Growing up, my mother took us to any and every play, musical, or dance performance that had Black people in it. August Wilson and Pearl Cleage plays, check. Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey performances, check. Black Nativity, Dreamgirls, Five Guys Named Mo, Sarafina, Tina Turner & Patti Labelle concerts, check, check and check. And then there were our trips to Broadway shows. If you’re wondering, we saw performances with white people too- we drank the kool-aid and saw Rent, among others. But my mom truly believed and still believes in supporting Black artistes and their projects. So whenever a show with some Black people came to town, we were either going with a group, or with the entire family which was like 8-10 people. Aaah yes, the Rum Punch family rolled deep to support Black Arts.
Attending shows, plays, etc. became ingrained in my heart and soul. I have picked up the torch where my mother left off and I am becoming a certified patron of the arts. I am often times coordinating outings for the Fab 5 to attend: Black Lily Festival in Philly, Sugar Water Festival and independent film screenings. So, last weekend, Amaretto and I caught a matinee of The Brothers Size at the Studio Theatre. In a word: excellence. The play was written by a young Black male playwright, featured three young Black male actors, and explored the “Black” male experience in the 21st century, the push & pull that too many Black men experience: to walk the straight and narrow road or take the crooked path was beautifully captured.
So tell me why there were only like 10 Black people in attendance?
This seems to be the norm. I remember when I was little, wondering why so many white people came all the way into Chocolate City to see a show that was clearly not “about” them. As I got older, I just started asking the question out right: “how come there are so many white people here?” Cause, every time I went to a insert your favorite “conscious” hip hop artist show here or a play written by a “new, fresh, Black voice” or a Sweet Honey and the Rock show, white folks were in abundance. And I wondered what the hell they were getting out of it. Sure, there is the whole enjoying the arts, blah, blah, blah argument. But there were also the inside jokes that flew over the white people’s heads while Black folks were cracking up. There were uncomfortable silences when the word n****a was used repeatedly (this is at plays, not at hip hop shows, mind you). There were the white people clapping off beat. There was the nationalist song a little Black girl sang at the Dead Prez show, that went “hey do you want a nation…be Black, be Black, be Black” that left white people with puzzled looks on their faces.
So, if you can’t tell, something about all these white people being at Black shows sticks in my craw. I have pondered this and I have narrowed it down to this: they want to see Black people in dance, in word, in music, but they don’t want to see Black people, in their every day lives, in the streets, in reality, live and in color. They would rather see a show on how Black folk live, go home and feel enlightened: ahh yes, now we know about Black people, now we know what makes them tick, now we understand their perspective, now we know how they feel about that pesky little racism thing…
It’s how I felt when I saw a bunch of young white people showing support for Obama in one of the most gentrified parts of D.C. And I said to Amaretto: there they are holding signs for Obama while they are taking Black people’s houses and shit. Exaggeration? Maybe a little bit, but there is also truth there. There, standing in the cold, holding signs for a Black man to be President, because race doesn’t matter, they were seeing the parts but not the whole, ignoring their part in changing and dividing the city. They see Obama as a different kind of Black person, not as one of those Black people who threaten to mug them on the way home. They view these artistic performances as a glimpse into "real" Black life without feeling the need to actually know "real" Black people.
So what are you saying, Rum Punch? White people just shouldn’t come to these shows? YES! Ok, no, of course not. How would Black Art survive without the patronage of white people? We won’t even buy a $10 ticket to see the Great Debaters, let alone a $40+ ticket to a live show. And therein lies the problem. It’s not that I want to see less white people but rather that I would like to see more Black people. I would like for Black people to realize there are more than Tyler Perry plays and the Oprah stamped Color Purple Broadway show. I would like for Black folk to understand that there are so many shows that are telling our stories from various angles. I would like not to receive the looks and smiles from the older white folk that say, “oh it’s so nice that you came to this play too.” What?!? I’m supposed to be here! I would like for us to take our children to these shows so that they can see what exists for them, the possibilities, the creativity. I would like for Black people to realize that too many times, it is white people who are keeping our stories, our traditions, our sounds and rhythms alive. I would like for us to recognize that if we can work to make history, then we must also work to preserve history. Preserve our stories, our voices. If we won’t, who will?
That’s my time y’all! Happy Rum Punch Friday!
SO LONG, FAREWELL...
The View From Here will conclude on Friday, October 1, our third year anniversary. We would like to spend this month thanking all of our readers, followers, haters, visitors, family, friends, and fans for your continued support, encouragement, and comments over these past few years. Thanks y'all!
-The Five Spot