Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Black Enough

You must be this color to go on this ride

Okay, so David, my husband and manager, got a call from an elderly lady.

"I'm looking for Donny Washington.  Is she there?"

 "Do you mean Donna Washington?"

 "I'm looking for the entertainer."

"Well, there's a Donna Washington and she's a storyteller."

"Yes.  That's who I mean."

She'd called in order to book me into some schools for February.

They discussed everything important in booking a show regarding the ages of the students, the dates and times, and the price for the sets.  Right before she hung up she said, and I quote:

"Just one last question.  Is she black?  I'm doing this for Black History Month, so she needs to be black."

My husband assured her that I was definitely black, and then they said their goodbyes.  He was very amused.

I often joke that when I started out in this business, February paid for the whole year.  I made as much money in February as I did the rest of the year because during Black History Month, even if people had never even considered hiring a performer, they suddenly needed a black one.

I had a friend who once said she didn't think it was fair.
"We have black history month.  We need a white history month!  We don't have a month when we are in demand!"

I always laughed that off, but what I could never bring myself to tell her was that every single month in America is white history month.  Most of the monuments, almost all of the street names, most of the city names, most of the landmarks in our country, most of the statues honoring brave people, most of our politicians, and the bulk of our textbooks are dedicated like a laser beam on the accomplishments and contributions of white Americans.  This should not be a surprise.  For much of the history of America, they were the only ones society as a whole was allowed to acknowledge when it came to great things.  Nobody else really mattered in this particular scheme.  It was a very particular story that was being told, and it wasn't very multicultural.

  I didn't learn about black people in history except for Martin Luther King Jr, Frederick Douglas and George Washington Carver.  I didn't learn about any Asian Americans, Latin Americans, or many famous women in school either.  As far as I knew, there were only three black people, no Asian people, no people of Hispanic descent, three caucasian women ( Betsy Ross, Florence Nightingale, and Susan B. Anthony), and only one Native American woman who'd ever done anything noteworthy in American history.  (If you guessed that the Native American woman was Pocahontas, you guessed right!)  I grew up not knowing that our country was built on the back of a rainbow of people.  Nobody ever told me.  Well, actually, now that I think about it, I also learned about Sacagawea.


These days things are different.  We are getting better about acknowledging our past...we still have problems with it and we are in no way comfortable with our history, but we are trying.

I'm glad we have African American History Month.  It kept me in rice and rent back when I was a new storyteller.

These days February doesn't play as prominent a role in the year as it once did, but I still make a small bank that month.

Is it still PC to say black?  I have no idea.  I'm not sure who is being offended by what at any moment and frankly, I don't have the energy to check most days.  Aren't we 'People of Color' now or some such thing?  Not sure that it matters, just thought I'd bring that up.

I supposed I could go on and on about how race is a human construct; we are all the same where it counts; and this nonsense about color and tribes has caused so much trouble between people who really ought to get along, but there is no point in rehashing philosophies about that here.  It can be read in many other places on the web with far more eloquence than I have at my disposal this evening.

Still, if we, as a country are forced to spend twenty eight days each year focusing on the contributions of African Americans, it doesn't seem like that is such a terrible thing.

Then again, perhaps my point of view on this whole subject doesn't really matter.   A casual observer might note that I am a tad bit on the biased side.  After all, I would definitely be considered - as my husband assured the lady booking the show - black.

Happy History!

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