January 6, 2012

2012: The year of Black people as subjects

Kicking off 2012 on the racism front, we have this video, "Shit White Girls Say . . . to Black Girls"

And then we have this post at A Poor Player, which prompted 99Seats to write "Shit White Theatremakers Say" (and then "More Shit White Theatremakers Say" in response to Scott's comment on the original post and in 99Seats' follow-up).

I'm not going to weigh in on that particular discussion because, frankly, I'm tired of it. I can't even work up the energy to get pissed off. But, I can say that it has been my experience that when I told Black people outside of theatre that I'm a playwright, several Black people piped up and told me that they used to enjoy participating in theatre but got out of it because it's so racist.

What I am going to mention, which the video and the blog posts at A Poor Player and by 99Seats exemplify, is a trend I noticed in 2011 that I'm hoping will be over for 2012. For lack of a better term, I'm going to call it Black People* As Objects. To be more precise, I'm talking about Black people as objects of ridicule, scorn, fear, study, charity, validation, and so on. From that ridiculous article in Psychology Today about Black women being "objectively" less attractive than women of other races to pretty much anything that comes from the mouth of a GOP candidate about Black folks, it seems that a lot of people who are not Black have a lot to say about what the lives and actions of Black people are supposed to mean. Essentially attempting to probe and prod us like lab animals. Which could almost not be racist if said individuals, I dunno, bothered to actually have a conversation with Black people (as in Black persons, not Black People (TM)) where they sought to truly understand and relate to us as persons and not as objects or symbols.

I don't put a lot of stock into new year's resolutions, but if I were to make one for myself, I'd say that 2012 is the Year of Black People as Subjects -- subjects who live their own lives, have their own reasons for doing things, experience their own trials and triumphs, construct their own meanings, have their own thoughts and feelings as beliefs, and so on. The challenge for 2012 will be focusing my energy on those who are capable of talking to and talking with Black people and not talking at, talking for, or talking about us. From now on, I'm only going to get involved with discussions that involve Black people only when I can see that the discussion is framed around Black people as subjects. If that is not the case, I'm generally going to ignore it or poke fun at it. Maybe even link to this post, if I'm feeling generous.

The rule of thumb is this: if the discussion is about Black people or people of color, and not by Black people or people of color, it should ask Black people or people of color for their input. Not to debate or otherwise argue about basic shit (like whether racism is real in theatre or anywhere else), but to more fully understand something from the perspective of those who have to live with it.

I know that some people would ask, "Well, what about discussions about White people?" To be honest, that's not really my concern. Yes, that's a double standard. But it's a double standard I've experienced as necessary in order to have a real dialogue and not revert to White people telling Black people and other people of color what to do, what to say, how to say it, and how to think and feel about it. Which, again, goes back to treating Black people like objects.

And all that stuff I said above? That goes for discussions about women too.

* Particularly Black women for some reason. I don't know why so many people in 2011 were so interested in who we're dating (or not dating), fucking (or not fucking), marrying (or not marrying), or giving birth (or not giving birth) to.


  1. This is completely off topic, but I'm kind of obsessed with the actress from the "Shit White Girls Say... To Black Girls" video. She's so beautiful and funny. Like, whoa.

  2. Great post, and hilarious video.

    As a campaigning white liberal who works in the arts industry, an industry dominated by campaigning white liberals, I think the difference between people of color as objects vs. subjects is one of the hardest thing for us to understand and to deal with. I think it's because if we treat people of color as subjects more often, that means we maybe have to be the subjects less often.

  3. Here's one thing I see all the time in the arts. People of color are seen as an underdeveloped market for ticket sales and donations, rather than a source of stories and creativity. That is Object vs. Subject.

  4. Catching up on reading, and just got a chance to read through this. Dig it.

    Had one ? though. Do you see "Shit White Girls Say... To Black Girls" as object or subject?

  5. It depends on whose perspective you're talking about. Francesca is obviously responding to the objectification she experiences from White women. Thus, she is a subject with her own experiences and perceptions creating meaning for herself.