Book of Hours: (I have begun writing a larger compilation of poems called “Book of Hours” of which the following poem is a part.)
It is quite a trick
To make the great destroyer dance
Upon a stick
Held slender between finger tips:
Lap the air
This is the hunger to be everywhere
1/7/14, Day 13,761: Non, je ne regrette rien
So named for a core values workshop I attended that used the story of Ma’at, the Egyptian God who measure the weight of your heart against that of a feather to determine whether or not to let you pass into the better ever after. The lesson was to live in such a way that your heart was light and without regret.
But I believe in regret: I believe that life does not always give us a right choice and a wrong choice, but two choices of equal value, and choosing one means letting go of an entire world, a different you, and that regret is a picture of that crossroads, kept wrinkled in our back pocket, and pulled out from time to time to remind who we really are. I do not wish to let the pain of those pictures go and forget who I am.
I believe in regret: I believe that a life lived in service of something greater than ourselves will inevitably lead to regret because our lives are short, and the arc of the moral universe is long, and we will not see the mountaintop, and “maybe we’re not supposed to sleep so well,” and maybe the longing to reach the unreachable is a good kind of pain, a regret that keeps us climbing upward. I do not wish to settle for a life of ease through a system that is unjust.
I believe regret is a sacred thing: it is putting our skin in the game, it is anteing up our whole soul knowing the house always wins, and I would rather give a full heart to Ma’at than an organ blown over by the slightest breeze. Maybe in unjust times, hell is the place for someone who believes in justice, and heaven is a kind of indifference.
1/8/14, Day 13,762: An Ardent Year
This day is so named because of a lunch I had with one of my favorite playwrights, who said that she named the year to come as a kind of lodestar, and that she had named 2014 (forgive the paraphrase) her ardent year, where she would come to crossroads of regret and choose the thing she loved, regardless of how trimmed and well-signed the path. I name my days, but am not ready yet to name a whole year, and yet I may set such an ardent star to my North and see where it takes me.
1/9/14, Day 13,763: After the Party it’s the Ever After Party
This day is so named because I wrote a short play called After the Party it’s the Ever After Party for the “Identity at the Intersections” New York Madness this coming Sunday. This wasn’t easy to write, because I wanted to pour the honey of a certain silliness and sentimentality over some bitter and unhealed wounds regarding identity; if I’ve succeeded, the result will be a sweet, unsettling medicine; if if fail, it will be too cloying or on-the-nose. We’ll find out Sunday.
1/10/14, Day 13,764: We Got More Records Than The KGB
This day is so named because fellow Flux Creative Partners Kia Rogers, Becky Byers and myself met to create and action plan for the next six months of the Friends of Flux program. It is joy to meet with these two people and plan the good thins to come.
1/11/14, Day 13,765: Match
So named for the poem shared above, written on a Saturday that also featured a great rehearsal for New York Madness.
Technique never stands still: it only advances or retreats…
Writing: 10 out of 11 days (Be Happy Be Happy Be Happy up to page 87, completed After the Party it’s the Ever After Party)
Spanish: 9 out of 11 days
What small things did I do the past five days to help build the Honeycomb?
(And what does it mean to “Help build the honeycomb?)
- Asked my senators to oppose the Menendez sanctions on Iran.
- Spent several hours in planning phone calls as a board member for the Network of Ensemble Theaters
- Thanked Gov. Cuomo for signing A.740-A/S.3753-A into law to allow local governments to exercise their home rule authority to regulate pet dealers.
- Wrote After the Party it’s the Ever After Party for New York Madness and with the intent of beginning to imagine a new language for identity, privilege and oppression; to dream of the mountaintop
- Asked the Moroccan Government to repeal/amend Article 475, which allows rapists to avoid punishment by marrying their victims if they are minors
- Signed my support for the Scotland Proposal to end modern slavery
- Read scripts for a playwriting fellowship
- Thanked Al Roker for pushing back against Rush Limbaugh’s climate change denial
- Welcomed Jacqueline E. Lawton and Caridad Svich back as online curators for TCG (hooray!)
- Asked Emma Howard at Google to stop working with climate change-deniers ALEC
- Planned the next six months of the Friends of Flux program with Kia and Becky
- Signed my support for S.567 to strengthen Social Security
- Cross-posted another essay from the 30/30 US Latin@/No Passport reading scheme
- Signed the Al Franken petition to restore unemployment benefits
- Shared this beautiful An Ideal Theater post from Faye Price, responding to Jane Addams legacy at the Hull House
- Asked Atlantic state fisheries to support an eco-system led management
- Asked 60 Minutes to set the record straight on clean energy after their one-sided segment on 1/5
- Engaged in a positive dialogue around white privilege with David Marcus in response to his post on the Federalist. I include my response on Facebook to his post, primarily because it was helpful for me to respond to his points and I don’t want to lose these breakthroughs in the churn of Facebook. They represent a mini-time capsule of my growth in working towards greater diversity, equality and love in our theatre movement:
David, thank you for this thoughtful essay. There’s a lot here I agree with, though I will of course focus primarily on where I respectfully disagree, because this is social media:).
