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BWW Blog: My Thoughts and Experiences as a POC in the Performing Arts

"You only got into Marymount Manhattan College because you're black and they need diversity."

"You'll definitely be cast; they need people of color!"

"We don't have makeup that matches your skin complexion! We'll have to order some!"

"You are so articulate!"

These are only a few of the statements that have been said to me since I started acting. Actually, I have heard some of these comments more than once. Unfortunately, many people of color have to deal with this constantly. This is nothing new. It's a shame because when these comments are made, they say them as if they have the best intentions. Although it is not my job to educate people on what performers of color have to deal with, I decided to use my platform to share some of my thoughts and experiences. I want this post to uplift everyone involved in this theatrical community, especially anyone who identifies as a person of color. All who have worked insanely hard in their careers, only to have them be discredited because of the color of their skin. To my readers who are not a person of color, I hope this blog enlightens you on what it is like for me and many others in this industry.

To all people of color, I see you. I understand you. I am one of you. I know what it feels like to prepare for an audition and be told by some of my peers, "of course you'll get in, they need diversity." By saying this they are telling me that yes, I will be cast but not because I worked so hard getting ready for the audition or because I was right for the role. I will simply serve as a token in the cast. I believe I've had enough time to process and reflect on these statements and would like to take a moment to respond to them now.

No. I did not get into one of my top college choices because I am black. I was accepted because I prepared for months and did the best I could at the audition. Thankfully, the theatrical department believed in me enough to offer me a spot.

No. I did not get cast because the industry needs diversity. Myself and many others were cast because we are talented and deserving of the roles. To those that have told me, and I'm sure many others, that we would only be cast simply because the production needs people of color, please stop. Refrain from voicing that statement. If you feel the urge to say it, pause and take a deep breath. Think long and hard about what you are going to say and if it could be considered offensive. If you follow those steps, yet still feel the need to share your negative inner thoughts I won't be able to help, as I am not a qualified, professional in this area. I am studying to become a qualified, professional actress though, and would appreciate it if I could get some credit for all of the time and energy I've put into my craft. It's never okay to undermine anyone's talents, but especially people of color.

Throughout high school, I often was the ONLY black person in the entire cast. I am the reason they had to order new makeup kits as they didn't have the proper makeup for their black students. I always doubted I would be cast for certain roles, simply because I didn't believe the director would give those roles to someone like me. Thankfully, I have been cast and received roles in multiple shows where I had that little feeling of doubt in the back of my mind. The industry is super competitive and there are many talented people who look just like me. Therefore, if I am ever chosen to be a part of a production, I know it's because I earned it. That's something that can never be taken away from me.

When I was in my second year of community college, it was nice because they chose shows, In the Heights by Lin Manuel Miranda and Sweat by Lynn Nottage, that represented culturally diverse people. They even hired a director, who was a woman of color. I remember listening to my non-POC friends express their distaste that we were doing more diverse shows. Some didn't even audition because they assumed they wouldn't be cast. Personally, I was very excited! I had never experienced working with a director and cast where the majority looks just like me. Those two shows will forever hold a special place in my heart.

However, being a person of color can have many moments of discomfort. I know what it feels like to be treated poorly and unfairly by people in authority. I often would not respond in the way that I wanted to, when in these situations, as I would not want to be portrayed as "the angry black girl." A stereotype that my white friend, at my first four year university, warned that I would be labeled if I ever spoke up. When I finally tried to tell someone in charge about how terribly I was being treated, I was told "you're not the only one." I will never forget hearing those words. It made me feel incredibly helpless like there was nothing I could do to be treated better. A feeling I'm sure many people of color have felt at least once in their lives. I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to transfer out of that university, but I know that not everyone is as lucky. I do not want to assume that I received poor treatment, at that university, because I am black. I will say that the environment was not comfortable or positive for most of their students of color. That is why it truly warms my heart to see the support, from all over the world, in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement. It shows that people are standing with us and are actually acknowledging right from wrong.

Anyway, I decided to take the time to share some of my black theatrical experience because I live it every single day! Do not ever doubt yourself or allow others to diminish your talents. You ARE worthy to be cast. Not because the production/company needs their token person of color, but because you earned it. I don't want you to ever think otherwise. If you are being mistreated by those in authority, or have witnessed it, don't be afraid to speak up and/or remove yourself from the situation. Even if you're not the only one, that doesn't make it okay. We all need to support one another, more than ever now. Remember, positive energy always. If you made it to the end, thank you for reading. It felt good to get that off my chest.


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From This Author Student Blogger: Janelle Murray