Screaming into the Burly Void: Why We Should Never Give Up or Shut Up
This is a vent post. Read at your own risk!
There are so many good and amazing things happening right now -- I'm getting ready to embark on my own little mini-tour in 8 different cities, I turn myself on when I dance, my skin is glowing and I drink lots of water, yadda, yadda, yadda. But in my identity as a black woman, I get *so* tired of having to validate myself and my feelings for the rest of the world. It's incredibly draining and exhausting. I'm frustrated (to say the least) but this doesn't mean I'm slowing down or giving up -- this is just my vent.
Either you want discourse, or you don't. If we have to listen to you and watch your boring half-assed kimono rip-off acts, you at least have to listen to us.
The sociopolitical climate in international burlesque is particularly tense right now in regards to cultural appropriation. A black performer made a public announcement yesterday denouncing the "fear-mongering" that occurs when people of color speak up about... well, just about anything, but particularly cultural appropriation. If you don't feel like reading her post, she basically said it's not fair that white performers feel discomfort when trying not to be appropriative when developing acts. She argues that cultural appropriation is healthy and also states that she doesn't feel comfortable aligning herself with POC on any issue because she is half-white. "These topics [people of color and cultural appropriation, sic] has spread way too much fear, anger and confusion amongst the performers," she declared.
It's funny because I was immediately thrilled that she felt comfortable enough to voice her raw opinion on Facebook in all its glory. I won't go into the nitty gritty of why her post is kinda bad, but let's just point out, for instance, the fact that she described herself as a "colored" girl. As I continued reading, it dawned on me that - black or not - this person was just the latest in a looooooong line of people that have attempted to silence others for voicing any type of concern they don't wanna address. I was thinking about her post this morning (yes, it was that harmful) when my Lyft driver cheerfully began asking me personal, in-depth questions. "Is this where you live? How old are you? Are you married? Do you have kids?" I wanted to tell him to fuck off, but I was very aware that as a woman sitting in the back of his car, *he* had most of the power. So I stayed quiet and politely answered all his questions... but he continued to push. "You know, you should really have more than 1 kid by now. It will be too late for you and no one will want to marry you when you are 40."
Before I could stop myself, I said, "I don't really ever want to get married. And I also don't want more kids." Tsk tsk... naughty girl, right? I'm supposed to be silent and thank him for his perspective, but there I was "talking back".
You would have thought I had slapped him in the face. He began admonishing me, telling me that God did not look kindly on women who think like me. Then, he said that most women are stupid, but I seemed "beautiful and smart". Every time I tried to end the conversation with my dignity intact, he wouldn't let me speak. He continued to talk at me for the rest of the ride. He was testing me, much like that Facebook post: if I got too upset, I've become another "angry black woman". So I stayed quiet. By the time I got out of his car, he was still cheerfully talking down to me and said I was "a good woman, you'd make a good wife" because I shut up and let him yell bullshit at me. But I felt drained. Drained and exhausted.
I did not comment on that black performer's post out of fear of being labeled an "angry black woman". Isn't that ironic? The post is admonishing POC for "creating" fear among white performers, but the post accomplished that very same thing in the black community -- in fact, it put a chilling effect on all POC voices. Meanwhile, the black performer who wrote the post is being praised as a "good" black woman, unlike us black "bullies" who continue to speak out. Many overseas performers, including the black woman who wrote it, are using the post as a tool to justify silencing people of color. And, much like that Lyft driver with his questions, I'd be willing to bet that they will continue to push further and further in what they can get away with onstage (there were even blackface performers supporting the black performer for her "forward thinking").
I usually don't speak up, but this has really gone too far. Burlesque pays NO ONE enough to be on the wrong side of history, and even if it did, who really enjoys being looked at as a willing and gleeful oppressor?
Essentially, people are congratulating this performer for telling people of color to shut up. The message is loud and clear: they are tired of hearing us complain.
So now I feel like I'm sitting in the back of a Burlesque Lyft, politely listening to someone cheerfully tell me to shut the fuck up, be quieter, be less black, be more white, make myself smaller so someone can use my history for their 5 minute act. The black performer is ignoring every person who comments with a different viewpoint on her post, unless it's to congratulate her for her ideals. Someone even used the n-word in a derogatory way, but she hasn't stepped in to say that's wrong, either. She is actively (and cheerfully) ignoring us.
Look, I'm from Texas. I've put up with real ass racism my whole life. I've gotten eggs thrown at me by white kids, called a "burnt n*gger," "worthless," and much, much worse -- all because I'm a dark-skinned black woman. And I'm here to tell you that if you didn't know, reading posts like this brought up that trauma. I was transported back to 6th grade, when a white cheerleader said I looked like a "dark roach" in a team photo. When I got upset, the whole squad (including one black girl) took her side and said I just needed to grow thicker skin-- I had made the squad, right? How could they be racist when they were my friends? So I stayed quiet then too... I was polite, a real Southern lady, careful not to appear angry. I laughed it off in public and cried in private.
My guess is that some folks want burlesque to be this type of world, where POC just politely cry and wail in private. Well guess what? This ain't Texas in 1997 and I'm not fucking 11 years old anymore. We live in a different, highly-globalized, fast-paced world with 24/7 access to news and information, so there is very little excuse for remaining silent on any issue these days.
Just like she was allowed to voice her opinion, I am allowed to voice mine. And this is my message back to her and her supporters: People of color will never shut up. We are REAL PEOPLE, not an "issue" you can avoid as it was so callously stated in that post. We will never allow you to use our skin, our heritage, our culture, as a costume. We will never allow anyone to disrespect us or silence us ever again, not without putting up a huge fucking fight.
It's just words after all, riiiight? To all those who view people of color as an "issue" to avoid, I have one thing to say to you:
Don't like people of color talking back and "complaining" about blackface, racism, or cultural appropriation? We ain't on your plantation anymore. "Grow a thicker skin" and get fucking used to it! Either you want discourse, or you don't. If we have to listen to you and watch your boring half-assed kimono rip-off acts, you at least have to listen to us. Signing off,