To begin, I want to acknowledge that an intersectional approach to this work would have us both checking more than just our (cis)gender, race and sexual orientation. Privilege also plays out across ability, religion, class/educational background, citizenship, place of origin and age. I fall on the privileged side of most of those areas of identity, and I check that privilege here not to sweep out my mental chimney (a metaphor I like) but because I’ve come to believe an intersectional approach to this work is the only way to achieve a more equitable world. Your focus, however, is on White Privilege, so I’ll try to honor that by looking at your essay primarily through the frame of race.
First, the idea that Black Santa, Duck Dynasty, etc. are not “actual discrimination” is worth challenging. You are correct in that they do not involve an act of legal discrimination, but I would disagree that they are merely a matter of “sensitivity.” Narratives that reinforce a racist hegemony—that Santa or Jesus must be white, that blacks loved the Jim Crow South, that Asian women are submissive, that young black men are suspicious—are what empower acts of both legal and interpersonal discrimination and violence. As Sarah Bellamy writes, they “reinforce and re-inscribe a narrative about white supremacy and authority.” While pushing back against these narratives may be less urgent than directly challenging systemic oppression like the drug war and educational inequality, it is still vital and necessary work.
Second, I read your distinction of racism as “illogical and irrational” instead of “immoral and unjust” as the difference between personal bias versus institutional racism. This speaks to the myth of “reverse racism” in our country: certainly a black person could be personally biased against white people, but that’s not reverse racism, because racism is a system of advantages, not a personal preference. Racism is a toxic combination of both “illogical and irrational” bias and “immoral and unjust” power that manifests in the inequalities you outlined in your essay.
Building on this distinction, I want to address your idea that because not every white person “can utilize white privilege” or access a “practical advantage” it deals a “fatal blow to the entire theory.” White privilege, like racism, is a system that affects individual experiences in different ways based on the full intersectionality of their identity. A white person with a disability is going to have a different experience of the system of white privilege than an able-bodied white person, just as a black trans man is going to have a different experience of racism than a black cisgendered woman. Without considering how intersectionality complicates white privilege, it’s natural to end up with jokes about “secret handshakes” and the idea that white privilege means all white people are trust fund babies. One valuable take on this perspective is the recent essay, “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person.” Toure’s bad metaphor of a car—that it is a tool to be used, rather than a system in which we live and cannot separate ourselves from—can be rightly challenged without diminishing the importance of challenging the systems of white privilege and racism.
Third, I want to say I greatly connect with your take down of race. It is indeed a social construct, one that is designed to oppress, and as Audre Lord wrote, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Using the blunt, oppressive tool of race to end racism can be counterproductive. Increasingly, I try to use ethnicity—“a group or people of the same nationality or land of origin who share a distinct and/or common culture”—in tandem with race, in hopes of both acknowledging the weapons of the past, and their influence on the present, while working towards a more nuanced and complex definition of identity.
That said, I disagree with your preference of color blind over color conscious, and I think my disagreement lies with a difference in our definition of those two ideas. To begin with color consciousness, when Dr. Williams writes, “As a person of color, I like who I am, and I don’t want any aspect of that to be unseen or invisible,” she is not advocating for being stereotyped. Rather, I believe she is asking us to acknowledge several things: first, that as a black woman, she has experienced systems of oppression in a way that we have not, and that while those experiences are absolutely unique and individualized (and complicated by her other intersections of identity), there are commonalities in that experience that are shared by other people of color and women; second, that in response to that commonality, there is also a shared culture of resistance to which we as white man do not have direct access; and third, that there a recognizable black culture—an ever-evolving set of customs, traditions, values, and practices, from music to food to religion—that emerged from the African diaspora and is a source of strength, pride and guidance for not only black people, but all of us. Now, you may say I’m reading a lot into her words, but the phrases you’ve quoted have a context rooted in a deeply thoughtful approach to advancing intersectional diversity and racial equity, and to engage with them authentically, it’s necessary to research their full context.
Viewed through that frame, she’s not advocating for special treatment, but the same treatment that we as white men receive. Because the culture that emerged from white Western patriarchal imperialism is so dominant—Santa and Jesus must be black, 91% percent of working film directors are men, Latin@ actors make up only 2.7% of AEA members but 16.4% of the population, no actors of Middle Eastern descent in the 34-person cast of Broadway’s Aladdin, and on and on—a color blind culture becomes just another way of saying white male culture.
That is why I advocate for color consciousness: because I believe it essential for achieving real parity across all the intersections of privilege. And even if we achieved real parity, I would still want color consciousness the same way I want Dominican Day Parade and St Patrick’s Day Parade and Korean Day Parade. It is beautiful to acknowledge the commonalities of a cultural experience, even as it is essential to defend the absolute uniqueness of each human life.
Reading your essay, I think we’re further apart on tactics than we are on values. We both oppose stereotypes, we both acknowledge privilege, and where we differ is on how to move forward to a truly just, equitable and (dare I say it) loving society. In the end, I don’t think either of us wants the exchange of human sympathies to be governed by the limits of inflexible categories and false differences. But I think a truly compassionate embrace of difference, both of shared cultures and individual uniqueness, is the way to get there, and I think advancing color consciousness and dismantling white privilege are necessary parts of that journey.