I am a racist.
How could I not be?
I come from a middle-class white family, went to a predominately white high school and college, and am a leader of a non- profit theatre company in an industry that is predominately white in a community that is more than 60% white. I have been the recipient of the benefits that come from an economic system that privileges white people, and I participate in social, economic, and political systems that suffer from endemic racism and structures. I have been a consumer of media, entertainment, and social content that privileges white skin all my life, and live my life in relative comfort, safety, and security that is granted me largely because of the color of my skin.
I am a racist because I am a product of a racist culture, system, and institutions.
I’m not an angry, aggressive extremist that degrades and vilifies others based on their ethnicity, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a racist. I don’t intentionally discriminate against people of color in my hiring practices, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a racist. I may be a progressive thinker, a donor to non- profits that serve communities of color, and an out member of a sexual minority group, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a racist.
As Jeff Cook, a contributor to Huffington Post explains, “I lived a life marked by opportunity and forgiveness; and while I may not have always had much, I have always had the benefit of the doubt…I am uncomfortable
with, ignorant of and distant from racial inequalities that exist in my country.”
I have a lot of work to do.
Spinning Into Butter was written in 1999 and quickly became one of the most popular plays of the day; Rebecca Gilman’s direct, bracing approach to white people exploring racism with other white people. When we knew that The Vault was going to become a reality, I knew that we had to do a play like this as our first production. Something I learned in Scotland many, many years ago: start as you mean to go on.
Spinning is a complicated play; one that is both intellectually challenging and emotionally complex. It often feels like it raises more questions than it answers, and poses obstacles without suggestions of how to overcome them. It is a play that grapples, cajoles, ignores, resents, mocks, dismisses, fabricates, minimizes, exaggerates, simplifies, and complicates – all in the name of opening a discussion. It is a play that deals with well-meaning, liberally-minded, white people dealing with issues of racism in a way that I think is hugely relevant to me personally and to the community of Hillsboro. It is really a play where white people talk to white people about racism, and start the work of deconstructing our own understanding of our complicity in racist systems. It is hard work; often ugly, bitter, angry, and extremely charged work…but it is essential work for us to do, and the kind of work that only we can (and should) do with each other.
As Michael Eric Dyson said, “It’s not enough to be against something. What are you for? Empathy is critical, if it can be developed- [but we need] substantive manifestations of that empathy. It is one thing to attain it intellectually, but it’s another to do something about it. To challenge norms, presuppositions, and practices in communities across the country…makes a huge difference….White people have a better chance of speaking more directly to the white folk they know, because they’re less likely to be subject to ridicule. They’re insiders, so to speak.”
Let’s talk about it. I have no idea if other people feel the same way that I do, or if others feel like they have as much work to do as I do, but I really want to talk about it. I want Bag&Baggage to be a place where these conversations become a part of the fabric of our building, and a place where every member of this community feels not only welcome but an essential part of our work. Let’s talk about it.
As Cook writes, “I have a certain degree of power and privilege because of my skin color. That is not something I need to feel guilty about. I didn’t ask for it or seek it out, but I have it. The responsibility for having it isn’t on me; but the responsibility for what I do with it is.”
Welcome to the very first show in our new home. I hope this is the first of many, many, many conversations we have about our shared humanity, our shared responsibility, and our shared hope for the future.
Scott Palmer, Artistic Director
Spinning Into Butter plays at The Vault September 7 – 24.
Visit Bag&Baggage’s website for more info.