Three years ago, my employer politely forced all the workers to undergo a mandatory, eight-hour diversity training session. When I got there, I found a room full of multicolored faces listening intently to the facilitators discussing the importance of cultural unity within the work place. Everyone was über pleasant and adamantly denied the capability of being able to prejudge anyone ... ever. "We Are the World" was the initial temperament of the room. Then slowly but surely, things unravelled, and it began here: When asked to group ourselves according to our racial identity, an Asian female, to the raising of many eyebrows of color, decided to situate herself with the white females.
What really opened the flood gates was an exercise that, pardon the pun, showed our true colors. We were all handed sticky notes. On each one, we were to write three things we heard, read or saw about varying races and ethnic groups. There was chicken, watermelon, black male aggression and black female attitude. There were smart Asians, illegal Mexicans (everyone Latino was a Mexican) and superior whites who lacked rhythm or a soul. Everything we had in us came bubbling forward; folks became emotional. It was a cleansing, a kind that needs to happen more often but, alas, doesn't. Instead, we have incidents of covert racial exclusion at downtown nightclubs supposedly based on dress code and blackface Snoop Dog impersonators at hipster havens as we continue to pretend everything is alright.
During some of the research we did while putting together our production of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, we repeatedly heard stories about the racial climate in Los Angeles pre-Rodney King. It was often described as "hot & dry," the perfect conditions for the fire that ignited in 1992.
Out of curiosity — and via a quick Facebook straw poll — I decided to gauge Charlotte's "racial forecast." I wanted to know, is this city one racial conflict away from its own twilight? Some of the answers were quite interesting.
There were the slightly pessimistic: "Cloudy with a chance of denial" (white female); "Today will be partly sunny with a chance of sidewalk-anxiety in the evening hours." (white male).
There were the really pessimistic: "Imminent storms ahead! Batten down the hatches and prepare for everything!!!" (black female); "...like a 40-degree day (ref. The Wire: 'Nobody gives a fuck about a 40-degree day')" (black male); "I see some tornadic activity developing ..." (white female).
Then there was the cautious optimism: "Beautiful day, bring an umbrella in case we are wrong." (bi-racial French male); "I would say a sunny but very cold winter day. Extremes that go well together" (Caucasian/Hispanic male); "Partially cloudy with a chance of hope!" (Mexican-American male).
And then this boundless nugget of optimism: "Sunny: I think people are learning. There are more people trying to be open-minded ... ethnic ambassadors like myself need to work harder to try to expose more people to different ideas and different ways of thinking! It starts with the children." (Asian female).
Overall, I don't get the feeling Charlotte is headed toward a racial animosity-driven apocalypse, despite the neo-Nazi rally recently held in our fair city. I do believe that if Charlotte wishes to become the new Southern utopia it aspires to, much work needs to continue in the realm of expanding our cultural pallet and building bridges among the races. The responsibility lies with each of us.
What's the racial forecast in your part of the Q.C.? How can you affect it positively?
(Stacey Rose is a theater artist and writer. She is performing in a variety of roles in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. For more info on her, you can follow her blog www.fromtherosesmouth.com.)