The thing about watching your life on television
The thing about watching ‘Dear White People’ right now is that I am too damn close. Following #NoWhiteTrashBash I’ve lost friends and been isolated from the theatre community in different aspects.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like a group of people kicked me out of the green room or anything. The shit was subtle: unfollowing me on social media and not returning messages became the biggest part of it. That’s fine. I’ve no qualms about it. I watched all of those Black kids run into that house and take down that party and I started to wonder what would have happened had I chosen to take that route. It was always an option there were more than a few friends of mine who wanted to take it down and I told them no. I still don’t know why. I talked to one of my friends today and I told her I didn’t like Coco’s character, and I know now that it’s because I used to be her.
Throughout grammar school, high school, and my freshman year of college I abided by respectability politics, and I subscribed to the idea that I was better than some Black people because of how I dressed, the way I was raised, how well educated I was perceived to be, etc.. I didn’t even start wearing my hair natural in public until 2010. I used to live for people touching my hair and asking me what I was mixed with because I was conditioned to derive my self-worth that way by the society I was brought up in. I have had a very unique experience in the sense that I grew up in both predominately White and Black spaces. That dichotomy can cause you to question yourself when you don’t look or act like either of the ideals. When I take on racism my response is normally seen as an overreaction, but the fact that the word “sassy” has become the overarching description for the work that most Black women produce in my acting classes makes me question. Are you using that word because you actually saw or heard evidence of it, or is it ever-present because you’ve been conditioned to arbitrarily assign that to Black femininity? It’s kinda-like-how in Chapter II Reggie tells Gabe he doesn’t resort to violence, but he should punch him for thinking he does. All of my friends at Universities across this country are facing these and many other types of microaggressions, or are faring far worse, and I don’t have the answers.
Two years ago I sat in on a symposium with the Norman Arts Council and I spoke about the things I felt we were unnecessarily facing. It was arguably well received. However, one of the Professors in attendance came up to me that night and told me (not in so many words) that the burden of change was on the students. Initially I agreed, but the longer I remain at my current place of study the more I disagree. Why is it our burden to educate the University, an institution we pay to educate us?
What baffles me is this: segregation was a thing for a long ass time. Take my institution for example. Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher became the first African American to gain admission to The University of Oklahoma in 1949. OU was founded in 1890. That means that for almost 60 years Black people couldn’t attend the school. Not long after Mrs. Fisher, George McLaurin followed and fought the courts to gain admission. What is absolutely bewildering is, after a lengthy 60-year legacy of not allowing People of Color to attend the school, the Board of Regents imagines that this institution is a magical place with rainbows and unicorns where we can all just get along. These kinds of socio-unicorns on the campuses of these Universities having one defining characteristic in common with those unicorn frapps at Starbucks — they do not work. The expectation that life has changed is incorrect. While I fully expect to deal with racists for the rest of my life, at the very least, I shouldn’t have to deal with them at a University I pay to attend. Furthermore, it is not the burden of already marginalized people to tell grown humans that they shouldn’t hang nooses with bananas on the ends anywhere, let alone on landmarks for the First Black Sorority (looking at you, American University in Washington D.C.). I see my friends’ posts daily, and what they are facing in Minnesota, Florida, literally-fucking-everywhere is utterly ridiculous.
Regarding #NoWhiteTrashBash — the administration tried to hold people accountable. No one apologized, and maybe they didn’t feel like they needed to. Bodies of Color are particularly unprotected out here. Alas, 11 days until graduation. I’ll keep trying to not cry through every scene in ‘Dear White People.’ It’s all just hitting too close to home for me right now.