This day is important to me. Today women are striking across the world in a display of solidarity. I recognize that not all women identify as feminists, although I don’t understand it. I also recognize that the majority of men do not identify as feminists, although I don’t understand that either.
I think back to my childhood and realize the privilege that I have always had. Part of it I was born into, my parents were both white and educated and came from families where they were loved. Growing up I was bossy (and still am) and no one ever made me feel bad about it. I was encouraged to be a leader, I was raised to be confident, and because of that support I achieved in school and in sports. I get my work ethic from my parents, they didn’t preach it, they just lived it every single day.
When it was time for college I had a couple years that I didn’t know what I wanted to be, or how to recognize my talents. I took that time to take a lot of women’s studies courses (sounds pretty Boulder-like right? 😉 and then with my dad’s suggestion I found my passion in the world of marketing.
I went to art school and graduated early, I was ready to jump into the real world. I landed the job I wanted, again privilege followed me. I feel very grateful for the life I have had and I recognize that while I have worked very hard, there were so many factors that have been working in my favor ever since I was born.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that the world of advertising was flawed. About a year into my career a coworker of mine got drunk and revealed his salary to me. We went to the same school, graduated at the same time, were hired at the same time, and had the same job- he made $10,000 more than me. I remember taking the information in calmly and then headed home to figure out how I was going to make this right.
So the next Monday I told my boss that I needed to talk to his boss. I gave them the facts, they came back with comments like “well, schooling and how long you have worked here all play into salary”. When I told them we were literally identical in all of those factors, they gave me the $10,000 raise. Keep in mind I was making $25,000 a year at the time so this was huge for me. But besides the bump in salary, it made me grateful that I was raised in way that made me comfortable enough to fight for what I was worth.
I moved up quickly in my career. I had a male friend tell me one time he wished he could bottle up the “cajones” I have. As I moved up I was often the only female creative in the room. It definitely has shaped the personality I have today. The environment was competitive, frat-ish at times, and has been full of uncomfortable moments with clients, coworkers and bosses.
Now, getting close to 40 I have been in this world for almost 18 years which seems impossible, but it is true. I am a long way from that young woman fighting for her extra 10k in a lot of ways, but in many ways much has stayed the same. I became a mom to a daughter just after my 26th birthday which opened my eyes to figuring out how I wanted to raise a strong female.
I teach by doing and fighting. It has just been the 2 of us for the better part of her life. She is my teammate, at my side all the time, so she sees the fight. She sees me when I am struggling, but most importantly she always sees me get back up. She sees that I am flawed like everyone else, but that I am fiercely devoted to doing anything and everything I can to make sure she succeeds. I have become the woman, the feminist, the boss, and the mother I am to show her what she is made of.
My hope for her and the people in her life is that they realize this is what it means to be a feminist. It means that she means as much to the world as the boy who sits next to her. It means that her brown skin is as valuable as my white skin. It means that all of the men in her life- her father, her grandfathers, and everyone else who loves her- want her to succeed and believe in her success as much as they would believe in a boy’s.
I recognize my life has been full of blessings and full of privilege. I am very grateful for everything that I have been given, the love that I was raised in, and the chances I was given to prove myself. That does not mean I don’t have something to fight for. I have heard this a lot lately, women in a position of privilege who don’t understand that one woman’s fight is all of our fight.
My dream is a world where we are all feminists, because we all recognize that your son is not better than your daughter. He doesn’t deserve additional opportunities or respect simply because of his gender. When women do better, we all do better. Please find your own way of standing in solidarity today, I am striking with the knowledge that all women do not have that luxury, so I will strike for them too. Even more important is how each of us continue to carry out the spirit of today into each day moving forward.
I strongly identify as a mixed-race Black and Latina female. I was raised by my parents to never choose just one or the other because I am both: all day, everyday. As passionately as I hold my racial/ethnic identity to be true, I have grappled with the fact that the world sees my truth as a falsity. I, Joanna Lillian Thompson, am proud to say I am the child of a Black man, born and raised on the ghetto streets of southeast Washington D.C., and a Central American woman from Nicaragua who came to the United States with nothing but a dream for a better life.
As a child, being mixed was not complicated. I grew up in the rather diverse suburb of Rockville, Maryland, right outside of the nation’s capital. There, commonalities between my friends and neighbors were highlighted more so than our differences. However, as I have gotten older and moved away from home to travel nationally and internationally to pursue my academic and career goals, I have found myself in more and more situations where my mixedness becomes a topic of interrogation. These situations are fueled by constant reminders of what makes me different from those who do not identify as mixed-race. Unfortunately, I am more than used to typical questions of “What are you?” or “What are you mixed with?” and statements like, “I didn’t think being mixed was a thing.” or “You don’t even seem Black and Latina.” Nevertheless, the questioning of my racial/ethnic identity has come to a point where it is not just a question of what am I, but a discrediting of my racial/ethnic identity all together.
