Ep. #80 Respect the Technique with Kara Mack

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #80 Respect the Technique with Kara Mack
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In this episode, Kara Mack (dancer/ choreographer/ movement coach/ producer, founder and CEO of Africa in America) talks about how she builds bridges.  She builds bridges from education to entertainment, entertainment to agitation, and pop culture to the many cultures of the African diaspora. Kara artfully advocates for individual responsibility and the harmony of our society.  If you are looking to find your place and learn how important we all are in the music OF LIFE… this one is for YOU!

Quicklinks

Africa In America: http://africainamericamag.com/

https://www.instagram.com/africainamerica/

Kendrick Lamar Grammy Performance: http://premierwuzhere.com/videos/watch-kendrick-lamars-performance-at-the-58th-grammys/

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers like you, get the information and inspiration you need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.  

Dana: Hello, my friend. And welcome to the podcast. I’m Dana. This is words that move me. I’m stoked you’re here. I am so stoked to be sharing this conversation. My guest today is the one and only Kara Mack. Kara is such a gift. Um, I don’t even know where to begin. She is the founder and CEO of Africa in America. She is a dancer, choreographer movement, coach educator, um, a self-proclaimed forever student. Uh, so she and I are kindred in that way. And she’s a producer, a mother, um, I mean so much more. You’re about to find out and I’m willing to bet you are also about to learn a lot, but first let’s talk wins. I love starting every episode with wins. And today I love letting you know that my win is one of those unique and special moments where work and play get to overlap. I’ll be traveling to Phoenix, Arizona for NYCDA nationals, and I get to visit my dad. If you’ve been listening for a long time, you might’ve even heard from my dad. He was on a father’s day episode. Um, you’ve probably also had the chance audibly meet my mom, but I don’t get to see my dad as much. He lives in Phoenix and I’m excited to visit, see a little bit what his world is like and, um, uh, get to teach a bunch of young dancing’s as well. So when, When birds stone, that’s what I’m celebrating today. All right, what is going well in your world? Hit me.  

I’m proud of you. Stoked for you. Keep winning. Now let’s dig in. This episode is a call for reverence. It is a call for respect. In this episode, Kara and I really dig into the importance of African Diaspora movement and music being recognized and celebrated technical forms, not hobbies, not electives, not extra credit. And certainly not something that you slap on the special skills part of your resume. After you’ve taken two quote African classes. Kara, will talk a lot more about that. She’s also going to talk about entertainment and activism, education, Oh, it’s beautiful. She also goes in, and this is important on the harmony that is society and how important we all are to this song called life. Oh, y’all it goes deep. So buckle up and get ready to enjoy the absolutely incredible Kara Mack,

Dana: Kara Mack. Welcome to words that move me. Thank you so much for being here.  

Kara: Thank you for having me, Dana. 

Dana: I am thrilled to get to like talk to you for an hour, but also really, really excited to share you with my listeners. Um, I, you and I have had not met in person until just a week ago, and I’m assuming you will be meeting some of these listen type listener types for the first time. Uh, so I’ll start by simply asking you to introduce yourself and tell us anything you want us to know about you. 

Well, I am a very simple person, so hello everyone. My name is Kara Mack, and I just like to call myself a Black Renaissance woman. So that incorporates everything that you need to know about me. 

You Better Renaissance. And what better time to have a Renaissance woman on the podcast, then the actual Renaissance. This is the in, in so many ways, um, an awakening for arts, uh, cultural awareness and awakening, and also like the actual circumstances are things are opening. Things are happening and I’m so glad that they are happening with you is a part of our lives, a part of our world. 

I appreciate that Dana, thank you! 

Oh my pleasure. Trust me. The compliments are only just beginning because the more I learn about you, the more I love about you, uh, I would love to start by talking about Africa in America. You are the founder and CEO, um, of, of this. I’m going to call it a resource, but please correct my language. I’m not sure what to call it. Actually. It is a very all encompassing entity. Could you,

Brand 

It’s a brand. Okay. Could you talk a little bit about Africa and America? What your vision was for it back in 2014 when you started and, um, what, you’re, what you’re up to now?  

Well, basically I started it in 2014, but it happened within my heart, like many, many years before the actual like first event. And the reason why I started it was twofold. So first from the aspect of being a dance teacher in dance academies and the respect, or I should say lack there of lack of within dance academies, within my experience for any style under the African Diasporic umbrella, I’m saying any style. So in the beginning you have particular people that have certain respect, but then they may get busy and they have to put other people in charge who decide that it’s only ballet, modern, jazz that needs to be required. Now the other stuff are electives. So with me year after year after year, trying to tell them, Hey, you guys, we being adults that mentality trickles down to the students. So yes, they are going, you know, you do sign 25 students up for my West African class. But because of that mentality of you already saying that that class is an elective, I am not going to consistently have 25 kids in my class whenever it’s supposed to, because they already know based off of how adults roll, that these are only the top three are the only things that you need to know to be successful in America as a dancer. So, so damaging. So with that being, you know, starting off just seeing that in me having to pull away from the academic side, now I’m traveling overseas and actually introducing myself to continental Africans or other Africans in the diaspora, and they’re looking at me like, hold up, where did you learn our stuff? Because they had no idea that it is been here since the fifties

Here being.. 

In America.So they’re not understanding how I’m dancing and doing all of that stuff. Like as if I was living there. 

Oh, Was this, uh, in your view, a compliment to you and your teachers and your 

Yes, but also just, just blown away by how we in the diaspora still. So divided still like, you know, we’re in our different places. So when I came back, I said, what could I do to be a bridge? And to also from the beginning to the end, say, respect the techniques, respect the techniques, respect the techniques. So that’s why I put in started 2014 Africa in America. Even the logo of the Africa is in between the A andA Africa and America, because I’m African-American yes, but it is about the bridge and the foundation between those continental Africans and the diaspora. And how can we begin to educate? So I started educating through of course, bringing master drummers, master dancers, having master workshops so people can be exposed to it. Then I said, I’m going to have an annual, original work showcase specifically for African Diaspora music and dance, because I see REDCAT I see all of these original work showcases, but whenever they see African Diasphoric movement, they look like, what, why are you doing this? I don’t even understand it. So I don’t understand your original work. And why did you submit? So I said, Africa and America will produce our own original work. So I give choreographers and composers every year for seven years straight. I did this at Barnsdall Gallery Theater in Los Feliz. So I’ve dealt with in one showcase over 25 different artists on the stage, because when you bring a choreographer, they are bringing their dancers, they’re bringing their music. So all of the city, whoever, you know, follows Africa in America, you get to see an original work showcase specifically for these styles. So you may get Panamanian, you may get Afro-Brazilian, you may get, you know, it’s so much stuff that just happens on that petite stage at Barnsdall Gallery theater. So then I took it further. I said, okay, how can we, you know, just keep it in people’s faces. I said, oh, clothing line, t-shirts stretch pants, all of this different. So I just began to evolve as the years went on and here we are in 2021, just like you see everyone like respect the technique T-shirts all of this stuff. And I’m just like, yeah, respect. Cause it’s not my group. I want to shine a light on everybody who does this and takes it seriously and who’s professionals at it so that people can understand like, Hey, the same way that you respect certain styles, just, just, you know, have empathy in your heart to say, okay, I just didn’t know about that. So now let me educate myself about that. And then you will see that the same blood, sweat, and tears that you had to put into pointing your foot, you have put into lifting up your legs and do something that’s the West African. So simple.  

