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BWW Blog: Reforming American Theatre - Where to Begin as a White Person

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More than ever before, the past few months have made me realize how much work I have to do on my own as a white female, and specifically, a white female in theater, to combat the racial injustices that line our country's past and present. I am ashamed that I benefit from a system that is deeply rooted in racism and microaggressions, and upset with the ignorance and complacency I have exhibited in the past. However, these feelings are pointless, and the only way forward is to do better. And you can only do better when you know better.

So, below, I've made a short list of some resources that have been helpful to me in learning about the systemic racism deeply rooted in American theater, and what I, as a white female, need to do to fight it. This is by far not a complete list or where our education should stop, and I urge you to seek out more resources. Please share these and talk about them with your family and friends, and I invite you to send any others my way.

What you should listen to:

1619: The Birth of American Music This entire podcast is a great educational resource, so I recommend you listen to all of the episodes. However, this episode specifically focused on the birth of American music and also American performance. I've been seeing a quote a lot that reads "your pregame playlists wouldn't exist without Black culture". It's true -- and not just the rap and pop genres of our party playlists, but also bluegrass, jazz, and various other genres of music that our society calls "American" were stolen from African Americans during the early years of our country's childhood. American theater, movies, and music all profited off Black culture through stealing and abuse, and continue to do so today. Listen to this podcast hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones to learn more about how the "American" genre of music was truly one of Black culture.

Where you should donate to:

The Fund for College Auditions
It is no secret that theater programs simply do not admit as many BIPOC students as they do white students. A large part of this lies in the many ways that systemic racism functions to make these programs less accessible to Black students. Many qualified young theater students, who have historically been underrepresented in the arts, have zero or limited resources to audition for post-high school theatre programs. The Fund for College Adutions supports and advocates for BIPOC, trans, nonbinary, disabled, neurodiverse and weight diverse students seeking to continue their theatre training after highschool. The fund hopes to "aid in the diversification of theatre, film, and television at the professional level and a significant reduction of the systemic inequalities that persist in those fields." If you have the means, please consider donating.

What you should read:

BWW Student Blog by Janelle Murray: My Thoughts and Experiences as a POC in the Performing Arts
Read this article by my fellow student blogger Janelle Murray. As I am hearing similar versions of these microaggressions be repeated in various stories, I am learning how the "liberal" label I and many others give theatre institutions has been blindly misplaced by white privilege. I thank Janelle for sharing these experiences, and I urge any white reader who is involved in a student theatre program to reflect on where these microaggressions are seen in your own programs and think about how you will actively work to challenge and fight them.

Playbill: Broadway's Mykal Kilgore Calls Out Racism in the Theatre on Facebook
This is a quick read but an important one. This article by Broadway performer Mykal Kilgore is an important call to action for white theater, to examine and then change our conscious and subconscious beliefs we hold when creating, casting, and consuming theater, and to Black artists to demand more from their white co-workers and castmates. Make sure to watch his entire statement at the bottom of the article.

Who you should follow:

@broadwayforracialjustice
An easy way to ensure we are learning and listening to Black stories and experiences on a daily basis is to curate the media we are consuming each day. Start by following @broadwayforracialjustice, and then I challenge you to follow at least 10 new accounts who will help challenge your beliefs and educate you on racial justice.

What you should watch:

Dear Amy Cooper: Broadway is racist. By Griffin Matthews
It is so easy to equate liberal institutions with being inclusive and anti-racist. "Broadway is filled with liberals, there is no way Broadway can be racist!". That's definitely a quote I've thought subconsciously in one way or another in the past. I'm learning more and more each day that just because something is labeled "liberal", does not mean it is inclusive, safe, or respectful of everyone in its reach. This video was a wake-up call to me, as my white privilege allowed me to not recognize these things in my beloved Broadway. If you haven't seen this yet, please watch. And share with anyone in your circle who reaps the benefits of Broadway.

Who you should know about:

Hattie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel was born on June 10, 1893 in Wichita Kansas. She eventually grew up to become a singer, actress, and one of the first Black women to perform on the radio. McDaniel was known for her role as Mammy in the 1939 film "Gone With the Wind", which she won an Oscar for, becoming the first African-American to win an Oscar. However, she was unable to attend the premiere of the movie as it was held at a whites-only theatre, and because the award ceremony was still segregated at the time, she was seated at a segregated table on the side of the room and was not allowed to attend the afterparty.

Stories like Hattie McDaniel are rooted all through American theatre and art culture, and it is important to recognize that just as white America benefited from her talent and entertainment yet neglected to treat her as someone worthy of their praise, our country to this day continues to reap the benefits of Black artists in theater and other media industries while participating in industries that are inherently racist and harmful to the Black artists whom they are reaping the benefits of.

What you should be aware of:

Read about white privilege in theatre by viewing this instagram graphic by @hornburgalar. In all honesty, instagram graphics have been such a strong method of sharing information. It is important for white people to not ask if their privilege is playing a part in system racism in theater, because it always is. Read about some of the ways your privilege functions in theatrical settings, and then do the work to help dismantle the system.


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