The last couple of weeks have been an eye-opening experience for many white performers on the European circuit. I say white performers because nothing that has happened was anything new to US: performers of colour (POC).
The conversation started as a Facebook callout of one particular performer with very offensive material in her acts. This was shared by many of us but escalated quickly into an online fight about cultural appropriation— what is ok and what is not ok. But most of it was a fight between people defending, and people fighting against, racism. A lot of comments from white people were totally out of order, hurtful and basically a disgrace to the human race. Many POC did a lot of emotional labour in comments to help and explain topics while getting hurt left, right and centre.
It was shit storm of online abuse towards POC with a lot of aggressive and uneducated comments. It one case it even ended with people’s ancestors being called Nazis triggering even more hurtful responses. Maybe peoples intentions were noble but some conversations were so intense I had to close Facebook for a couple of days because it was interfering with my mood and ability to concentrate at work. I talked to other POC and they felt the same.
However one white ally then went on a quick mission to write and publish an article about cultural appropriation. The article was written in a great rush and has an un-researched feel to it in parts. Myself and other POC did help with contributing to the article and erased a couple of bad mistakes out of it. Damage control was everything for me at that moment. The article got rushed into being published on 21st Century Burlesque. A platform i respect and that’s hugely popular in the burlesque community. Many people applauded wildly. The article got shared a zillion of times and the author got an official online pat on the back for writing it. I let it go.
But the next day the author announced they had deleted all their posts calling people out, and the comments of everybody else from their social media, because those posts were starting to haunt them. It was getting uncomfortable. They started losing followers and kept getting messages from people trying to argue. Friends were upset and now they worried about losing students, work and social connections.
So basically, they erased all the important online discussions that lead to the article just leaving their trophy— the article—on their page for people to see how much good they are doing.
I am mad about this and it’s probably safe to say I am not the only one.
POC fight this fight every day. Yes many of us are tired of fighting. But not after making one post on social media. No, we have fought this fight all out lives. Maybe it’s not apparent but as a minority you cannot decide what days you are brown skinned and ready to stand up for yourself and what days you just blend in with everybody else for fun. You don’t have choice. The only people privileged with having the choice to say or do nothing are white people. So seeing this “ally” picking and choosing what they want to say and then just erasing everything when it’s no longer convenient is hurtful damaging and outright bad for POC and the community.
If you choose to be an ally and want to help fight our fight the commitment needs to exceed the moment when everybody is applauding you. This is a long painful fight. You need to be open to accept that your views might be wrong even though you meant well. Don’t start speaking up if you can’t see this through and run away at the first criticism. Because of people like this Berlin producer many POC don’t trust anybody.
I have built up resilience and power to fight throughout all my life over the past 40 years. I try to speak up and educate without being too aggressive and insulting people. Again and again I fall back on my ability to be diplomatic, which has gotten me thought life quite well so far. I seldom get a pat on the back after standing up for myself and others. Actually every time I do so or post something political on my social media I lose followers, friends and potential bookings. In the last 2 weeks I lost 200 people from my Facebook account! When I call people out I get disbelief thrown at me usually printed on the “angry black woman” card for me to chew on. And that is all.
Certainly I can’t speak for every performer of colour but on my end I can live without the ally-tourism of white performers.
Please people keep in mind that being helpful to minorities isn’t easy. If you don’t have the resources to see this through then don’t. In my eyes it’s better to be selfish in this case and just care for your own career. It makes sense Showbiz is a tough place to survive in and we all need to eat. But certainly don’t come running to help when you think there is something in it for you. Getting acknowledgement on the back of minority issues is abuse too. That itself is a racist action. Start being aware of the damage you can cause!
If you want to be an ally consider working behind the scenes. Contact your POC friends and ask how you can help. Take their advice and don’t get fed up too quick. It’s not like a charity where you donate once and then deduct it from your taxes. The only achievement here is transcending racism and fighting for equality and this cookie is a group experience to be shared with many.
I have said it before and here it is again:
Get creative with helping POC. Elevating them and bringing equality into the scene will not come from you talking. Help pave the way for acceptance and stand up against racism in Burlesque. Actions are needed.
– Book POC for your next show
– Forward POC names to producers you work for
– Vote for POC in The Burlesque Top 50
– Talk to performers with offensive acts and educate them
– Encourage your POC friends to apply for jobs and festivals
– Offer services like a photoshoot on minority rates
Thank you ❤