I see respect the technique being naming a technique versus assuming it’s a hobby or assuming it’s a, a past time, uh, cultural dance. Uh, um, I want to say folk dance folk being of the people of a place. Uh, right. So this is, this is claiming space as an essential form and wow, as, when you’re talking about a teacher’s responsibility to embody and, um, exemplify what they’re teaching and the importance of what they’re teaching. If a teacher demonstrates that West African styles are not important, if they demonstrate with their language and with, you know, with how they move in the world, that that’s a, that that’s a hobby that it makes total sense that the students would too. And the more I learn the student that ever the perpetual student in me, I see African Diasporic movement and music as being like the basest base level of our food pyramid. This is like a nutritionist trying to tell a young person to eat their veggies and fruits and grains with a candy bar hanging out of their mouth, or like eating only drinking, only soda like this. To me, it’s, it’s that foundational. It is the base of our food pyramid. And we are suggesting that it is a snack or a, uh, uh, a sweet treat for, you know, when we’re, when we’re wanting to feel like we can get our toes wet in the cultural arts, it just is so much, 

That’s exactly What it is. That’s exactly what it is. Like you couldn’t have said it any better and it’s frustrating.  

Well then we’ll stop here before I can say something stupid because trust me, I’m new to this. I am, I am learning so much every day. And thank you for being such a willing and compassionate teacher, but it just, yeah, this is, this is why I’m excited to have you here today. I want to hear more about this. I want to, like you said, being able to humble down and say, oh, I didn’t know that, oh, I didn’t, I didn’t ever hear that. I have never seen that. Isn’t anything to be embarrassed of. In fact, y’all, if I have anything to do with it, Kara Mack will be doing a lot more work in the world that’s making you feel like, you know, nothing. Okay. So African dance Africa, the continent is a continent was just say that right outright. This is not a country. This is not a one type of people. This is not a one type of dance, but, um, I’m, I’m hoping that it becomes more integrated in our dance institutions and in our, you know, curriculum for building dance. But I also hope to see more of it in pop culture. And that is what I want to talk about next. If you are not totally tired of talking about Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance in 2016, can we please talk about it?  

No problem. Because honestly, that was the beginning of like, who is this chick and where did she come from? Type of vibe. So going ahead and ask away any questions you have.  

So first of all, if you haven’t already seen this legendary performance, Kendrick Lamar, 2016, I think he won like five Grammys that year. So that oughta, yeah, he came with heat. Um, please watch, I’ll make sure to link to the performance so that you can watch it and watch Kara getting down. Um, but in this piece, we, we get to see black men in chains, in prison jumpsuits. We get to see a very stark, deliberate and artful, but not subtle line between the incarceration of Black men in America and Africa period. It’s people, their resilience, their bravery, their energy, their fight, and seen side by side. This is one of the most impactful pop performances I’ve ever seen. And I call it pop. Not because that’s the style of music. It is, but because this is mainstream, this is the Grammy’s, this is network television. This performance was brought into the homes of middle America and a bunch of Americans that had that probably possibly, probably would rather have not seen that that night. 

I’m so happy. You know, that Danna.  

Well, I got, I got rocked. I was uncomfortable as hell watching that performance. It was loud, but I think that there is, I have always strived in my work. If we’re talking about bridges to bridge entertainment and education, I just think, and we’ll talk about more about teaching in a second, but I really think that you could do a quick sneak attack and do a lot of education under the veil of entertainment. Sesame Street is a beautiful testament, but that’s not all. I think we can really make education entertaining and get a huge payoff from it, but backup what that performance did was entertained and agitate at the same time. And that is harder. And I can only imagine the number of meetings and discussions and approvals and permissions and the number of straight ups forgive my language, but ***k you, I don’t care what you say. This is what we’re doing. I can only imagine how much of that was going on behind the scenes. I have now talked for 20 minutes about this performance and not asked a single question. 

I love it. I’m just over here. Like I don’t have anything to answer. You just totally got it in your head. That’s hilarious. All right, I’m still listening. 

Okay. Okay. Okay. I would love to know about your involvement in that creative process. I’ve only shared one creative space with you and then one training space with you, which both of which I’m eternally grateful for, but in this creative space, you, you brought a lot of context and a lot of history, a lot of your knowledge to the room I’ve been in rooms where that isn’t always welcome, whether that’s because of the leader at the top or whether that’s because of simply not there being enough time. Like we, we, we have four hours to get 40 people doing the same thing at the same time. We don’t have time to be educated right now. We’re, we’re assuming point blank that everyone in the room is educated if we’re on this gig. So what I would love to know is on that gig, did you serve a similar role to the role that I’ve seen you in, which is delivering the context, delivering some history. So was your role in that process? Similar? Did you serve in a, in a similar way?

I served as, uh, yes. I would like to say first to answer. Yes. I served in a similar way, but also deeper, um, flowers to Fatimia Robinson for being a particular leader that allows me every time that I work with her to actually give the reason for why I’m doing a certain movement, because she understands that first of all, this is a new movement for you quote unquote seasoned industry dancers. You have not seen this movement. So while you’re trying to figure out the movement within your body, that’s why we’re here for all of these hours. It’s not you being here for all of these hours, trying to, you already have the movement and you’re trying to get spacing, or you’re trying to find out what is your reason behind this two-step. No, you actually first have to get the movement. So I’m here having, you know, a semi African Diasporic bootcamp. So at the same time, I now have to explain to you why I’m doing the movement. So you won’t look confused and simply doing the movement on stage. So if you don’t have a leader, that’s giving you that space and opportunity to do it. I think. And I, and I would S I say, think because a lot of leaders don’t lead like her, which is sad to say, but some leaders will say, you know, get the movement and I don’t care look confused on stage, but it’s your choreo, that’s your name attached to it. So with, Fatima, it’s like, yes, Kara, tell Kendrick, while you’re doing this, tell the dancers why she doing? 

