Decolonize Your Desires — A Reflection on Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview and the Erasure of my Blackness as a First Gen American

When I left the theatre after going to see Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play Fairview, I was shook. I now acknowledge how incredibly privileged I was to experience it as it was meant to be seen in a theatre. It was a testament to the profound importance and impact of art. For weeks — I couldn’t stop talking, thinking about it.

I had gone to see it alone. Its second run was almost over and friends had raved about it and a dear friend’s former roomie was the star. I obviously wanted to support. All I knew was it was about — race — in some way or another.

I didn’t know what I was in for … *spoiler ahead* In short, Fairview begins as an easygoing comedy about a middle-class black family gathering for a birthday dinner and ends somewhere else entirely. A play about race, though not only about race, it includes a series of gestures and invitations that divide the audience (NYTIMES).

The play’s impact comes from how it experiments with many aspects of sound design and lighting, but fundamentally — the biggest punch comes at the end of the play, when it begs for audience participation. The crew and cast literally break open the stage and invite “white-identifying” members of the audience to come on stage and switch places with the black members of the cast.

It felt jarring as I watched over 90% of the audience reluctantly and then voluntarily populate that stage. I was left in the audience with a handful of “people of color” some obviously not white and others not. I stared at the crowd on stage and realized I was being put on display. I realized in many predominantly white spaces no matter how small or invisible I had made myself I was often put on display. Conversely in spaces where I was taught to feel uncomfortable (black, minority, “dangerous spaces”) I had the privilege of often blending in. I stared at the stage and wondered what it might be like to be on it. Tears flooded my eyes after myself and the black woman next to me took a deep breath. We were gut punched.

In this theatre- I was being seen and spoken to. I didn’t think about how blinding the lights on stage were for the white-identifying folks and how this strategically gave the cast a space to speak to us “non white-identifying folks.”

There is little control in how people view you — white or black or anywhere in between like me. This is the difficult truth we must grapple with — perspective, how we see others and how they see us. There was one Asian woman smack dab in the middle of the “white-identifying” people on stage. I wondered if she understood the assignment or if she had merely felt too uncomfortable to be seen as an other…anyways I often had growing up. I would understand. But there she was on stage, looking silly, like a damn fool… I picked her otherness out immediately. But who was I to tell her how to identify? I learned to embrace my many hues and the unique flavor of my blackness and brownness as I got older, as I got out of predominantly white spaces. We can’t escape it. We must embrace it.

I think I can comfortably say I grew up a little racist. I grew up with internalized racism passed off from broken and miseducated hierarchies of thought in my parents’ respective homelands due vastly colonialism — then they moved to this country of more broken…more miseducation…more hatred.

In Guyana in the 60s, there were race strifes called “The Disturbances” by the British. They had to send troops to their then commonwealth to quell the violence that had erupted between Indians and Blacks during elections. There should have been unity amongst these people with a similar shared narrative of having left home slaves or indentured servants (AKA slaves who chose slavery without knowing it essentially). Instead there was value placed mainly in “being British.” There was fear of ethnic domination of Indians by Africans and of Africans by Indians. What happened? They burnt each other’s businesses to the ground and killed each other. Hundreds of lives were lost. I only recently heard a family story that is a testament my grandmother’s bravery and colorblind love. I’ve often challenge my grandmother’s generational racist ideas, but this story gave me hope. During those race wars, my grandma, a woman of Indian and Portuguese descent, was forced to pack up all of their things and move — to protect her stepson, my Uncle of Indian and African blood, “a Dougla” from a death threat. My Uncle’s life had been threatened by a neighbor because he had been flirting with their Indian daughter. This happened cause’ of racism (also colorism, caste system mentality) carried over from their motherland in India into a new land to then be carried over with them on their next migration to America. My uncle’s story is one we’ve heard of in America time and time again.

In the Dominican Republic, the same story, there was the dehumanization of neighboring Haitians and of Dominicans of Haitian descent. There was Trujillo’s dictatorship and the Parsley Massacre only 83 years ago. That massacre resulted in 9,000–20,000 Haitians lives lost. His racist, cruel dictatorship resulted in many more lives than that lost. To this day many Dominicans don’t acknowledge their own blackness (usually older generations) and the government also refuses to acknowledge many Haitians’ citizenship. How could that be in a country that is compromised of 90% blacks and mulattos? How could they not celebrate diversity? Because of colorism? Because of racism? Whatever you want to call it — it’s HATE. Self-hatred in many cases. Yes, you can celebrate your language, your culture and still realize your race and still not feel so comfortable casting off brothers and sisters of another culture, but shared race.

If these modern day lynchings have taught us anything is that we, humans, see what we want to see — a dangerous armed man, a crazy angry woman. Then we dig through the dirt with reasons for our actions, these reasons often have no weight, they crumble in our hands.

I grew up clutching the narrative that, “I was not black” close to my heart cause’ that was what I had been taught. I don’t fault my mother for not acknowledging her own blackness, her beautiful AfroLatinidad, the fact that she is biracial. She would say her father had African in him, but it seemed like that understanding was only as far as the eye could see. My Abuelo is undeniably black, rich brown skin and un pajón. Her mother has European features and my mother passes as an Asian woman or more often that not — a question mark. They all hold the same amount of blackness in their blood. It is equal to their whiteness and their blackness is far more than whatever remnants of our Taino brothers and sisters were left in our bloodlines. So why not celebrate this blackness?

When I was younger, I was ignorant enough to turn a blind eye to racist rhetorics around me. I was dumb enough to make people feel comfortable in their ignorance and quick to correct them if they apologized to me for being offensive, “Oh no, I’m not black…” Damn, it hurts. It hurts to think I was just as ignorant and let those words slip off my tongue…

It hurts that I was taught by society, by generations across different countries of ancestors to betray my skin color because of how it might be perceived. It hurts that I’ve been PRIVILEGED enough to conceal it, mask it, pass it off as belonging to another lineage in my tangled web of blood lines…to cast off this hue to a race less offensive, maybe “a model minority” like my South Asianness or to of my Census invented “Latinidad.”

I thought after leaving the theatre of the many iterations, the different ways seeing Fairview might have played out. If I had gone with my white partner or white friends what it would have been like. I’ve surrounded myself with so much whiteness or spaces void of color that when I was embraced by and introduced to vibrant faces and spaces I felt whole, felt new conversations escape my lips.

The main character in Fairview says to the non-white identifying folks remaining in their seats…”You… I’ve been trying to talk to You. This whole time. Have you heard me? Do I have to keep talking to the white people?” She asks this seriously and not unkindly, “Do I have to keep talking to them, and keep talking to them, and keep talking only to them, only to them, only to them, until I have used up every word? … Do I have to tell them that I want them to make space for us for them to make space for us? Do I really have to tell them that?”

I couldn’t hold back my tears in those moments. We all want to be seen cause’ we’re human not cause we’re (ENTER IDENTITY HERE). It’s OK to be (ENTER EMOTION HERE).

Decolonize your desires and I’ll decolonize mine. Open your eyes to your own internalized racism. Many are comfortable in the codes and ethics of colonialism we have long been colonizers and colonized — burned nations down to build them up again. We are comfortable with, paralyzed to how these roles play out. In many ways, police states and colonialism are uncanny — both exhibit control over communities through occupying and exploiting. Both are not what they seem. All colonizers were not evil, all cops are not evil (in fact many became cops cause’ they thought it would do good), but these systems are inherently propagating evil again and again.

I don’t know the answers, but I will continue to educate myself, unlearn so many things and listen. Please do the same.

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