This discrediting of my racial/ethnic identity recently came to a highpoint when a new friend of mine, who is Black and undeniably Pro-Black in her personal beliefs, frankly informed me that I am not “ethnic,” I have been “whitewashed” because it sounds like I was “sheltered,” like my parents “kept all the Black people” away from me, and I am “not like any other Black/Latina person” she knows because “other Black girls” don’t sound like how I do. The justification for my apparent display of no ethnicity, according to my friend, are due to characteristics I embody such as I am passive and am too nice, I talk properly all the time, I like baseball and hockey, I do not listen to a lot of “Black people” music, I am not urban, I say phrases like “okie dokie,” and I simply carry myself in a way that if you did not know me, you would not necessarily think I was Black or Latina. These characteristics, from how I act, to how I speak, to even what sports and music I like, have somehow, and unbeknownst to me, stripped away my racial/ethnic background. Ultimately, it has made me a White person.
When thinking about these characteristics, which seem to be perfect evidence to support the claim I am not “ethnic,” I believe what I like and how I act are merely consequences of the environment I was raised in and the spaces I continue to surround myself in. I was raised in Montgomery County, Maryland, which was a well-off suburb. Compared to most youth, I had a pretty amazing childhood which included an abundance of love from friends and family who were prosperous themselves. I do not say that to be conceited, but to simply acknowledge the varying levels of privilege I have been given in my life. My childhood included being excited for my first Backstreet Boys concert at the age of 13; yearly summer vacations to the beaches of Florida with my parents; attending different professional sports events, including soccer, because my father, that Black kid from the ghetto of D.C., worked as an equipment manager for the Washington Diplomats in the 70’s and fell in love with the sport, among other sports as well. My life includes both of my parents, whom have now been married for 34 years, and have always supported me in any way they can: financially, emotionally, spiritually, and just by being my best friends. Today, I live on the north side of Chicago where I am pursuing my PhD in Criminology, Law, and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago and have been extremely fortunate to meet people from different walks of life who are just as diverse as I am. Somehow, these wonderful characteristics, which have irrefutably shaped the eclectic person I am today, have simultaneously disqualified me from being genuinely Black and Latina.
Several questions have since risen in my mind from this new information on my lack of minority status. First, what does it mean to be ethnic? Second, what does it mean to be “genuinely” Black and/or Latina? Third, how does having a nice personality, liking certain types of music and sports, or being well-spoken as a POC essentially make you less of a POC? Sometimes I wonder, if I were to give into stereotypes, would that make me more genuine when it comes to my racial/ethnic identity? If I grew up on the same ghetto streets as my dad, if I struggled in the shacks of Nicaragua like my mom, if I had not been afforded good opportunities in the affluent suburb I grew up in, if I had a single parent to support me and wondered why one parent left, if I carried myself with a heavier and more aggressive swagger, if I blasted ratchet music 24/7 and spoke with more street slang, if I asserted a more visible pro Black/pro Latina way about myself, would all of that somehow qualify me as ethnic, would all of that somehow make me a bonafide Black and Latina female?
Personally, I cannot deny that I have struggled with questions of, “Am I enough?” and “Will I ever be enough?” This is because I have been, and most likely always will be, reminded that as “half and half,” I will never be fully Black or fully Latina. Yes, I could feel as whole as I wanted, I could shout it from every mountaintop and be proud of the reality I hold to be true, but the world will always see me as two parts of a whole, never two whole parts. The saddest part about these reminders is they usually come from my own people: Blacks and Latinas/os. My own people, who I assume will be the first to have my back in times when I am feeling inadequate, are the first to criticize and remind me that ultimately, I am neither Black or Latina.
And so, what happens now? Where do mixed-race individuals like myself, who are constantly being reminded of what we are not rather than what we are, go from here? Do we stop believing in who we are, whether our racial/ethnic identities are perceived by others correctly or not? Do we continue to convince our own people, the ones who give us the most pushback for not being enough that yes, we are enough and we should not be stripped of our racial/ethnic identity simply because we look different, sound different, or prefer to engage in different cultural interests? Do we try and establish definite connections for what it means to be “ethnic” or “genuine” as a POC so that at least we have “rules” to abide by when claiming a minority racial/ethnic identity? Or do we just not care, let the sensitivity and emotion all slide, and just deal with being accepted by some and not by others?
At the end of the day, I know I cannot give into the negative feelings I experience from discontent and questioning by others who feel I am inaccurately portraying the racial/ethnic identity I was born into. I know I cannot change people’s opinions, especially if those opinions are not grounded in anything definitive, anything aside from personal ideals. I also know the pride I have in my claim as a Black and Latina female is my truth, my reality, and that will never falter. Despite potentially not fitting into whatever cookie-cutter mold there is for being a “genuine” POC, best believe, no one can tell me that I do not fit into the history of what it means to be Black and Latina in America, because I do, I know I do. My place in history, as a strong Black and Latina, has been written and continues to be written; backed by a soundtrack of pop and hip-hop, a wardrobe of sneakers and sun-dresses, hooping to the basket on the court and sliding into third on the field, a personality that is equally passive and aggressive, and a swagger that is undeniably a lady in the workplace and a beast in the streets. Whether this depiction of who I am is evident to others or not, I know is it there. It is in my being, it is in my blood, it what wakes me up every day and puts me to sleep every night. And you know what? That will always be enough for me.
