Gabriel Smith, Campus Carrier asst. arts & living editor
Last Friday, Scott Willis, director of Berry’s Opera and Musical Theatre Workshop, sponsored a guest lecture featuring Brandon Michael Mace, a New York City-based artist and activist who recently founded, Broadway for Racial Justice, an organization that promotes antiracism and racial justice within the artistic fields. Willis explained that while Mace has a diverse professional background, he’s been prompted by the pandemic to dedicate more time to social activism.
“He’s just kind of a jack of all trades, he’s an artist, he’s a performer, a producer, an activist,” Willis said. “He and I had met several years ago performing together; he’s lived in New York City for quite some time now. He himself had some instances of racial injustice in the workplace and, of course, has had several colleagues who experienced this. So, he’s put his foot down and is mainly an activist right now, since, thanks to COVID, he’s not able to perform very much.”
According to Willis, Mace’s organization focuses on assisting Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) artists who experience racism in their workplaces.
“So, because of all of this, he actually started an organization called Broadway for Racial Justice, and this organization – again, based in New York City – fights for racial justice and equity by [providing] immediate resources, assistance, and amplification for BIPOC in the Broadway theatrical community, as a whole,” Willis said. “They also create safe spaces throughout the theatre community, as well, for creativity and artistry to thrive.”
Willis said that in sponsoring this lecture, he hoped to provide a space for honest discussion of racism and understanding the problems its victims face.
“Racial justice has always been an issue in our society and has become even more so today,” Willis said. “I myself have known many individuals – particularly in the arts, of course, since that’s my field – who have fallen victim to these racial injustices. So, I wanted to give the opportunity to bring to everyone’s attention what a real issue this is, as well as give these victims an opportunity for their voices and their circumstances to be heard and understood, even if it is through an ally, such as my colleague and through his organization.”
At the lecture itself, Mace began his presentation by asking audience members to adhere to a set of “Communal Space Agreements,” posted in the chat of the Zoom meeting, which asked participants to, for instance, “clock desires to withdraw and work to lean into the discomfort,” and “allow yourself to utilize this space to practice the most radical empathy you have ever practiced.” Mace said that these guidelines were meant to promote an atmosphere of respect and understanding during the discussion.
He presented a video featuring a series of white performers reading accounts of racial injustices from the perspective of the Black performers who experienced them. Afterwards, Mace asked the audience for feedback and responses, and was met with extended silence. Gradually, a handful of participants spoke to express their sadness about the events referenced in the video and to share their own experiences witnessing racism. Though relatively few viewers spoke, and the meeting was often silent, Mace said this didn’t bother him, and that he thought silence was not awkward but actually helpful.
Following the video and responses, Mace moved on to share his own beliefs, starting with his definition of racism. He referenced the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond to define racism, and said that it consists of racism and racial prejudice in combination with the societal power to codify and enforce that prejudice onto the entire society. Based upon this definition, he argued that one cannot be antiracist in the arts without examining racism within themselves, and that all white people in America are inherently racist.
Throughout the lecture, Mace encouraged participants to share their responses and reactions, even if they disagreed with him. After one viewer asked for clarification about inherent racism, Mace said that while he agreed people are not born racist per se, they are indoctrinated with racist ideas through three primary ways in American society: friends, family, and media. He argued that with the combination of these methods, it’s impossible to avoid racist indoctrination when growing up in America.
To conclude the lecture, Mace explained that he desires to break down what he identifies as a taboo surrounding discussion of whiteness and white supremacy. This aligns with what Willis explained as his goal in sponsoring the lecture, which was to promote a conversation about racism and encourage those affected by it to speak up against it.
“First and foremost, it’s my hope that conversations like these can help bring an end to this inherent racism,” Willis said. “Also, I hope that through this conversation, that the community members who are victims to this type of behavior know that they’re not alone and that this gives everyone, especially whose been affected by such acts, that it gives them the courage and the strength to speak up against this behavior.”