A Colored Conundrum
If it is true that conflict is at the heart of drama then the 2014 Theatre Communications Group (TCG) Crossing Borders conference in San Diego, California had its share, as is often the case when any group attempts to tackle the issues revolving around identity and ethnicity in a public forum. The drama in this case began when TCG conducted an experiment to see what would happen if they created a space for affinity groups to divide themselves based on how attendees self-identify in four areas: gender, ability, sexual orientation and race/ethnicity. However, the self-identifying process did not create the kind of clarity within each affinity group that was intended—some white people attended a race/ethnicity affinity group.
The event in question took place on the first day of the conference during an Intergenerational Leaders of Color meeting—when the white people who had decided to attend this session were asked to leave the room by the session’s moderator. Admittedly, I was not present when this dis-invitation took place and only learned of it shortly after it happened from a visibly shaken seventy-nine-year-old white female who was one of the people to leave the gathering (and then had the door to the room closed on her as she stood watching and listening to the session from the hallway). After I extended this woman an invitation to reenter the session as my personal guest (she declined), I made my way toward the door with the intent to communicate my disapproval to the full gathering inside the room. Had a friend of mine, who works for TCG, not been manning the door I would have done so. What I did instead was to boycott the session and search for any TCG representative to inform them of the event and then learn the reasoning behind allowing something like this to happen. My next task was to search for the “white allies” affinity group to see if they would dare ask me (a brown man) to support them by leaving their white only meeting. Unfortunately, I was not able to find them. The main question I had when I first learned of this event nags me still, why is it that creating a safe environment for people of color to communicate necessitates an officially segregated environment?
A large part of my motivation to speak out on what happened at the conference rests on my dissatisfaction with the glacial pace of change around the issues of diversity and inclusion, and also as someone committed to ethnic theatre. I suggest that we should focus our approach to identity, inclusion, and equality by joining forces across borders.
My refusal to participate in a meeting that would encourage exclusion based on ethnicity was a personal choice, and I do not wish to question or condemn any people who stayed in the meeting, in fact many people I know and respect were in the room and some even entered after they heard what had transpired. However, I do wonder why more people did not walk out of the meeting in solidarity with the group of white attendees? Would they have walked out if the group invited to leave were brown or black? I would hope. What exactly is the difference between an exclusively white meeting and an exclusively “colored” one? I struggle to understand the exact difference.
Some of the white people who were asked to leave the meeting are my friends and I know them to be actively working to ensure diversity and inclusion in their theaters. One white man in particular has (with his white wife) implemented many successful Latino outreach projects, the most recent one titled Teatro del Pueblo. My guess is that most of the white people who took the time to go to the meeting did so to stand in solidarity with us and if this is so, then why would we, as people of color, do anything but support this interest and solidarity in the cause of equity and inclusion? Is the thinking that no meaningful or safe discussion about identity amongst people of color can happen without homogeneity?
Clearly not all of the people of color who remained in the room agreed with what happened. Apparently, it was a black man that first spoke up against the dis-invitation and then others began to echo his concern, including a brown woman, from the TCG Board of Directors. Unfortunately, there was insufficient time to fully unpack the event during the meeting, so people were encouraged to continue the conversation on Conference 2.0.
As a brown male who grew up in the predominantly black neighborhood of Watts and who has for the past eighteen years lived with a white woman with whom I am married and have two brown and white children and who has recently experienced the consequences of being too brown, I was upset and saddened that in 2014 a group of theatermakers would ask any group of people to leave a gathering simply because of the way they self-identify, or because of who they choose to stand with in solidarity.
The most troubling element of this situation, however, is the schadenfreude expressed by some black and brown friends when I asked them about the event—a particularly witty quip came from a brown friend who said that it served “them” right for doing the same thing to “us.” A sentiment that echoed all the way to the final day of the conference, when during the Identity Affinity Groups check-in, a yellow artistic director stated that he experienced exclusion of the kind the white people did “every day.”
It is commendable that TCG is doing this daring work around diversity and inclusion and we all should acknowledge that they are one of the leaders in the field in this area. A large part of my motivation to speak out on what happened at the conference rests on my dissatisfaction with the glacial pace of change around the issues of diversity and inclusion, and also as someone committed to ethnic theatre. I suggest that we should focus our approach to identity, inclusion, and equality by joining forces across borders. I also make no assumptions about TCG’s motivation to organize the conference in this way, but I do question what I perceive to be the dangers inherent in promoting a segregated view of American theatre—one that hinders our ability to see each other as humans first. I support the creation of safe environments to discuss sensitive issues, but never if they are predicated on the public humiliation of any group or individual.
