Prior to the panel, we agreed to a list of rules:
- Listen for understanding as opposed to listening for the for the point of contention.
- Respect ourselves and each other's thoughts, perspectives, and bodies in the space and conversation.
- Patience, we can only be where we are in any given moment until we are ready to move forward.
- Step forward/Step Back, this spoke to being aware of how your enter conversation. If you are someone ready to step forward with a response, good, but see where you can allow others the space to enter. Conversely, if you are someone who more naturally steps back and remains quiet, find the courage to step forward.
- One mic, one voice speaks at a time. We hold the responsibility of listening.
- Multiple truths, this was a space that held and honored multiple truths. Your truth is your experience. This is from where you speak and enter the room.
With everyone in the room, we added:
- Stay curious, this was a space to discover each other's life experiences with interest and enthusiasm.
- Ask questions, this was not a space to make assumption. We asked questions for clarity and further analysis.
- Suspend certainty, this was also a space of unfolding. Shared experiences were treated as knowledge and allowed for discovery to take place.
- Honoring the timeframe, we were respectful of each other's time.
- Being present, while taking care of our personal and physical needs, we put away and turned off all phones.
- Witnessing, we were responsible for each other and held what was shared sacred.
After which, we shared what we were hoping to bring to the conversation and spent time getting to know as many people as possible one on one through a series of questions. Of course, we also moved. Cassie led us through warm-up and cool down exercises to help us address any areas on our bodies that might be holding onto tension, trauma, and unspoken pain. The panel discussion happened between the warm-up and cool down. Bimbola asked Paloma, Jesse and myself several thought-provoking questions. The following three still resonated with me:
- In your opinion, what is the utility of exploring race and social justice through dance and theatre as opposed to in a classroom or a lecture hall? What is the future of merging these spaces?
- What types of audiences does your work draw in? How does their participation as viewers influence and/or change your work?
- Considering that you all explore racial identity and historical trauma in your work, what do you think is the role of pain, sadness, and anger in the creation of racially focused art?
After the discussion and final exercise, we enjoyed a lovely wine, cheese and dessert reception.
Tonight panel reminded of my work with Theatre Communication Group's Diversity and Inclusion We cannot accomplish the much-needed and complex work around anti-racism in isolation. I felt honored to be a part of this work with Dance Exchange. I hope to continue this collaboration. We must continue create spaces that address our concerns, invite curiosity and dialogue, heal our wounds, and move the conversation forward. Over the past six weeks, I've been in multiple conversations with theatre artists, who are tired of fighting for a change they just don't see coming. We must find ways to support each other in times of fatigue.
A few days ago, I connected with the artists and facilitators to see how they were doing and where the panel left them. I wanted to hear what thoughts and questions they were still considering. They were kind enough to share their thoughts with me and I've included them for you here:
What has remained with me is the thought that we need to think deeply as a community about what we create from places of anger, pain, sadness or anxiety, and how our art can honor these emotions rather than brush them under the rug.
I'm still thinking about how we come together across racial lines and within them with a collective desire to understand and combat the systems that privilege white people every day in ways that can be hard for them to face or even recognize. I'm still thinking about how these systems have conditioned and dehumanized all of us. I hope we can continue to create and perpetuate practices and spaces that help us to stay grounded in our struggle while also unearthing and centering our hopes and visions, so that we are moving toward a more equitable future. I believe art making practice, in coalition with front-line organizing, can help us to keep our spirits and bodies moving toward equity.
I am still questioning once people know they have privilege, what do they do from there? How do you acknowledge and make use of your privilege to enter into the work of advancing racial equity?
I am still thinking about how we can’t afford to excuse ourselves from the conversation because it is challenging. We can’t afford to back away because of worry about what we have not recognized or questioned more deeply before this moment. We must be willing to confront the barriers personal and systemic that have prevented us from seeing and taking action.
As hard as it may seem, each of us can only step into the conversation and begin from where we are now. From this place we must then enter into the stream of work and healing that is being done to build effective coalitions and move racial equity forward. It is comforting to know you don't have to stay where you are, you have a distance to travel, and new ways of seeing and understanding to move towards.
I am still thinking about how we look beyond the surface to really consider the minute workings of systemic oppression. I am still thinking about all of the dismantling, uncovering, and unmaking that is necessary to move the barriers that prevent us from recognizing institutionalized inequities. I am struck by the creative potential surfaced when we engage in this process of unmaking and dismantling, and I am deeply interested in the ways I see artists leveraging creative strategies to advance racial equity.
I move forward with gratitude to the panelists who offered us opportunities to acknowledge our personal journeys, while also being instrumental in putting dimensions of privilege into the discussion. I move forward from our conversation with a strong desire to examine and confront further the ways that privilege influence my own work culture, both organizationally and within the larger arts and culture sector.
"What resonates with me is a need to connect our personal stories to our collective histories. What resonates with me is a desire to continue to raise up conversation and action on what makes cross-racial collaboration healing, powerful, and transformative, instead of a form that continues cycles of oppression masked by the facade of multiculturalism and "inclusion." Why were there so many white people in the room? What dynamic does that form and how we can we aware of and responsive to that?"