Peccavi. Latin for I have sinned.
Peccavi. In my thoughts and in my words. In what I have done, and what I have failed to do.
I am a racist. I want to qualify that with "but not intentionally," and "I'm not as bad as..." But it's important for me to acknowledge. I have said and done things that are racist without thinking. And I have failed to act.
I have said of a person of color "they are so articulate." While I'd like to think I've also said that about a white person, I can't be certain. I have listened to people, even close friends, question a black person's intelligence or intentions and been silent.
Silence favors the oppressor. Never the oppressed.
The spring and summer of 2020 in Richmond, Virginia changed things. The Black Lives Matters protests turned the tables and toppled long-standing statues. They also exposed long-standing prejudice and hatred. I marched in some of those protests. I raised my fists and yelled "Black Lives Matters" until a black woman lovingly pointed out to me that perhaps it wasn't my fist to raise. Perhaps I should march alongside my black brothers and sisters and let them raise their fists, and shout their pain and anger. Perhaps I should march in silence and listen to their voices.
Last week I saw The Niceties at Conciliation Lab and last night I saw Pipeline at November Theatre. I'm a critic, and it is my job to review-to turn a critical eye- on performances. I'm choosing not to do so now. I am choosing to lower my fist, to march in silence, and to learn.
I am learning that while we all may share similar situations, our experiences are vastly different.
When my youngest was twenty, I woke up to a call from my son. The police officer who pulled him over for excessive speed and sat him on the hood of his car and put him in handcuffs let him call my number over and over again until he reached me. I was shaken when I received that call. But I didn't live in fear of it on a daily basis. It never crossed my mind to fear that the officer might kill him. And in our privilege, my son who had been going 99 in a 65 zone, got to keep calling his mom until she picked up. And then he let my son come home to me. Scared and frightened of his mom's response, but not harmed.
A few years ago I was at Starbucks when a man saw a sticker on my laptop- Let Bi Girls be Bi Girls- and exposed his bigotry and homophobia. "Evil," he whispered in my ear close enough so that his spittle wet my ears. "Your wicked thoughts and impure acts will land you in hell." He towered over me. I was seated in such a way I couldn't get up. Yes, I was frightened and angry. But I could see the baristas watching what was happening. And knew they would step in before I was in any danger.
I am a white person of privilege. I can display my activism with a sticker on my computer. And I can wear my orientation on my sleeve. But it is not my skin. I can tuck my computer away in a bag, and I can walk hand in hand with my husband and pass for straight.
As a white person, I have seen myself reflected in almost every place I've walked into. My stories have been told for centuries. My skin color is reflected in history, and my triumphs have been celebrated. It's time for me to step back, to get out of my comfort zone, and to listen to the voices that speak truths that have never been, and will never be, mine. To take my white critical eye and turn it inward, while I take in and embrace and learn from the stories that are not mine to critique.
It is not the job of people of color to entertain us or make us feel comfortable. Yes, theatre can entertain and comfort, but it ought to also provoke thought, and ask us to question long held beliefs. There have been difficult conversations in the Richmond theatre community over the past few weeks. It is my fervent hope that those of us in a position to do so can use these conversations to build bridges, and mend fences, and transform lives. In the end, aren't we all better off, isn't our community all the richer for the diverse viewpoints and experiences? Shouldn't we all feel that the arts reflect the full spectrum of humanity?
I say yes.
Please go see The Niceties and Pipeline. Support local theaters like The Conciliation Lab and Virginia Rep. Read the stories of Dominique Morriseu and Eleanor Burgess. Celebrate the strong and powerful work being done by directors of color like Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates and Katrinah Carol Lewis. Uplift the performances of newcomers to the scene like Mikayla LaShae Bartholomew and Trevor Lawson and seasoned performers like Debra Clinton and Todd Patterson.
Peccavi. Please forgive me.