On Wednesday, Sept. 6th, I had the opportunity to see POWER! Stokely Carmichael at Harvey Mudd. The one-man play was written and performed by Meshaun Labrone and reflected Stokely Carmichael’s activism and influence on the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s.
Before seeing the show, I’d only been aware of the show’s existence through an email from my Scripps Africana Studies professor, Maryan Soliman. There weren’t any posters strewn across the 5Cs. Initially, I was only going to the show to fulfill a performance-attendance requirement for her class. Little did I know, I would end up leaving the performance with so much more than just a check-off on my requirement.
This performance was beautifully done by Labrone. I questioned its strength at first because I’d never seen a one-man show before. I didn’t think it was possible for one person to represent Stokely Carmichael as precisely and skillfully as Labrone did. He delved into topics of white supremacy and privilege, Christianity, war, black music, and slavery.
About five minutes in, the fact that this was a solo performance quickly left my mind. It almost made the show a more powerful spectacle. While it was painful to watch at times, the show was truthful and authentic. It left me and many others feeling empowered after seeing it. I felt like a new person when I walked out of the auditorium with my suitemate.
After the show, Labrone came out and talked with the group of us that stayed behind. I was able to tell him how important seeing this show was to me, a mixed girl from a predominantly white community. I got to talk to him about how I often felt silenced in many conversations I’d had with my white friends. In said conversations, I felt as if some topics of race were just off limits. I knew that if they were brought up, I wouldn’t live it down. It was a bad thing to call these “friends” out on their privilege. It made them feel uncomfortable and more often than not resulted in denial and undermining.
Meanwhile, it was okay for me to feel uncomfortable when targeted for my blackness. I'm not even fully black – my mother is black and my father is white. But in this community, if my skin was brown, I was the “black friend.” Everyone always singled me out for being black, but when I wanted to talk about black issues, no one could relate or cared to empathize.
So, I was conditioned to stay silent. I’d be told “you know, I think the dark ones are really annoying but you’re lighter, so you’re not as bad” constantly by a girl in my math class. I didn’t have the emotional energy or strength to respond, knowing I’d be met with more glares and looks of confusion than of support and understanding.
I’d hear a girl from my P.E. class, freshman year, relentlessly refer to me as “nigger” every day and say things like “are you and Jazmyn working in the cotton fields after school today” and feel like that was the norm there and that I just had to deal with it, especially since Jazmyn (the other brown girl in that class) embraced it, laughed it off, and went along with it. That was my example of how to act in my community, to stay quiet and laugh it off.
Because of this, I lost touch with my blackness and didn’t know a lot about black history. There were no performances, exhibits, or talks on black culture or history where I was from. There was no outlet for expression of black people in my community, because nobody cared to hear about black folks and their problems or achievements even.
Coming to the 5Cs, I was overcome with so much excitement and happiness. I was finally going to be able to leave my bubble and sheltered community on the central coast of California. I finally had the opportunity to meet people who looked like me, but also people who didn’t look like me but cared about and respected my differences. I had a longing to learn more about black history, so I signed up for an Africana Studies class, knowing my knowledge of the course and its own history was very little, but open to challenging myself in pursuit of a greater understanding of my background, my mother’s background and her mother’s background, and so on and so forth.
While there is no such thing as a perfect PC community and I will still meet/have already met some ignorant folk, the experiences I’ve had thus far have already given me strength to speak up. I’ve only been here for a month and a half, but I feel empowered through experiences like the one I had at the Stokely Carmichael show and through the Black Student Union meetings every Thursday. There’s a place for me here, a place that did not exist in my hometown, and the Stokely Carmichael performance was the first time that I came to that realization.