As mentioned in previous posts, I’m an NPR addict. We have a local broadcast called The Texas Standard that highlights all-things-Texas. Every day, I mostly learn about what the new presidency means for the state and I think they talk about tacos every show, with a once-a-week argument about chili or tacos being the state food. I will admit, I don’t get as excited for this show, as I do for THINK or Fresh Air, but love their travel tidbits and random Texas History. When the show brought up The Underground Railroad in Texas, I naturally thought slaves were making their way north, but I was wrong…
In the 1850s, Nathaniel Jackson, a white slave owner from Alabama, left his plantation for the Rio Grande Valley, bringing his black wife, and former slave, Matilda Hicks, their bi-racial children, and freed slaves. Jackson Ranch was established in 1857 and served as a refuge for runaway slaves making their way down to Mexico. The family built a church, a cemetery, and served vital roles in their little south Texas community for generations. The Jackson’s heirs still live today, many of whom mixed with the Mexican-Americans in the town. Lots of multi-racial goodness, but unfortunately, very little information about this revolutionary family.
In 2005, a lovely historical marker was dedicated to the cemetery for all to learn about this brave family. I never heard this story, and it makes me wonder how many others are out there just like it. If you know any, please share, and we’ll do a post on it.
“Thoughts of a Colored Man When the Sun Set Too Early”
To quote “Hamilton” there’s nothing like being in “the room where it happens”. I love watching a rehearsal, especially that of a new show. It’s magical getting to witness art being made. Especially good art (yeah, yeah art is subjective. Whatever), and “Thoughts of a Colored Man on a Day when the Sun Set too Early” is just that.
I’m a sucker for diversity and thinking outside the box. It gives me chills seeing something that will challenge your perspective. I think this show is just that. I was lucky to get the opportunity to sit down with the creative team and discuss this show and why diversity and inclusion are so important in the theatre arts. This amazing group of people are part of the solution. They are so inspiring and I hope more theatre companies will follow suit!
Take notice. This is what a theatrical revolution looks like. Rise up!
Alex: Why this show? What made you decide to write this?
Keenan: This piece is very important to me, I started writing this piece while I was in college. And due to the climate, you know, the racial tension going on here in America. And a voice that I felt that needed to be told. I felt that this piece was important to write about young black men and expressing their emotions, and how they feel about the world around them, the society they live in, and their own culture.
Chris: Can I pop in on one thing (said to Keenan), which you said is one of the things you said before is that you also wanted to create a piece for people of color (POC), that didn’t, that wasn’t a gangster…
Keenan: Oh, right right right right.
Chris: But you said it much more eloquently than I did.
Keenan: Yeah, I just be talking, Um…
Keenan: So I also, wanted to create a piece, that wasn’t, that didn’t harp on the stereotypical plight, of African American Males in American. So… I didn’t want to create a piece that centered around street life, or gang culture, I wanted to show full spectrum in the diaspora of you know, the African-American culture.
Alex: Oh, I love that. So I guess another question for you would be as an actor that is a POC do you feel there has been, um, more progress in this industry for diversity and inclusion or do you think we are kinda at a stand still?
Keenan: I believe, the last few years, there has been progression. I feel like there was a point where there was a stand still, I feel, I feel, early 2000’s there was a turn that started, then I think it stalled out for some years, but I think in the last couple, couple of years there has definitely been a turn, um, in the industry where there is more work provided for us.
Alex: Um, what do you think needs to change in order for diversity and inclusion to become the norm in the entertainment industry?
Keenan: I think people a lot of times focus on who’s in front of the camera or who’s onstage as far as acting, but I think we need inclusion and diversity in all spectrums of the field. So, from the actors, to the playwrights, screenwriters, to the directors, to the producers, to to stage management, and assistant directing, I think we need diversity and inclusion across the board and not just in performers, because if you have more people behind the scenes, you also have more people wanting to tell their stories as well. So if you have more diversity and inclusion as far as when it comes to directors and writers, who have more of those stories wanting to be told even before it gets to the performers. So I just think we need it front to back.
Alex: I agree. Um, so for you, for both of you actually (Chris and Jenny) Why is this show so exciting to you? What made you decide “hey I’m gonna produce this show, I want to do this”.
