Last Friday, a "sold-out" crowd (well, the tickets were free) filled The Playhouse at Family Focus Evanston to watch a dance and spoken-word performance by the Boston group Anna Myer and Dancers / BeHeard.World, called Invisible: Imprints of Racism. The event was co-sponsored by Dear Evanston, Family Focus Evanston, and EFAM.
The hour-long show, which tackled the difficult subject of racism through powerful movement and words, was followed by a discussion with the performers.
The ensemble toured their work up the Great Migration Trail, with Evanston as their last stop.
The artists addressed a wide variety of issues they've faced and emotions they've experienced.
Luchi, a poet who is white, opened the show with a piece about his parents' reaction to him kissing a Black girl when he was 12.
Gregory Varis, who is Black, performed, I didn't know I was Black. (4:58).
You can watch the other spoken word and dance pieces in the video above.
I Didn't Know I was Black
Let me give you some facts
I didn't know I was black till I sat in the back of my high school class
Till everybody laughed at my answers to the questions I was asked
Like, 'do you even have a dad?'
'Why do you always look so mad?'
'Hey, someone brought in KoolAid aren't your homeroom teacher had a half-black step-dad?'
I didn't know I was Black till I got flagged out by a cop one night
Only 5'6" and 16, I must have been a threat to the suburban streets
Cos I was surrounded.
And they stayed and questioned me until 3
But never offered to drive me home.
I didn't know I was Black till my first suicide attempt.
You see, I woke up and realized
In a world where the mayor don't look like you
The governor doesn't look like you
Teachers and principals don't look like you
Actors, directors, and models don't look like you
The rumors must clearly be true
This world clearly wants nothing to do with people like me.
Amanda Shea performed a piece about being biracial and having her father straighten her hair after she asked her mother, 'Why wasn't I born white?' (6:18)
Luchi performed another piece in the persona of a slave master (10:50):
Without Shame for my Bliss
Without shame for my bliss
With my supremacy
I watch you
From my broad porch
Now go and pick my cotton
Tote it as you bend your back
Lower now lower still
Don't make me tame that black body
Beat that sinful Blackness to submission
To make my money.
In the scorching sun
From dusk till dawn
My fields of hell
My white cotton fields.
Tonight you sleep on dirt
Away from your family
Away from the woman
I bought for you to breed
At my pleasure
On my order
I am not stealing if I take your children
Their innocence, their hopes, their dreams
Because I cannot steal what I already own.
Under the scorching sun
From dusk till dawn
In my fields of hell.
Questions and comments after the show were wide-ranging: an older white woman thank the troupe for speaking out and sharing their experiences.
"Thank you all. You're amazingly talented. It's sad that this message still has to be said. I've seen it and worked for it for decades. It breaks my heart. Continue to do this. We need it more than ever."
A young Black woman with light skin said she related to Amanda's poem because she knows what it feels like to be shut out by white people and Black people.
"I feel like that subject's not talked about enough in the Black community, and colorism is a major problem in the Black community. It needs to be stopped. Because if we don't stick together and fight together, then who's gonna do it for us?"
A young man from Afghanistan said, "What I really saw here was very inspiring for me, because in my society we're struggling from the same problem. It brought up feelings in my heart. I'm realizing equality isn't important only in race. It's about humanity. I can see how we humans got far away from who we truly are."
An older Black man said, "In order to understand people, you're not talking at them, you're listening to them. The idea that we have two ears but only one mouth."
A biracial woman said, "Being someone of mixed race is a pretty lonely space to be in, so it felt awesome to have words that matched my experience come out of this piece."
A Native American man said, "It's very present in my mind, in my family's mind, of Native America presence here. Nobody thinks of Chicago as Native American land, but just because there isn't a reservation on the state doesn't mean our stories aren't here. So I know visually this peformance was Black and white, and it's important. But I was wondering about the future of any potential pieces incorporating other cultures."
A Latinx woman asked, "I am grateful to be here tonight. How do you start a tough conversation without some little bit of anger?"
A white woman responded, "I want to have these conversations. My family tends to be quite conservative and make many disparaging comments and I want to be able to have them hear me. I think doing it by disagreeing without contempt is something you need to practice."
To the cast, she said, "You're showing us something in an open, inviting way, without contempt, but from love. And you can have anger and love at the same time. They're not mutually exclusive."
A white man said, "Growing up as a white man in white skin, I have never been more aware that the shell that I live in is provocative, regardless of who I am, what I'm about, what I say. It doesn't matter. I walk into a conversation and already, it's provocative. And being white, you don't realize that. It was more clear than it's ever been that the impact of the shell I'm in is something that I have to be aware of in my dealings and listen more carefully than I do."
A white woman said, "I realize that I'm older than probably all of you and I'm also white, and there's so much I don't know. I'm wondering. Do any of you have something that you'd like us to take away with us? Something that motivates you to do this?"
Members of the troupe responded:
"If you take away anthing from this: allow it to be unconditional love."
"Be true to you. Everywhere you go. No matter how happy or sad you feel, angry or irritated. Be real and true. Let someone know how you're feeling. The world will adjust for you and pick you up."
"If you all were to just close your eyes, or notice when the lights are down, you don't see anything, but you can hear the heartbeat. You know that we all are different, but when the lights are off we're all the same. We're human. Open up your minds, open up your hearts. Listen."
"The most important thing I've learned about this whole process is to have the uncomfortable conversations that you don't want to have. As a white person, people I know, we don't necessarily have these conversations about race all the time because it doesn't affect our lives the way that it does people of color. It's really important to talk about. If we don't talk about it nothing's going to happen."