COVID Welfare Mother?
I logged onto my social media platform on March 22nd, expecting the typical memes and sobering information about the pandemic COVID-19 on my feed and in my inbox. I saw that I was tagged by a grad school classmate on a post that linked to a Vulture article by Helen Shaw about some relief efforts for theatre arts professionals. I was linked because there was a picture of me from the production of STEW I starred in at the Walkerspace this past January as the representative image for the article. Yay, right? Wrong. It was a stereotypical "African American welfare mother" image right next to a headline about "financial relief." Not good.
I was upset that my likeness could be used in that way, simply because the publication had access to production shots from reviewing the show I was in.
I left a comment on the article and left the author a message on twitter, as her handle was linked on the article itself. I said:
"Hey Helen at the Editors over at Vulture - While I really appreciate you covering the impact covid-19 is having on the NY arts community, and for covering the relief efforts being implemented to help us during this trying time, at the same time, I take issue with the picture you used of me - a black woman in a head scarf looking toward the heavens holding a bag of Goya beans (a picture from the wonderful Page 73 production of the show STEW at the Walkerspace earlier this year) - as the representative image for "artists in need." I love representing my community, and I, like many, am in need... but this is a stereotypical image that need not be perpetuated without context. I'd happily provide you with another image to use for your article - one of me working with my fellow committee members of the Political Engagement Initiative of the Dramatists Guild, or with my co-chair of the Equity Diversity and Inclusion committee of the Theatre Communications Group. I'm sure we'd be honored to represent our community as people looking to help in any way we can to provide similar relief to individual artists and arts institutions at this time. Please let me know where I can send those images. Thank you."
Helen Shaw responded almost immediately and promised the image would be changed. She asked about my work with TCG and the Dramatist Guild and I went into everything my committees were dealing with. She asked to speak to me further in an interview for a new piece about the advocacy efforts emerging from within the theatre industry. She spoke with Exec. Dir. Terese Eyring and TCG's Political Advocate Laurie Baskin and got the real deal... and then she published a new article, sans stereotype.
I call that making lemonade. Check the link to the article below. Now let's work.