The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here
So I'm having a heated conversation around Evergreen Colleges drama when a white professor disprove of student people of color only space for an event. I google a few terms about affinity space so I can understand the issue better and it brings me to this conversation we had 3 years ago. Did we learn anything from this that would be helpful to share?
POC where is your website to curate this conversation?! This site is a communal space that anyone can enter stories. But Direct me to your space and I will participate all day long!! Stop going to everybody else space and not creating your own!!!
Here is mine:
I cannot wait until we start having dialogues that are structured not only to be strategic but to actually be implemented past an idea or a thought--- Tcg is a cool space to convene but we also need our communities to link in their own hoods and deal with these thoughts--- we run around the same thought each year- it's not cool anymore. Why are we surprised that these blocks are still up?! We live in America- the land of the veil- everything is hidden- how can we have a conversation of we each don't love ourselves? Healing starts within- then we can look outside to see the world.... I hope diversity is not just popular for the moment peeps... I hope it leads to a real soul level shift...
I agree with Guillermo that it was a horrible idea on TCG's part to separate the theatre community of this country into race-based, sexual orientation-based, and other groups. It was clearly well-intentioned, but terribly misguided for a conference, of any kind, especially for theatre people, which is supposed to be the most inclusive group alive. This felt extremely divisive to MANY folks there and it did harm. Many friends of mine of color have told me that it might not be terrible for whites to know how it feels, which... where do you even begin with that? I'm not a White Ally, I'm a middle-aged white guy... struggling every damned day to keep his theatre going just like everyone else. And this was not a good year to be a white guy at the TCG conference. Had I known this was going to be a referendum on "white privilege" I would have saved several thousand dollars and kept my team of three home from the conference this year. Most don't speak up because political correctness rules imply that if you speak up against the convening of groups of color, that you're against groups of color. It is, in fact, politically incorrect to speak up against this. But EVERYONE I spoke with at the conference, EVERYONE, said that the race-based affinity groups was disturbing to them. But much safer NOT to speak up about it. TCG is a great org and I'm very proud to have one of their awards on my lobby wall. But this was a mistake and I'd urge them to do away with ALL race-based groups at future conferences and make a strong policy that nobody EVER be asked to leave a TCG discussion ever again. Theatre is a team sport. We need each other, not to be pitted against each other.
First off, it is STILL politically incorrect for POC to speak up against anything in relation to dominant culture- hence this issue in this article of people being uncomfortable that POC want to gather. These are necessary conversations. Our country is in healing around lots of issue of privilege. If we want to create the world we want to see, we have to be able to have uncomfortable conversations and all not runaway from that task.
Much love and peace to your company sir. We all have places we are trying to run.
We post because we can’t be in a room together, talking and laughing
and arguing face-to-face; and even perhaps because we can’t say things as
easily face-to-face as we can when ‘screened’ by a screen. I have
loved all of these posts generated by Guillermo, and I congratulate him for his
initial thoughts and for all of his responses – I think that again and again in
this past few days he has been saying, ‘Yes, I hear you,’ and meaning it. I’ve
also eagerly consumed the replies of many others, particularly Mica:
there is a courage and conviction in these posts which strikes at the
heart. I think that theater, at its most engaging, provides a
forum for staging – and making human and alive and endearing and vexing– rich and multi-faceted and sometimes uncomfortable and ill-fitting perspectives: they are carried in the bodies and voices and movements of those on stage. My own personal understanding of diverse theater is that it deepens and expands our experience of all of the above, while at times directly challenging received assumptions about what is appropriate for (and served by) the stage. I do worry that when we pull curtains around a room and declare it a ‘safe place’, it is also a quieted place; but I also understand (second-hand – was not there) that exclusion was not the intention of this TCG event. Sometimes a conversation needs to focus in on a group – be it women practitioners or self-identified people of color – to find and articulate deep modes of self-questioning. BTW this is my third post in Howlround in two days – this ubiquity is only temporary. I normally read and don’t post, but this week has been a week of killer pieces. Thank you Howlround, and to all those who make it the first thing that so many of us want to read in the morning.
Thank you so much for your post!
