February 3, 2010

Sound familiar?

I was in the Penn Station Borders this afternoon. While I was hitting up the race and racism books (a strangely thin selection, considering the month), I came across A White Teacher Talks about Race by Julie Landsman. Let me share a selection of quotations in light of what I've been talking about lately. I bet you'll notice that some of this sounds awfully familiar.

I'm really tired of playing "Is it or isn't it racist?" Anyone who's passed Racism 101 with at least a C- knows that racism infests theatre just as it does every other industry. Rather than set up this post as a challenge against which White theatre artists and organizations must defend themselves against (which I find incredibly boring), I'm more interested in bringing the issue closer to home - to you and what you do right here, right now. Not in some abstract and nebulous realm called Diversity.

Now for the quotes . . .
    1. Paradoxically, it is often not in appealig to universals or abstract principles that change happens. Rather, change comes about in smaller contexts [...]
    2. I believe that white people too often want solutions to be quick and easy. They want something they can follow and in a few months, a few years at the most, the problem will be solved. At the same time, I believe people of color have known it will not happen this way. It will happen over decades, as our hearts change, our laws change, our responses soften, our minds open. [...] It will happen when we have lived with each other side by side, when we have heard each other's stories [...] It will happen when compassion and politics are not longer considered opposites.
    3. I can seek out those in the communities where my students live [...] I can begin to form alliances.
    4. [...] when students are hungry or their boyfriends are after them, it is expedient to meet these students right where they are, this morning, this afternoon. And to meet students right where hey are must involve an understanding of the racial history they have lived, as well as understanding our own racial history. It involves moving fast, to get a shelter bed, a college application, or even teh right poem, the right story to read aloud to them.
    5. Right now I want to work with adults who want what I want: the greatest possibilities for young people. I will join parents, sudents, and teachers, both of color and white, to resist classrooms that are boring and that only provide European curricula [...]
    6. My friends of color are skeptical of those of us who are white and talk about change and diversity. We have made mistakes over the years: have promised action and stayed with discussion. We have atched our own backs first and those of our colleagues or friends of color only after we have made sure we have gotten what we needed. Many of us have come to the table with the paternalistic idea of "helping the oppressed," of bringing our beneficence to the struggling masses of common folks. We have done this n the polite guise of community change, of foundation aid, of board membership, and we have done it imagining that we are bestowing great good on those incapable of getting it for themselves. We have come with condescension, false promise, and little follow-through. We have come with limited time to work things out, to disagree, or to argue. Rather, we often comei n a hurry to bestow and get out, go home, head back to our own neighborhoods.
Indeed, the most consistent failure of White theatre artists throughout this and similar discussions has been their insistence upon talking. Talking to, talking about, even talking over. There's a lot of worry and lamentation and righteous anger going around, but it all seems to be so much pissing in the wind because I rarely see - at least on the theatre blogosphere - any real engagement with the very people affected most by the state of things - theatre artists of color. I see a one-off post every now and then, expressing the appropriate amount of progressive ideas, but no real effort to connect with us. What, are we not important enough? Too small potatoes? Our work lacking artistic sophistication? For real, I've been more or less begging for some of you to listen to me, to respond to me, to engage with me. I don't even need all the fingers on one hand to count the number of people who have done so, whether online or in real life. Seriously, what am I to make of all this talk and invisible back-patting when the closest examples in my own life all too often illustrate the very points they're making?

And you wonder why we don't believe you.

If I haven't made things absolutely clear, no one is on trial. This is not a cross-examination. Nobody's casting anyone as heroes and villains. In fact, it's just the opposite - I want you to be better Good Guys. To do that takes going beyond earning a little bit of good karma here and there. It takes creating a new way of seeing and existing in the world - and that's not a comfortable place to be in.

Even me. At some point in the future, I'm going to address how a lifetime of living in a White supremacist society has really affected me in virtually every aspect of my life. Later, though. How much later depends on how vulnerable I feel like being. Writing Anne&Me has opened me up to things I'm still wrestling with right now. Between dealing with that and exploring this other thing, I'm not sure if I'm up to putting that on display (which, for reasons I've discussed before, is really fucking shitty).

What I'm calling for is self-examination. Yes, it can make you uncomfortable if you recognize yourself in some of the things being said here. Yes, this particular line of inquiry is difficult for most White people since what they're taught about diversity and inclusiveness is woefully inadequate for practicing it. I'm not so much interrogating you as I am giving you a more honest way to reflect on yourself and what you're doing, using the best real-life example I have: my own experience. If you're satisfied with where you are, if you believe the point of this is to prove how you "colorblind" you are, to proclaim how you don't have a racist bone in your body, you're reading this wrong.

I probably made a mistake posting this. But it's more tiresome bottling it all up and letting it eat me from the inside - which is exactly what's been happening when I began writing Anne&Me.


  1. Megadittoes, ma'am.

    It's like staying in college, trying to teach people, and they change every year, every four years, with little learning from one group from the next.

    The larger question behind the aftermath of the civil rights movement: How people of conscience and action were segregated from the general population, and burnout encouraged, so "engagement" with these issues remained as molten and corrosive as ever.

  2. Girl don't you dare apologize for posting this.

    THIS right here is what needs to be said. THIS right here should be required reading for Racism 101.

    I know you're discussing theater but THIS applies (as you stated) to every aspect of racism.

    Girl, you hit the nail on the head with this one.

  3. thank you. thank you. thank you. this is the truth i needed to hear a long time ago. maybe i was just not ready to listen.