A few hours before we saw the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe‘s remarkable production of Raisin, and one day after I posted a reflection of my own neighborhood’s sweet Halloween celebration, I saw a Facebook post that broke my heart.
Written by an occupational therapist for the Appleton Area School District, the post told the story of a young girl who had been trick-or-treating with friends and family members until they came to a house at which a woman gave everyone in the party candy except the little girl, who, unlike her brother, was not wearing a mask.
According to the post, the woman said, “No, you’re a (N word)” and slammed the door in the child’s face.
It is hard to believe an incident so vile happened in my beloved city, and yet…
I recently had an eye-opening conversation with my hair stylist after she said someone had told her she lived in the least diverse school district in the state.
“So, it’s my fault if I want to live in an area where people actually work for a living?” she said.
I was pretty stunned by her response and, later, explained to her that her comment was offensive on many levels.
At first, she didn’t understand my point.
“You’re equating diversity to a lack of work ethic,” I said.
“Oh,” she said. “I get it. Wow. That is pretty bad.”
It really is.
A song in Raisin, the musical adaption of Lorraine Hansbury’s groundbreaking and semi-autobiographical 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun, talks about measuring the valleys of a man.
“When you know how a dream can fade
How a man comes to be so afraid
When you know where’s he’s been
Take a look at him again
Measure the valleys, measure the hills.”
It struck me, as Jannie Jones belted out a version so moving it brought tears to my eyes, that we need to measure the valleys of our neighborhoods as well. And, to do so, we need to have honest conversations about diversity and respect, illusions and reality, fears and understanding.
A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of a black family’s attempt to move to a better neighborhood in Chicago in 1959 and is based on Langston Hughes’s poem Harlem.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore —
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over —
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Martin Luther King had a dream and we quote it annually in memes and speeches. We think we’ve made progress, and we have, because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination.
But, real progress requires honest talk, a hike through the valley of fear and ignorance, and that’s not always an easy thing to do.
If you hear vile words, call out the speaker. Engage in conversations that calmly but firmly educate. Encourage kindness and mutual respect in your household. Resist the urge to make judgments based on skin color, facial features or attire.
Open your heart, your ears and your mind.
Lead with love.
And, if you ever get a chance to see a performance of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota, Florida, do it.
It really was amazing.