It is challenging for me to process the intensifying domino effect of this past week’s painful and world-rocking events. From the threatening of Christian Cooper, an African-American man, in New York City’s Central Park by Amy Cooper, a white woman, over her unleashed dog, to the callous murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis, Minnesota, white police officer, we have been given front row seats to video screenings of the many soul-piercing facets of racism, including those actions that have had fatal consequences.
Amidst of all of this, was the announcement that more than 100-thousand Americans (the most in the world) have died as the result of COVID-19. The footnote to this grim statistic—a footnote that pours gasoline on wounds that already have been simmering for centuries—is that many of the deceased were people of color. One such death that hits close to my home as a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., is the death of the 30 year-old school teacher Rana Zoe Mungin, who was denied testing twice and lost her six week battle against the coronavirus.
When we add the belated reporting of the February 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery and the March shooting death by police of Breonna Taylor, to the still-fresh wounds caused by the police-involved deaths of Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Philando Castile, it is clear to see that the sparks of indignation and flames of fury burning across many cities around the nation have extensive and throbbing roots.
Still, I was heartened to see disaffected youth of all races marching alongside older African Americans in cities throughout the country to recognize ever-growing importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and to renew the demand for the same justice and opportunities afforded white Americans. This cycle of marches and protests has been going on for generations. But this time, our collective responses must be different.
Why? The cumulative effect of the videos and the pandemic’s devastating impact in communities of color have made it impossible for white people to continue to assert that racism ended with the election of former President Barak Obama. I believe the year 2020 will be remembered as the year of the “Twin Pandemics”—both equally destructive—the year of COVID-19 and the year of one of the most virulent strains of racism we’ve witnessed since news footage and photographs woke up the world to the vicious attacks on Civil Rights marchers during the 1960s.
I have been a national leader of the movement to expand access to the arts through community engagement for more than three decades. In addition, I am an adjunct, university professor devoted to training the next generation of arts administrators who are committed to ensuring that their institutions embody equity, diversity, inclusion and access. Now, more than ever, it is crystal clear to me that my white colleagues, who are current arts and cultural leaders, must speak out. It is imperative that ALL arts and cultural leaders stand on the frontlines and take action to help end institutional racism, inequality, and the dehumanization of all bodies of color and other marginalized people.
That’s why I am joining in the call initiated by Dr. Indira Etwaroo of Brooklyn’s Billie Holiday Theatre, to our colleagues at white-led, arts and cultural institutions and who serve predominantly white, mainstream audiences, to stand with communities of color in the fight for justice: Dr, Etwaroo made the following points, which she has given me permission to share with the readers of Arts & Culture Connections.
- Use your social media and online platforms to underscore your support of justice for the African American community and cultural institutions now and moving forward;
- Advocate to your funders and elected officials your stand for equitable funding for institutions of color;
- Create a radically welcoming space for not just select Black artists and works, but for all Black audiences beyond MLK Weekend and African American Heritage Month;
- Visit our communities and institutions. Invest in our small businesses. Attend our events; and,
- Be the person who doesn’t look like the majority of people in a space and experience the power of that perspective.
Already, according to Variety Magazine online, Hollywood corporations are issuing statements via social media—Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO and Paramount have taken a stand in support the of Black Lives Matter movement, just as the solidarity protests are spreading around the world—to the Middle East, Africa, London, Berlin and Toronto.
For those of you using the issue of violence looting as a reason not to pay attention or engage, I hear you. However, I urge you to read and discuss this post on Medium.com by Tim Wise, a noted white, anti-racism writer and educator, which offers insights into why violence is not an anomaly but rather a continuum of American history.
Given the depth of pain on display, our nation needs the arts—stories, plays, poetry, music—to give voice, in the spirit of renowned theater artist Anna Deveare Smith, to all the diverse parties in pain at this moment in time. No president, no election; no legislation, and no single person has the power or moral authority at this moment to lead us through the chaos of the coming days and weeks. We each have to take responsibility to reach out to one another and work together to find and enact solutions.
Some initial steps, in addition to what Dr. Etwaroo noted, can include meeting and dialoguing with staffs, launching initiatives; doing community outreach, or providing a space for the community to be heard.
I urge you to read, study, listen and dialogue with your family, friends, colleagues, co-workers and staffs, based on the determination not to “understand each other,” but instead recognize that “we are each other,” no matter what our outside coverings depict. Each of us must become a proactive agent of change, expanding our capacity for empathy, compassion and thoughtful action to support the rebuilding of our communities, beginning with those that have been suffering the longest, and are suffering the most.
This time, I want to know more than what you think. I want to know what you are planning to do. Please share your experiences, initial plans or first steps below, so that we may all move forward together.
Be safe. Be well. Be strong!