Straight white men are the problem.
Just like my last article, I expect there will be people who have many opinions they would like to share based solely on the title and the preview text of this article. To those people, I wonder what it’s like to be you.
In my journey through life both personally and professionally I have encountered many people. Many of those people were bosses, teachers, directors, producers, basically people in charge of things and consequently, me. They were often straight, white, and identified as male. Not that they can understand the need for identification, but we will get to that.
Do I think all straight white men are the sole cause of problems faced in the theatre and the arts overall? No. Do I think they might have the authority to fix things? Yes I really do.
I am white. I am a man. I am very large standing at 6 foot 7 inches, and I am gay. That list in that order makes for a rollercoaster that has one big climb and a drop straight back down in a lot of situations with many other men. Even friends and collaborators of mine can try and undercut me with microaggressions about my feminine or sensitive behavior. I even recently was asked to help someone learn about a skill I already have and they decided to mansplain the thing I was helping them with when they realized they really didn’t know shit.
It plagues my career and becomes an issue when I come into projects being young and gay and people feel insecure about my confidence as a person in this world. So, if I feel the tension caused by straight white male fragility, I cannot fathom what people of color, women, and other less physically voluminous must experience. So to all my straight white men who have made it this far, take a step back, see how people are reacting to you, and check your privilege.
I know, I have it too. Being so big, so white, and so extra. And yet, I have lost employment for my sexuality, or just the perception of it, I have been harassed at rehearsals, and called "faggot" before, during, and after shows. I have friends and colleagues, as do you, who have had it much worse. People who have been physically assaulted, not even given the gig in the first place, and found in situations that have set them back professionally for many years.
We as a theatre community need to practice what we preach. In classrooms and rehearsals all around the country right now, someone is standing before a company of artists preaching about empathy, love is love, and empowering a community through the story they are to embark on. Then they use their authority to oppress and to demean someone who they knowingly, or not, find to be lesser than themselves. Just because you voted for Hillary, wear Nike gear, and read Fences by August Wilson in undergrad, does not mean you are down with the cause. Empathy can be taught. Connections can be made. And apologies can be avoided by checking your privilege before you speak at all.
Being an ally starts with the thoughts in your head getting filtered before you say the “N” word in a rap song or assign the girl techs automatically to paints or teach them about tools because you assume they don’t already know. Don’t think you have a deeper relationship to the black experience because Suzan Lori-Parks has some plays you like. Gay people don’t always have to like or even be prepared to discuss musical theatre with you. Minorities are more than what you learned about in school or what you perceive them to be. We are people just like you.
And guess what? Having a diverse group of friends does not get you a seat at the cookout either. It is a case by case basis for you to check your privilege and make the mindful decision not to be Caucasian. I have to do it. You have to do it. And if you don’t, then you are one more insecure white person who oppresses.
Hey, it is okay to have anxiety about this and many other things in your life. Anxiety is in all of us we just present it differently. Once you identify your anxiety as a white artist, think about the not white artists and the anxiety they must feel right now as well. But, to complicate it even more, do not treat anyone like a, “precious minority”. Thank you Aurin Squire for that phrase in Obama-ology. Which is a play you should all read. Be like Martin Freeman in Black Panther. Helpful, but in the background.
The arts are not safe for everyone. We as the people inside of it decide who is welcome and who feels safe. Don’t be fooled by the liberal arts atmosphere. We have to work with our egos to support, not suppress, risk in all mediums. I am 10 miles away from an all-white production of the King and I. It is 2018. We are not beyond oppression in the arts. We are just now starting to acknowledge the history of minstrel shows, Native genocide, and white people playing Song Liling in M. Butterfly, that we are all standing on, and as whites, benefiting from.
Let’s all take a deep breath. Now, take it day by day, hour by hour, and every non-hetero-white-cis individual at a time to be the person that doesn’t always need to say something to be heard.