Over and Outdigenous

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Well, well, well. A year has come and gone, and this is my last article for The Uniter! Writing this column has truly been a wild ride from start to finish.

When I started, I had the intention of focusing each article on a specific area of the Winnipeg arts community and exploring with emotional distance and journalistic integrity the realities of these sectors for artists of different genders and race. I don’t know if I did that very well.

I never got around to interviewing my favourite dancers and asking them to describe in great detail the racism they experience while working on their arabesque. But what I did notice was a change, a shift, a difference. Something almost unnoticeable, but very, very exciting. Something that gives me hope.

I recently learned that many theatre companies in Toronto have shifted their descriptor language from words like “diversity” and “inclusion” to “specific” – as in, a theatre company that produces only work written, directed or performed primarily by white actors, would be a “white-specific company.”

As someone who often feels as if they are walking on eggshells while engaging in conversations about racism and discrimination, this is scary to hear and strange to type.

Directly calling out instances of racism or the centring of whiteness as the norm almost always results in some kind of backlash and requires an enormous amount of additional emotional labour to navigate and appease. It’s an extra burden on the backs of people who already carry a lot of weight. So discovering how companies in larger metropolitan areas are so boldly addressing these realities is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling.

What will the backlash be like? Will they completely alienate their white audiences? Can things ever really change? If they can, am I brave enough to keep pushing forward like they are?  And what exactly does the future hold for the artistic communities of Winnipeg?

These are all rhetorical questions, of course. The truth is, I have no flippin’ idea. I hope that by decentralizing rather than diminishing whiteness, we as artists can come to a wonderful, wholesome, heartwarming homeostasis of inclusion and equal opportunity.

I hope that audiences are ready for a change and happy to be along for a new journey into uncharted territory.

I push and hope for change, but understand that all of us who champion for it have those on the other side champion for things to stay the same, and that together we push and pull and maintain a certain balance.

And as for the future of Winnipeg’s artistic communities, there truly has been a shift. In the wake of 2017, the year of Canada 150, the year of Truth and Reconciliation, the end of racism and the birth of several new celebrity babies, by reading through my previous articles, there has absolutely been a change.

When I was a kid, I never dreamed I could make a living writing or directing or working in theatre. That was something other people did, something that white people did. And today, even though it’s been a slow change … we’re here. Indigenous artists. Artists of Colour. Female artists. Non-binary artists. Every kind of person, contributing and sharing in a way that only they could.

And maybe it’s that glass of wine I had at dinner, surrounded by artists I deeply admire, during an extended 16-hour rehearsal day talking, but sometimes, the result of that slow change hits me like a ton of bricks.

We were always here. We will always be here. We will always stay here. We’re here.

Published in Volume 72, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 22, 2018)

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