Hi Guillermo and Howlround. So many great responses have been posted from Marie-Reine, Khanisha, and Mica, and others. I'd like to contribute by attempting to consider why the description of 'yellow' feels troubling. This requires a rhetorical arc, so I ask for your patience:Like many others my experience in the Intergenerational Leaders of Color meeting was that everyone who wanted to be present was asked to self-identify whether or not they were a person of color. And anyone who stood up and identified themselves as 'not' was graciously thanked. There was of course a lot of consideration and discourse about this atypical request and about the feelings of those who left... which an individual in the room pointed out that rather than taking full advantage of the limited time allotted, we spent a good chunk of time talking about how the white people felt, which we do all the time in our 'real' lives. Then the attention of the discussion eventually fully turned towards the original intention, Intergenerational Leaders of Color. And my takeaway? When have I ever been given the space to NOT think of what it is like from a white perspective. I am constantly considering a white perspective in the Western World. It is everywhere in the media, in our literature, in our theatres, in our leadership, in our role models, in the stories that are chosen by artistic leaders and deemed worthy to be shared . By bringing together various folks of a variety of color, we were witnessing strength in number in a way I had not considered. In a field where I personally feel like a tiny minority because I am always grouped with the 'yellow' people, I felt for the first time, the opposite... that I am in fact part of a greater network of people of color. Yes of course I have felt excluded, but often the feeling in fact is that I don't feel considered, or that I am allowed the room to be taken into consideration.And so I finally come to why your reference of the yellow artistic director troubles me... you create schism amongst a group attempting to create community, you create division, and in fact perform the very wrong you claim is being done: "promote a segregated view of American Theatre."P.S. You also made a correlation between his feelings of exclusion and to schadenfreude. "Schadenfreude" is defined as 'pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others' or 'harm-joy.' This is a very specific label based on an assumption about how people processed the event. I would define that as inflammatory.
Did you even read (and understand) Mr. Aviles-Rodriguez's explanation ("I called the artistic director yellow because I wanted to keep my use of synecdoche consistent"), or were you too excited at the opportunity to vent a long-winded, rambling rant?
Man, the things people focus on rather than PUTTTING ON GOOD PLAYS. No wonder theater is dying.
Yes I did read and understand what he was attempting to do and I am merely pointing out that those intentions were not received... Hence the many responses and my attempt to provide a view on why. I tried my best to explain. I'm sorry you did not find my attempt satisfactory. You sound very angry.
Breath Sam. "Admittedly, I was not present + learned ofit shortly after it happened + What I did instead was to boycott the session + My refusal to participate + My guess" = A now un"safe environment(s) to discuss sensitive issues" I can't take you serious sir.
Understood, thank you for taking the time to respond to my post.
This is a very important time in the history of discussions around race, ethnicity and positions of presence in our cultural creative spaces. i unfortunately was not at the TCG convention in San Diego. and would certainly have benefited from being present in the rooms. The challenges that you all have presented in ways to discuss these issues, problems and solutions (which will be changing over time) are welcome. continue please
I want to thank you all for your commitment to talking about your experiences. So many great questions about inclusion and safe space are coming up in these posts. I do hope to read pieces by Khanisha and Mica and others who were in the room. Guillermo wrote a piece from his perspective, while also stepping into the shoes of others, a white woman who felt excluded from a gathering when her intention was to support POC. I can empathize as a white queer woman with the conundrum of when to be an ally from a distance and when to be visible and present. Safe spaces are incredibly enriching and important and perhaps what is needed is the opportunity for POC-self-identified space AND a space for those interested in coalition work. It is a both/and conundrum. We all need space not to code switch, to see our needs held in community, and we all need the opportunity to grow ourselves as leaders and bridge builders. There are risks in speaking out and risks in holding back, I am grateful for those who have posted for sharing your voices and I really feel the intention of people both to be heard and to connect. All of it takes courage, spaciousness and consciousness. It's okay to be hurt and it's okay to speak out for yourself and others--we learn from conflict and what I see here is a desire to connect with an acute awareness of differences. I respect the journeys these posts illuminate, I see leaders who are speaking up while also recognizing the wisdom each brings. There is a thoughtfulness here I don't often see out in the world and I feel more optimistic for growth and change on a community level thanks to the inner work you bring and your willingness to speak of your discomfort, anger and your desire to support one another. This is community.
Thank you for this post.
I just want to say we have to report ACCURATE information in scenarios where sensitive matters of race are being discussed. Guillermo, my dear brother, I'm shocked that you would write this inflammatory piece and not give the whole story. The final affinity group meeting with all groups was a phenomenal demonstration of the resilience of the human spirit. Additionally it demonstrated that with dialogue and understanding we as human beings, theatre practitioners can always come to a greater understanding of one another. I applaud TCG leadership and specifically Carmen Morgan who took a lot of flack and handled it all with grace.
