Why I am Fed Up with Performative Activism from White and Black Theater Makers
2020 gifted us the perfect storm to herald the winds of societal change. First, a global pandemic, which was an emergency until it was discovered to be killing primarily Black people. Second, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, hunted down like a deer by the McMichaels in Georgia. Then on the same day we see Canadian Amy Cooper weaponize whiteness against Harvard Grad Christian Cooper. The straw that broke the camel’s back was watching Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin casually snuff out the life of George Floyd.
After four days with no arrest of the four murderous Police officers involved in George Floyd’s death, all fifty states of the US and many cities around the world exploded with the collective pain of 400 years of global inequality.
Kimberly Latrice Jones broke the entire history of the why of #Uprisings2020 in her viral video “How Can We Win.” During the rest of the first week of Civil Protest, the occupant of the White House attempted a coup which prompted more fervent protest and spurred even former generals to speak up and out.
And on the morning of May 31st my inbox was flooded with “rehearsed responses” from theater institutions around the country who suddenly were proclaiming that “Black Lives Matter” even outside the month of February. There were also the emails, texts and calls from the Black people within the theater requesting “my fire” on their statement of condemnation of the institutions that were suddenly clamoring to express their solidarity and support.
The American theater has been dying a slow death from its racist, nostalgic, blacklisting and anglophilia on top of its soon to be extinct subscription audience. It has flatlined and debating whether there will be a Lazarus resurrection in 2022 seems so frivolous to me while young men and women are shot with rubber bullets, Black men are being lynched from trees and Americans are being brutalized by the Police who are sworn to serve and protect their constitutional right to free speech.
Several of my white friends reached out to apologize for having been insensitive to my ongoing protests about racism and oppression. All I could think or feel from their well meaning attempts is, “So it takes a global uprising for you to believe me?”
Now I ask that same question of the theater owners, producers, writers, actors, designers, union leaders, artistic directors and ad agencies: “So it takes a global uprising for you to believe me?”
I have spoken up in every room I have worked in. I wrote the theater community publicly in 2015 when I walked away from the Classic Stage Company production of “Mother Courage.” At that time, no newspaper would print my statement. Only after the “he said she said,” name calling and attacks went international did playbill.com print my unedited statement titled “Who Loses Who thrives When White Creatives Tell Black Stories. https://www.playbill.com/article/exclusive-tonya-pinkins-issues-unedited-full- statement-detailing-abrupt-departure-from-cscs-mother-courage-com-377196
Please, I am not looking for a pat on the back. I am no Colin Kaepernick. However, the symbology of Kaepernick kneeling and Chauvin kneeling is a convergence of divine synchronicity.
When New York restaurant and hotel workers struck and fought for $15 minimum wage, Actor’s Equity jumped on their tails and finally negotiated minimum wage salaries for actors too. So much for the AEA being leaders in the theater community. I was in the room where that negotiation happened. It was the day after the 2016 election, November 9, 2016. Folks were depressed and the committee did a blind vote to accept a shitty deal. Not me. I personally emailed everyone on the committee and called them out on statements such as“Sometimes leaders have to put lipstick on a pig and sell it.” To which I responded, “I am not putting any lipstick on any pigs, that’s how we got the current president.” And step the fuck up they did. Actor’s Equity negotiated the best deal in 40 years without having a strike. The committee hated me for my ‘rude attacks,’ but I wasn’t there to make friends, I was there to make change.
I say this to make a singular point. Change DOES NOT happen by committee, laws, or rules first. Change is the result of individuals making a choice to stand up against the crowd and the rules and the laws in the moment that an intrinsic wrong occurs. Flying in the face of the group does not make you friends; it does not make you popular. My public letter on leaving “Mother Courage,” prompted professors at Central Michigan University and Maurya Wickstrom at the College of Staten Island, to teach their students that Tonya Pinkins should never work again. I should shut up and act.
I was put on the earth for more than that. Individual action plants the seeds that are later pollinated and carried on the wind to sow new gardens.