Chris: Ah, so, John Cariani, who is a dear Royal Family friend, sent me Keenan’s play. And it was called “Thoughts of a Colored Man on a Day when the Sun Set too Early”. And I said that’s a beautiful title. And then uh, Keenan, was so patiently waiting as we did the show last year, and uh came and saw my work, which I think is always important for a playwright to see what Royal Family is about, and what we do. And um, and then we did the reading of it, and I thought “Wow”, and Keenan put together the whole reading, cause I think it’s really important for a playwright to bring in the voices that he wants people to hear, I think that that’s really important so that it was his cast, and so I heard it, and I, I remember at the end of the reading thinking “Oh my gosh, this is gold”. I remember thinking there is so much gold in this. And I was so inspired by it and um, I just went into this “what is the next step?”. And then we took some time to figure out what the next step was and Royal Family very much, especially with, can I say Trump being president?
Alex: Yes, please do!
Chris: Ok! With Trump being president, um that there was no question and after certainly the… there was two things, I was so… Keenan and I had lots of discussions about race because the first thing I said to him was, are you sure you want a white woman directing this? And then I called every person of color that I know, and asked if they thought it was ok if I directed it? (To Keenan) Is that pretty true?
Keenan: mhmm, mhmm.
Chris: (Laughter) I came back and said, sort of came back to saying “yes” we all agreed that it was ok. And that it was about me asking the questions that needed to be asked, as somebody who is white, when I didn’t understand something, that that is something I can say to Keenan like “I don’t understand this”. And so anyway, I guess in the long winded part of this is that we as an organization really felt that this play had to be told. That there was no question that in this climate Keenan’s voice had to be heard and this group of men that he has brought needed to have a place to act. I feel like that was sort of everything that came together. And then I called Jenny and Taye… (laughter)
Jenny: Yeah, as multiple layers I guess for us and how we got involved. The first was wanting an opportunity, already having developed a relationship with Chris and Royal Family, and wanting an opportunity to collaborate first. And when she sent Keenan’s play, first off it just it comes and I read that title, and it’s beautiful and intriguing, and I don’t think anyone would read that title and not be interested in what it’s all about. So right off the bat attention is grabbed, and I’m going “What is this?” this looks like something interesting. And then, um, in reading it, honestly it was for many reasons it was unlike anything I had read before. The poetry of it was so beautiful, um, the imagery, and his way with words. And so we’re talking about some really important topics, and we’re talking about race and everything, but it, but he has a beautiful way of kind of flipping it on its head and coming from a different angle. So it doesn’t feel like something you’ve just seen played out before. Um, it’s a different perspective, which I thought was really interesting. And again to echo what they said with the political climate and everything that is going on, it just felt like there’s this energy underneath where its like it just has to come out right now! Now is the time, this story needs to be told right now! So for us to jump on it and be a part of bringing it in front of audiences, and giving it a life, is of course very attractive and exciting, and such an honor. And then um, from a choreography stand(point), and right away I sent it to Taye and I said I think you would be really interested in this, do you want to do this? Should we do this? And um, one of the things for him was – well I don’t want to speak for him – but right off the bat, it did remind him of “For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide – when the Rainbow isn’t Enough” which is a play he saw when he was younger, he saw his mom perform, and it was um, something that really stood out to him as a young boy seeing his mom as an actress in this play. And it was meaningful to him, so there was also like a – that personal attachment to kinda something that was reminiscent, it was reminiscent of and obviously, you know, he can speak to you about why he’s personally involved. But from a choreography standpoint, um, it was a play that was presented to us that didn’t have music, and so Chris said: you know, would you want to choreograph this? And what’s so amazing is that there’s actually without there being music yet, Madison is providing beautiful music of course but, without there being music yet, there is music in the words. Um, there’s this beautiful rhythm and musicality, which was so attractive to us. And right there on the page, you can see movement, you can see choreography, it’s just begging to be there. Without it being, “and then they danced”…
Jenny: It’s just asking for it and so the words actually provided the music for us in the script, which was very exciti
Alex: So, going on from the choreography standpoint, um, is there a specific genre of choreography, or like a specific style of dance you are using? Or is just like, however, the words inspire you to move?
Jenny: I think it’s honestly, I think it’s… it’s surprising us, um, because I think it’s actually, it is really coming from the words. I think we came into it having one approach, kinda wanting to go maybe against what was being said, and have kinda, you know, this abstract movement to go along with this beautiful kind of poetic um writing. But what we found is we were sitting in this world of wanting to punctuate the words, or-or the images, with our physicality’s, so it became um, a lot more pedestrian, and gestural, um sometimes in an over exaggerated way, and sometimes in a more realistic way. Um, because we are working with all these men, these beautiful performers, but not a lot of them are, most of them are not dancers. Which is actually beautiful for us, because we’re coming from a real place and wanting them to live in their bodies, as people/actors, and so using what we have provided for us with these guys, it’s kind of um, a more natural pedestrian kind of earthy organic approach of the movement, that hopefully supports the writing. I don’t know if that answered your question…
Alex: (To Keenan) Do you agree, do you feel it’s helping your words come alive more?
