George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Names added to a lengthy list of Black people whose lives have been taken at the hands of white policemen or former policemen. Lives lost with a complete disregard for being held accountable or receiving any ramifications for their actions afterward because they didn’t expect any. This last week I have been in the most persistent state of rage of my entire life.
All of this coming around the 35th anniversary of the Philadelphia Police dropping a bomb on a city street in their fight against MOVE, a Black liberation group.
All of this occurring around the 99th anniversary of Tulsa 1921, the mass murder of more than 300 Black people, and the destruction of a thriving Black business community. All of it sanctioned by white law enforcement, white politicians, and the white business community.
It’s not new. It’s just another thing that happens while being Blacks.
But it’s even older than you think.
The first man to be recognized as dying for the cause of freedom in America was a Black man. On March 5, 1770, Crispus Attucks was killed by British soldiers who had gotten into a fight with a group of colonists. He was shot and killed in the streets of Boston by British soldiers along with four white men. The incident would later be called The Boston Massacre. As is the case today, his name was defamed and his character destroyed to get them off. John Adams, soon to become the 2nd President of the United States, was the defense attorney representing the British soldiers in a murder trial. His defense was to paint Attucks as the villain and the instigator of the entire incident. The defamation of a Black man’s character worked. Four of the six soldiers were acquitted while the other two were convicted on lesser charges.
Afterward, the story of the massacre and Attucks were used as a way to inspire revolutionary feelings in the hearts of New England colonists. Some years later, a group of abolitionists would name themselves The Crispus Attucks Movement evoking his sacrifice as justification for an end to slavery. Because that idea of freedom that Attucks died for was denied his descendants and continues to be denied to Black people today.
Yes. Before this country was a country a Black man was used to inspire whites to rebel AND had his name dragged through the dirt to exonerate them for their crimes.
So this is nothing new. While being Black colors everything.
This past week, people in Minneapolis, Detroit, Philadelphia, Louisville, Des Moines, Baltimore, Coral Gables, FL, Atlanta, New York, Houston, Denver, Portland, OR, New Orleans, Austin, TX, Cincinnati, Baton Rouge, Nashville, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, San Diego, Boston, Chicago, Madison, WI, Brooklyn, Montgomery, AL, Washington DC, and many other cities across this country and all over the globe have risen after the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of the police. These acts of protest are the voices of people unheard and not seen. They have taken to the streets in the middle of a public health crisis to send a very clear message. They are making a very clear and concise statement that we are fed up.
They are saying to America “you elected a sociopath as President devoid of empathy and compassion. He is a man who appointed white supremacists to key positions in the Justice Dept., to oversee immigration policy and issues of national security, while at the same time putting oligarchs and robber barons in charge of economic policy, labor, social services, and education policy. Then he filled every other position with nepotism, sheer incompetence, or both. So why are you shocked the social fabric of America is unraveling before your eyes?”
Then, right on cue, we hear the words of some elder Black leader. Like the conscious of the world, these words deliver some wisdom that is part sermon/part haiku:
“A time comes when silence is betrayal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen to side with the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu
“Your silence will not protect you.” – Audre Lorde
Those who are not in the streets feel compelled to go to social media and the airwaves, filling them with hashtagged “statements of solidarity.” From the business community. From the education community. Finally, the arts community is awakened from its slumber, stepping up to the microphone to offer their thoughts,…and prayers.
Congratulations! You have done your part for the cause! Cue the applause.
Everyone has acknowledged their support for the protesters without acknowledging their culpability in the crimes of white supremacy that inspired the protest.
Did you think we weren’t paying attention? Did you believe that you deserved all of those awards? Did you believe that every foundation grant you got was based on merit alone?
I have no patience for those who wish to acknowledge that Black lives matter in the abstract without showing how this sentiment is implemented in the specific. Racial inequality in the country extends to our arts and culture community. When the top 2% of arts organizations receive 58% of all arts funding while the rest of us fight over the remaining 42% how can you have the audacity to talk about Black lives mattering? That economic form of inequality is the knee on the neck of arts organizations of color. Real “Equity and Inclusion” has to include clear redistribution of resources. If that is not on the agenda, then how do any of these statements about the importance of Black lives hold any meaning? The inequality of arts funding is part of the system of racism that is demanding big structural change.
If we don’t heed this message NOW we are bound to suffer more before it is over.
If we want to address racism, inequality, and exclusion, we have to address them where they are. EVERYWHERE they are. I am committed to that. I want to champion REAL equity and inclusion of our arts and culture community, which is not it’s present state. We cannot fix racism if we don’t recognize that it exists in many forms.
To make the necessary changes we must do a new thing. Words are insufficient. It is actions that are needed now. We must do it while being Black.
If Black lives matter, then Black voices matter. If Black voices matter, then Black Art Matters. If Black Art Matters, then Black Theatre Matters. For Black Theatre to matter it must be funded. – GA