I came across an article by Zora Neale Hurston called "What White Publishers Won't Print," and I'm sighing and shaking my head at how relevant it still is.
I've recently been involved with The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond's women of color anti-racist organizing group. What I really enjoy about this group is that it's not about tools and skills. It's not about rhetoric. It's about transforming institutions through anti-racist principles. In other words, The People's Institute forces us to look at what we take for granted and see how it contributes to racial marginalization and oppression. This is the most crucial aspect of anti-racist organizing*. Without a grounding in these core principles, we risk perpetuating racial marginalization and oppression despite our best intentions.
* What I love about The People's Institute is how they demystify organizing as something that only "experts" can do. The process of anti-racist organizing is extremely accessible to anyone who cares enough to put a little time and energy into it.
While racism is the focus of The People's Institute, the principles they use can apply to other forms of oppression as well. This does not mean that you should rip off their work and apply it to other forms of oppression without first wrestling with race. No, no, hell no. What I do mean is that once you understand how racism works, you have a leg up in understanding and counteracting other marginalizations and oppressions.
* Seriously, the last thing people of color need is yet another White person coming in, stealing our shit, and profiting off of it.
If you ever get a chance to attend one of their workshops, I highly recommend that you go. But for now I'd like to focus on a few ideas that really stood out to me as highly relevant to the indie theatre scene. All of the principles connect with each other. However, let's examine two or three: analyzing power and gatekeeping.
This is where we come to the thought experiment. It's very simple. I'm going to ask a few questions, and you answer as fully as you can. But first, a few ground rules.
- Focus on race. Too often, when it comes to discussing race, the temptation is to ignore or erase that and make it all about something else. Without question, all systems of oppression are linked, but let's not pretend that we already know everything there is to know about race and how it functions in our lives.
- This is engagement, not debate. This is a place for thinking and reflection, not judgment. Practice active listening. Nobody is on trial. Racism is not a charge you have to defend against. It's merely the situation we're dealing with because it was built into the fabric of our society.
- Speak from your own experience. Talk from your own life. It's OK not to know this right away because we're trained not to think or talk about it like this. Parroting what somebody else said or regurgitating something you read or heard somewhere else turns this from a human interaction into an academic one.
- Where is power concentrated?
- Who exercises power?
- Who controls and/or has access to resources?
- What barriers prevent full participation?
- What are the effects of the power structures?
- Which institutions and/or organizations do you work with?
- What community does it serve?
- Who is in that community? Where do people of color fit into that community?
- Where does your organization or institution interact with that community?
- Who describes that community?
- Who represents that community?
- Who speaks for that community?
- Who mediates with or for that community?
- Who evaluates the people within that community?
- Who speaks for that community?
- Who helps people navigate the system?
- Who has access to your organization or institution?
- Who are the leaders in your organization or institution? Who is represented in that leadership?
- Who gets people to join your organization or institution?
Of course, there's no pressure to answer all of these questions right away. Just some things to think about. Feel free to leave answers here or to link to this post on your own blog with your answers.