The Other

I have been thinking about this post for a while. Over two weeks ago I went to see a play called The Wedding Gift by Chisa Hutchinson. I will not spoil it for those who have not seen it yet but it is at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, WV. If you are reading this before July 31, 2016 then there is still time to see the production I saw. After seeing it, I wanted to briefly discuss some of the ideas and memories it awoke in me. So this is not exactly a review but instead a reflection on how the play affected me. If you want a non-spoiler review, here it is: It’s really good. I have said before that I do not get political on this blog because that is what Tumblr is for. This is not about politics. This is about culture and morals and human beings.

All during the play, I had fleeting flashes of memory and thought. I remembered the first time I read about slavery and really understood what the word and the situation meant. I thought about how those first African slaves must have felt as they were unloaded in the New World. I can barely fathom the mix of emotions they might have felt but I imagine that none of them were good. I thought about the manner in which a certain part of the family says the word “black” and how it irks me every time. Sometimes it makes me just a little sick. It made me think about the two Muslim kids in my graduating high school class.

Most of all, it actually made me think of a small part of my life that ended up being incredibly important to my worldview. At the end of my Freshman year at Mason Gross School for the Arts, I was looking for a summer job and my mother had a lead through my brother. He was working with a theater and dance company called Wombworks Productions and I was encouraged to work with them too. I ended up working for a program called Yoasis! which was funded by Yo! Baltimore. It was a program where older kids from youth centers could learn their way around a recording studio, acting, dance and music. It was the first year of the program and they wanted to call it Oasis but I mentioned that there was already a music group called Oasis.

This program was operated in West Baltimore nearly at the end of North Avenue. This was completely foreign territory to me but I trusted my brother and my brief experiences with the company earlier in the summer. When the program began, I found out that for the entirety, I would be the only white employee and the only white person at all around at all. It was eye-opening. The company was mostly inspired by African culture and some Native American culture but this program also reflected the culture these kids lived every day. There was rap, there was African dance, there was poetry and so much more. In fact, I remember writing one particular poem that was included in the show we were putting together.

I remember one incident where I was working with the kids and the other staff and one of the staff pulled me out of the room. They said that I “probably did not want to be in there right now.” The director of the program came in and started to speak to the kids about how the black man and woman were oppressed by the white man. I was just outside of the room but I could feel the tension, frustration and anger building up inside. It was not violent but it was honest and it felt to me like an old wound being ripped open again right there in that room. It has taken me a long time to really understand that moment. It made me understand privilege, oppression, racism and allowed me a glimpse of what it is to be the other.

As the play unfolded and ended, I thought about my brief experience being The Other. I thought about how vulnerable I felt walking across the street to New York Fried Chicken. I thought about talking to young black kids who had been shot at and had lives so different from mine. I thought about the things we shared and how they accepted my poem into their artform. I thought about how our country as a whole is treating the trans people and how we are disrespecting them because they are Other. I thought about how All Lives Matter misses the point of the statement and movement of Black Lives Matter. I thought about how those things are politicized when they should not really be about politics. They should be common sense.

The Other is anything that is any person or group who you feel is not like you. A rich and rewarding life is going to involve running into The Other over and over. It is important to understand The Other and its boundaries. However, while you are recognizing and understanding those boundaries, you should remember that they were made by people. Deep down we really are all the same. We can be smart, stupid, kind, cruel and all sorts of other descriptions. Recently, I have been interacting with a lot of people who have not really experienced The Other so they are afraid and prejudiced. Instead, I wish I could get them to go out and meet a gay person or meet a black or Muslim and realize that they are people too. It is important to remember that we are all The Other to some other group of people. All we can do is try to have sympathy for each other and try to understand each other and figure out what we need to do to effect positive change.

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