Mariah MacCarthy has an awesome blog post about networking for playwrights. In the comments, I raised the issue of discomfort with self-promotion as a result of a sensibility I've been trained to acquire.
I am the token black guy. I'm just supposed to smile and stay out of the conversation and say things like: "Damn," "Shit," and "That is whack."
I need to explain that a bit more thoroughly and shed some light on ways to counteract that so that future attempts to include women, people of color, LGBTQ people, etc. don't fall flat when initiated by organizations that aren't specifically by and for us.
If you're a minority (of any kind), when you speak up, when you're passionate, when you're uncompromising about what matters to you, people don't see you as someone who cares deeply about something that matters. They don't see you as a change agent. They see you as uppity, strident, or a bitch. When you express yourself, you're not speaking truth to power; you're whining. You just have an ax to grind or a chip on your shoulder. If you're lucky, you only have to deal with social rejection from one person. If you're unlucky, you put your livelihood at stake. Who wants to take that chance every time they interact with someone?
The messed up thing is that it doesn't happen only when social justice issues get raised. Even being too forthright in mundane conversations elicits this response. If you talk too often or for too long, it can elicit this response. If you interrupt someone to make a point (even if it's warranted), it can elicit this response. So there are all these complex signals you have to make note of before you add your piece to things.
So what happens is that you learn to become hypervigilant about when, where, and how you speak - as well as to whom and what you say. You learn to listen for signs of safety and the invitation to share. I don't mean a simple gap of silence in a conversation so you can just add your two cents. I'm talking about a hint that they really want to hear what you have to say. It's a lot easier to navigate in person, but there are ways to do it online too. Nick Keenan, Adam Thurman, and Adam Szymkowicz have all done something I found really interesting when the discussion was women in the theatrosphere. They told us that they wanted to hear from us, and they let us speak. Keep that in mind because it's very important.
So, networking. I don't know about you, but one of the things I've learned about NYC is that if you want to find people, you have to go where they are. If you're looking to make more connections to women playwrights, playwrights of color, LGBTQ playwrights, and so on, you have to come to where we are. We're not hiding, but we are going to places where they make a space for us. As Nick, Adam, and Adam show, sometimes making that space is as simple as saying, "We want to hear from you."
Of course, I don't mean regurgitating insincere corporatespeak where they put the EEOC disclaimer on a job ad or say the word "diversity" on their website while not having that reflected in the corporate leadership or the corporate culture. In fact, I'm always deeply impressed when someone has the courage to admit, "We've noticed that we're not connected to many playwrights who are [whatever]. How can we improve? This is really important to us, so we really want to hear from you." A very important caveat: the "you" I mention here is not an organization, but individual playwrights.
Thus, our reluctance to toot our own horns is not for lack of something to say, but because every time we play our trumpet outside the neighbors about us disturbing the peace (or even call the cops). Invite us indoors, and we'll play your fucking ears off.