Saturday, December 27, 2014

Selma - Being the White Girl

On the Edmund Pettus Bridge, June 2014
l to r: Omar Dorsey, Me, Andre Holland, E Roger Mitchell
photo-bombers: Tessa Thompson, Colman Domingo
I want to talk about racism. And I don't. So I'm going to. Seven months ago I got cast in the (now) award-winning film Selma. To say that after twenty years of an acting career that this was the pinnacle is the simplest way to put it. It was and still is a mountaintop experience. It has changed my life. But not in the ways you might think - I'm not getting calls from JJ Abrams asking me to play Alana Solo (sigh). That's OK. These changes are better. More important. So I'm going to try and share my experiences with you through this blog. Try and approach it piece by piece so that someday I can look back and remember all of this. But first, I need to talk about Being the White Girl. I need to talk about racism.

A dear friend has been making a joke, at which our audiences are joyfully laughing night after night. And each time I cringe just a little. Here is the joke: "I'd like to introduce my co-star tonight, who is starring in the film Selma, which I'm sure you've all heard about - it's getting tons of great reviews and award noms... If you want to recognize her in the movie, she's the White Girl." Everyone laughs. I smile shyly. Afterwards I proudly take pictures and answer questions about the film, including the occasional "You don't play a racist, do you?" Thank God, I don't. I didn't have to say the "N" word. I don't think I could have, but I'm glad nobody asked. Because in the film it does get said.
In the film Selma, a LOT gets said. Some of it is obvious. Some of it though... Some of it has been making me think. And I can't stop thinking. And part of me is REALLY uncomfortable with that. Because I'm the White Girl. And right now I see color EVERYWHERE. I can't stop seeing it. And I'm asking myself ALL THE TIME: Am I racist? Is what I'm thinking racist? Is this blog post... racist?? Part of me wants to stop seeing color, but I think that is part of our problem RIGHT NOW. I think I'm not the only white person who'd like to pretend racism is over - because 'I'M NOT RACIST'. If only I can shut my eyes hard enough, if only I can look every black person in the eye and not see black, then it's all done. Over. We can all "just get along." Gosh, that would be so much easier. Because in my heart I want more than anything for everyone... no matter what... not to suffer anymore. That's an easy thing to get on board with, right?

But that's not reality. It will never be my reality again - at least not for a long long time. Because its still out there. Racism. I can't stop seeing it. And feeling responsible. And I HATE that. But I'm also glad for it. My self-awareness is SO uncomfortable. I wonder if every African-American I look at notices that I am paying extra close attention right now. I'm so sorry for that - I don't want to make anyone feel different or exposed or isolated or JUDGED. But I do want to CHANGE. I want to change ME, I want to change our COUNTRY. Because we as a nation haven't gotten it right yet. So I want to talk about racism. And I want you to talk about it. With me, with everyone. Because right now I know there are things I can do differently, there are things I can do better, so that, God Willing, SOMEDAY, I can close my eyes and rest. Knowing that it truly is over.
Until then, I'll be uncomfortable. But at least I'll be awake.