Did you know that 15 year old Claudette Colvin was the first person to refuse to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus? Her arrest and abuse by the police led to the Black Bus Boycott. History has all but forgotten her. Has anyone apologized to Rose McGowan for accusing her of posting slanderous posters about Meryl Streep or for labeling her crazy for refusing to shut up about the now convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein? I haven’t seen it. Women are more hated in America than Blacks . But that is the subject for another essay.
Speaking up and out about the racism, misogyny and oppression at “Mother Courage” and “Rasheeda Speaking,” while people branded me difficult, crazy, evil cemented in me that truth polarizes. And it takes individual courage to be the lightening rod that grounds the electricity to make a safe passage, guiding the way for the group to move in and make the laws, the rules, the codes. The group, the organization, the committee are after effects of individual actions. But so often once the crowd and committee have chimed in, the individual actors are forgotten, silenced, black balled or vilified.
So the Performative Activism of professed apology and righteous condemnation by White and Black theater makers respectively, while poetic and forceful, land on me as sound and fury signifying nothing.
Rashad Robinson the inspiring leader of Color of Change said “We must not confuse presence with power.” I asked him if he meant what I thought he meant. He told me,“Unwritten laws, the unwritten cultural rules are as important as the codified ones. How do you behave when no one is looking?” I add, How do you behave when everyone is looking? And what are you White and Black theater makers going to DO when you are in the room apart from your clan?
What is the action plan White and Black theater makers: a thirty one page list?
Don’t tell me the committee will figure it out. Don’t tell me that all will be solved by the committees led by the very people who have benefited the most from the practices complained of and decried.
There is no reward without risk.
Not one organization, Black or White, risked anything by writing these emails or creating these committees. I can tell you from experience what the costs are of true individualized action. I am still paying for my scolding of Classic Stage Company and I probably will be for many years to come.
Starting an organization or creating a committee is a great publicity stunt for Performative Activism. Griffin Matthews did not name names when he videotaped his,“Dear White People “confession on June 1, 2020. Yet every word he spoke was a lance that pointed (indisputably) to Diane Paulus. Griffin risked not only never working with Diane Paulus again, but also with any of her considerably large and influential network. Griffin made it clear, he is willing to take the risk and accept the consequences. Griffin risked his career in the theater. What are you Black or White theater makers willing to risk?
The weeseeyouwat.com letter signed by over three hundred artists and the petition signed by over 80,000 read like the “If you don’t know, I won’t tell you” schoolyard taunt. Are we supposed to go back to the history of all of those award winning careers and try to figure out by whom and when and where all this oppression occurred? According to Daniel Pink the Nobel Prize winning economist, ‘The human brain looks for the easy choice.’ I would place my bet that the very persons whose names were not mentioned, and that would be everyone since no names were given, have concluded that you could not have been referring to them.
Don’t Confuse Presence for power.
The awards of the signers of weseeyouwat.com are in the hundreds: Tonys, Pulitzers, MacArthurs, you name it. Kids around the world aspire to live a fraction of the successes you have known. Yet to read this letter just made me sad. I had to mourn. This letter said to me that every one who signed was in the room where this compendium of oppression and coercion occurred. It made me sad that each one of them had been complicit in their own abuse by failing to stop it in its tracks in each and every occurrence. It made me sad that the work that we have enjoyed and celebrated might possibly have been light years greater, had these artists been free of the fetters that clipped their wings. It made me sad that they referred to August Wilson’s “Ground on which I stand,” speech penned in 1996 and that it had taken 24 years (24 YEARS!) and a global uprising for them to reach toward August’s words “Our talents, our truths, our belief in ourselves is all in our hands. What we make of it will emerge from the self as a baptismal spray that names and defines.”
The next week I read about Black Theater United: “A nonprofit social advocacy organization devoted to mobilizing awareness, ensuring accountability, undertaking advocacy and inspiring action. Its first initiatives will lay the groundwork for implementing substantive changes in politics, communities and the theater itself.”
We don’t need another committee, organization, group. We don’t need another set of rules. We need individuals taking action in the moment. Let me say that again, “what are you as an individual going to do the next time a producer, director, authority figure suggests or demands something from you which you find offensive, oppressive, racist, down right abusive?” If you’re going to run to the group and the rules and the plans, history has no use for you.