She’s no fool 

Shareway share away. So with that being the aura and the vibe that I was under, I had the space and opportunities to create whatever movement that I wanted. She gave, she just said, go, I didn’t even know actually what was going on. I didn’t know who the artist was. I just know that I was brought in to do a job. And then over time, I started to see the weight of that job, who that artist was, but it was just Kara, just move, you hear the music, just move and now teach these dancers what you just did. And so even within that, Dana, I didn’t tell my family or anybody because you know, the industry, like you, you can love it one day. And then the producers and everybody come later that week and it just like scratch all of that dah, dah, dah. But once we made it to the Staples Center and I saw that it still remained, like I was like, are you serious?  

Massive, it was massive! 

Massive. And then to think that none of us even knew that he was going to do the whole continent with Compton ending. We did not get any of those visuals yet. So imagine us in the back, like looking up at the monitor and him in it and it, and it, and it, and it it’s the continent. I was like, are you serious? But I even told him when we left, um, one of the rehearsals, I said, are you ready? Because remember it was right after, Beyonce’s Superbowl performance, 

Formation 

The formation with the Mike, Michael Jackson with the black power, that whole thing. And a lot of people was giving her flat, like that shouldn’t be at the super bowl. What is she doing? Black this way? And then the black yeah. Heavier. So it was very Ooh. And so when I saw one, yeah. And when I saw what he was leaning towards, I’m like, you’re going to the source and you’re putting it on the Grammy stage. So I asked him, I was like, are you ready for it? And he shook his head. It was like, he didn’t expect me that, you know, ask that question. But it was like him letting it sink in. And he’s like, yeah, yeah, I’m ready. Cause I it’s, like, I felt the weight without even seeing any of the visuals, any of what was going to be presented on the video. None of that, just the movement and just seeing like how it began and how it ended. I said, wow, are you ready? He said, yeah. I said, okay. But I had no idea, Dana. I, no idea it was going to be is be big and impactful as it was like, first I was telling you, like, it was because of social media where people that are professionals in these styles, it’s like, no who did that choreo in front of like, who did that part? And it was just like, wow, that’s, what’s up. All of my people in Cuba, all of my people in Brazil, all of my people in different countries, in West Africa that saw that Grammy performance, it was like, put it in the comments, Kara Mack, Kara Mack, Kara Mack. And I was like, wow, that’s what’s up. All right. So I understand my responsibility and I have to continue going down this particular path in my life.  

I’m so glad to hear that people said your name and people wrote your name and people read your name. My followup question is a tough one. It come, it’s coming up a lot lately. And I’m glad that it is because I think it’s an important distinction to make where you a contributing choreographer on that job, or was your role a dancer or was your role assistant or what, what was your title?  

I would like to say for that particular job, I was, I was a dancer, but I also contributed the movement that you see in front of the bonfire. Like that particular part. Yes. I contributed that. Um, and yeah, like within the industry, I’m happy to say that Fatima, uh, also Adrian big ups to Dubs, um, Charm, just different people that were witnesses and can account for, uh, the work that I put in. I’m very, very, very appreciative for them. Cause I respect all of them very much, but it’s very true that with other people in other circumstances, they do not get that same just due, so yeah. I’m happy that these conversations are coming up as well.  

I think it’s, um, a broader conversation in the education of what the choreography department brings to a project. Not necessarily just being eight counts, as you mentioned in this case, it was history lessons. Yes. It was steps. Yes. It was even your body doing the steps, but it was context. It was information. It was, I mean, I’m assuming I can, I can only imagine a borderline religious experience in that room every day. Yeah. Um, and, and I think that some, some audiences know that, most of them don’t some productions know that many of them don’t, many of them don’t know that choreography is a department. They think that’s one person, one choreographer. And the thought that one person could control I’ll use that word for lack of a better one at this moment could control the 40 people that were on stage. Nope, no,  

No. That’s with me learning all with me, learning over the course of time, like Fatima’s also been a great teacher. Um, just shedding, so much information on my physical body mentally and spiritually is the fact that no, even if someone asked me to do all of that, I wouldn’t look at them like you have lost your ever loving mind, like the things that you have to do in coordinating with different, um, departments with the clothing and then with the props and then with the lighting and what is the artists going to wear? And it’s just like, no, absolutely. So everyone who’s listening that is what comes with that particular role as choreographer is not stepping in a studio and saying 5, 6, 7, 8. So yeah, if you didn’t know now, you know,  

Uh, super shout out to not my last episode, but the episode before, when I sit down with the choreography team, from In the Heights, it really was when they say it takes a village in our case, at least a small apartment complex of people to get that done. But then, but one of the things that we talk about in that episode is that the structure of the choreography, the organization and the collaboration of the choreography team is one thing. And it does get to shine in that movie, holy smokes. But what really shows up on the screen is the spirit of the dancers. That’s the one part, the choreography team can’t deliver on the day. Yes. You know, we can, we, we are involved in casting. We have discussion with music, with set with all of the other departments, but on the day it’s dance team, who’s supported by choreo team that gets out and gets the word out. That’s like a, we are important, this matters. And so I, I see that performance is a beautiful example of that. The dancers on stage. I mean, I cry. I think about Marv, I think about watching you dance. It is so.. Calling it impassioned feels small. It feels it’s like possessed. It is something such a treat for, especially for an award show. Um, but I, I just, I think the world of that performance and I’m in awe of your role in it, I’m so glad it exists. And I want everyone to watch it five times.  

I want to share one, um, special moment for me. Um, I’ve shared this before, but I want to share it on your platform. When I shared, uh, with Kendrick, uh, the part of the choreo where we do a circle around him, he in the beginning thought that it was like, oh, it’s like spirits around me and I’m scattered. And I’m trying to find my place. And it was the moment that I was like, no, Kendrick, that’s not, this is a rhythm Sandia, but it’s, Lamban the song Lamban, which is lifting up the oral historian, which is the Griot. And I said, Kendrick, you are African-American’s oral historian. So we’re doing this movement around you to lift you up and to give you energy for what is your role. And so he just got quiet and he said, you know, basically it was like, okay, okay. And automatically I saw a change within him. And during that performance, it’s like, oh wow, I get it. Like, it’s like claiming my responsibility and claiming my role for what I’m supposed to do. So now I’m gonna just take this a whole mile past what I thought I was gonna present on a Grammy stage. So yeah, that moment was special to me because he really thought he was just like, oh, it’s, you know, things around me. And I’m trying to figure, as I know, there’s nothing to figure out. We are here only to uplift you and to encourage you for you are our oral historian. You are our Griot.  