Frankly of all the offenses that took place at TCG I was more concerned about the Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American brothers and sisters omission from a historic document chronicling the beginnings of America's theatre. That's history! This was a moment that was immediately handled and we were able to walk away from the conference with healing
Thank you for the passion on this issue and for speaking out
on what you see, think and feel. Looking over all the posts it is clear that many understand the difficulty in discussing what it means to create segregated spaces, and in acknowledging what it may have felt like for many people who chose not to be in the room.
Why did you call the artistic director yellow? I am really struggling with that choice. I think it was supposed to have some tie in to the title of this piece but it feels really inappropriate. That, coupled with your decision to boycott the POC meeting, makes me question your critical-thinking around this issue and your intent in writing this piece.
Howlround, I love you guys and fundamentally support this platform. I wish that you had simultaneously curated and published an op-ed piece written by someone who was in the room. This is too poignant a development in our national dialogue about D&I for this to be the only piece you publish about it. I hope you have some other authors lined up. Preferably authors who were in the room.
Thank you for your question. I called the artistic director yellow because I wanted to keep my use of synecdoche consistent. You may want to consider being the one to write the article from the perspective of somebody who was actually in the room.
I realized that you were referring to the POC affinity group as being homogenized not the intergenerational meeting. Sorry I misread that part. But that group was not homogenous either unless you're only considering that most of the people in the room did not self-identify as white people. And if that's the case, there isn't even time to unpack that standard of comparison.
The inflammatory remarks in the piece include: "predicated on public humiliation, promoting a segregated view of American theatre, segregated environment." The part where you suggest that the Asian artistic director, whose name I don't want to mention, was basically saying good, white people are getting a taste of their own medicine--which is not what he was saying.
It's inflammatory to say that, if the woman was willing, you would have escorted her into the affinity group as your guest--the group be damned.
I could go on but the point is that I find the analysis in this piece problematic in many ways. But I also think this moment needs to be examined so I am grateful that you shared this.
Got it thank you.
Why is it inflammatory that Guillermo brings up humiliation when you say that's probably what happened to the white people who left - as stated in your own post?
So, based on keeping consistency, would you have referred to a Native leader as a red leader?
He's been over this.
Calling this piece a colored conundrum is problematic. Just. A complete lack of awareness. Based on the title, I was not surprised that this piece was calling into question the need for affinity spaces--which by their definition ask for the explicit participation of people who share common characteristics. In this particular case, it was for people who SELF-IDENTIFIED as people of color. I know you weren't there so i'll tell you what actually happened. The moderator did not ask white people to leave. She asked people who did not SELF-IDENTIFY as people of color to leave. Every individual in that room had the choice to consider the scope of their identity and if someone felt that by extension of their marital relationships or their ancestry or their ongoing ally work they should have been in the room then they should have stayed. The room was not being policed as you make it seem.
I do not deny that the white people who left probably felt humiliated. There was a shift in the way that the space was being defined and not everyone was aware of it. So there's that. But the other thing that was happening was called white privilege. White privilege was being challenged in a real way and even people of color were highly-sensitive to it. As a person of color who is also married to a white person and works in a predominately white institution. I am extremely sensitive to white privilege and how disorienting it can be when it gets challenged.
I find it interesting that even after the intentions were clarified, there were individuals who still felt entitled to these conversations because "it's 2014."
The calender year is a marker of what exactly?
These affinity spaces were about solidarity building, community building. It was a chance to be vulnerable and to uplift each other. It was a space where individuals could reflect on the challenges of being people of color in this field without being judged, without their professionalism being called into question, without white guilt and shame dominating the conversation. It was a space where all of this could be shared without first processing it through the lens of white comfort.
It was 60 minutes of a four-day conference. Five if you include the pre-conference.
I find it interesting that you did not choose to share that. Were you actually in attendance at the final affinity groups meeting? It was a remarkably profound moment at TCG where everyone came together in spite of and because of our differences. THE ROOM WAS NOT HOMOGENEOUS by any stretch of the imagination. How could it have been when the purpose was to bring all of the different affinity groups together--including white allies? Each group reported out on their respective meetings and it was abundantly clear that the time to process and strategize in affinity with one another was productive, refreshing, renewing. I was not in the Asian/ Pacific Islander meeting but guess what? I am ON FIRE about Asian invisibility and I am glad they had the time and space to build an agenda and I support it 100% whether I'm in the room for 60 minutes or not.