Stop patting yourselves on the back and getting paid and picking up statuettes and talking the talk while nothing changes because you have risked nothing! The bare minimum that I expected from weseeyouwat.com was a full page ad in the Sunday New York Times. Because The Times is what the audiences that fuel these abusive practices reads, that’s what the producers who advertise these shows read. There was not even the financial risk of an ad in the Sunday Times that would speak directly to the people you are accusing of hobbling you.
It’s not too late.
It was 2015, the same year that April Reign coined #OscarsSoWhite that I believe I acted on August Wilson’s words from the same speech:
“We are no longer in the House of Bondage, and soon we will no longer be victims of the counting houses who hold from us ways to develop and support our talents and our expressions of life and its varied meanings. Assaults upon the body politic that demean and ridicule and depress the value and worth of our existence, that seek to render it immobile and to extinguish the flame of freedom lit eons ago by our ancestors upon another continent, must be met with a fierce and uncompromising defense. If you are willing to accept it, it is your duty to affirm and urge that defense, and that respect, and that determination.”
But that was not the first time I have spoken up or out. I don’t have a scintilla of the money and prestige of most of the signers of the weseeyouwat.com letter, but I exercised the power to not be complicit in my own abuse in my work.
Presence does not equal power.
In 24 years, how many times have you exercised the power to remove yourself from the rooms and the people that would oppress you ? And if you chose to stay what “assignment” did you fulfill? Sherilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense fund, says “If you have infiltrated the room, you are there on assignment.” I say , you are there to RED PILL the people in the room and convert them to the right side of history. You are not there to come out a quarter of a century later in the midst of people dying all around you to simply send out a list of grievances and no action plan for correcting them.
What this last few weeks have shown me is that most of the White people we encounter in the theater and in the world don’t even read the same news we read. Their lives are not affected by any of what troubles us. They assume that if we are there and haven’t spoken up, all is well. This list of complaints offers them no option but guilt and apology. And while I cannot say that if White people knew better they would do better, I can tell you that from my observation most of them do not know any better.
The wealthy liberal patrons of the arts who have gotten there by legacy, inheritance, connection, association are no different from the evangelicals who believe that their success and power was anointed to them by God. They don’t value an artist’s education or work ethic or experience. They are looking at your ability to increase their prestige and their bottom line. They are only too happy to throw you a few baubles as their power and bank accounts grow.
And as I write this, I feel frivolous because what is at stake is the theater. Yes, I believe the theater is a sacred and holy place where people come together, experience the human condition and leave transformed. But let’s face it, theater is not quite on the level of protesting on the street during a pandemic, or standing up to McCarthyism as Paul Robeson did, or standing up against the war in Vietnam as Eartha Kitt and Muhamed Ali did. Or kneeling against Police violence as Colin Kaepernick did. These celebrities risked their vocations and their livelihoods for causes greater than themselves and their professions.
They didn’t wait for the group. We don’t need another fucking group, another panel or discussion especially one lead by the most honorarily White, award winning artists, funded by White people to keep Black people subdued and coddled, pretending that something is being done. Audra and Stokes and LaChanze, your power and platform would be better served fighting for the civil rights of Black people the way Robeson, Kitt, Horne and so many artists have before you. They risked and it cost them years of their careers. These groups, these letters feel like absolution, but they don’t bring about lasting change.
I am done with the groups. I don’t do well in groups. Groups look for the simple, consensus solution to complex problems. Groups want to celebrate and pat themselves on the back when there is still work to be done. There will alway be work to be done until each of us takes our last breath. Enjoy the work. Assume there is never going to be any solution. When you find what looks like a solution ask ‘what else? And what else again ?’ There is always more work to be done.
So instead of just scolding, let me share how I have taken action in the moment such that I could not sign the weseeyouwat.com letter because it does not reflect my current experience.
In 2015 when working on Rasheeda Speaking by the late Joel Drake Johnson at the New Group , there was scene where the Black character, Jacklyn swore to a lie on a real Bible. The play had been done in Chicago before The New Group and it was done again in London after the New Group. In both instances the actresses performed that action. I did not. I informed them that my Black culture respected the Bible more than their White culture. I was not going to perform that action because I was not going to put that image of my people into the world.