Keenan: Oh absolutely, absolutely. I…my initial purpose for this play was to create a piece that had enough breath and air in it, for whatever collaboration that happened in the future, or whatever artists put their hands into it, that they would be able to make the play malleable. And move it to how they want it to move. So I purposely left things out like very detailed stage directions, musical notes and things like that, uh, for that reason. I had that foresight years ago because, I created this specific piece for artists of color to be able to uh, just really, just really, uh… be free, and not feel like they have to be stereotyped in any way that they would be handed roles that they often see in the industry. I wanted to give something different, but I also knew in my mind I wanted as many artists as possible to do it, of all different backgrounds, be able to do it and really see the work and for it to be to be able to build um… empathy. Cause a lot of times, when you see something of one cultural group I feel people feel like it’s only for them. So with this piece, I love that, especially this time around with Royal Family that um, there is diversity from front to back, that I’m speaking of. From um… this production it doesn’t matter of race, background, sexual orientation, things of that nature, we have it all here. And that is what I wanted to create and I think with this team that was built here, um, for this production and this incarnation empathy is being built; due to what everybody is learning from different angles, different backgrounds, regardless from where everybody is coming from. So um, I wanted to create a piece for that reason.
Alex: That’s great! Is there anything else you guys would like to add, that you would like me to share with the readers?
Chris: I just, can I just say… the thing I think that has been very interesting for me, as a person who thought that I was enlightened… and I say that very… I shouldn’t say that word enlightened… enlightened isn’t the right word…
Chris: And the things that I’ve learned that I think, there’s two things I have learned. Um… one, I feel like… I don’t think people of… I don’t think many people think about what young black men go through on a daily basis. And I was struck in rehearsal as we were talking about things, about the idea that… (to Keenam) Is this ok to say?
Chris: That…I mean it was devastating to me. That they (the cast), that they were talking about how, I don’t know who it was – I think, was it you that said you couldn’t run? You can’t run down the street?
Keenam: I forgot… I was there.
Chris: So that it was “We can’t run down the street”. And I was like, “What are you talking about?” And that the idea of like “We can’t run, because people think that we did something wrong.” And I was gutted, and I called like five or six people and I said: “did you ever think about this?” And nobody had thought about that. And then the sort of like things that keep, you know, that keep, are being brought up to me, which are, you know this idea that if a group of black men walk in a group, they talk about spreading out… because they look… I mean this is, I to me it’s… it’s crazy…that we actually don’t really… This is… This is stuff we don’t talk about. Or I’ve never talked about. And again, as somebody who like thought I was knowledgeable… and it’s something I don’t… I am not aware of. And I certainly recognize, and I also recognize I am a woman, and certainly Keenan doesn’t know what’s it like to be a woman, and there’s that too… but like, but that specific thing of being a POC. And the other thing I realized too, as Artistic Director, that I think is very important, is that I always thought as being diverse, casting diversity, was being… I was a diverse person… like that we were a diverse company.
Chris: And now I am committed, that I am not going to do another, we are not doing plays of… that is written by a white person, except for one a season. Because I don’t think we need to be… I don’t think we need to hear white voices right now. I think we need to hear from people that are not white, and we need to hear other experiences, and I don’t, I think to Keenan’s point, which is like, how can I be part of the solution? And that’s the only way that I can be part of the solution, in a real way, which is I am an artistic director of a theatre… and that’s important. And so what can I… How can I give power… and how can I use what kind of privilege that I have to lift up people… Ehh that’s a terrible way of saying it…
Chris: To bring voices together… to show that there’s (to Keenan) I don’t know, I said it to you…
Keenan: It’s, it is, it was very important for me I think what was great about this process that I will leave you with is like Chris just said, being part of the solution. And I felt, I liked Chris from day one, because like she said earlier, you know the first thing she asked me was how do you feel about a white woman, you know, uh… directing your play? Which, you know, in our society you can’t be more opposite than that, right? A white woman and a black male, um… I felt it was important because what we’re doing is being part of the solution, we’re opening up a dialogue, and people are learning, and empathy is being built. Like Chris says, she’s learning a lot of things, I’m learning a lot of things because just because I’m a young black male, that doesn’t mean another young black man has the same experience as me, just because he’s black. And that’s what I think people feel at times. Um so, so, so doing that in this process has built and opened up a relationship to cause a healing, not saying nobody was hurting each other, but to build an understanding of “Ok, I didn’t think about it like that, I understand that. Now how can I be part of that solution?” So we’re giving this platform, and this opportunity, it’s not only been able to give me a voice on a new platform, but it’s also given other people a voice and a chance to understand something that they wouldn’t have understood before. Not because they didn’t care, uh… I think it comes down to just not being exposed to it, or hearing that viewpoint in a right way. So I think that’s why this, this, opportunity is important, and you know, writing a play really did I ever think a day would come a white woman would even want to direct my play?
