Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Out of the Box

Last Sunday was Yannick’s birthday and instead of throwing a big party like we did last year, we decided to invite three of his buddies and their families to a performance by Tamagawa Taiko & Dance. They were performing at my job on Saturday and since Loverman and I are trying to dissuade the kids from expecting a major soiree every year, but still think its important to honor their day with some sort of special activity, this show seemed like an ideal fit.

Students from Japan’s Tamagawa University have traveled to the U.S. for the last few years to perform throughout the east coast celebrating the blooming of the cherry blossoms in early spring. My kids have seen them perform the last three years and love the show and I knew the huge thunderous taiko drums would mesmerize Yannick’s little crew of 6yr. olds.

About ten days before the show I contacted the invitees’ parents with the details for Saturday’s activities and all seemed psyched and ready to go, but a few days prior to the concert Jack’s* mom called and asked if it would be o.k. if she opted not to attend the show with Jack? She wanted to drop him off and pick him up after the performance. She explained her brother would be visiting for the weekend and she’d rather spend the time with him. I assured her that would be fine. When Saturday afternoon arrived, Susan,*Jack’s mom, and her brother dropped Jack off at the appointed time, but asked if they could come in and look around the theater and our gallery. “Of course,” I countered and went on to explain the history of the organization to Jack’s uncle. The lobby was filling quickly with our usual diverse patron base and Jack and Yannick ran off with Loverman to check out what was happening back stage. Susan went on to ask me to remind her what type of African drumming would Jack be seeing this afternoon and I must have looked at her a bit funny because I never mentioned African drumming in any of our exchanges about the show. I told her that the performers were Japanese and they would be playing taiko drums. I couldn’t believe it when she went on to say, “Well, if I knew it was Japanese drumming, I would have changed my plans.”

Oh really? What exactly did Susan mean by this comment? Is she saying that because we’re Black, we only solicit African/African American cultural experiences? We’ve known this woman for at least three years, had quite a few play dates during that time, and although I often find her to be a bit scattered, I’ve never found her to be vacuous or limited, but damn, does she just automatically place folks in their little boxes, only to be shocked when they reach beyond her stereotypical assumptions?

Am I making too much of this, was it simply a misunderstanding?


Me said...

No she didn't! (Imagine that said with an irritated neck roll and an angry finger wag).

I cannot believe she said that to you in your face. That is so rude and racist and would make me seriously not want to hang with her ever again. Be angry.


jillybean said...

WOW! That was heavy handed. You are not making too much of it. I wish you had a tape to play back for her so she could hear how racist and ignorant she sounded. I'm sure she would tell you that she isn't and that she loves you and your family, but...

The "but" seems to linger for many people. It's sad. Let's hope Jack is a more open minded person than his mother.


QueenGeek said... you aren't making too much of it. I truly believe we're going backwards in time when it comes to perceptions about another's culture, race, etc. So many folks just can't see outside the box...I wish it were different but I think we have to just be ourselves so the ignorant can become enlightened.

TID said...

In my experience it has not been unusual for most people I encounter to be somehow inehrently biased towards african and diaspora cultural forms. Despite the massive cultural education we have had over the last few years, there is still the perception of the african as 'primitive' in a new sense. It is no longer simply the bushman image as it used to be. But even with the grudgung respect that african based forms have come to command, there is still teh perception that it is undisciplnedd, requires not actual professional study and is not intellectually or artistically rigorous. As a dancer, it has been interesting to watch the regard for asian cutural forms and the dismissal of african based forms, Some of it has been due to the way its been taught and introduction. the mistaken idea that 'every one can do it' makes it less; its non'exclusivity makes it less; Very few people that I hav come across teach asian forms without careful attention to the cultural relvance, the emphasis on the apprentice master tradition, the number of years it takes to acheive 'perfection' or to be considered accomplished.

It is an interesting conundrum that the very things that are esssential to the philosophy of diaspora culture are the things somehow seem to make it 'less' in (some of) the public eye.

So the question that becomes interesting to me is; how do we talk about it and present it with the same attention to its history, context, disciple and craft without losing its inherent idea of inclusive community based learning and experience?

Just musing