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Play It Forward

by Jim Martin, WTC Board Member

Last weekend, READY STEDAY YETI GO (RSYG) opened at The Box.  It is part of Wasatch Theatre Company’s 22nd season.

Following the show and Sunday’s talk-back with the cast and director, I was prompted to sit down and write this blog.  I hope someone reads the blog and is inspired to use their love of theatre as a platform for a community message.

I am calling this “Play it Forward.”  #Playitforward.  I did not make a typo-o.  I intend for plays to become the vehicle by which we do community good.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I think plays in and of themselves are a community good.  But what if we could showcase good acts that resulted, that were actually spurred by our inspiration from a play?

Watching RSYG and listening to the subsequent talk-back got me thinking about microaggressions.  Microaggressions are defined as acts that might not typically be thought of as racist—a comment here, a look there—but that cumulatively carry the weight of more overt acts.

For example, Black people report being looked at differently when they walk through a store.  Muslims sometimes get screened differently as they proceed through airport security.  A woman clutches her purse more tightly when a Latino man enters the elevator.  A driver locks his car door as a Black teen walks across the street, passing the vehicle.

These are called microaggressions, and White people often don’t notice them.  What I love about RSYG is that the playwright effectively illuminates these microaggressions so they become funny in their absurdity.  What makes them funny is the realization that we have actually heard people talk like this—maybe even ourselves.

I think the power of a show like RSYG is that it makes all of us pause and reflect on our role in racism.  I often think about what I do every day that perpetuates advantage for White students over Students of Color.   As an educator, it is not my intent to oppress anyone.  There may be things I am doing, that I am accustomed to doing, that unintentionally prevent some students from achieving at the same levels as others.

Does this let us as White people off the hook?  Absolutely not!  It is our job to be on the constant lookout for evidence that our actions need to be revised.  For example, data showing Students of Color underperforming are strong indicators that things need to be different.  Time to look inward!

I am reading a book now called How Did That Happen?  It’s all about accountability.  When something happens that shocks us, we often turn to our neighbor and say, “How did that happen?”  The book, while certainly not looking specifically at issues of race or racism, can be applied to broader societal issues.  If we look around us and see something shocking—a President elected who doesn’t represent our values, the spread of a killer virus, a shooting at a mosque—our question ought to be “How did I let that happen?”  What things do we do everyday that contribute or fail to contribute to a better world?  If there is really a sixth degree of separation, who knows what amazing impact some of our seemingly small actions can have.

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