Thank you so much for sharing that. Yeah, that’s awesome. That makes me want to go in one direction, but I’m going to go another direction then I’m going to circle back. Okay. I got Google maps pulled up there. They’re like, you are not on the fastest route. Do you want to take another route? And I’m like, no, I want to stay on this route. Let me, let me keep going. I had Moncell Durden on the podcast over the summer of last year, and I took a few of his courses, um, Intangible Roots, which was awesome. And then he did a collaboration series with Passion Fruit Seeds. I learned so much one of the, um, one of the themes that I liked learning about the most and was embarrassed and ashamed that I had not heard of sooner was the notion of a Ring Shout and what happens to the dancer who is in the center? The, the geometry obviously is very significant and very important there’s of the land there’s of the godly there’s of the water. Um, and there’s this notion that the person in the center maybe mounted by a spirit. And I asked you a similar question the other day when we were jamming, but I asked Moncell this question specifically in a ring shout, this moment was not about dance. This was not about show and prove. This was not about anybody’s sick skills, or it wasn’t about like even attracting a mate. It wasn’t about being the dopest and getting the best dancer or the best, you know, whatever. It’s not about this. It is a religious experience and in learning more and more, and the depth of those roots becoming more aware of, um, the, the Pantheon of Orishas in Yoruba culture, I’m learning the importance of religion of spirituality. And so I asked Moncell, is there space for atheism in this dance? Is there room for other gods than these I know there are hundreds of Orishas, but we hear specifically about a small handful of them. Like, is there room for what I think of that God in the dance, or could a person I’ve asked eight questions now, could it, could a person still authentically embody the dance without believing in those gods.  

To first answer the question, um, the same way that I answered it when we were jamming, you first have to come with the honor and the respect of what is the tradition. So there are a lot of people you may have dancers that are professionals in these styles that may be a Buddhist. They may believe, you know, in so many different, uh, like other different religious and faiths, like yeah, but the reason why they are professional within the music and dance styles is because of the respect and the honor of what those people do. Because once again, we’re not talking about styles where everyone that is within that ethnic group is now wiped off the planet. Those people are living and breathing, cultivating. They’re still living their lives as we are doing this podcast right now. So you have to just dig deeper in those types of, you know, worldviews and concepts. That’s outside of a Westernized structure of, oh, this is what I do. So how can I put what I do onto you?  It’s not in, it should not be about that, at all. It should be, as it 

Because is in Western!

Exactly, it should be about the total acceptance for what it is now, you, within your own spirit have to make choices. Once you see something and experience something for what it is, you then have to ask certain questions of yourself, not turning it into which a lot of westernized people do. Here are some suggestions that I believe can make your brand better. And that’s we treat, we treat styles musically, and movement-wise like their brands. So we don’t look at it as I know the roots and I’m being creative. It’s now like, no, I’ve adjusted it properly. It is now my signature. And now you will call it by my name. Hmm,  

Man, when you put it that way, it is a very, uh, an unsavory thought 

And it has been done so much. So to, to, to finalize and complete that question, you can do, you, you can do you freely. However, when you come with now, this passion, because I believe Dana with you, especially, and to all of the listeners who have this passion to learn certain things now, or even before that, you probably can’t even explain, no, you move on that passion. You move on, what’s moving your spirit. Now in your head, you probably define things a certain way and that’s totally you doing you, but I’m also a believer in you being moved by your passions. And, and I’m just sticking to that. Whatever you want to call that, call it, whatever vocabulary, word, whatever title it’s all on you. 

I’m going to call it pineapple. 

If you are, if you are a pineappling in your heart, then you better go down that pineapple road. Because in the end, honestly, when you are at that age where it’s like, yeah, I have done it. And I am complete. You won’t feel complete because you know, within your heart that it was so many things that you were passionate about.  

You know whats incredible. Can I tell you what? Oh, it’s incredible. As you are giving that beautiful speech about passion. I was fondling my neck, my necklace, which is a blue ceramic heart. It is a keepsake that I have had since my first trip to Los Angeles as a preteen. Well, I guess I was technically, I think I was 13 or 14. I was taking my first dance class at millennium dance complex. My heart was so wildly on fire for dance. I went across the street, there was a little boutique and I think I’m pretty sure it was supposed to use this money on like food. And I found this necklace and I fell in love with it. And I was fondling it in the little bead that’s in the middle of the heart just fell out, but I’m not going to make that mean. I’ve lost my passion for them. I can see it. It’s on the floor. Find some gloom. It’s about eternal heart. Okay. So what I would like to add to this notion of respect and honor, because I, I, I want to ask an ignorant question, but I’m going to stop myself. 

Don’t say ignorant

Um, uh, a poorly formed question. How do you know you have reached respect and honor? How do you know that? Like, okay. Uh, I took Moncell’s workshop over the summer. I respect and honor. That’s not it. So how do you know, how do you measure that point and how do you know that you’ve arrived?  

It is actually a great, great question. When you, uh, when you showed up in humble yourself and you just receive when it’s not about when it’s not about you. And I say that, meaning there are a lot of people that already assume when I say, when it’s not about you, it’s like, oh no, but I am a humble person in class, I do fall back and I’m pretty quiet. 

I I I I

You, and you hear that, I, you hear it. And it’s like all of the, the attributes of how humility looks to them comes out as a defense, to what I’m saying. Like, you know, when you’re totally invisible in the movement and the music is the only thing that matters. You as a person, me as Kara Mack, when I’m receiving information, my history where I was born, how old I was, my, my credits, what I will be doing on the day after the class. None of that matters. None of that matters. Like I am fully in the moment so much that I have disappeared into the space of whatever is occurring during that time that I’m receiving that information. It could simply be in a studio in Hollywood, or I could be out on the beach in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa, I’m in that space. I don’t need the attributes of what it looks like to be in the earth and to beat, to actually be in the earth and be present and be there to receive information like we have it, people have gotten so, so, so, so, so Westernized that we have to create the visual to make us seem like we’re connecting with the universe. No, if you’re really connecting with the universe, you can connect with the universe wherever you are.  

And you’re likely not on your phone  

And just, and simple things like that. So that’s when you know, like, okay, that is the beginning of my learning because I’m a forever student. I’m going to be learning until, you know, you see me physically no more, but that is the beginning of when you begin to actually learn when you’re totally out of the way when you’re totally, totally out of the way. And someone has to point you out and say, okay, Dana, I see that you’re now ready for blahzay, blahzay, blahzay, blahzay, blahzay, not you taking it upon yourself to say, now I see myself I’ve been in these classes for so-and-so it’s no, no. In those moments it can be a child that point you out. It doesn’t have to be the head of a company or a head of a production. It’s the spirit spirit recognize a spirit. 

In fact, it’s probably to seek that type validation from that type of moment is even further in the, in the, in the opposite direction of the selflessness that you are, uh, speaking of.  

Yes. 

Well, that is certainly a lot to chew on and possibly the best answer to the best question that I almost didn’t ask. 