I didn’t do it.
The risk? They could have fired me or they could have had Equity bring me up on charges. So be it. That is the kind of risk that is called for in the moment that insensitive, racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynistic abuses occur.
At Classic Stage Company, Brian Kulick butchered Brecht, lied to me, blamed it on the estate, and allowed rampant misogyny to keep the two other Black women in tears whenever I was not at rehearsal. Duncan Shiek in his White privilege continued his notorious habit of not showing up to rehearsals to collaborate with brown peers. Shiek merely emails music for actors whose voices he has never heard for scenes he has never witnessed. Nice work if you can get it (Black composers can’t). And then this White boy slept through the one preview of “Mother Courage “that he attended [yes we have the photo]. Then the White boy dared to give interviews about what he observed from me on the one day he visited the production. I paid out of my own pocket for new arrangements of Shiek’s recordings of grossly inappropriate Asian instrumental music written while he was vacationing in Singapore. Recordings for a show set in Africa, recordings in Shiek’s vocal key. We lucky Blackuns had to speed up or slow down the recordings to fit our own vocal register. Shiek’s brand of #ArrogantIgnorance is only allowed because he is a money making White Boy. And it can only continue when Black and White creatives allow it. For that and so many more reasons, I left a show with my name and picture on the poster. You cannot buy my complicity in racism, sexism, misogyny and abuse.
If your name was attached to a show where racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and abuse occurred and you said nothing, you were complicit. Accept that. Own that. If that shames you, choose different next time. Because there will be a next time.
In my book “GET OVER YOURSELF: How to drop the drama and claim the life you deserve,” I write about the power of an intention and a choice. We are co-creating the universe. When you set a new intention, the universe gives you more of the old so that you can activate your free will and choose to bring about the new world of your vision. 24 years from August’s words have you made a different choice?
I have been complicit in my own abuse in every intimate relationship I have had. Why ? Because I wanted love. I never got it. But I wanted it. What did you want when you saw, but turned a blind eye, to gain the want that kept you silently accepting your abuses? Did you want attention, power, publicity, awards? Did you want to feel important? That is ok. Desire fuels our intention. We desire it because it is ours to have but we have to choose it. We can’t blame White people for wanting to always have everything their way. They have a right to want that. And we have a right to want equality. We get it by telling them that we will no longer participate in them having it only the way they want. Then they get to choose too.
The rush to blame is usually a sign that we are resentful for submitting to something someone else has no problem taking from us but that we are unable to claim for ourselves. The world does not owe any of us anything. We can play with creation and manifest the life we choose. This is how I do it.
Kirsten Greenidge is a fabulous playwright. She is in fact a better playwright than the play for which she is most known in the White community. “Milk Like Sugar.” Kirsten got her shot when she was commissioned by The La Jolla Playhouse and Theater Masters and produced by The La Jolla Playhouse, Playwrights Horizons and WP Theater to write a play about Black girls who choose to get pregnant together. The factual 2008 Time Magazine story of the Gloucester pregnancy pact was about a group of White teenagers who actually did just that. Recasting White history in Blackface is like the British who scalped the Irish attributing scalping to Indigenous Americans. Or like the Todd Haines play “Maxx and Emma” at The Flea Theater where Haines took the news story about the Latinx women who murdered the kids she was nanny for and turned her into a Black woman. I turned that role down. Then there was the Rosetta Tharpe play at The Atlantic Theater. I felt it was critical that I play at least one song on guitar in a portrayal of the greatest guitar player of the 20th century. My agent told casting how long I needed for guitar lessons , they agreed and then shortened my learning time. I resigned from the project.
But back to Kirsten, she understood that this was her shot. She took it. I don’t blame her. White theaters will only produce you if you dumb down your work to the level of their extremely limited imagination or fantasy of Black life.
White people don’t have to be smart or talented or experienced. Their whiteness and association with money and power built off the backs of Black enslaved labor is all Whites need to ride to the top of the mountain. You can just look at the White House to know that this is true. After a performance of “Rasheeda Speaking,” Michael Eric Dyson replied to a White ‘Talk Back’ guest who asked “What do you want us to do for Black people?” Michael replied, “I just want black people to get the same opportunities that mediocre white people get.”
