Be My Guest/Small Doses of Change

The squirrel , noticing how overwhelmed I have been of late suggested rest and the consideration of a guest columnist. I protested vehemently at first but since the next post  requires a considerable amount of polishing, it didn’t seem unreasonable to unburden myself of some of that self-imposed deadline anxiety. Enter stage center, the dramatis persona, by nationality Australian and by profession actor (thus the squirrel’s Dramatist Persona stage direction intro-he’s such a show off!) Clara Francesca. Although not an American, she is someone who has lived and worked here for a considerable amount of time and her perspectives on race, income inequality and social justice in the US  offer a view perhaps not from a ledge but through a different kind of lens. 

Clara has performed and directed globally, including in her award-winning solo show  Manifesting Mrs. Marx, Susan Who?  She is an Anne Bogart SITI Company Conservatory Alumni. Her latest internationally filmed feature InCorpore is slated for release in the near future.

 Please welcome her as the first Guest Columnist to the Ledge, whilst I seek the counseling I need, for I talk to squirrels.

Ledge Watcher

Small Doses of Change: “Being White Is My Greatness!”

by Clara Francesca


Earlier this year my insightful friend Cynthia suggested I listen to Amanda Seales’ podcast. Seales supplies anecdotes of white American women who believe “being white is part of [the white woman’s] greatness”.  I have witnessed this hubristic personality type, not regularly, but enough personally and anecdotally that I believe it is imperative to have an honest dialogue about it especially amongst the communities that may not experience it as often as Seales and her community do.

 These issues are complicated, and my views are limited to my own research, education and experiences.  There is value in sharing our thoughts absent of censorship and fear mongering. I hope not to accelerate divisiveness but rather to speak to those who might not witness the separation to the degree that Seales’ community does. While this status quo may only be minimally evident in your eyes, this separation meanders through North American communities. Let us examine ideas and actions. Maybe these actions start at home, school, or work.  I invite you to read it as a story, not an attack, while examining parallels in your own life… We begin…

 Over a long period, an acorn nestled in dirt grows into an oak tree. Likewise, from small thoughts, big systems of governance grow. The celebration of white identity can result in the systematic oppression and distrust of anyone “non-white”. A belief that earning money is more important than the conscious decisions regarding  “how” to earn can lead to disastrous results. The philosophy of “ to each to their own”, allows some to conduct themselves without consciousness while others are effectively ostracized and consigned to perpetual homelessness, illness and dependency. Creating a criminal justice system molded on monetization inevitably results in the more than occasional incarceration of innocents emboldened by institutional prejudices.  This lens focuses on the dire implications that stem from the thought that ‘being a white woman is the white women’s greatness (or a white man’s)’, (the acorn) and the impact that has from a national perspective (the oak). Each acorn creates a different oak tree. Similarly, our brains connect different synaptic pathways each to the next. Some synapses open the door to new neurological pathways through neuroplasticity. Some acorns will open pathways to new oak trees that become the best versions of themselves. While there are oak tree systems in place in America striving to be their best version there are others whose acorns are buried in their initial maladies resulting in troubled and complicated growth and perspective as well as confusion accompanied by fearful resistance to change and healing.

In mid-2014, I had the privilege of working with a diverse and amazing theater company, Phoenix Theater, in the East Village. We were teaching devised theater and guiding students of the Lower East Side to tell their stories through improvised and collaborative performance art. During this period, Michael Brown was shot. Immediately after the news broke, posters went up all over the school showing “what to do if the police stop me”. The kangaroo-foreign transplant in me (I was raised between Australia and Italy) was embarrassed to feel shock, jaw-dropping rage and bewilderment. My American friends taught me this was the ‘status quo’ reality of some of their lives. The posters that were put up were meant to reach some of the kindest, most empathetic, open-minded, courageous kids I had ever known. My ignorance soon got a reality check. Why would any police person need to stop these children and why would these children need the skills to respond with a ‘protect-their-life’ mentality while simply walking down the street? I started to learn about (some) systematic police brutality. This is not limited to North America; indeed, I have observed it also in my native homes, and obviously not every police officer subscribes to it (I have known some truly phenomenal moral police officers) but my understanding of the history of police action in Black communities was truly intensified.

