The Balkanization of America...& the Theatre
I surf Huffington Post more often than I'd like to admit - it's the way I procrastinate under the guise of making myself an informed citizen - and I came across this article: White Nationalists Gather On Halloween To Discuss How Oppressed They Are by Samantha Lachman. It's an article covering a meeting of 150-plus white men who gathered on Halloween to discuss their shared European heritage and identity, the future of whiteness in America... and how to unite around white interests in the face of a growing minority population to make sure that they are not "taken over." During the meeting someone suggested they advocate for an all-white state (that they take over Georgia or Kansas or something) to protect themselves, leaving the urban, non-arable land for Blacks and Latinos (I guess they didn't have time to convene about what to do with the Native Americans and Asians and Arabs and Pacific Islanders and people of mixed heritage...LOL). Of the many reactions I had to this article, I decided to respond thusly:
"THIS IS CIVIL WAR TALK. All white state?! (first of all... there are already states that almost are all-white states, but I digress) There is a much bigger problem. The Balkanization of America... these growing and strengthening divisions... these fears and worries ... this guilt and projection... all is born from the inequalities established by the unfair and often hypocritical policies of our past political, economic and social systems. It's more talk of the "Every wo/man for himself." It's: "All black state. All native state. All latino state. All asian state. All white state. All bi-racial state. All tri-racial state. And within them.. the division between the rich and poor. The liberal and the conservative. The cisgendered and transgendered. The hetrosexual, homosexual, bisexual and asexual. The Hindu and the Atheist. The women, men and hermaphodites. The young and the old. The able-bodied and the handicapped. The light skinned and dark skinned. The straight haired and curly haired. The vegans and the carnivores. The tatooed and non-tatooed. My God. WE'RE GOING TO IMPLODE! This country will implode if we don't start to see that we're all in this together; if we don't start to acknowledge and accept how we are all united in a common interest; if we can't see that there isn't a disregard for someone else that doesn't come back to haunt us; if unity doesn't become more important to us than anything else then... Civil War it is."
As Americans we have lost our sense of "common values." Nothing is common anymore, it seems. We are a nation whose unifying principle is supposed to be our ideals - not our ethnicity or race or geographical origin or our religion or our enemy, etc. Individual liberty, populism, egalitarianism, republicanism...equal rights and protections under the law... all men are created equal... liberty and justice for all, etc. These are the things that are supposed to matter the most to us. Our consideration of these things should be the basis of our decision making.
This article further lead me to think about the Equity Diversity and Inclusion work that TCG is so dedicated to... and it made me wonder. Have we done a good job at identifying our common interests in this endeavor while we assert the interest of all of our "affinities"? Have we made our core values clear, and are we articulating that our action items are born of those core values that support the health of the industry as a whole? I think we've appealed to an economic imperative. We've placed arguments forward as they relate to the bottom line -- the "browning" of America's audiences due to the "browning" of America's population means that we'd do better to maintain audiences in the future by diversifying our stage content to attract them. The fact that women are 50% of the population... that's 50% of ticket-buyers. Those are arguments... but do we believe them to be relevant? What is the real value of diversity? Of inclusion?
The answer to me is philosophical... spiritual. Separation defies the laws of nature. Separation is death. Interdependence (i.e. inclusion) is life. Emphasizing difference/disunity is death. Emphasizing sameness/connection/unity is life. Emphasizing parts is death. Emphasizing the whole is life. Forcing homogeny and conformity is death. Embracing diversity and intersectionality is life. Being pro-equity, diversity and inclusion is being pro-life.