I asked Kirsten to send me some of her other writing. It was so much better than “Milk Like Sugar.” It was about her experience as an affluent Black in Massachusetts. Not what White theaters were selling. She and I had an honest conversation about the problems of “Milk Like Sugar.” The mother character was a monster. That is the way the White theaters wanted it. I refused to play it that way or to say entire sections of what Kirsten had written. Myra was a working mom in an intact husband and wife family, supporting her children. The original news story with the white families didn’t have monster parents . I was not going portray the trope Patrick Moynihan perpetuated in his 1976 report to Lyndon Johnson, “The Negro Family: The Case For National Action.” In this report Moynihan placed all problems for black failure in America on the Black Single mother. The mother in “Milk Like Sugar” wasn’t even single.
I refused to say the words. Kersten rewrote them. I do believe she was grateful to have me as scapegoat for removing language the White theater development committees required her to write in order for the play to be believable to them.
I got excited about #TimesUpNow. Gloria Steinem told the women at a large group meeting at CAA in Los Angeles that the leaders of TimesUpNow should be the Silence Breakers themselves. She said only the people who have experienced the abuse know what is needed to create the environment for change. Well that never happened. Instead many of the original Silence Breakers were forced to the sidelines and silenced. This prompted me to create a series of plays called Truth and Reconciliation of Womyn. These plays and songs written by women from the global diaspora showed the conflict between women but also modeled ways to build bridges to healing. I was inspired to create these plays because when I spoke up about the irony of meeting at CAA, Harvey Weinstein’s former agency, as akin to the chickens meeting in the Fox’s den, I was dropped from the invitation list.
That hurt because that happened in one of the ‘Women of Color’ rooms of TimesUpNow. It hurts to be called then avoided and stigmatized and blacklisted. I cannot be an honest artist if I am not an honest human being.
White people can afford to be delusional, uninformed, untalented and uneducated. It is no bar to them reaching the highest heights. Whining Boy in August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson,” tells Boy Willie “The difference between the colored man and the white man is the colored man can’t fix nothing with the law.” The unwritten law that a black woman is supposed to shut up and be grateful has held many a great Black woman from achieving her potential. The legal system has been holding Black people down since 1619. Why would any of us want to perpetuate the American legacy of inequality?
Every social movement has had to break the law. Because the law was upholding the oppression. One of the repercussions of anti-blackness in America is millions of incarcerated Black men and women. Many of them mentally ill. My friend and collegue Commander Anita Batman told me that in emergency room medicine when a Black person comes into the hospital in a state of hysteria but there is nothing visibly or physical wrong with them, they code on their chart is “ANF.” Have you ever seen “ANF” on a medical chart? Do you know what it stands for ? A NIGGER FIT.
I meet so many clearly brilliant Black people who are also certifiably crazy. They were driven there by a world that told them they were not enough. Even Nina Simone and Miles Davis were stunted by a white gaze that was incapable of reflecting their brilliance. It doesn’t matter that they were ‘famous,’ their souls were corrupted.
The one thing that has spared me from an ANF diagnosis is having worked with George C Wolfe. Being in the room with someone who matched my talent, intelligence and insight has kept me sane. But most Black Americans never get to be in rooms with their equals. They are instead forced to work for and under people who are the epitome of ‘The Peter Principle.’ That is crazy-making. The world is in the mess it is in because of the mediocrity from the top down. Black people cannot afford to be mediocre . We could not survive if we were mediocre. It is probably safe to say that the mediocre Black people did not survive the brutality of American slavery. What survives today is the cream of the crop. White people in America had no natural predator. The weakest and the strongest survived, and in the quest to maintain White Supremacy even the most ignorant and traitorous among them must be “honored.” The cognitive dissonance that white people must engage in to maintain this farce must be exhausting. This system of White Supremacy is based on legacy and comradery and is upheld by affinity rather than capability.
