“Diversity and inclusion, which are the real grounds for creativity, must remain at the center of what we do.” ~ Marco Bizzarri.
When I was around fifteen, I was a member of our school’s Drama Club. I loved dressing up and being someone other than me. I heard we were going to put on the Shakespearean drama Macbeth, and I couldn’t wait to hear what role I would play. Our director was an interesting man, a Scott, transplanted like myself to the beautiful island of Jamaica. He was mysterious, prone to exciting displays of creativity. In second form (seventh grade) he had us reciting the poem ‘Mayombe bombe mayombe’ (Hah!), complete with snake like sounds. We called him Zemi, after another poem he taught us.
But Macbeth – a serious play. But Thom Cross had other plans. He set the play in 17th or 18th Century Jamaica, on a plantation (yes, a plantation). The mistress of the ‘great house’ decided she wanted some culture in her life, and commanded her slaves (yes, slaves) to put on the play Macbeth for her entertainment. This was in the 70s, when ‘Black Power’ was the movement of the day. As I heard the plan, I was still holding out hope, but alas, I was the only white girl in the club and so I was typecast. I would play the role of the haughty, morally challenged mistress. How could I? I opposed slavery and all that had happened as a result of that monstrous trade practice. My best friend, she got to play Lady Macbeth (who can forget her delicious rendition of ‘Out, Damn spot!’ Or: ‘All the perfumes of Arabia…’). I remember not a single one of my lines, only the hope that nobody recognized me beneath the bulky (smelly) costume, the white powder on my face, the heavy wig. If only I could have been one of those witches cackling around the cauldron: ‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.’
I learned all the Shakespeare I ever really knew that night. I still remember the shame I felt, playing that role. But there was something about having to personify that role, to realize the wrongness of owning and manipulating other human beings, that made that whole era more real to me. Growing up in Jamaica, among Jamaicans, adopted into the culture and family allowed me to ignore the difference in our skin color. Playing the role of ‘mistress’ made me own the history, the shame of that past.
There is so much that we learn in school which has nothing to do with lesson plans and curriculum. It was recently, when struggling with my grandson over some part of speech that I had forgotten I ever knew, that I realized how lucky I was. I had been taught to speak English correctly. My parents corrected our grammar, our pronunciation automatically, so without being able to ‘parse’ (is that still the term?) a sentence, I knew that I should never end a sentence with a preposition. My nouns and verbs agreed. I could look at a word and see that it was misspelled. Now my grandchildren get Siri to define words for them. Spellcheck automatically corrects or squiggles a warning on their screen. I have already forgotten which particular part of speech my grandson and I were struggling with (with which we were struggling?), but it was no joke!
Then this week I have heard on a couple of different programs, the work of the African American Professor Loretta Ross. The hot topic is cancel culture (I had to look up the definition to be sure I understood). Cancel culture is when you ‘Karen’ someone. You take a person who is doing something reprehensible and you call her out on social media. You post videos, you share with your friends, your friends all join in and comment on the disgustingness of white entitlement; racism; ignorance; and outright bigotry. The Karens of this world are seen for who they are, and very often they pay the price. Of course, in the past Karen could do her thing in privacy, safe in the knowledge that her employer, her kids, her preacher would never know of her ugly attitudes and shameful behavior. But in our camera-ready world, no sin goes unseen.
The Professor teaches courses in white supremacy, human rights, and culture. She said that when we see these outrageous acts, we should not be ‘calling out’, exposing people for who they are, instead we should be ‘calling in’, bringing people into the community, allowing discourse and learning to take place. Shaming people does not provide an opportunity for growth on their part. Protesters yelling at each other and aggressively shaking placards in each other’s faces will not walk away with a better understanding of the other person. There is no possibility of coming together, of hearing what the other person is saying.
How on earth can we be prepared to listen to those who we have watched swallowing lies and propaganda, supporting an administration so full of nepotism, corruption, and too many horrific acts (oh they had the contact information of the parents of the children at the border all along????) to react to? Professor Ross says the key is to go beneath the rhetoric and look for things in common: our common values; our love of family; our desire to provide a better world for our children; our goals and dreams. Then, when we recognize how much we have in common, we are more prepared to listen to the other person, to understand their struggles, their frustrations.
By changing a simple preposition (from call out to call in) we can begin to change our thinking. It may be that the person on your Facebook feed that you have blocked, that you have ‘unfriended’, you can start a non-triggering conversation with (with whom!). Many of those who have shocked us with their rhetoric were people we had plenty in common before – our co-workers, perhaps even members of our own family.
We are fast approaching the end of the year (and please don’t think that because a number flips over, we shall have a magical new beginning in 2021 – we still have a ways to go with this pandemic!), and the Christmas season, a time when we scream ‘Peace’ and ‘Joy’. May we take this time to reflect on how we can plant seeds of unification in this gloriously diverse world in which we live. May we put aside the trivial and focus on what truly unites us, and if necessary, put on a costume and imagine the world of someone completely different. And make this world a better place for you and me (‘Heal the world’).
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!