One of the major struggles I believe we have furthering the EDI agenda, I think, is getting the privileged population to BELIEVE that EDI is in our collective best interests. Non-privileged people have something to gain in that quest. Most of us/them want to be a part of the part of the industry that is most established and most resourced. Some privileged people may feel that it is a moral imperative more than a practical one - that it's good should share. It's good to include. It makes them/us feel like heroes. Saviors. But, if Jonathan Reynolds' article in the Dec 2015 Dramatist magazine is any indication (page 33), I don't think that many of the privilege holders BELIEVE that EDI has worthy benefits. Just like the white men from the Huff Post article do not believe that diversity or inclusion is in their best interests. They find it threatening to their very existence and to the future of people like them. They find it dilluting. They see it as something that takes away from their power, access, voice, influence, safety, control while replacing it with no added value. And because they/we have all of the money and power and access we/they - as transgender women, as people of color, etc. - shoulder the burden of having to prove the value of this cause. Privileged people have the privilege of demanding that non-privileged populations prove the that the dynamic exists and is problematic, but when the reports come out they refuse to believe the stastictical evidence. (To play devil's advocate, I've known numbers to lie as well). They don't believe even the evidence staring them in the face. How do we get them to believe? And do we believe? Or are we just acting in our own self-interest?
This constant burden to prove the worth of my presence - the value of a black woman - is hurtful to my psyche, because inherent in the burden of proof is the simultaneous affirmation that I am not. It's exhausting. It makes me want to use my precious resource of energy not to prove my worth, but to build something that I cannot be excluded from. On an island. Far away. But when I have that thought, it scares me... that's a thought of separation... secession. That's the same thought the white men in the article are having. Bunker down. Put up walls. I cringe at that. I believe in integration. I may have sepratist inclinations at the moment, but I'll always choose integration because integration is in alignment the laws of nature. Interdependence is the law of nature. Interdependence is how all things in nature thrive. Isolation is sure death.
When I was a child I remember one summer wanting to break away from my cousin in the worst way. I remember wanting everything "MY OWN!" so that I didn't have to deal with his bullying and tyranny, so that he couldn't push me in the pool for his amusement and self-esteem (which he did whenever he got the chance). Interestingly enough... it wasn't until I realized that the only way to prevent being pushed was to wrap my body around his. Then I stopped getting dunked. 'Cause he couldn't dunk me without also dunking himself. There's something to that. He didn't accept my worth, but he accepted his own and he knew that we were connected. Being separate is not being strong, it's being vulnerable. Being integrated feels weak, because you become vulnerable to influence. Because you become subject to the experiences of others. You want to hold onto your identity, but when you practice inclusion, you can't. You become open to being influenced. You become open to change.
There is a game theory concept - the name of it escapes me, but it's commonly known as the Prisioner's Dilemma. In a nutshell, it's the idea that two criminals in the "game of interrogation," facing imprisonment, will get less jail time if they both refuse to flip on each other. However, if person one flips on person two, and person two doesn't flip, then person one gets off scot free, while person two gets the full weight of the law slammed on him/her. And if they both flip on each other, they both end up with a lot of time as well, much more time than they'd get if they remain quiet. Despite the fact that they both know they'll get less jail time if they both shut up, it never fails... each person will sell the other out and lose for fear of getting flipped on and ending up taking the whole brunt. They will lose all trust for each other. They will cease to recognize that their fates are CONNECTED... that they have a common interest... because they're so scared... because they can only be concerned for themselves. I feel like America is in a similar dilemma. All of these interest groups are afraid of getting flipped on -- and rightfully so. History has a precedence. People of the past have dicked lots of people for their own gain and they're sure others would do the same to them... in fact, that's they're argument for having done it in the first place. And maybe they're right. Maybe it's human nature.
How do we build trust? How do we move from intellecutal arguments and pity imperatives to belief and investment? How do we override our learned reflex to protect ourselves and stand in faith that our fellow humans won't flip on us? How to we irradicate the fear of change? How do we show the value in shared control (for it protects us from corruption, greed, selfishness, conceit, marginalization, etc.)? How do we prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that whatever one might lose in uniting, the outcome will be surpassed by the strength, peace and security of inclusion? When will our vision of the world as linear and heirarchical open to see the truth of cyclical interconnectivity? When will we accept that separate is never ever equitable, and lack of equity never peaceful...and that where there is no peace, there is no freedom.
"...all true liberals should realize that the place for their fight for justice is within their white society. The liberals must realize that they themselves are oppressed if they are true liberals and therefore they must firhgt for their own freedom and not that of the nebulous "they" with whom they can hardly claim identification." Steve Biko