The narrative you share is distorted. Let this not be the narrative that prevails, folks.
yes yes and yes. thank you mica.
Side note: for me too one of the biggest takeaways from TCG for me this year is that I need to stand with my brothers in sisters in their fight for visibility too, not just my own communities. At least more than I do now.
You give me so much hope, Mica Cole.
Guillermo, in reading this post I cannot stop thinking about the fascinating conversation I had with Armando Huipe and Abigail Vega about what the definition of "ally" actually entails, and I think that is actually the most pressing conversation that I would love to see TCG help facilitate in 2015. (We discussed how the term ally is viewed and used in the LGBTQ movement vs how we are engaging with the term). And so, I start this comment by mentioning our need to better define the term because of the picture I felt you just painted of these allies. I found the white allies I met at TCG this year to be much much more well-rounded and less frail or helpless than this post presents.
I will be frank: I am one of the attendees that was so impressed and excited by the work TCG did this year in tying to more deeply include diversity conversations and action in all aspects of the conference instead of them just being relegated to self-defined spaces. On that note, I know that TCG staff used the term "experiment" themselves, but I do have to take the time to mention that the way it is used in this piece feels pointed. This is just my own opinion, but, I absolutely think your use of it here erases the full sense of openness and gravity in which I saw TCG staff approach these questions and decisions.
I am frustrated by the binary of inclusivity I feel your post sets forth. There is no one right way to progress the conversation. To essentially promote that the advocacy we all want to see happen can ONLY happen in non-self-identified spaces is limiting, and it also erases a WHOLE LOTTA HISTORY. It also inherently does unfairly favor and prioritize the needs of a group that has, historically, not been marginalized,
To boycott something based on how it was told to you second hand --- and to then choose to ALSO NOT be present at the all-affinity group meeting that happened on Saturday where this was openly discussed with those who were both in the room and those asked to leave-- makes me uncomfortable.
I think we can all acknowledge that sometimes things have to be broken apart in order to be put back together. You and I are friends and colleagues and I am so excited to have this conversation- one that is complicated and layered and difficult- and for that I am excited you wrote this so that the conversation can continue after our time in San Diego. But it doesn't always feel like it is a call for conversation. At times it felt more inflammatory than anything else. I totally acknowledge that could be MY SENSITIVITY AND NOT REALITY THOUGH.
At the conference this year I think many people acknowledged that we are at a crossroads at this time in this field, and complicating that is how the different generations now in the field are engaging with and grappling ideas of diversity and inclusion.
I myself have really complicated feelings by what happened in that room. But I continued to make myself present so I could fully get a sense of the ripples it caused, the way it was responded to, and the deep impact it had on various individuals-- I didn't resign myself to second hand feelings about it.
And perhaps it is right there on the border of chisme and activism (both of which in their own way have a necessary place here) that I think we run the risk of hitting walls in these conversations. When our conversations primarily rally around what might of happened or who might have felt what because of it instead of tackling head on the larger institutionalized manner in which these issues are manifesting themselves, is exactly when we begin to dance around things instead of truly activating the change that can come from true dialogue.
I look forward to all the conversation that this post stirs up, and although we experienced the events differently, I want to reiterate that I thank you for sharing your experience and opening the space for a dialogue on... space ;)
Thank you so much for your posts, I just wanted to clarify
and respond to some of what you said.
I was at the all-affinity group meeting that happened on Saturday.
I am sorry you are frustrated by the binary of inclusivity that you feel my post sets forth. My goal was to help us all think more than feel about these issues.
We are in agreement that “there is no one right way to progress the conversation” but clearly we all know that there are less helpful or even wrong ways to go about achieving our common goals.
It would be helpful to me if you could identify specific areas where you felt I was being inflammatory.
Again thank you so much!
HE WAS AT THE MEETING PEOPLE. Read his post. And why do people need a safe space at a TCG conference? You're surrounded by 99% bleeding heart liberals. Theater is becoming even daintier than academia. Basically, anytime you tell someone to leave a room based on age, race, or sexual orientation, there's a good chance you're being a jerk.
Actually he wasn't at the meeting. YOU read the post.
Finally a voice of sanity amongst the comments! Well put Matt!
All I can add is that I believe it would have been ILLEGAL (not just jerky) to ask non-whites to leave a white gathering. Yet, sadly, this doesn't seem to bother many people in this comment section.