Keenan: um, no. But now that the day is here, I appreciate it for, for, what it has opened up for all of us, and it is important that we, that if we truly want equality, then we need to create a situation that looks like equality, right? And not, and not hinder or stop anybody from, from doing anything and initially like I said I created this for all artists…
Jenny: It’s a human play.
Keenan: It’s a human play, you know it’s like, I think we’ve been saying this, it’s from a black lens, but it’s a play, you know, about humility, human existence, we talk about relationships, you know love…
Jenny: The fact that it is all men, which I found was so interesting when I first read it too. All these men and their character names are emotions. Which is exactly the opposite of what we associate men with…
Jenny: …In our society. That’s not what, I think. Women – emotion, men – logic, practicality, whatever. And the fact that all of them are “Depression”, “Despair”, all these important emotions, all that is an incredible way in perspective.
Art like this doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years and years of working on it and rethinking it… etc. “Thoughts of a Colored Man when the Sun Set too Early” is something so beautiful and special. I am honored I got to sit down and chat with these awesome people.
Special thanks to Jess Wu for making this happen. Here’s to changing the world.
“A woman’s struggle with her multiracial identity gets seriously twisted in this dramedy short film.”
Up-and-comer Brittani Noel joins forces with Director Shilpi Roy (Brown Girls, Freeform), Sundance Alum Stacie Theon (Abbie Cancelled, Birds of America), and Leah McKendrick (M.F.A., SXSW) to make The Other, a short film exploring the distinct struggles of being in-between races. When multiracial Mischa discovers that society has a need to put people into ethnic boxes, and that not all boxes are created equal, things get really twisted, really fast…
“Diversity is a hot button issue right now,” says Roy.
“We need to be exploring it and talking about it as a society, and there’s no better way to continue to spark conversation and understanding than with this film.”
This story shines a light on the unique plight of the mixed race person in a way that’s relatable to anyone who has ever felt like “the other.”
Roy is no stranger to the delicate topic of race in modern American society, having just completed her comedy pilot Brown Girls, which centers on an Indian-American woman and a recently emigrated Indian woman. Signing on to direct The Other was a natural and serendipitous fit, and focuses on a topic Roy feels passionate about.
The film will star Brittani Noel alongside Brent Bailey (Criminal Minds, Rizzoli & Isles Californication), known for his starring role in the popular Emmy Award-winning web series Emma Approved. The Other’s Kickstarter campaign is now live and seeking to complete funding over the next few weeks.
Written by Brittani Noel, Directed by Shilpi Roy, and starring Brittani Noel and Brent Bailey.
The Kickstarter campaign is available for viewing HERE
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about empathy these days. It seems as though people are at each other’s throats more than ever and it’s clear that a lot of that anger is coming from what’s going on in our political world. As one Time article states, “Empathy – the ability to step imaginatively into the shoes of another person and understand their feelings and perspectives – seems to be in freefall.”
People are angry with one another because they can’t possibly understand why the other person voted for or against so and so, is ok with the travel ban or not, is comfortable with the President’s relationship with Russia or not. And I think that’s completely normal. However, I have been thinking that all of this anger and resentment can’t be healthy. I’m not saying that having empathy for those who oppose your views will for sure make you any less angry, but it might. And it might help you to, at the very least, begin to understand why that person feels the way they do. I think from there, we can begin to move forward.
There will always be people with perspectives that we don’t understand. No matter how long or hard we try to understand, we may never fully grasp that person’s individual feelings or opinions. I would like to argue though, that in just attempting to do so, you will open up your ability to empathize. This can be true with general groups of people (think Republicans v Democrats), strangers in the store, and people you are really close with. Simply stating that you understand where the person is coming from or by showing that you are at least trying by actively listening (rather than trying to problem solve) can change the way you perceive the other person’s actions. It also shows that person that you care and that they are not alone and in turn they will likely be more open to being empathetic toward you.
“Empathy is a cognitive attribute, not a personality trait.”
That means the part of our brain that handles empathy can be exercised. The more you practice, the more empathetic you become. We are living in a very polarizing time and I’m personally finding it difficult to empathize with people who don’t share my views. It makes me angry that anyone would want to stop people from coming to our country based on their religion. However, I’m finding that the more I think about why a person might feel differently than I do and step into their shoes, I become a little less angry. In a time when there is a lot to be angry about, I’m interested in anything that will help!
Here’s a great TED Ed video that really helped me understand the difference between sympathy and empathy and check out the helpful and interesting articles below if you’re interested in exercising your empathy!
We live one hour north east of London in a town called Peterborough.
HOW DID THE TWO OF YOU MEET?
My husband Jonah was studying abroad for a semester at University College Dublin, and I was visiting a childhood friend who happened to be living in the same dormitory.
WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP CORRELATED TO YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
Yes. I’m a first-generation Hindu from a semi-traditional family, and my husband is first-generation Ugandan from a Christian background. Not only did we come from different religious, and ethnic backgrounds, but I come from a family of doctors, and my husband wasn’t set on a similar career path. Since my parents didn’t have any experiences of socialising with Africans or Ugandans they felt uneasy about our relationship. What I’ve learned is it’s easy to form generalisations when you’re not familiar with different cultures.
WHAT TRADITIONS DO YOU CELEBRATE IN YOUR HOME? ARE THEY CONNECTED TO YOUR INDIVIDUAL CULTURES?
We celebrate common Hindu South-Indian festivals, and we also have the kids participate in Christmas and other Christian festivals from my husband’s side. With my husband being from the United States we also participate in festivals/holidays that are celebrated in the U.S. that aren’t as big in the United Kingdom (Halloween, Thanksgiving.)
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CULTURAL FEATURE/TRADITION OF YOUR SPOUSE’S RACE?
I really enjoy the rhythm of Ugandan music along with their dance. We’ll oftentimes play the music aloud in our house and dance with the children and have a good time. Music and dance can reveal so much about cultures once you investigate the deeper meaning.
IS THE COMMUNITY YOU LIVE IN DIVERSE?
Yes. The city we live within has people of various colours and religious denominations. And, is much more diverse than the communities that I or my husband grew up in.
DO YOU OR YOUR PARTNER SPEAK IN MORE THAN ONE LANGUAGE IN YOUR HOME?
I speak Telugu, which is a South Indian dialect, (fluently) and I also speak English. My husband speaks English, but is not fluent in his mother tongue which is Luganda. We both want our children to speak multiple languages, and have textbooks to teach our children the basics. We both feel that our children knowing our traditions and cultures is important.
ARE YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY SUPPORTIVE OF YOUR MULTIETHNIC RELATIONSHIP?
Both sides of our extended families are extremely supportive of our relationship, and have been since our wedding.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR PARTNER’S ETHNIC-CULTURAL BACKGROUND?
As well as the music, and dance listed above I love the textiles and fashion from Ugandan culture. I love the use of bold colors and how the fabric is a true reflection of the culture. It feels as if there are 1,000 stories locked into each distinct piece of fabric.
DID YOU FIND BIG DIFFERENCES IN THE WAY YOU GREW UP VS. YOUR SPOUSE DUE TO DIFFERENCES IN RACE?
Growing up Asian my upbringing was heavily focused on my education and academics. Extracurricular activities like music, and anything which could build up my CV for medical school applications was the first priority. I noticed my husband was given much more freedom to explore other interests and extracurricular activities when he was growing up.
WHAT IS THE MOST SURPRISING/UNEXPECTED THING YOU’VE LEARNED ABOUT EACH OTHER’S CULTURE?
The most surprising thing we learned about each other, is how similar both of our cultures are. Both cultures share similar ceremonies, with a heavy focus on respect for family.
ARE THERE ANY COMMENTS YOU ARE REALLY TIRED OF HEARING FROM PEOPLE IN REGARDS TO RACE/CULTURE?
There’s a complex within Indian/Asian culture regarding skin complexion, with lighter skin being seen as pretty. When our daughter was younger, I oftentimes heard relatives commenting on her skin tone which got under my/our skin.
WHAT ACTIONS HAVE YOU TAKEN TO TEACH YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN ABOUT EACH OF YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
We have made sure to take our children to both of our respective homelands (Uganda, India) to meet our respective families and experience our countries. We have also exposed them to our different religions by visiting places of worship (temples, church) and participating in festivals specific to our cultures
HOW DO YOU PLAN ON SPEAKING TO YOUR YOUNG CHILDREN ABOUT RACE IN THE FUTURE?
We’ve done a fair bit of traveling so far and our younger daughter is already becoming conscious of other countries, and geography. Our approach would be looking at a world map, and using flashcards to teach our children about the diverse religions and cultures.
WHAT UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS DO YOUR CHILDREN HAVE FROM YOU AND YOUR PARTNER?
I am quite outgoing, outspoken, and loud, while my husband is much more reserved. Our daughter has both of our characteristics and can be found running around yelling one-minute, and bashful the next. Being South Indian I naturally have thick, black, wavy hair. My husband has kinky afro-hair which makes for a perfect mix of our genes.
HOW DO YOU PLAN ON TEACHING YOUR CHILDREN TO BE PROUD OF BEING MIXED?
By continuing to show both of our children the positives of both our cultures.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR YOUR CHILDREN’S FUTURE AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICA IN REGARDS TO RACE?
That our daughter is confident and successful in what she does, and always remains respectful of others differences. My dream for America is that there is less prejudice and that different races join together vs. fighting.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO SHARE?
In 2014, our daughter Iyla was born, and we struggled finding vibrant products with stories which reflected our cultures. In the absence of finding these products, we created our own and KampInd was born. The name KampInd reflects the merging of our Ugandan and Indian heritages. Teaching our children about our cultures comes natural, and we want to share these stories with the world.
