An Apology, Podcast, Coded Language, and #SeaArtsFeminism

Katie Woodzick asked me to be on her new podcast Theatrical Mustang. The episode was uploaded yesterday and I had a chance to listen to it this morning. Over the course of the conversation we talked about my plays, Seattle theater, gender parity, and casting diversity. We had a great time and an amazing conversation in which many awesome things were said that I 100% believe to be true. I had such a great time recording this and really want that to be the end of this post. But it’s not.  I stand behind most of what I said on the podcast, but when I was listening to it this morning a certain moment struck me that made me re-evaluate some things about myself.

Anyone who has worked with me will tell you that I believe in casting diversely. But that doesn’t mean that I’m immune to being wrong or being racist. Specifically, even though I did not intend to be, I was racist on this podcast. Here’s the specific moment that caught my attention:

“This is also a problem I have with Shakespeare and the very limited way that we look at Shakespeare sometimes in Seattle, which is not very creative. It’s just let’s put all these white guys on stage and oh, even though we have this servant role that could be played by anybody and is an internship opportunity for a young actor in town. Let’s give it to this white guy who’s just graduated college instead of the 15 white ladies who are waiting over here. Or, you know, other people of color. Just as a thought.”

I know what I meant. I know that what I meant was, “How about casting some women or people of color, or BOTH, cause INTERSECTIONALITY.” But that’s not what I said. In fact, throughout the podcast when I say “women” it could very much be read as “women who have my experience,” or the shorthand, “white women.” (I’m queer, too, but let’s just start here.) There’s a very real problem in feminism when it excludes women of color, and/or erases their ethnicity and tries to lump their struggle in with the exact same causes as white women. Feminism has historically not been great at inclusion. And while I consider myself a champion of diversity in Seattle theater, in this moment I failed. And I’m truly sorry.

Why bother calling it out? Who’s gonna notice? It was just one moment. Geez.

No. It wasn’t one moment. Throughout the podcast I used coded language. I said, “women” throughout knowing that out of my mouth as a white woman it would mostly mean “white women.” I know this. I’m familiar with this concept and have explained it to others. And in that moment, it left my brain. It left my brain because I don’t have that lived experience of being excluded because of being a non-white ethnicity. I was saying women. But I wasn’t talking about all women.

I’m an ally. I like to consider myself one, anyway, and being an ally and wanting things to change means that you acknowledge and apologize when you get something wrong. I knew a lot of white women who were upset about the Patricia Arquette backlash a couple of weeks ago because, “We were attacking a woman for not being perfect all the time.” That’s not true. Patricia Arquette was speaking for white women in that moment. Was she intending to? I don’t think so. But for the 1000th time, intentions don’t matter. Our effect on others matters. Our words have power. And when we have the mic (in this instance, the podcast mic) we need to use it and respect that what we’re saying has meaning and weight.

Yesterday, I participated in an online conversation under the hashtag #SeaArtsFeminism. Over the course of the conversation I brought up something I also mention in the podcast. I challenge organizations to know their numbers. Know the breakdown of women to men in all areas – directing, acting, writing, designing. AND know the numbers for your POC to white people in the same fields. AND SHARE THEM. Own them.

I still think this is important to do as a baseline, but it also erases the overlaps. It negates intersectionality.

One of the things that was said yesterday on Twitter involved having to choose feminism over other identities because it’s not inclusive. There are times, as a queer cis-female feminist, I feel like I don’t say I’m queer because it “clouds” the issue. I’m  too many things and I feel like that confuses people. But then, when I think about women I know who are queer and people of color, jesus. I got nothing. Their erasure is bigger and even more political. Which one do you choose? Which side do you fall?

I’m gonna quote Ijeoma Oluo (who if you’re not following on Twitter, please start).

I expect theaters to fess up to there numbers. All their numbers. I want them to fess up to their numbers because I think when we look at ourselves honestly, we’ll start to see the real problem. Book It Repertory actually posted their M/F breakdown yesterday on adapters, source material, and directors. While they had 77% women directing, 58% women adapters, their source material (novels) was only 15% women.

I was stoked they did it. They crunched the numbers and they are looking at what they can do better. And while I applaud them for that, there’s still more. There wasn’t a POC breakdown. And of the 15% of the authors that were women, none of those were women of color. And of the 77% of women directing, I’m pretty sure none were women of color, either. I’m not saying this to punish them. I’m happy they shared their numbers. I think more theaters should. I think that we need to start analyzing this at all levels and that only starts by being honest about where we are. I think it’s a great way to start a conversation by saying, “This is where we are now. But we want to be over there.” And then actually taking the steps to make it a reality.

So, that’s why I wanted to post this apology. I’m sorry that I’m still using coded language. That when I said “women” it translates at “white women.” I do not want to be that person. And I will strive not to be that person. I will continue to call myself out as I call others out. And I apologize to anyone who heard the podcast and felt excluded. That’s not how I want my feminism. I want my feminism to be inclusive of women of color, queer women, trans* women, poverty-stricken women, disabled women, etc. And because of all that, I think it’s important to acknowledge when you say something offensive so that you learn, in the hopes of being a better ally in the future.

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