Realignments for a Revolution
by Jamil Jude
This summer laid bare the painful reality of the Black American experience. Largely confined to our domiciles and isolated from physical connection with the community, we have watched white supremacy move with a renewed sense of vigor. Unashamed of the calls for its demise and abolishment, the ugliness that lies deep inside of the American body—its racist spine and maleficent muscle—has once again forced us to stare at its visage. It has laughed in the face of incremental progress and shaken us loose from the facade of post-Obama equity. It has disregarded decency, formerly fought and bled for by generations of revolutionaries, and replaced it with brazen brutality as it seeks to contour the face of the nation. It has dared us to normalize hatred and adjust to despair. We will not.
The Black Theatre will not kowtow to the caucacity of the moment. Fueled by the rage and frustration of a collection of summers that reminded us of the stony road we have trod, we will gird ourselves for the battle to come—a battle for the love, care and evolution of the Black narrative. Adages suggest that wars are won over time and require resources, strategy, fealty and a fearless belief in ideas previously deemed impossible. The wisdom of the Revolutionary Theatre, as summoned by Brother Amiri Baraka, urges new Black heroes of all identities to equip themselves for an epic overthrow of the status quo. The Black Theatre is primed for this moment, but we must first align ourselves in a belief system that envisions our success and upholds these truths:
Truth: A collective fist strikes hardest.
The strategy of the oppressors has always been to divide the oppressed, sow distrust amongst its ranks and encourage soloists to disengage from the common bond in hopes of being embraced by the welcoming arms of the tyrant. Our griots have shared tales of this kind of disillusionment and warned us of its dangers. We must lean into that knowledge and maintain our connections to one another.
Practically, we can combine our disparate efforts into one common call. Our networks and coalitions have brought us to the table with one another but can be further leveraged for even greater goals. Our family reunion festivals provide time for fellowship and can also serve as the space to debate, and ultimately unify, under a shared strategy. We can develop our plans to invest in co-commissions in order to develop and produce new narratives. We can honor our living legends and those who have joined the ancestors by re-introducing their voices and putting their words back into the mouths of our actors. The dollars we have raised for our individual stages can be pooled together to provide a larger platform for the Black Theatre’s true purpose: liberation.
Truth: There is no space for ego stroking in the Black Theatre.
No reward will be given to the haughty, nor to those who hoard in hopes of receiving the praise. Glory will only be earned by those willing to humble themselves to the needs of the unit and disavow themselves of the desire to stand out of the collective.
Each member of the Black Theatre must be aware of the attempts to elevate, and ultimately isolate, individuals from our army. The temptation of white adjacency and the attention it gives has profited few but has disenfranchised the movement. It is true that our efforts can be buoyed by self-effacing allies, but only by those who completely understand their role in supporting the Black Theatre and who, unlike several of their forefathers, resist the urge to colonize the treasures of our birthright and the manifestations of our intelligence. Any attempt to co-opt our message must be exposed, those perpetrators held accountable and their efforts eradicated, whether they be white or former members of the melanated militia.
Truth: Only a Black Theatre connected to its history and rooted in the present reality of its people will actualize our desires.
In the writings and teachings of our scholars, artistic giants and sacrificed souls, there is a wisdom that we must reconnect with. Christened by August Wilson’s well-wishes during his speech at the first performance in company history, Kenny Leon set out to establish True Colors Theatre Company as a home to honor Black classics, provide a haven for veteran Black artists and continue the strong legacy of Black Theatre in the American South’s Black Mecca. As we near our 20th anniversary, True Colors, the theater I am now honored to serve, has doubled-down on these initial impulses. Like many of our sister organizations, we measure our march towards liberation by the number of people who see themselves in the stories we celebrate, who think of our houses as their home, and in the number of times elders and aspirants exchange ideas.
While we carry forward the teachings of our lineage, there will be habits we have to shed. We are weighed down by the selfishness and hurtful actions of several members of our tribe. Unintentional at times, and deliberate at others, we have wounded one another and excluded some of our brightest from our union. This fight must be fought on multiple fronts and there is no time for homophobia, transphobia, misogyny or other instruments of suppression; let structural inequity be a casualty of combat. Let us gather, in love and honesty, to share those experiences with one another. Intentional healing and reunification is a revolutionary version of love that will lift our spirits and our movement, ending the history of silencing. Additionally, we can not gloss over the injuries that have been suffered at the hands of outside oppressors. Space must be provided for that pain to be heard, acknowledged and assuaged—unprocessed trauma prevents true healing. An ailing Black Theatre will not attract the next generation of warriors that are needed to reinforce our ranks. A healthy and whole body will serve us well in the march ahead.
Truth: The revolution requires our best selves and that can only be achieved through rest, reflection and reinvestment.
A tireless pursuit takes a team effort to sustain it. No one soldier can stand guard all the time, protecting our flanks, without weariness dulling his or her or their vigilance. We have to push past the false pride of “the grind” and embrace the necessary rejuvenation that comes with respite. Fear not of sleeping through the heat of the battle for, when the untelevised moment professed by Gil Scott-Heron arrives, your comrades will awaken you from your slumber.
As we rest, let us think through the battles fought that led us to this moment. Let us reflect on the contributions of the National Black Theatre’s founder Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, and how she pushed for the creation of theatre dedicated to liberation and connected to the traditions of the diaspora. She urged us to distance ourselves from the way Western traditions taught storytelling and encouraged artists to make work from their hearts that aligned with the values of our ancestry. Her belief in the artist’s role in the village, and the promise that could be found therein, is the light that can lead us to our greatest moments.
Actualizing those moments will require a new level of investment. The Black Theatre has been entrusted to tell the tales of our community, but too often we do so without conversing with the community we have been sworn to represent. Awareness and support of the Black Theatre are waning at a time when interests in Black narratives are peaking. To restore this relationship, the Black Theatre must recommit itself to listening and properly reflecting the vibrancy of our story, and in so doing, appeal to our family to return home. The many powers held by the Black community working in conjunction with the indomitable spirit of the Black artist will not be defeated.
The Black Theatre is poised to be the Revolution. This moment will be the turning point. Ours will be a story of triumph. You all, who are reading this, will be our heroes.