No, I love that question. It’s not an ignorant question. I don’t, a lot of people ha a lot of people that are artists need to get back to that because for some reason, we we’re now living in a society too, that really, really belittles art just period to make us seem like we carry no responsibility. When we are the movers and shakers of society. We are politicians, artists are politicians, politics, economic, cultural, any type of title you want to give. arts moves things in certain directions, people that were invisible 10 years ago, 20 years ago are now visible because of artists. Because of artists. So we have to claim or take back that power within all of us. So as dancers, as musicians, as visual artists, whatever you do, you have to take that back. And then when you start to get that confidence back, then you will be able to see how it’s easy to disappear and just soak up, just be a sponge, bring respect, and honor to whatever new experience that you’re experiencing at the time. It’s going to be easy because you understand that the power that you have,  

It’s going to be easy because you think that the process is one that is fulfilling versus one that is exhausting. And I’ll admit with full humility that in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I felt like catching up was impossible. I felt like the amount of research, respect, and honor I owed I couldn’t in my lifetime pay. And, and so that feeling is kept me from doing it for a short time, this idea that I could never respect enough or honor enough, or right the wrongs enough. And that’s not useful. In fact, I really, I think that there’s a similarity here. Um, and I’m, I’m getting foggy brain. So I’m going to try to put it as concisely as I can. When you think it’s a responsibility, a joy, an honor, a pleasure to lead in this way, then the respect and the honor comes free flowing versus trying to muster it and trying to meet a deadline or certain mile markers of having done enough. It’s simply what we do is simply what we do and then. Should we choose it? Which is a responsibility, but go, go, go.  

I just think that majority of the stress will just fall off all of our shoulders. If we see that we are not the only ones that are doing what we’re doing, when we have a bird’s eye view and an aerial view to the people that are in different geographic locations all over this world.  

Oh, I see. I see. Yes. 

If we just, I, I can, uh, I contributed, uh, to think about the definition of poly rhythms, poly rhythms, we African Diasporaic music and dance showcases polyrhythmic things. So think about just dig deeper on poly rhythms. Poly rhythms encompasses different rhythms. That’s happening all at the same time,  

Multiple, simultaneous, responsible.  

Now imagine if one person falls off their rhythm, if one person chooses to copy someone else’s rhythm, or if someone chooses to leave that rhythm, the ensemble falls off. So an African Diasporaic music and dance. It’s the artists as the individual, understanding the responsibility of the fact that if I don’t contribute what I’m supposed to contribute, let’s go deeper. If I don’t do my purpose, then this whole community, community, ensemble, group, falls off because of me not contributing anything. The society is making us to believe that when we don’t contribute anything, it doesn’t matter. They’ve been successful at doing that. If someone gives five part harmony and this one part is off, no one is focusing on the fact that four other singers are still singing on key. They’re saying this five-part harmony is off. Look at that in life. How important is that one person in that poly rhythm in that five part or six part or seven part harmony, even three part harmony. That means that your life, the part that you play matters. So don’t overthink about how much you’re giving. Just freaking give, just give don’t let systems tell you that you don’t need to give because your contribution, whatever it is, doesn’t matter. That’s a lie. That’s the point. That’s the last. So you don’t carry the weight of it, all of it on your shoulders. It’s other people in the ensemble making this beautiful music right along with you, and you have to pay attention to every role that’s being played all at the same time that you’re giving your little. And then you look at it like, oh, I don’t carry all of this on my shoulders. Oh, it’s not my responsibility to do everything because I feel so much coming from my spirit due to social injustice, things of that nature. No everyone is doing it.  

That’s key. That’s key. Weightless does not mean responsibility-less. It means my responsibility. Exactly. Which relative to the big picture is small. But if I choose to not carry it for fear of the whole load, then none of the, none of it gets it  

Then the systems are successful and they can keep on doing what they’re doing because here is one person out and I’m still gonna take, yes, that’s the way I turn everything into music. Sorry. That’s not, no 

I’m with it. This is great. And I, I love the way that, that you did that and brought some broader context, you know, zooming out to a global versus a dance scale. But, um, it, because it is, it dances is life and life is dancing. This is it. This is why we’re here because I’m fascinated by that. And that, and that learning dance lessons really makes me a better human and being a better human makes me a better dancer. All of my out there, life experiences that show up on a stage in a performance or even in a brainstorm even pre-performance stage. All of the humanness is very helpful to what I do. Um, but I, I, uh, I’ve derailed again. I’m excited what I wanted to, what I wanted to shout you out for what you just said. This was a great teaching moment for all of the teachers who are listening is you brought context to help something stick. It’s more than making an analogy of two things that are unlike and saying that they’re alike. It’s helping me understand and making sticky a concept that I was struggling with. That’s what you just did. And it sounds like that’s what you did in the room with Kendrick, where you got to understand that regardless of how much time is offered or regardless of who is leading that additional understanding any additional understanding, any additional context, not only helps things to click faster, but it makes things last longer. And if we’re here to make a long lasting change, then it’s got to be sticky. These lessons that we’re delivering and these lessons that we’re learning and this art that we’re making has to be sticky. Yes. So thank you for making that sticky lesson for me.  

Practical lesson for all you dancers, the reasons why you should search and find other styles, other classes to take disappear in it, learn it, get soaked up in it is because dance is a language. The only way that you, you call yourself proficient in any language is once you’re able to comfortably in that language, say what you mean and mean what you say. Without that, you’re not proficient in that language. So if you call yourself a dancer, I don’t care if you love one style over another. If you’re, if you lean towards, I’m just saying a professional dancer, I believe that you would want to have as many vocabulary words for you to express yourself as you can, instead of your sentences being structured. I went to the store. I would like my sentences to be structured Yesterday as the light shines so bright in Los Angeles, California. I took my bike down to the store and met Mr. John, who said, that’s the difference between an amateur and a professional dancer. So that’s on a practical sense, vocabulary. Up your vocabulary. So then you can be able to get the jobs that you want and be successful at it. Up your vocab. Thank you,  

Please. Up your freaking vocab with the base of the food pyramid, not the top of the food pyramid. I’m dying. Okay. So on that note, Kara, where can we find more of you and your training? Um, I’m absolutely going to be linking to Africa in America. Yes.  

Well, as you said, Africa and America, that’s both on Instagram and Facebook and Dana knows I’m a private person. I, I personally, for me, I’m not the person that uses social media is like the resume. I’m all like, here’s my kid. And we went to the park. That’s like my personal Instagram. So sorry for you guys or looking for like choreography videos every two days for me and things that, no, I don’t do any of that. So you could get any update from me at the Africa and America, um, link. But if you want to send me a request because you’re very interested in my private life, it is @MackKara

I love this so much.  Um, okay, Well, thank you for that beautiful conversation. A peek into your experience. Um, as an educator, as a performer, as a choreographer, as a person who understands pop culture and rich, rich culture, I am so grateful for your time. Thank you, Kara. 