If the question of "why do people need a safe space at a TCG conference?" is a sincere question, then I believe the answer is inherent in the question. The answer lies in the complexity of the experience of "otherness." The TCG conference is the largest gathering of practitioners in the country each year with the expressed purpose of shared experience, best practice, and crafting a plan forward in service of the field.
If you do not understand the need, then perhaps you are not one of the hundreds of men and women that face daily, deeply ingrained biases and hundreds of micro-agressions because of race, gender, or sexual orientation/ identification within our industry. "Bleeding heart liberals" are not immune regardless of race or gender.
I attended many affinity group sessions in San Diego, because (like all of us) I am not defined only by my ethnic / culturally self identity. There were no men that entered the affinity group for Female Directors or Female Playwrights. Why not? Would you have the same reaction if upon entering the Women Playwrights Affinity Group, you were invited to self identify by gender and hold the room as a safe space for exchange for women?
I self-identify as a heterosexual woman, and an ally for the LGBTQ community. I recognize that my sisters in the LGBTQ community face biases, challenges, and have experiences that I have not faced. I honor the need for space for my sisters (and brothers) to share their experiences and to start to define ways that we,as allies, can help move the button forward on equity and inclusion.
Our industry is one of the most segregated in the country once you step off stage. Diversity, Inclusion, and Gender Parity are significant issues facing the field. The work of shifting this is difficult, core level, multitiered, ofttimes uncomfortable, painful, frustrating work. I am thankful that TCG is experimenting with the forums in which we gather data and experiences. It is an imperfect science, but we all have a role in the work.
Perhaps we should all act from the space of intention and forgiveness.
You avoid the point, which is, telling people to leave a room based on their race is wrong. It doesn't matter what you self-identify as. It's wrong. It doesn't matter what the latest buzz words are that everyone on this site use, it's wrong.
Hi. Just want to highlight this moment in your comment: "At the conference this year I think many people acknowledged that we are at a crossroads at this time in this field, and complicating that is how the different generations now in the field are engaging with and grappling ideas of diversity and inclusion." This complication of generational perspective is something I hope TCG dives into over this year towards the next national conference in Cleveland. Howlround too. I did not personally feel excluded by the self-affinities TCG selected this June. I understood the value of the constructed safe space based on these affinities in the context of historic marginalization and invisibility. I think we all felt some class-irony of it taking place within the high ceilings and sunny surroundings of the Hilton, but that did not detract from the priority exhibited by TCG. This all said, as a feminist in his forties, the generational divides/distinctions/desires seemed hugely present this year with respect to questions of diversity and inclusion, as well as sustainability and growth, aesthetic and engagement, and much more. So I just want to echo Alexandra's statement here and hope that this conversation expands/extends with this generational focus, which I think could yield some fascinating considerations for the field as a whole.
For one, i believe it is quite difficult to report an event when the writer wasn't in the room. I was there and stayed, even after the moment of "dis-invitation." In the beginning of the session, Carmen Morgan--one of the moderators--clarified that the session was based on ethnic/cultural identity, and the space is reserved for those who self-identify as people of color. Yes, it was uncomfortable. Yes, there's a lot of conflicting/differing opinions. But I think what came of it was a great learning moment. Teresa Eyring, Executive Director of TCG, spoke in the beginning of the session to welcome us all, and she left the room on her own accord because she felt the need to give the floor to those who self identify as intergenerational leaders of color--a group she doesn't self-identify as belonging. At the end of the conference, Teresa admitted that she should have made an announcement to the room as to why she was leaving the room and invited other white allies to join her.
Throughout the conference, there was a lot of talk about thoughtfulness and intention. The intention was not to give white people the treatment we have previously received ourselves. That was clear to me. Yes, the execution of keeping a safe space wasn't ideal in that moment, but it happened, and TCG is learning from the experience. If we are to be respectful of self-identification, then we should also be respectful of safe space, right? At the Affinity groups report-out session, when this issue was addressed, I found it very moving to hear the differing opinions, including when an older white woman expressed how this was the first time she was was asked to leave the room because of how she looked. And as for the person who said he was glad she had that experience--he also further explained that it wasn't coming from a malicious place, but that it showed a small glimpse into what his experience has been EVERY DAY OF HIS LIFE; he was glad because this woman can now empathize more, and has more insight as a white ally.