White people don’t have to know better. They can ‘succeed’ without knowing anything. A case in point, Cynthia Nixon’s off-broadway directing debut was with Dianne Wiest, Patricia Connolly, Darren Goldstein and me. That was akin to giving a Stratavarius to a toddler. Nixon’s idea of direction was to literally act out our parts for us.
I kid you not. So if you’re aspiring to that, your sights are too low.
I resigned my elected position as an Actor’s Equity principle counselor just shy of the end of my first 3-year term. It was 2018, #MeToo was setting off a global movement of Women speaking out about previously unspoken sexual harassment and abuse. I could read the council room. I knew they were too afraid to do anything about it. I researched the matter and I spoke with other unions and organizations. I discovered a plethora of app-based abuse reporting platforms that were being used on college campuses and in the corporate world. These platforms were cutting the number of cases of abuse and catching the perpetrators. I knew that if I brought up the idea of these platforms before the council that they would dismiss it. So I contacted like minded councilors and rank and file members. They submitted a motion at national meetings in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, petitioning AEA to fund and implement a third party reporting platform such as Callisto. The membership in three cities voted overwhelmingly to implement and fund a third party reporting platform.
How did the elected council respond to the memberships petition ?
With a big press release announcing “The President’s Committee to Prevent Harassment.” About as effective as if the current White House had created it. One good thing about the pandemic, is that actors are safe from workplace harassment while they have no work. I gave a magazine interview about the matter and received a cease and desist notice from AEA attorney Susan Davis. If anyone had been listening I would have spoken out more. I told attorney Davis that she could serve me with a law suit because sexual assault in the work place is a matter of public interest and my right to speak about it is protected by The First Amendment. Folks are being brutalized in the streets trying to exercise that right.
What is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul?
I am nothing if I don’t speak. God will find someone else to use. The truth will come out and I choose to trust that like “the lilies of the field, I will be taken care of” (Matthew 6:28). So I choose to allow myself to be used as an instrument of truth. I advise anyone who asks me “What should I do?” I say, do what you can live with at 3:00 am when you are wide awake wondering if you did the right thing. Because we are all alone in the decision to act against injustice.
I also wish White people could own their supremacist desires. Own the fact that they want to see all White girls in a chorus or that they don’t care about the truth of Black life, that they want to build the fantasy worlds of their imagination. So own it. But don’t try to convince Black artists that your way is more creative or better. We know better. Don’t treat us like you treat your children with distraction and false promises while you do what you were going to do all along. White American Theater gate keepers: how are you going to increase BIPOC wealth and power? Who are you going to invite to have a share of that guaranteed hit show? When are you going to put the advertising dollars behind artists and stories that don’t promote the false narrative of White superiority in all things? Because we all know that people buy what is promoted and all the markets are fake. White people stop holding Black people’s work to standards that have been rigged to elevate Whiteness. America created fame and White people use it to promote a global narrative that oppresses all other melanated peoples.
We don’t need another White hero… We don’t need another organization. We need individuals with the courage and faith to stand up for what is right in the moment of injustice..
“Beyond The Sheets” at EST is a perfect case in point. I wanted to scream at every Black artist involved with that production for their complicity in perpetuating the the racist belief of Dr. J.Marion Sims that Black women do not feel pain. Simms, the would be founder of the practice of gynecology, performed Mengelesque experimentation on Black enslaved women without anesthesia. In the production, the screams from those women being cut open should have caused the audience to want to run from the theater. Instead, a choice was made to have Black women’s vagina’s cut open while the actors lay there in silence. The BIPOC artists were complicit in perpetuating that stereotype of Black immunity to pain. I feel pain deeply. It pains me to say out loud what so many say privately but would not dare to risk saying publicly.
So White theater makers, Black theater makers, IF the theater ever resurrects, each and every one of you needs to try some radical honesty with yourselves and with one another. Here is another example. I got into a heated exchange last week when I said that African, Caribbean and British playwrights and actors are elevated over Black American ones. I love the work of Cynthia Erivo and Jocelyn Bioh and so many other artists who have another country they can call home. They may be oppressed in those homes. They still got one to go to and they still have an option to come to America and be celebrated. Black theater artists hover. As Jesus said ,”Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Black American theater artists have few places where they are celebrated rather than tolerated.
