the mysterious message.

Basquiat’s message? Though Black people had called for changes to an unjust system, we were still getting the SAMO – or “Same Old Shit.” His words and disfigured images weren’t just art, they were a challenge to institutional racism! And they got him noticed.


Though his work was controversial, and several reporters dismissed his work as “primitive,” art legends like Andy Warhol embraced him.

Basquiat, once homeless and a survivor of child abuse, became one of the most famous self-taught artists in the art scene.

Sadly, he died of an overdose. But his message – SAMO – continues to inspire the fight against systematic injustice.  

Like Basquiat, if we challenge the system using our amazing talents, ignoring the critiques of whites who don’t get it, we can find success as well as influence and champion our communities!

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