The Intergenerational Leaders of Color affinity group session was an important session to have. There were at least 100 people in the room, maybe 150-200 even! We could barely fit everyone, and that itself was a great feeling as I looked around the room. As an Asian American woman, I admit that I am more inclined to speak up in a room where the other faces look more like mine, and this is why I prefer to utilize these affinity groups as a way to "warm up" for the conference, and to build my confidence to speak up in a larger room with people from all backgrounds. And that is why the safe space is important.
As we continue to work on coalition, inclusion, and diversity equity, then why is there so much backlash on this, in comparison to the backlash against complete exclusion of API and Native voices in the TCG closing plenary, which featured writings from artistic leaders on "Toward an Ideal Theatre"? Not to say that one is more important than the other, but it's interesting to me why the former issue is being featured on Howlround, as opposed to the latter, since it seems to me that instances of the latter happen more often and are less reported.
Thanks so much for your comment. Just a quick moment of clarity about what is published on HowlRound. Our content comes directly from the community. We welcome content about other things that happened at the TCG conference, so far this is the only post we have received about the conference, so we're not "featuring" it, we're putting it out there as we do all of our content from the voices of our commons community.
Thank you for clarifying, Howlround. But my question still stands: there were more than one instance of exclusion at the conference, and so why does it seem to me that one instance has more visibility than the other?
A great question. If you know of anyone willing to write about some of the other experiences of the conference, please send them our way.
Hello HowlRound! I have a great deal of respect and a genuine affection for Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez, but I must say that I was in the room for these conversations and this does not accurately represent the situation. It is, as often happens, hearsay. I would love to write a piece that talks about the actual words used, the multitude of spaces provided for ally conversations, the reaction of the woman I believe he is talking about encountering as she left the room (Later she spoke at a follow up group session and called it one of the most important moments of her life. It was a beautiful and inspiring moment.) I'm sure Guillermo put this out as an attempt to understand a missed moment, and I'd love to help in that. May I write a piece for you?
I support publishing a piece by Khanisha Foster!
Khanisha- We welcome your contribution to the conversation! You can send it to [email protected].
I would like to offer this very valid question that Teresa raised during the Saturday All Infinity Group Session, to help put this critical moment in perspective. During the gender affinity session a male tcg staffer wandered into the room. He sat down, looked around, and realized that room was supposed to be a space for safe dialogue amongst female practitioners and left. She asked the group: Why does this seem to be an issue for ethnic or culturally specific affinity groups in a way that no one would conceive of it as issue for gender affinity groups?
I have never entered the associate artistic director affinity group and seen a handful of artistic directors sitting in on the session. I daresay that most would think that was wholly inappropriate in a space that is reserved for shared experience, questions, best practices, challenges and triumphs.
Furthermore, I found it compelling when the representative from the white allies group spoke about how profound it was for the first time in her life be able to have a conversation that deeply dealt with race in a room of white people. In her statement I heard both wonderment and liberation. I imagine that she was perhaps struck by what it means to not have to face the otherness and fear being misconstrued as you authentically tackle, sometimes stumbling through, deeply complicated issues and feelings. There is value in being able to deconstruct thoughts, feelings, and experiences with those who have a shared experience.
There was a gentleman that was really irate about this moment where he felt forced make a choice about how he self identifies. After the session there were three main points he stated that essentially "qualified" his desire and right to stay in the room.
1.) He was married to a black man.
2.) He lived in Africa.
3.) He writes plays about black people.
I want to acknowledge the pain he was feeling in that moment. I also want to say that if those three facts allow him to see himself as an intergenerational leader of color, then he should have stayed in the room. "People of color" come in every color. No one was actually called out by their "whiteness" and forced to leave. Each of us was asked to reflect on how we walk in the world and how we experience the world and how we classify ourselves in the world. Each of was offered gratitude from the moderators for being present and asked to honor the desire to hold this space for Intergenerational Leaders of Color.
I echo my agreement with much of what has been shared by Marie - Riene, Khanisha, Mica, Malcolm as well as a host of others.
I believe there is a real issue with the messaging of this important issue coming from the voice of someone who was not in the room to witness the experience first hand. I am challenged by the way the moment was positioned in Guillermo's opinion piece, as it miscommunicates the intention and reality of the request to self identify.