Thank you. Dana much, love, peace and blessings to everyone who’s listening and continue to support this Chica, Dana your hilarious. 

Oh my God. She’s laughing. Cause I’m just dancing in this tiny little corner where I try to record my podcast. Very small movement. Kara, we’ll talk to you again soon. Thank you again for being here. Bye. 

My friends. That was something else. Wasn’t it. I love Kara’s thoughts on responsibility. I love the way she encourages a well-rounded vocabulary. I love the way she teaches and I love the way she underlines the importance of respect and how to know once you’ve found it. Um, here’s one of the things that I really loved the most she says in bold font, I could tell she was speaking in bold font. Don’t overthink about how much you’re giving, just freaking give. So thank you for giving us gold Kara Mack and thank you all for listening. I so appreciate you now. Get out there and give and of course keep it very, very funky. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye 

Me again. Wondering if you ever noticed that one more time. Almost never means one more time. Well, here on the podcast, one more thing actually means two more things. Number one thing. If you’re digging the pod, if these words are moving you, please don’t forget to download, subscribe and leave a rating or review because your words move me to number two thing. I make more than weekly podcasts. So please visit the dinners and.com for links to free workshops. And so, so, so much more. All right, that’s it now for real talk to you soon. Bye. 

Ep. #23 How to Have Uncomfortable Conversations

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #23 How to Have Uncomfortable Conversations
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It’s time to have some uncomfortable conversations.  Being uncomfortable goes hand in hand with learning, and people, we need to learn because we need CHANGE!   In this episode, I give a few first hand accounts of uncomfortable conversations about racism. I also give you my lesson plan for having uncomfortable conversations of ALL sorts. With a little bit of curiosity, compassion, and some good old fashioned listening, you can stop the cycle of confusion and find yourself in the driver seat of change; well on your way to creating the world you want to live in

Show Notes

Quick Links:

Follow, Learn, and Donate:

NAACP

ACLU

Campaign Zero

Color of Change

The Equal Justice Initiative

Fair Fight

How to Vote in Every State

Read:

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

 by Michelle Alexander

Watch:

“13th” Directed by Ava DuVernay

“The Black Power Mix-Tape” Directed by Göran Olsson

“When They See Us” by Ava DuVernay

Listen: 

1619 Podcast by The New York Times

Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell 

The United States of Anxiety “I did not watch the video” – WNYC

Truth Be Told – “You’re ok, I’m Not: Black Men & Therapy” – KQED

Code Switch – “A Decade of Watching Black People Die” – NPR 

While Black – “Black Teachers Matter” 

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers, like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight. But don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place. 

Dana: Hello? Hello everybody. Okay. How are you feeling out there today? I am feeling okay. And that is okay today. My win is that I have been learning from some really uncomfortable conversations lately, and I am proud of that. This episode is all about how to navigate those uncomfortable conversations that you may be having as well. But before we dig into that, I do want to give you a chance to tell me about your wins. I think it is very important to celebrate them, especially the small ones,  

Go for it. What’s going well in your world. Congratulations. And I am so glad that you are winning. All right, in this episode, I’m going to be dishing out my lesson plan for how to have difficult or rather uncomfortable conversations. I’m getting a lot of opportunities to practice this lesson plan right now. And you probably are too, by the way, right now is the first week of June in 2020, a couple of facts about today or this week, I suppose, is that the global death toll from COVID-19 is over 374,000. Few more numbers for you. Over 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the beginning of the pandemic. The real jobless rate in America is 23.9% today. Also on May 25th, George Floyd was murdered by policemen on camera. Since then people have been protesting. Some have been burning buildings, some burn cop cars, many are taking to social media in response. Now there is a lot of opportunity to practice having uncomfortable conversations. So let’s get better at it. Before I get any further. I’d like to say that conversations are great. This is an excellent starting point, but if you are inspired to learn more and if you are able to take action, please do so. If you don’t know how please see the show notes of this episode for links to resources and ways that you can help make a change. Some of my favorites include the NAACP ACLU Campaign Zero Color of Change The Equal Justice Initiative  and Fair Fight , but there are many, many more. Please see the show notes for this episode or visit theDanawilson.com/podcast And look for episode 23. All right, let’s dig in now to this uncomfortable topic.

I was appalled when I watched the video of George Floyd being murdered. I felt that way because I got caught in a cycle of very confused thoughts. I don’t understand how this could happen. How could this possibly be happening? How could somebody do that? I don’t understand. I don’t know what to say. That’s a sample of some of the thoughts going through my mind, my mind at that time and that, you know, confusion spiral resulted in inaction. The more I thought, the confused thoughts, the more I didn’t act. That’s the funny thing about confusion. It is self perpetuating. It leads to more and more of itself, more confusion, which leads to more inaction. And without action, there is no change. You see where this is going. You stay confused. Now. I was confused for days. I’ll be very honest as the unrest escalated. So did my confusion. And that’s where I was when I got a text from a dear friend, Ava Bernstein, Mitchell, Ava is a world class dancer.  She is also a journalist and a choreographer. She’s better known as Ava Flav to many, but she is best known to me as my better half from the first world tour I ever danced on. People called us Ebony and Ivory. We called us Ebony and Ivory. Today I don’t think that we would, but back in 2007, we were absolutely inseparable. Have you ever had a friend that, um, you’re so close with? You’re so tight with that. Hugging is actually uncomfortable because you so rarely say hello or goodbye. There’s rarely a cause for you to, to be a part or to part. So you don’t actually have the embrace that is so commonly associated with Hellos and goodbyes. That was, that was us. It was uncomfortable for us to hug because we were almost always together. Anyways, the years have brought some distance. Although anything relative to being on tour together is distance. But I am always excited to see her name pop up on my phone and we’re still quite close. That day she texted me a little flashback tour memory and I LOLed to myself. And then I quipped back and I quote, “these days are pretty tough, but I’m glad those days are behind us.” She replied “just a little levity in these times, [smiley face.]” And then my heart sink. I had downplayed our current circumstances without thinking of how she and I are experiencing those circumstances very, very differently. My heart hit the pit of my stomach, and I immediately asked her if we could talk on the phone, we set a call. And as that time approached, I actually got lost driving to my curbside produce pickup. That I go to once a week, every single week, same location I got lost because I was thinking of all the things I wanted to say and ask and apologize for. I physically got lost because I was mentally swimming in confused thoughts. I was swimming in that confusion pool with all my confused thoughts. Good news is I didn’t stay lost for very long. Thanks hugely to our conversation. Ava helped me manage my mind that day. This is true. And then she helped me to make this episode and I am so, so grateful for that. We talked about what we were seeing on Instagram, what people were saying. We talked about what I learned from reading the book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo. And we talked about the importance of talking. If you listen, you will walk away from this episode with an idea of how to navigate difficult conversations.  

