Sometimes you write a thing on facebook because you see all the wonderful black theater artists around you internalizing things they shouldn't. Sometimes you get angry because how dare the white people in charge make us feel liek this on the regular. And sometimes is goes viral and gets shared by over 105 people on Facebook.
A post for White Theater Audiences and Practitioners who call themselves Allies during February (BUT REALLY FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR):
As more and more theaters in the New England area are producing shows that are more diverse and inclusive, there is also a rising feeling of entitlement from white theater audiences and practitioners (who are also friends and colleagues). So I thought I'd write a post for you reminding you of a few things:
1.) Black artists, practitioners, administrators, and playwrights owe you nothing. We do not OWE you an explanation for the work we do, especially if it is work made for black audience members. Just like Samuel Beckett did not owe you an explanation of "Waiting for Godot," we do not owe you an explanation for "Passover." Asking black people, theater companies, and playwrights to give you an explanation for their works assumes that we report and are subservient to you.
We are not, and neither is our art. If you are wrestling with the meaning of a play talk it through with some other white allies, do your own research, -- hell, I don't know -- organize a play reading book club. Decipher the meaning for yourself (like you have been doing for all the other plays you've seen). You do not need your black friend to help you do that. That is lazy. If you call yourself an "ally" or "liberal," you should be doing this work. The motto of education being in your own hands does not stop at college. It is in the real world too.
2.) It is not black people's responsibility to take care of your mental health. If there is an affinity space offered for the black audience after a show depicting the black experience and/or speaking from the black experience, do not -- I REPEAT -- do not get upset, angry, or question why you are not included in that space.
If you are feeling any of these feelings -- I IMPLORE YOU -- please take a moment to ask yourself, "Why am I feeling this way?", "Where are these emotions coming from?" and "What are these emotions rooted in?" We, minorities, are entitled to have white free spaces because so many of the areas we move through every day are assumed "white-only spaces." Does it scare you to not be included in black peoples conversations? Check yourself because that "might be" latent racism. To be honest, when white people (no matter how good of friends we are or good of intentions you have) are in a room, it causes black folks to police themselves [for more information, please read what W.E.B Dubois writes about double consciousness]. Being policed by white people in the theater is something that happens in Boston ALL THE TIME. So if we ask or are granted one space to unpack and breathe through years of oppression (that your race inflicted), please leave it for us.
Thinking that it is a black persons' responsibility to take care of your mental health is you asking for a magical negro [see astronomy club skit below] and racist. It is asking us to put your feelings above our own, to put a white person before ourselves. Think about David Mamet's plays, and how there's never a space to take care of you after that, but you still went to his damn shows.
Lastly, if you are still struggling to understand this, please think of yourself, leaving that affinity space as a form of reparations that we are now collecting.
3.) Please do not use words that describe our work as juvenile. Before using words like silly, frivolous, foolish, etc. Please take a second a think that you might be face to face with a new cultural experience. Instead of chalking someone's actual life experience up to being childish, do your research. Also, please reflect on the fact that when colonial white Europeans came to America and Africa, they used similar adjectives to describe and belittle Native American and African cultures and traditions. Then proceed to enslave, steal land, and own us using those adjectives as reasons. Read a few books or plays by black or POC authors. If you look at the past ten plays you've read, and they all have been by white authors, you are not culturally intelligent.
4.) Last but not least. Don't tell us how to do our jobs unless you are our immediate supervisor. Nine times out of ten, we've thought of a better way to do what is being done. Eight times out of ten, we've told the producers how, why, and what it needs to be. Ten times out of ten, they are too afraid, too busy, don't care enough, or don't have enough resources to do it to the full extent. So instead of telling us, how about you tell the people who have the real choice to make it happen (i.e. the Artistic Directors, General Managers, Marketing Administrators of that organization).
For those of you who've read the whole thing: Thank you! For those of you who have just gone to the bottom to get the overall meaning -- here it is. You cannot be an ally if you do not do the work and stop relying on Black Folks to solve your problems. As they say in the astronomy club on Netflix, "[We] are more than the advice we give white people." Before you ask a black person, please do the *hard* thing yourself. The time of being an ally who relies on marginalized groups to make a change is over. Because guess what? We cannot do this alone. We do not have the privilege to do this alone. We've died doing this alone. So from now on, if you have the nerve to call yourself an ally, I want action, or it didn't happen.
Allies please feel free to share if you are and do have friends that do these things. As I have drawn boundaries in my life and know a lot of the folks reading this already understand.