In the last few weeks I’ve found myself paralyzed and heavy into my feelings. Everyone across America is dealing with a flood of emotions, but being multiracial adds and extra layer to the confusion.
I find myself gravitating toward my African American and Native American heritage even more as events unfold, but lingering in the back of my head is the fact that I’m a combination from several different worlds. What if somewhere deep in my Caucasian lineage, there are some hateful roots. Did one half of my family contribute to the history of hurt my other half endured? Even though I know my background doesn’t affect my character, not all white people are on the regressive side of the issue, it still makes the matter of equality awkward at best. I have to remind myself, though, that things are not as divided and hateful as they seem on the news. Love is the majority and things are changing.
Biracial relationships have never been a trend that people are wild about, and the children from those relationships have not always been welcome. We’re here, though, and becoming more commonplace and less taboo. I think people have an easier time accepting another race than they do accepting another race commingling with their own. It’s an angle of racism that doesn’t make it to the forefront very often, but it’s all I seem to be thinking about lately. While there are people who may hate me simply for being black, there are also people who possibly hate me even more because I’m a mixture of both black and white. Somewhere In my mental tailspin though, I realized that I need to be grateful. Right now, there is still ignorance and some people don’t approve, but there was a time when it was actually against the law and a life threatening risk to love outside your race. I felt like I was missing appreciation for where we are now, because I was focused on where we need to be. I thought watching “Loving” might give me a little perspective. That and I really just needed to watch something other than the overload of current event updates on my social media feed.
I always want to watch historical movies, but I shy away because they upset, and stick with me. I’m an emotional lightweight, and I can only handle an occasional action movie outside of my romantic comedies. I figured this couldn’t be as traumatic as some of the movies about slavery though, so I thought I’d probably be okay. I did get upset, but it wasn’t anything that would give me nightmares. It was actually really inspiring to watch the story of the couple who changed the face of civil liberties with regard to interracial marriage. Despite the danger of defying the ruling by the State of Virginia, they fought their case all the way to the Supreme Court where it was declared unconstitutional for any state to deny a couple the inherent right of marriage based on race. They were jailed, and banished from Virginia because they would not concede to the order requiring them to dissolve their union. They faced great opposition, but persisted and eventually succeeded, creating a monumental change during the Civil Rights Movement.
I loved Ruth Negga as Mildred; in part because she herself is Swirl Nation (Irish and Ethiopian). I wasn’t crazy about the husband’s portrayal, but then again I don’t know the real figure behind the character. Also, there were parts of the movie that were a little slow. Any criticism I have, though, is completely muted by the fact that this was a true story. Their courage was pivotal to our country’s history. I was born just 15 years after the ruling, and relatively speaking that’s not even a full generation before me. Without the Lovings my very existence would be criminal. That realization alone gave me chills, and left me in awe of the entire movie.
“Loving” the movie, left me thirsty for more stories of people who paved the way for all the liberties I am able to enjoy present day. Recently our country may have taken a few steps back, and uncovered prejudices that hid but did not die, but we have still come such a long way. While it’s possible to come across intentional obstacles, distractions, and delays, progress cannot be stopped. Rather than be consumed by what the media strategically shares, I choose to be encouraged knowing that love will prevail and change is inevitable.
One day interracial and multiracial will be redundant terms used only in history books, because we will all realize that we are a nation full of immigrants and their descendants, and no one’s heritage is linear. We all have relatives that mixed things up somewhere along the way, and that’s what makes our country the beautiful melting pot that it is.
We are LOVING this Etsy store called Letters From Adwoa! The online store aims to give young black girls Valentine’s Day cards that feature their own likeness to pass out in class. As we all know representation is so important and these cards send a beautiful message! I love the comments in the reviews section of the Etsy page:
I was totally blown away when these cards arrived. Also, when my daughter saw the cards she said “mommy is that me”. Priceless moment!! Love theses cards that represent little black girls
Super fast shipping!!! Items just as pictured!! Thank you so much! My daughter and I absolutely love these beautiful cards! We can’t wait to see what new designs you will have in the future. Hopefully you will offer some with little boys?!! Also children with locs 😉 (fingers crossed) will definitely be supporting again.
Today, February 1st is World Hijab Day. One of our founders, Amal, is supporting in her city of Dallas, TX. During a time when hatred and anti-immigrant sentiments are at an all-time high, the movement, now in its 5th year is more important than ever.
The overall mission of WHD is to create a more peaceful world where global citizens respect each other. Particularly, WHD focuses on fighting bigotry, discrimination, and prejudice against Muslim women. This is most crucial in these times where Hijab is being banned in some countries while in other countries, Muslim women are being targeted and harassed verbally and physically. We must stand for Muslim women’s right to cover. There are many ways to show your solidarity and it is not too late to participate!