Time passed, I learnt more. I collaborated with a wonderful film director, Natasha, on work targeting racial reconciliation. She supplied (horrifying) anecdotes of white American lady ACTORS refusing to play racist white characters to make an emotional and political point in her films and I received another reality check. As a ‘white’ person from Italy, Celts and Australia, I am very aware of where ‘WE WENT WRONG’ and as stomach churning as it may be to look back at the past transgressions of ancestors and historic problems, the conversation needs to be had if it is still impacting the present. I did not realize how few white North American women were open to discussing it, not to mention ACTORS! whose job requires the ability to engage in curious discussion and empathetic listening combined with an extraordinary compulsion geared to understanding. (Granted, these were not the majority of white women that I was coming across, yet a few too many fit the bill). This concern escalated when #TimesUp and #MeToo grew and many white women were not able to recognize that the sexism towards a Black woman especially in the States was an additional concern requiring its own platform and dialogue.

My discussion with Natasha reminded me of an incident I had amongst ‘white’ actors while sitting in a room in New York shortly after ‘that-person-won-the-election’. ‘That- person’ appeared on the television screen. The program then went to a conversation about #BlackLivesMatter. As this segment ended, a senior lady in the room called out “I am so sick of hearing about Black lives matter blah blah blah”… In this moment I was torn between vomiting on her or punching her… However, the voice of my comedian-amazing buddy, Amelia, came to mind.  A few months prior we had donated to and attended an ACLU and #BlackLivesMatter event. Over drinks I shared with her about my work ‘bridging the sexism gap’ in Australia by training egalitarian feminist cisgender males to be egalitarian allies and advocates by calling out bigoted sexist males. As a parallel, Amelia gave me pointers as to how I could be an ally in the #BlackLivesMatter movement since that work was analogous to what was needed in BLM as well. Recalling this conversation, I took two deep breaths (a great tip from Amelia) and I began to ask this lady a question… “What do you mean?” I let the lady who was “so sick of hearing about Black lives matter blah, blah, blah,” answer. A second senior lady chimed in on the conversation echoing the racism of the first. I let the second senior lady answer my question. I then asked them how they felt during the women’s movement in the sixties (I am aware of the differences and complications as it dealt with females of different ethnicities, many of whom felt a lack of inclusion in the movement.) They opened up. They spoke with pride and they spoke with passion. It had been their achievement and their right. Knowing both ladies had men in their lives who supported them, I asked if they felt badly about excluding the men during this movement; obviously, the women’s movement was saying that men had no rights. To this, they replied “OF COURSE NOT! THAT’S NOT WHAT WE WERE SAYING! THE MEN SUPPORTED US!”… I now had my ‘in’ to state that #BlackLivesMatter was not a personal attack, or that white people had no rights. The movement simply sought to end violence and systematic racism towards Black people.

They were very annoyed with me as the conversation ended. But soon one of them approached me and apologized while confessing to her own inner-racism. My hope is that she continues to have these conversations, changes her vote for that-person in power and that she clearly understands why her racism is a problem.

Racism is a self-supporting system, effectively keeping the ‘ninety-nine percent’ apart and at odds with each other, thereby promoting the ‘one percent’s’ need for excessive wealth, control, and oppression.  I have learned that it may be easy for some white people in the ‘ninety-nine percent’ to ignore their inner-racism. I often wonder at the impact this acorn has to the oak tree when reviewing the cheap work labor in action nationwide, and how this affects better educational experiences in the States.  An attempt to reconcile the tensions among the ‘ninety-nine percent’ by reviewing the problems the ‘one-percent’ have created to perpetually support themselves and acting cohesively to stop it may help. But this group-hug cannot happen until we reconcile the racial tensions  filtering through the ‘ninety-nine percent’ itself. We can do this on a micro level and on a macro level.

On a macro-level it clear to me that two systemic racist problems are commingled with the criminal justice system and tax laws.

