At Ripple Effect Artists, we take strides to leverage masterful plays that are catalysts for conversations about today’s most challenging subjects. Theatre is a wonderful foundation for our world’s difficult issues as it demands listening, evokes humanity, and brings forth empathy.
Preparing for this season of works that will steward racial justice and racial equality, I am floored by how much I am learning about the systemic efforts to keep people of color disenfranchised. I will say a lot in this blog. Much of this you will learn by attending our Ripple Effect Artists’ production with talk-backs. If you or someone you know is not familiar with, or is resistant to phrases like “racial justice,” “systemic racism,” or “prison pipeline,” I urge you to attend.
Chuck Gorden’s award winning short play Guarding the Bridge is a story wherein, on the night that MLK Jr. was assassinated, a white boy learns from his father that he should fear black people and guard his family from them. Not by coincidence, our premier is on April 4th, 2018 – the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Following this play is a solo spoken word performance by Dawn Speaks – an African American woman, and then the evening concludes with an audience engagement. These performances and the context of black and white racism are further leveraged as a means to discuss all forms of prejudice and racism. For example, on April 23rd, we are honored to have 90 year old Ruth Zimbler, a survivor from the Holocaust. She will tell her story of survival, and remind our generation of the atrocities of racial and religious prejudice.
How do we earnestly overcome racism, and what is there to do in the U.S.? Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) says that post-war Germany has strove to bring closure to the atrocities of the Holocaust by urging visitors to their museums; but in the U.S. with no museum to honor the victims of slavery or lynching, we have yet to learn from our dark past. (EJI is has made plans to raise a memorial to victims of terror lynching.)
I hope that you will join me for our educational theatre experience. Theatre has the power to move people toward empathy. Our talk-backs have the power to cause real-world understanding and move audiences toward action should they choose.
I am going to touch on a little of the knowledge and data to which this project has opened my eyes. I have inserted some of the websites, and I do encourage you to do your own research.
Let me preface this by stating: I am a white woman. I am as comfortable writing about racial injustice as a man might be writing about gender injustice. My experience is not first-hand, but as a witness. (Although, being married to a dark Filipino male, and the mother of a mixed child, I have some personal stake in ensuring that racism is eradicated.) I hope that my voice helps bring people to empathy; specifically those who might otherwise be thinking this isn’t my fight. And I am not just speaking of Caucasian people, but perhaps other pale skinned minorities, like my Chinese-American friend who was resistant to talk about racism – because for her it is experienced as a very minor, subtle thing. Yet, that is what racism often looks like in contemporary times. People of color call this “new racism.” It is still unacceptable. So, while I do not have a personal experience of racism, I do have life experiences that help me to empathize, and help me stand for racial justice and reparation.
Firstly, and lastly, I am a human. Standing for reparation for the toxic and traumatic effects of centuries of disenfranchisement of an entire race of people… that is not a stretch! Yet, blind-spots and a lack of responsibility have held this empathy back from many people.
America’s rampant racism still exists because it is learned and habituated (our show depicts this); it is hard to be self-aware enough to eliminate all of our bad habits; and because white people benefit. As white or passing-for-white pedestrians, we may be blind to how we benefit from racism, and it’s easy to deny. For me, too – until recently, ‘”systemic racism” sounded like a conspiracy theory. Besides, I had heard that some people of color call out their own demographic for keeping themselves oppressed. I am sure there’s some relevance to that, and that sounds GREAT to a body of white people who don’t want to take responsibility for today’s racism in America. But regardless, those issues are symptoms. America’s racism today is still seeded by our forefathers.
Our white families authored American racism: because they were the authors of the legislation that then and now still keeps people of color disenfranchised and targeted, and serves our own socio-economic needs. (Here are some resources: link and Princeton link.) Our voting laws, war on drugs, profiling tactics and other systems are: maintaining a race-based classism that cause the school-to-prison pipeline; keeping a disproportionate number of black men in prison – sentenced far harder than whites for the same crimes, laboring at 3rd-world rates ($0.86 – $3.45/hr) to make parts for public works and the military, but also for large corporations (Honda, Victoria’s Secret, Microsoft, IKEA, to name a few); stripping away the voting rights of a huge demographic: black males. Sounds like indentured servitude. While there is a huge debate on the ethical practice of prison labor, let us not forget the economic driving force behind it.
FACT: Incarceration it’s far more expensive for the TAX PAYER than education. Our nation spends 3x more on inmates than on public school students. It doesn’t make sense to spend more on prison than on education, does it? Let’s look at the numbers… As of 2010, in New York State each inmate cost $60,000 (the National average was $31,286); compare that to the average cost of public school per student $21,2016 (the National average was $11,392 – 2015 in New York State). Let’s take a closer look at our city. In 2013 the New York Times reported: as of 2012, New York City’s annual cost per inmate was $167,731. (What?! That’s more than the so-called $125,000 threshold that politicians keep referring to in various scenarios of healthcare and education – for a family of 4.) Who were those incarcerated prisoners? 57% were black, 33% were Hispanic, 7% were white, and 1% were Asian or ‘other.’ Also, 76% of that jailed population (of 12,287 prisoners) were those awaiting trail. Here is a great resource on how the legal system disproportionately affects people of color: link.
It is elementary my dear Watson – the sheer cost of incarceration over education is appalling! Baffling! Ridiculous! Another scenario: Berne Sanders’ campaign estimated it would cost $75 billion (paid for by a tax imposed on Wall Street) to provide free college education in the U.S. That’s $5 billion less than the $80 billion ($39 billion from the tax payers) we factually do spend on the prison system. Why don’t we re-prioritize and save billions of dollars; balance the budget; use the money toward education or dare I say ‘universal healthcare’?! Why do we have this mass incarceration problem: a problem that has grown by 700% in the past 50 years? The missing link: corporations and their lobbyists turning a $7.4 billion industry from the incarcerated. (Resource link.)
Prisons are privatized; corporations get cheap labor; and there are already plans for the next generation of prisons! (Yes! Corporations look as school data to determine how many people will likely go to prison 25 years from now.) Mass incarceration is such good business that it is a fiscal priority outweighing education.
I am only newly acquainted with the phrases “systemic racism,” the “prison pipeline,” and ”restoration” – a brief period of African American prosperity last century that caused a backlash of racial terror and racist legislation. I am baffled. My conversations in the past six months have spanned from activists to intellectuals to pedestrians; from Asians to people of color; from American Muslims, to immigrants affected by the Muslim Ban. I have listened and been guided by their strife. I see now, racism in America will not disappear until the education and legislation are overhauled. Therefore, I stand in solidarity with the millions of Americans who are disaffected by racism.
If you have read this far, I hope you will attend our Ripple Effect Artists’ production with talk-backs, delve further into the issues with us, and leave with solutions toward bringing forth an American culture of racial equality and racial justice.