- What Did You Say about My Mama? On Being Productively Uppity
Diversity is good. We should keep trying. I have to reiterate this every time a hand waved in my direction finds me cozily ensconced in some loosely defined group known as "you people." The violent reaction that still comes easily merely manifests a frustration that cannot be articulated. The barrier lies not in my admitted emotional volatility, but in the onerous undertaking of challenging the paradigms on which a comment relies. If our divergent perspectives are the result of a fundamentally different experience of the world, I have to first find some way for you to acknowledge my experience of the world, and then explain through that filter what the issue was for me.
I was once stopped on the street by a pair of police officers who wanted to know what I did for a living. "I'm a university student," I told them. They laughed, exchanged lewd looks, and asked for my ID. I provided it. After more surreal interrogation they returned my ID explaining that they couldn't be blamed for thinking I was a prostitute, what with those (indicating my sizeable breasts). I was a block from home trying to buy a doughnut. In order to make you understand why I handled it the way I did, I would have to orient you to the regularity of this type of occurrence, and to my certainty that worse would follow if I handled it differently. I would have to make you understand that successfully suing or exposing someone after they detain, humiliate, and/or violate you is not actually very satisfying. Telling someone off, surprisingly, is no more satisfying, because they are likely to walk away reaffirmed in their opinion that those people are uppity / sensitive / perpetually-dissatisfied / frightening / unreasonable / not very bright, just like they've been saying. Conversely, by flipping my lid I am likely to elicit a response that is more defensive than it is informative, leaving me none the wiser either. I will have reaffirmed for myself that those people are closed-minded / hopeless / ignorant / insular / unengaged / unwilling to listen.
Can We Talk?
Daniel Sadavoy, whose writing on Factory Theatre's Crosscurrents Festival appeared in these pages (Sadavoy, "Canada's Raciest Festival") evaluates various possibilities: that artists of colour don't step up and engage with institutions, that the work coming out of these communities is uninteresting, or that there is latent discrimination within institutions.
I can't deny that the article drove me into a senseless rage at first—the kind of angry you get when someone talks smack about your mom. Many artists of colour are stepping up by submitting to auditions and play development opportunities at the institutions. And of course we can point out the exceptional performance works coming out of cultural communities that qualify as interesting, but when you start to make these lists it feels like justifying. The Diversity Committee at PACT reports on success stories around the country to celebrate the viability of diverse voices and hopefully stimulate extended stage lives for some of these works. I leave lists to these celebratory initiatives.
At editor Harry Lane's suggestion, I took it up with Daniel directly. Putting aside offense, apprehension, certainty, and pride, we hashed it out with a satisfying degree of honesty, [End Page 95] respect, and questioning, which I have tried to reflect on and expand upon in this article. What became clear in that conversation was the palpable impact of our respective intervening filters. Daniel wrote the article through the filter of his education, upbringing, and Anglo-Canadian life experience. I read it through the filter of my Afro-Caribbean immigrant experience, through which I received my Canadian education and Grenadian upbringing. The world didn't look the same to us, and no amount of talking could make our lenses the same prescription, nor should it. But there is some value in recognizing this seemingly obvious truth.
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