Here it is! The BAD actors!
In reaction to civil unrest in our country, we—Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) theatremakers—formed a collective of multi-generational, multi-disciplinary, early career, emerging and established artists, theater managers, executives, students, administrators, dramaturges and producers, to address the scope and pervasiveness of anti-Blackness and racism in the American theater. Our response was to draft a strong testimonial letter, ‘DEAR WHITE AMERICAN THEATER’, collectively crafted by theatremakers from across the country, exposing the indignities and racism that BIPOC, and in particular Black theatremakers, face on a day-to-day basis in the theater industry.
What began as a conversation between 3 theatremakers concerned about the devaluation and violence against Black bodies in the world, quickly evolved into a Zoom call with 30 people, discussing the way racism and white supremacy have also shaped and corrupted our theater institutions, ranging from the universities to not-for-profit and commercial houses.
That 3 that became 30 then became a mighty 300+ of BIPOC theatremakers who added their signatures to our testimonial letter, demanding a more equitable and safe space for BIPOC communities in our nation and inside of the American Theater.
There is no leader of this body of like-minded theater creators, no one spokesperson. This is a broad collective built out of a deep love for the theater and a commitment to its evolution. We felt it was important that we come together as one voice, in order to amplify, protect and support those who are most vulnerable and those who are emboldened to speak out, whether they are at the beginning of their careers or the very end. We recognize that some BIPOC in the collective occupy privileged places in this industry, however it does not mean that they are shielded or safe from the violence of racism.
Since our call to action on 7:00 pm June 8, 2020, within 24 hours our website, weseeyouWAT.com, received 80,000 unique visitors and 50,000 signatories have signed a petition demanding substantive change in the American theater— that number continues to grow by the minute. This outpouring of support is a testament to the widespread and systemic problem of racism many BIPOC continue to face in their field.
This is the beginning of a movement.
All inquiries can be directed to press@weseeyouWAT.com..
TENETS OF THE MOVEMENT
- We acknowledge the legacy and history of justice-driven movements that came before us, all of them. We know that we too will be viewed by history. We will let our work speak for us.
- This is a movement about anonymity. Not stardom, credit or viability of craft and craftsmanship.
- This is about service over everything. Not personal agenda or individual passion. Collectivity over individualism.
- This is an unapologetic movement. We are not “well-behaved”. We are sarcastic and a movement with attitude.
- We are strategic and measured and inclusive.
- We are disruptors. Not to be confused with negotiators or representatives. We are not sitting at the table. Asking for a place at the table. We are shaking up the table and rearranging the seats, and sitting where we please.
- Our work is adjacent. Not a replacement of other work. Our role as disruptors does not stop the work of the negotiators and representatives. It works in concert.
- We protect each other and each other’s fragility, social vulnerability, and emotional health. We keep conversations, names, and level of involvement anonymous in acknowledgment of each other’s collective sacrifices and personal/professional risks.
- We respect each other’s varied opinions and expertise over our own many cultured experiences. We abstain from policing each other’s tones, bodies, and politics.
- We acknowledge that our movement is not a permanent fixture, nor is participation inside of it. We allow for ebbing and flowing; joining where you feel compelled and taking a pause where you may fall out of alignment or where other life obligations take precedence.
- We are a movement with integrity. Stepping away or pausing in action means that we continue to protect, value and uphold the tenets of this movement. We maintain the code of anonymity in relationship to other members of this movement, regardless of our own participation level, and even if our participation ceases.
- We are a movement centered in LOVE. We serve each other and our greater community with compassion. We acknowledge the sacrifice, weight, emotional toll that this movement has or can take on everyone. We recognize the sweat equity that everyone has or will contribute. We will remember this at every crossroads and allow it to be our unifier.
- We are the long game.
12 Days of Watchmas — Day 10 #WeSeeYou
The Strain: White Fragility
The pressure increases… it feels there’s like an anvil sitting on your chest. Or a bed of nails. Breathing is laboured. Nausea. Headaches. Exhaustion…
Yeah. These are all signs that you may be carrying around the weight of White Fragility (*see White Tears), a dangerous strain of White Supremacy that disproportionately weighs down BIPOC Artists like us.
What you’re experiencing is not a figment of your imagination. The burden that weighs you down, it’s real.
Presumably they’ve hired you for your artistic point of view; the beautiful execution of your work; your expertise; your knowledge; your history. Qualities that in any other circumstance would command respect, equality, dare I say a due deference that requires a shift in the power structure. However, in this case the shift is complicated by one thing: your skin tone. You speak with certainty. This makes them uncomfortable. (It only takes one.) Your presumption of equity has disrupted their ecosystem. Whether panicked or premeditated, there’s a violent response to the space you take up. In this moment of prioritizing their feelings aka their dissatisfaction with the shift, a swelled tear or a quivering voice erupts. Somehow, you are the problem. The reason for the spike in their temperature. The reason for their White Tears (*see White Fragility).
Instead of taking a Tylenol and a moment of self-reflection, they insist it was your tone; your look; your silence; something you said; your lack of ability to hear what they were trying to say; your ungrateful attitude; your misinterpretation of what you see.
And just like that, your work, your voice is erased. Muted by their “fragility”, their discomfort brought on by the inherent impulse to preserve a culture of White Superiority. Your feelings go unheard, unmentioned, even, and their displaced anxiety builds heavy on your chest until you take responsibility for their feelings, make yourself small, and restore the (un)balance.
This tantrum-like behavior is borne not out of fear and frailty but out of the need to control.
It is dangerous.
It is violent.