All right. Part one, define difficult, define uncomfortable. What makes a conversation difficult? What makes anything difficult? Is your thoughts about it? Because difficulty is relative. For example, fifth position was very, very difficult to my three year old self. Another dance example, 32 fouettés would be very difficult for me today, but probably not very difficult for Misty Copeland or my friend Tiler Peck running a six minute mile would be very difficult for me. I don’t even think I could run a 10 minute mile today, I think a 10 minute mile would legit be for me right now. But I know there are people that can run six minute miles that have trained themselves away from that being a difficult thing. How about dating in a way? I know a lot of people that say that’s very difficult. I date my husband all the time. We live in Los Angeles.I think that’s pretty okay. Now how about this one? Having a conversation about race. Difficult, right? Especially right now, right? Wrong. Having a conversation about race is very easy for the author of white fragility, Robin de Angelo. She literally wrote the book on it. It’s also her job to have those conversations. She does it all the time. So let’s switch a roo here. Let’s not use the word difficult. Let’s use the word uncomfortable. A conversation about race is not difficult. It is uncomfortable. Now uncomfortable, just like with difficulty, comfort and discomfort are still subjective, right? Everyone has their own sliding scale of what is comfortable and what is uncomfortable. Now I want to talk about the range on that sliding scale, right after comfortable and just before distressed or fearful for your life. Now, if I were to ask you to put discomfort on the spectrum of human emotion, right? Negative or positive, it’s probably one of those things that would land on the negative side, but it’s also one of those things that if you work through, there’s a pot of gold on the other side. In fact, I am hard pressed to name you an accomplishment that I am proud of that did not come about through a period of discomfort or on the other side of a period of discomfort. Take, for example, learning how to walk, right? I’m super proud. Every day. That was definitely uncomfortable. Little rug burns on my little baby knee caps. A lot of crying, a lot of falling. How about learning how to read? I remember trying to make out sounds trying to spell out the word, THE, shout out dumb and dumber T to hae to her that was uncomfortable. Learning anything, especially dancing on pointe super uncomfortable. How about relationships, that awkward get to know you phase or the super awkward breakup phase, uncomfortable. Starting a business, uncomfortable. Getting into anything you don’t know a lot about can be uncomfortable. Now here’s the thing. If we stopped doing all those things, the moment that we got uncomfortable, we would all be adults crawling on the floor, not having babies, not having businesses, which is kind of an interesting version of a very dystopian future. That there is not a movie about yet. I call dibs. Anyways to me, not learning to address racism and other difficult subjects because it makes you uncomfortable is kind of like not learning how to walk because you fall a lot in the process.  

Okay. So how do we do it? How do we have uncomfortable conversations? Not just about race, but about anything asking for a raise, parenting, tough patches in romantic relationships or friendships. All of the things. Here we go. I’m going to talk you through my five best practices for having uncomfortable conversations. 

Step one, take a look at the thoughts that make you uncomfortable. A few examples of thoughts that would make a conversation uncomfortable are ‘nothing’s going to change’. ‘I don’t know what to say or do ‘’I’m afraid I’ll mess up or make it worse.’ ‘I don’t respect the person I’m talking to.’ ‘I don’t agree with the person I’m talking to.’ Right? All of those are examples of thoughts that would make a conversation uncomfortable. Okay. 

So now that I’ve identified the thoughts that might be making me uncomfortable, I challenge those thoughts. That is step two.  My favorite way of challenging. My thoughts is by asking “how’s that working out for you” or simply asking how does thinking that thought line up with your values? For example, if I’m a person that wants to create things and repair things is thinking ‘nothing’s going to change’ helpful to me. No. If I’m a person that wants to be knowledgeable is thinking, ‘I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. I don’t understand. Is that helpful?’ No. We already talked about confusion. That is a cycle that ends in inaction. If I’m a person that values inaction, I’m going to want to choose something other than confusion. Now, if I’m a person that values equality is thinking, ‘I don’t respect that person’ in alignment with my values. No, if I’m a person that values understanding does checking out with thoughts. Like ‘I don’t agree.’ Stop the listening and stop the understanding? Yes, it does. It stops the listening. It stops the understanding. 

So now that I’ve identified the thoughts and challenged them here comes the good stuff I trade in confusion for curiosity, I get informed. I trade in the thought I don’t understand with I’m willing to understand. I trade in. I don’t know with I’m learning and all of a sudden that confusion cycle that lends itself very well to  inaction has opened me up to taking actions that will make me more informed. 

The next step of that, of course is being responsible. I replace, ‘I don’t know what to say’ with, I am responsible for what I say. And I’d also like to remind you you’re responsible for what you do. And that brings us to step four, choose compassion, for yourself and for others, choose compassion for yourself because you will mess up.  You will fall, you will fail and you will likely offend someone no matter how hard you try not to, no matter how hard you try to do the right thing, it will probably be the wrong thing to someone. And if you want to be able to get back up and dust it off and really, truly make a best effort at change, you’ll need to try again and compassion will get you up faster and move you further than guilt, shame or the desire to please. So get compassionate with yourself because this is about the long game. Now it’s also important of course, to choose compassion for others, your fellows, right? Your friends, people that are on your side, and this one actually comes quite naturally. But when you’re in the confusion spiral, it can be really easy to miss. Try trading, “How do I show that I care with, Hey, my friend, I’m thinking about you. I care about you. I am here for you. I will be here for you.” That is a great place to start. All right. That brings us to the not so easy kind of compassion, compassion for the other side, I would like to offer you this. You can love people you disagree with, and you can disagree with people that you love. Take your family. For example, also, you don’t need to love someone to be compassionate or curious about their point of view. I like to trade in the thought ‘I don’t like this person’ for, ‘I am capable of loving and all people are lovable. They are able to be loved.’ That brings us to the most important step. 

Step five, simply listen, compassion and curiosity, both lend very well to listening. Listening is probably the most important part of having a useful, uncomfortable conversation. And it is almost certainly the most underestimated part of using your voice to me. The most important step of using your voice is listening to other voices. Let’s talk really quickly about listening. Listening does not mean that you agree. Listening doesn’t weaken your position. Listening does not strip you of your power. If anything, listening could give you an understanding that also gives you power. Listening could give you an understanding that helps strengthen your position. All right? So those are my five steps. Identify the thoughts that are making you feel uncomfortable, inspect and challenge those thoughts. Choose curiosity, choose compassion and listen.  