Thanks for volunteering to take on the task of writing your own piece on these topics, Khanisha. I just want to make sure it is clear to the readers that no invitation from anyone at HowlRound was necessary. This is a space where people self-select whether and how they contribute. It is a shift of mindset that is slowly but surely taking on momentum. When we began, people all over the country were waiting for an invitation, and in many cases felt slighted or silenced by the fact that none came. So glad you and Guillermo and the rest of the contributors in this thread have found both the desire and the follow-through to raise your hands and pick yourselves to advance this conversation. I deeply appreciate the difficulty, the complexity, and the risk associated with wading into it and even more the spirit of appreciative inquiry infusing so much of the energy in the whole thread. It's tough stuff and a slippery surface, but thank you all for making a mindful effort here. And for not waiting to be invited. I look forward to reading your next contribution, Khanisha.
Hola David! Just a question: So there's no editing/curating what gets published through Howlround? All and anything gets included? this is a real question -- just good to know for the future) I didn't know we could just submit anything and you'd back it with diffusion. You mention that didn't use to be the case, right?
There is no barrier to proposing a contribution for the HowlRound site, so nobody needs to wait for an invitation. What there are is a set of values and principles, in the form of guidelines for submission, spelled out here under the Participate tab, http//:www.howlround.com/participate, that help the contributor understand the path for developing and submitting their piece. If the piece accepts and upholds the guidelines, it enters the process of being published. If it does not, it is rejected and the reasons for its rejection are explained using that same set of guidelines. The remarkable thing about this work thus far is that very few pieces come to us that need to be rejected on those grounds. Most are sincere attempts to offer a viewpoint or a report to the Commons community.
There is a very engaged editing process that follows the decision to go forward. It is iterative, passing back and forth between the author the HowlRound staff sometimes many times. (Sometimes,though rarely, at this stage, the contributor decides to pull the piece.)
And in terms of whether this represents a change in practice-- this is the practice as it has been since it was launched. There was never an "invite only" policy here. And there has always been a set of guidelines that have informed the curation and the contributions (though they have developed slightly as the ideas have developed through discussion with the commons community). And there has always been an editor. It is taking time for people to widely understand that this is not an invite-only space. We are so conditioned as a field to the practice of gate-keepers and barriers to being heard that we presume it to be true everywhere.
The fact that you can select yourself to author a contribution does not mean you can elect to ignore the guidelines or bypass the editing process. HowlRound does not publish anything and everything. But it does mean that when you have something important to say,and you are in synch with the principles and values of the submission policy, you have a place you can go without waiting to be invited.
Hey Dower! I'm always glad that HR is a space to allow community to respond but I think if someone wrote an article about a space he was not in, how can that be valid? And without a reflection from inside the room, how is the reporting balanced? These are not only sensitive topics- they are conversations that are removing the veil of our artform... Maybe collab with TCG next time to get reflections from conference as a whole
Erin- Guillermo was at the conference and writes of his experience. He doesn't write about the content of the meeting in question. He writes about the experience of being at the conference as it took place and the decisions he made in response to that. Others here, and in upcoming pieces from the sound of things, will be offering their experience of the meeting from being in the meeting itself. Is it that you feel his experience as a conference attendee who felt uncomfortable about it is not valid?
I think anyone's opinion is valid and should be spoken, for sure. But I feel with just one article about a topic as this it sets up a more hostile atmosphere than needs to be present. This brother is valid to speak as he pleases but with the absence of the other side it's hard to digest this alone. Maybe next time this can come as a combo of articles like other series you all have done in the past...
there were other instances of individuals asked to leave rooms because they didn't self identify as a particular ethnic group? Please clarify.
Matt, there weren't other instances of individuals being asked to leave because they didn't self-identify, but there was at least one other instance of exclusion: at the closing plenary, titled "Toward and Ideal Theatre," there were 35 passages from artistic leader vision statements from American theatre. Of the 35, only one was from a Chicano/Latino leader, and there was no representation of Native of Asian Pacific Islander voices. It was an oversight by the committee, and after being approached about it, they fully owned up to what happened and continued to engage in conversation about the issue.
AVEN has been struggling with the same thing, and here are some things people have been saying.
I would argue, however, that approaching the idea of spaces for people of color from a position of false equivalency (ie, one in which people of color temporarily excluding white people to focus on things that people of color must work out among ourselves has the same impact as centries of white people excluding people of color at every level of society) does not give me a good feeling about the direction of any discussions about the need and importance for safe spaces for people of color to be ourselves.
Thank you for your post and link. Your point is a good one, and I assure you history will absolve us both.
POC only spaces are VITAL. It is rare to be able to carve out a safe space to connect and communicate without having to code switch, explain, or tone done voice to make others comfortable. We don't get many spaces. Why deny people?
Thank you for your post. We are in agreement on everything you say and your question at the end is a very good one.