It perpetuates White Supremacist views.
I encourage you to take yourself out of this equation, drop the weight, and leave them to bear their own burdens. Yes, the eruption of White Fragility usually occurs in reaction to your presence, but You Are Not The Problem. Your presence simply exposes a pre-existing condition. The spike in temperature comes not from your presence but from their resistance to fully embrace it. And guess what, Love? Those tears that come with the realization that they have work to do are not yours.
They are not your responsibility.
They Are Not Your Problem!
You have the right to speak to instances of racial inequality, communicate your needs (insert Demands here), and then ask “so what is your action plan?”
You have the right to Lead and Shine and Prosper.
And once they’ve exhausted themselves with distracting language about your tone and their fear, you have the right to take a deep breath and say, “… I think we’ve lost track of the point here, and I’d like to get back to the problem at hand.”
You have the right to hold that space and move forward with your work.
No Pimping. (*see Day 3)
Keep speaking truth to light, taking up space, and sharing the brilliance of your creative soul through your work.
And the next time they try to crush you under the weight of their discontent,
hand them a Tylenol and a looking glass and tell them they’re on their own.
Where Did BIPOC Come From?
The acronym, which stands for black, Indigenous and people of color, is suddenly everywhere. Is it doing its job?
- Give this article
June 17, 2020
Black Americans have been called by many names in the United States. African-American, Negro, colored and the unutterable slur that rhymes with bigger. In recent weeks, as protests against police brutality and racism have flooded the streets and social media, another more inclusive term has been ascribed to the population: BIPOC.
The acronym stands for “black, Indigenous and people of color.” Though it is now ubiquitous in some corners of Twitter and Instagram, the earliest reference The New York Times could find on social media was a 2013 tweet.
As a phrase, “people of color” dates back centuries — it was first cited in The Oxford English Dictionary, with the British spelling “colour,” in 1796 — and is often abbreviated as POC. The other two letters, for black and Indigenous, were included in the acronym to account for the erasure of black people with darker skin and Native American people, according to Cynthia Frisby, a professor of strategic communication at the Missouri School of Journalism.
“The black and Indigenous was added to kind of make sure that it was inclusive,” Ms. Frisby said. “I think the major purpose of that was for including voices that hadn’t originally been heard that they wanted to include in the narrative, darker skin, blacks and Indigenous groups, so that they could make sure that all the skin shades are being represented.”
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Charmaine Nelson, an art history professor at McGill University, said that the history of black and Indigenous people in Canada calls for the distinction between them and other people of color. In some parts of Canada, mainly east of Ontario, Indigenous people were colonized but not enslaved, she said, unlike Africans who were subjected to chattel slavery everywhere.
“We understand that under colonialism African and Indigenous people had very different experiences,” Dr. Nelson said. “To conflate everything in one is to erase, which is the very nature of genocidal practice.”
- Dig deeper into the moment.
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If the intention was to help spell it out, some aren’t getting the message. On social media, many assumed the term stood for “bisexual people of color.” Others read it as “biopic,” the shorthand for a biographical movie. The term has caused confusion, and there isn’t universal agreement about what it means or whom it actually includes, but to most, the people of color includes Latinos and Asians.
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Ms. Frisby said that the most significant part of the acronym was to include Indigenous people, who are also asking for policing to change, in discussions where race is mentioned.
“What we know is, more often than not, they have been pretty much nonexistent in any discussion about race or any discussion or any kinds of things,” she said. “We don’t see any narratives that include them. What we do see when Indigenous people are included are sports. We have images and mascot controversy, and then you have products that rely on Indigenous people like Land O’ Lakes margarine and butter.”
Many black people are open to giving space to the plight of Native Americans, but there is a frustration when it comes to the BIPOC term.
“It is lazy to lump us all together as if we all face the same problems,” said Sylvia Obell, a host of the Netflix podcast “Okay, Now Listen.” “When you blend us all together like this, it’s erasure. It allows people to get away with not knowing people of color and our separate set of issues that we all face. It allows people to play it safe and not leave anyone out, and it also allows you to not have to do the work.”
In a moment when black Americans are asking that the names of those killed at the hands of the police be said aloud, and when black people are asking for equal treatment on a global scale, trying to fit all people of color and Native Americans in one term can seem tone deaf.
“The whole point is that we want to take up space,” Ms. Obell said. “Take the time to say black, Latinx and Asian. Say our names. Take the time to learn. Show me that you know the difference.”
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To attempt to represent so many different identities in a single term is a product of colonialism, according to Chelsey Luger, a wellness trainer at the Native Wellness Institute, and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, a tribal nation in North Dakota.
“It is a redundant term if anything else,” Ms. Luger said. “All people of color are Indigenous. A lot of people of color are not acknowledged as and don’t have a connection to that idea because their Indigenous identity has been erased through assimilative techniques or just the connection to our stories and our history has been violently taken from us.”
The Indigenous community critiques the designations of Native American and First Nations, as the Indigenous are called in Canada, because their diversity is not recognized in those terms, according to Ms. Luger.
“The fact that people think that we’re one homogeneous group and they don’t acknowledge our diversity contributes to our dehumanization,” Ms. Luger said. “It is common knowledge that European and white Americans come from multinational complex backgrounds with very diverse histories. It is dangerous when you perpetuate the notion that black and Indigenous people of color are homogeneous.”
Some are comfortable saying BIPOC.
“It was, ‘Should I call them black or African-Americans,’ but BIPOC came out recently,” said Gabby Beckford, a travel content creator. In a video posted to her YouTube channel, she explained the differences between the terms.