Now I want to share a couple real life scenarios, real life conversations, real life, real uncomfortable conversations that I’ve had recently, because I think it will be helpful now without talking for hours and hours to give you all of the context there’s room for you to put yourself in the shoes of either side of these conversations. And yes, there is also room for you to judge me and that’s okay. I’m going to start with a conversation that I recently had with one of my mentors. Just a few days ago, I wrote a note to my mentor, an African American man that I admire and respect tremendously. The note included among many things, an apology for not using my voice to interrupt racial injustices in our dance community and in our society at large, he called me immediately and the heated uncomfortable conversation ensued. He started by saying, “why are you doing that?”  I said ‘what?’ He said, “why are you apologizing to me? Dammit. I don’t want your apology. I am tired of all these apologies.” I thought, Oh God, I thought it was supposed to apologize. He’s going to hate me forever. I don’t know what to say. The only thing I want to say is I’m sorry. And we already covered that. He really doesn’t want me to say, I’m sorry. Loud and clear. I get it. Okay. Those were my thoughts. Then I challenged my thoughts. I thought to myself. Okay. Who said you had to apologize? Someone on social media. Could they have been wrong? Yes, absolutely. Do you like your reason for apologizing? Yes. Okay. Moving on. How about this one? He’s going to hate me forever. Well, he’s taking time to have a conversation with me now. Does he hate me now? I don’t think he hates me now. Okay. Let’s focus on now. Shift the focus to now, but even outside of now, would I be okay if he hated me? Yes, I would be okay. I would be sad. I would be hurt, but I would be okay. How about, how about my thought? I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say. There’s no time to ask Google. How about, do you need to say anything? No. He’s talking. SHHH. Listen. Then I asked questions. I got curious. I asked him to tell me everything you wanted to say. He talked about protests that I wasn’t even alive for. He talked about the values that he raises his kids with. He talked about things that his grandmother saw in her lifetime. He talked about why he’s annoyed. And I listened. Then I chose compassion for myself and I dusted myself off. After a pretty shaky start. I cared for myself and the person that I want to become. And I stuck with that discomfort. Then I cared about him. I thanked him, but mostly I listened to him and our conversation ended passionately and compassionately with me listening and with him being heard.  

Here’s another example. This one’s a conversation that I had with a peer. Now, a tiny bit of backstory. I started reading the book, white fragility, why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. That’s the full title. I read that book back in April of 2019, because I had taken a job as part of the choreography team for the feature film adaptation of, In the Heights. That’s Lin, Manuel Miranda is Broadway hit. In case you don’t know anything about in the Heights, strongly encourage you do a little digging there. I’ll give you a little tiny brief summary, no spoilers. The story takes place in Washington Heights, a Latino community in New York city. And it follows a very tight knit group of characters over the course of three days. Now, if you zoom in, you get a lot of beautiful story, but if you zoom out, the story is really about human flow.  What makes us leave one place to go to another? And what makes us stay? If you zoom way, way out. It’s about dreams. One little dream in particular, but the big, big dreams of so many in this country. Now I was hesitant to take the position. I had insecurities about being a white person, taking on a creative role in telling the stories of Latino and Latina people. But I also knew that this story and its audience is global. The people watching and the people learning from it and the people loving it will not be exclusively any one race. And I had big plans to learn about a culture other than my own. I thought I will use my role to share and inspire more stories, not claim authorship of them. I thought I will make copies and share all the keys to all the Gates I’ve ever entered.  I won’t guard them. And I liked my reasons for saying yes and I love my In the Heights family that so warmly welcomed me. So back to where I left off, I started reading the book, white fragility in search of new information and thoughts and awareness. And honestly, in search of the words that might help me have the uncomfortable conversations that I was sure would take place during that five month production. At the time, me simply carrying the book, brought on some of those uncomfortable conversations, conversations that started like this. ‘Isn’t the title itself racist?’ ‘Do you think you need to read that book to understand racism?’, people would ask, or ‘If you believe race exists, if you see in black and white, then that’s part of the problem.’  I try to explain what I was learning. The difference between being a racist or a person who discriminates based on skin color and the systemic racism that’s so deeply woven into our society in very complex and very nuanced ways. I tried to explain, my conversations about the book were often met with defensive arguments and proclamations like ‘I don’t see race as a problem because I don’t see color.’ Or ‘I grew up in the hood’ or ‘I was the minority where I grew up.’ ‘All I see as equals I’m not prejudiced.’ I had so many uncomfortable conversations like this, but one stood out among the rest. And I want to tell you about it.  

I overheard somebody talking about me one day. This is what I heard them telling the other party, this white B word rhymes with itch thinks that she can learn it from a book. I listened long enough to be sure that the white B word rhymes with itch in question was me. I heard my name. I heard my accent being mocked. I listened as I was made out to be a clueless white person. My skin got hot. I started to sweat. I thought I might cry. These were some of my thoughts. No, no, no, no, no. They’ve got it all wrong. I’m not a white B word rhymes with itch. I’m not clueless. I know it’s pollo, not polo. I felt tremendously misrepresented. And that was a feeling I don’t feel often. So then I challenged my thought, am I the only person feeling misrepresented right now? No, definitely not. So then I got curious and I got compassionate. This person probably feels misrepresented every single day. I’m standing here sweating and angry and about to cry for maybe the first time in my life, in this exact way. And he might feel this way every single day. What can I learn from this? What can I learn from him?  I said, when I spoke to him after a moment to cool down and process, I said, “it’s okay. If you don’t like me, it’s okay. If you think I’m a white, B word, rhymes with itch, we don’t need to be friends, but we do need to work together on this project. And on this problem, I want to understand why you feel that way. I want to be a part of this conversation instead of listening to the conversation happen about me.” And then it was off a perfectly uncomfortable conversation that resulted in more compassion and more understanding than either of us had at the beginning of it.  

I’ve learned a lot from having uncomfortable conversations and I will continue to have them. And I plan to continue being uncomfortable. And I continue to continue to bring the fruits of those uncomfortable conversations here to share with you. I hope that this conversation with myself, this monologue in front of a microphone has helped to give you tools and an understanding and a desire to navigate uncomfortable conversations of your own. I hope that some of these tools and all of these conversations get you further from confusion and closer to change. And I hope because I must hope and I learned because I must learn and I change because we must change. So please see the show notes to this episode for links to several incredible resources about how you can get informed and how you can make change. Thank you so much for listening. Now. Go be a good listener to somebody else. And of course, keep it funky

Thought you were done? No. Now I’m here to remind you that all of the important people, places and things mentioned in this episode can be found on my website. TheDanaWilson.com/podcast Finally, and most importantly, now you have a way to become a words that move me member. So kickball changeover to patreon.com/WTMMpodcast to learn more and join. All right, everybody. Now I’m really done. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll talk to you soon.