As someone indoctrinated in social justice, the benefit of balanced taxation, free medical health care, the responsibility of government to provide access-free or government-subsidized education at all levels for all, and as an actor obsessed with humanitarian lattices, it is evident to me that changes need to be made. Here are some reasonable suggestions:

  1. ‘upgrading’ law so that police never have to make quota on arrests and tickets… I beg thee pardon quota = “productivity goals”

 2) ‘balancing’ the taxation laws so that a higher percentage goes into social, mental and medical welfare. And billionaires… i.e. the 1 – 10%, no longer are absolved of paying a more reasonable tax levy to aid the country at large.

These shifts may never happen. But the current system is unsustainable. The problems exist at a micro-level where white women call the police because a black baby is at the park and at the macro-level where a ‘right-of-life’ is ignored within organizations meant to serve all people.

If the police force’s objective is to “maintain order and save lives and property” within a “community” then making arrests and writing tickets to achieve ‘productivity goals’ is a complete violation of purpose.  It is possible to em pathetically change this societal agenda where petty arrests for non-crimes leads inevitably to forced prison labor for too many.

Following on from the above, it is important to put the credit score into perspective. It is a system actively designed to put people “into debt” to attain a credit score while luring them into an irresponsible livelihood of overspending. Ultimately, the controls of human well-being are sacrificed to the “values” of capitalism.

I saw this systemic racism at play first hand. Around 2016 I moved to a new apartment in Brooklyn. A year into my residency two tall men broke in through my kitchen window at 4 AM whilst we were sleeping! (They had to breach the garbage alleyway, climb up the fire escape, and get on to our landing to break in.) They took a lot of stuff, left the door open, freaked-out the cat and stole my favorite pair of tweezers. Yes, these two young men were Black, and I am White. We called the police. Our Super showed us video footage of the intruders. One of them had previously been arrested and done time for breaking into the apartment above us. When I heard this, I expressed how that made me believe that his only survival job was breaking into these apartment blocks! And as someone who had just lost a lot of sh*t, I would much prefer he get remediation, some help ‘boosting’ his credit score and some work references so that he could build his life and stop stealing my tweezers ( I did not share that last part out loud). The amazing police person looked at me as if, I don’t know … as if I had turned into a strawberry. And herein lies the extension of the systemic racism; the refusal to see how these systems play into each other and support the ‘white lady calling the police because a Black baby is at the park’.

There truly are wonderful individuals and teams within the police force. I have met many and I was blown away to learn about NYC Together and other similar initiatives. But this does not negate the reality of systemic problems and brutality issues.

I do not know “how” to change the quotas, the taxation laws, or the credit score/job references problem, but if someone else knows the “how”, please know that I am available to participate in doing the “how” alongside them. Not every individual, state, office or system has these problems. But they do exist, and humbling and open-minded active adjustment is necessary. I understand that our opinions are as diverse as our many communities. But change is needed. Maybe State-based legal reform think-tanks?

Whilst re-reading the white American Marlo Morgan’s Mutant Message Down Under I was reminded of her interest in socialized medicine. She claimed she discovered the great benefit of a system which eliminates “profit from the health-care system, where disciplines work together without the Grand Canyon between medicine and natural practitioners… truly dedicated to health and healing, to doing whatever works,
… negative manipulation, like the politics of treating disease has become in the United States”[1]

I am certain that many white Americans are sensitive to the need to reduce racism, and to employ socialist systems for humanitarian causes within a thriving capitalist country (believe it or not socialism and capitalism can co-exist). Maybe there are more people who could be ready to come forward and participate in finding solutions to these questions.

I have been asked before by white Americans “how would I know”?! I understand why they would ask… as a Kangaroo-Pasta-Eating-Pagan-Celtic-Volcanic-Island-Sicilian, who am I to share my thoughts about the States? I am a human being who keeps hearing about these transgressions to my fellow human beings.  I have never suffered these transgressions myself and it hurts me to learn others have. I wonder what ‘this community’ can do to promote healing and remove the acorn, which dictates that their greatness is solely defined by their ‘whiteness’. 

[1] Morgan, Marlo – Mutant Message Down Under, 1991

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