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BWW Blog: My Silence is Complicit

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I'm sorry that I have failed my black peers in staying quiet in the wake of overwhelming pain for the black community.

I am sorry I have not used my privilege to strongly state that black lives matter. I am sorry I have cowarded away from the media, simply because I have the privilege to do so.

Growing up in a predominantly white, affluent community, discussions about systemic racism more than likely concluded with: the best way to handle race is just to not acknowledge it since it is not our problem and we do not have the lived experience to advocate for those problems. After a year of college and broader outside experience, I now know that this approach is wrong and only adds to the problems at hand.

So then, what do I need to do in order to support my black colleagues? As a quieter individual, I try not to insert my opinion into the narrative for fear of saying the wrong thing, embarrassment, or starting more turmoil. I struggled with what action to take. After messing up, remaining silent, and grappling with these questions, I discovered I need to be more okay with being uncomfortable. My black friends and colleagues have gone through their whole lives trying to make white privileged people comfortable, so the least I can do is sit in this discomfort.

I ask any reader, particularly the quieter readers, to reshape what it means to speak out and what it means to be an ally. Simply agreeing with the rhetoric for justice does not correlate to being an ally. As an artist, we can only succeed when those around us are succeeding and it is our privileged voice's duty to help support the narrative. I ask us allies to be bolder and step into new and potentially uncomfortable territory because what we distinguish as bold is only a minor splash in the conversation.

Three ways to help can be donating, sharing, and educating. Our most vocal justice seekers are sharing numerous ways to do all three of these, from funding pages to attending local protests, and even sharing their reading lists (Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility being at the top of my reading list). Some of us do not have the resources or ability to donate, or attend a protest because of the threat of COVID-19 and that's okay. At the very least, we should make our anger, disgust, and hunger for change known to our friends, family, and social media platforms because quiet activism is not helping anyone.

I asked my classmates, Jay Owens and Olivia Lacie Andrews, both rising sophomore musical theater majors at Syracuse University, to share anything that a privileged, yet quiet, audience should know and/or do. I found their voices incredibly important to this conversation, so they could share their lived experiences coming from the black community.

I admire Jay for his leadership and ability to muster excitement, support, and action for causes and events he believes in. He shared:

"Every day, at least a few times a day, I have been sure to post, in the midst of reposting petitions, methods of donation, and protestor documentation (among other things), to remind our allies that we are not fighting each other. I've witnessed an alarming amount of posts with people indirectly attacking their contemporaries, and it starts to come off as people arguing about who is more "right". In reality, as long as you are using your platform to amplify the voices of people of color, you are doing the right thing. Of course, we want you to take all the action you are able to take, but we should not be using our platforms to point the finger at one another when we all have a common enemy.

I ask that my friends, specifically those of privilege use their voices in more ways than just a single repost on their stories. I ask graciously that if you have links in your bio with resources to advertise them continuously for the people who may not visit your account every single day. There's a video circulating right now of Nina Simone, where she expresses that as an artist, she feels like it's her job to reflect the times, to take action and be vocal about the current state of the world. I agree with her in ways beyond ones that words could express. I, personally, feel that as artists, and artists of the theater specifically, our most important responsibility is to give. And in this case, we need to give light to the voices that are combating the deafening racism that plagues our land.

I hope that we can emerge seeing justice and that the ones we endowed with trust beforehand, are still worthy of said trust in the end."

Olivia's strength, candor, eloquent use of language, humility, and intelligence are qualities I deeply admire. She shares:

"Our communities need a deep awareness of systemic racism in order to create racial unity. Learning about each other and having open conversations is the first step towards change. There are many aspects as actors we can apply to our daily lives. Truly listening, cultivating empathy, and not afraid of being uncomfortable. Now is our opportunity to come together."

As humans, especially those with privilege, I ask us all to voice our hunger for change louder than usual, take the time to educate ourselves on the issues at hand, and to take action where we can in order to help the black community in this overwhelming time of grief and fear. The least us allies can do is sit in the temporary discomfort to help advocate for the human rights black people are deprived of. Our success is only contingent on the success of those around us, and as artists, we should use our voices to right the wrongs at hand.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Shaun Collins