Yesterday was long and emotional. I began the day as I usually do, reading the New York Times, gulping my Organic English Breakfast tea with milk. But then my routine, changed, as I listened to a recording from the recent TCG Conference, a zoom session entitled Black Lives Matter, an Anti-racism Working Session for White Folx. The moderators began, spelling out the rules of engagement for the meeting, which 500 people had attended. They did some amazing exercises, creating a poem in the chat, as everyone shared what they were feeling and where in their body they were housing those feelings. I couldn’t see the chat on the recording, so scrawled in my notebook, “trepidation in my torso.” But I could tell from the gentle vocal exhalations of the moderators that the poem was unfolding in real time embodying the personal and powerful actual incorporation of each of its participants. I was sorry to not have been there in person, excluded from an important call to action.
A little later the moderators shared some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham jail displaying the excerpt on the screen:
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says,’I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”Martin Luther King – Excerpt from Letter from Birmingham Jail 16 April, 1963
The urgency of the events of recent weeks has left me uncertain as to my timetable of how to appropriately participate.
I thought back to the other day, when this peaceful procession passed by my window, and I’d caught the eye of one of the young protesters as he looked up from below. I waved to him, and he immediately poked his friend and pointed up to me on the balcony overlooking the street. I could see the two of them laughing, and they soon walked on. I knew that their laughter was snide. I’d blushed and turned from the balcony.
I popped my earbuds into my ears to continue listening to the TCG session, and dashed off to a real live appointment with my lively, animated urologist at 8:45, in his office. He’d been Jimmie’s doctor, too, and part of the allure for my becoming his patient was the kind way he always treated Jimmie; even at the appointment yesterday he recounted thinking about Jimmie looking up at me for a translation of his instructions. In spite of the pandemic, he wrapped his arm around my waist and told me to take care before he sent me off to draw some blood at the hospital. There the intake process took twenty minutes for a twenty second blood draw. Came away with a sheath of papers proving I’d been there and would be accountable for the cost.
Home for an email check prior to joining a three hour CommUNITY Forum with students, led by Anita, our Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
Anita began by reading the open letter from Black, Indigent, People of Color (BIPOC) Theatre makers which has been tearing through the digisphere over the past several days. It’s a beautiful, eviscerating letter, its seductive and relentless cadence of repeated “We see you” illuminating the specific sins of systemic racism of the American Theatre. It finishes:
As I listened to the student speakers in the forum, their painful experience so present and palpable, I knew where the trepidation in my torso came from. The students were passionate, well-positioned with arguments of the shortcomings of the school in meeting the challenges raised by the BIPOC letter. And their fingers were pointed, specific errors made catalogued in the same clear-eyed accounting of the national BIPOC letter. I listened, moved by the sense of community that was being shared, but instinctively and by habit, searched furtively for a safe space, the peace – recognizing it now as negative and not conducive to change. We see you. That is what the students were saying. Like the young men down on the street laughing up at me, I heard their hungry and pointed pleas for change. We can do better, we pledge to do better, but that was grossly insufficient for some and not accepted in the spirit in which it was offered. The chat thread was quick, sharp, direct, and at times a bit feral. By the end of the three hours, I was exhausted and defensive and ashamed. In other words, I was having the parallel, stifling experience to the students of color. Bingo.
Having made the decision to withdraw from the world of Facebook and Instagram this week, my bubble has suddenly gone very still. After the work day was over, I got on my spin bike and rode for thirty-five minutes, falling in a sweat onto my bed afterwards, and looked up at the beautiful ink work by my Irene Neal which hangs over my bed. I lay completely still, panting, physically and emotionally sweaty from the day. As my breaths slowed, I allowed myself to get lost in the vibrant colors of the work over my head, staring at the red heart in the center which in my weariness, seemed to pulse, the translucent shapes around it becoming three dimensional. I watched as the milky white form lower in the frame took the shape of a mixing cup. I lingered in the kiwi colored eggshell shape, bursting with a sunny effluvia, roamed my eyes across the purple foamy edges, petted the turquoise bear who peered at me from behind a mantle of foamy ringlets, paddled in the bottom of an orange sea as it lapped down upon my shore. How rich and vibrant all the colors are in their/our free blending on the paper. As I dropped off to a tired sleep, the world’s plurality was beautiful and I imagined we shared it all together with equity.
We white folx all have our work cut out for us. Here’s a summer reading list shared by Rachel Parker to get us started.