The irony of 45 is that he has turned White people’s rules against them. It’s all “fake.” Race is fake hence White Supremacy is fake. A White majority is fake. 45 has forced White people to face a reality BIPOC people can never deny. Whites who didn’t see 45 coming have had their heads in the sand so long they couldn’t see the forest for the roots. These cerements must melt away.
BIPOC people do see white people better than White people see themselves. White people dehumanize and erase us while we stand in their presence. Whites move into our communities and walk past us on the street and refuse to see us. White people speak their secrets in front of us because they are certain that other Whites will believe a White liar over a Black truther. White people we are in your homes, your offices — we clean up your shit. We know truths about you that you deny to your friends, your family, your co- workers and even yourself. You cannot fool us. Our lives depend on facing truths. However, you can re-write history, write yourselves second chances, re-cast traitors as heros, project your sinfullness onto Black bodies.
So, IF you get to radically honest and make some lasting changes, don’t pat your backs too quickly because the backlash always comes. Stay ready for it. Better yet get so far out ahead of it that it cannot drag you back into the maws of psychological slavery.
Here is one request. White women do not get to direct Black stories for a long time. White women have already consumed the entire edifice of diversity appointments. I support intersectional definitions of diversity, inclusion and discrimination. According to the Intersectional definition of diversity, inclusion and discrimination, White women are one degree from the White, male, heterosexual, Christian human American normative. Kimberlé Crenshaw said “For every degree that you are away from that cultural norm, there is a distinct layer of discrimination.” Some people have multiple over-lays of discrimination; after woman add non-Christian, 2 layers, add non binary, 3 layers, add non-white, 4 layers, add disabled, 5 layers, add aged, 6 layers. And each of the combinations requires different tools and solutions that can only be provided by the people in the specific experience of the discrimination. The solutions must be specialized to the specificity of the experienced exclusion and discrimination. I am sorry, but I don’t see many award winning artists with honorary White status being able to throw down the gauntlet and take up the cause of the very specific ways oppression and exclusion operates for some people but not for them.
When I coined #BlackPerspectivesMatter #OtherPerspectivesMatter I meant it. Fanny Lou Hamer said, “No one is free, until every one is free.” We can’t get free with rich people telling poor people what they need. We can’t get free with non creatives telling creatives how to create. We can’t get free with abled telling disabled. We can’t get free until everyone has a voice and the freedom and the courage to speak up for what they need when they need it. I am through accepting band aids. I hold everyone to the standard to which I hold myself. Step the fuck up. No more Performative Activism from Black and White makers.
“I won’t tell you that the world matters nothing, or the world’s voice, or the voice of society. They matter a good deal. They matter far too much. But there are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely — or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!”
― Oscar Wilde
Bring on the hate. Like Hannah Gadsby, I feed on the hate. You don’t get this zoftig body chomping on lettuce and carrots. Egon Weiner said , “The only appropriate response to abuse is creativity.” Throw me some hate and I’ll make a sequel to my rap roast. https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gmwbgxaGzI
I close with the immortal words of Frederick Douglas:
“The colored man is no longer subject to be bought and sold. He is still surrounded by an adverse sentiment that fetters all his movement. In his downward course he meets with no resistance, but his course upward is resented and resisted at every step of his progress. If he comes in ignorance, rags and wretchedness, he conforms to the popular belief of his character, and in that character he is welcome. But if he shall come as a gentleman, a scholar and a statesman, he is hailed as a contradiction to the national faith concerning race, and his coming is resented as impudence. In the one case he may provoke contempt and derision, but in the other he is an affront to pride and provokes malice.”
— — September 25, 1883
White and Black theater makers show us don’t tell us, cuz the eye you see with, sees you too.
I hope I live to see a world where all of us can shine.
Three Time Tony Nominee for Caroline or Change, Play On and Winner for Jelly’s Last Jam. Author of GET OVER YOURSELF: How to drop the drama and claim the life you deserve. Host of “You Can’t Say That” bpn.fm/ycst. Writer/Director of RED PILL Movie 2020 coming soon.