Divided: Honest Thoughts from a ‘White’ Woman

“All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.” – Maya Angelou

I am a white “Caucasian” straight woman. I feel awkward writing these words. More and more I find it complicated to be ‘white’ in a world where so many people of color and LGBTQ folks are repressed, underrepresented and have to endure bigotry and suffering. The world today, especially America where I live, makes me very disillusioned. I don’t understand how people can be so closed-minded and divided. But history and the current displays of racism and hatred illustrate that there is truly a lack of understanding and tolerance for difference. I often feel helpless and confused about how to face all the injustice that happens in the world today. My default response is to do nothing, keep my head down and stay in my own lane. Yet, I am growing increasingly aware that it is important to speak up. Here are some of my thoughts today in hopes they might be useful, and if nothing else, honest.

I have conflicted feelings today about taking space as a white and straight person. There are times when I don’t feel I have a right to claim my voice because I imagine my perspective is limited or I might be crowding out other voices. This might be a convoluted way to push away from white privilege, as I have a sincere desire to give room to people of color, the LGBTQ community and the younger generation.  But this can also be a cop-out, as my position as leader and educator gives me the opportunity to use my strengths and my talents to train, empower and support people of all backgrounds and orientations. It is my aim to help others grow in their work and recognize all they have to offer. I can be a non-judgmental, compassionate and encouraging presence.

As a creative person, I strive for diverse perspectives and embracing the complexity of people’s stories. To me this is also the nature of art, which can be a force for breaking boundaries and stereotypes. I learn so much from artists who are different from me as they give me new insights into life and cultural experiences. I have so many wildly creative friends, students and colleagues of color and/or who identify as LGBTQ, in addition to being a part of an international network. I feel so grateful for all they offer me.

The way we name ourselves in colors is tricky. I may have ‘white’, cream colored skin but I have Italian, Scandinavian and Belgian roots. I am a mix of many cultures and have a rich history along with everyone else in this wide world. I also was shaped by my father’s challenges with discrimination. My father was not taught Italian, only English, while growing up in Connecticut in the 50s. His parents did not want him to sound Italian and be in danger of being a victim of discrimination. Italians were not welcome as they are today. Through this experience I believe he learned to open up his heart and mind to people of all cultures. I learned a lot from him and my mother; both of them always embraced an international community.

I am about to head to Europe to teach for the second year in a row. It is not an easy time to travel because there is fear everywhere, and so many ways people judge and set themselves apart. I try to smile when walking by someone, and introduce myself to people when we have to travel next to each other. I recently flew home from a summer trip and sat next to an African American man who had a very heavy frame. My first thought was frustration as I didn’t think I would have enough room sitting next to him. He also seemed uneasy with me, and the trip started with a tense feeling. But then we started talking, and by the end of the flight we had found a million things in common. I will never know the what it is like to live in someone else’s skin, but I strive to be a kind presence and an empathetic listener. I can guide people to make art, and tell their stories through dance, writing and visual art. I can be an advocate for diversity and speak up if something feels hurtful or inappropriate in the moment. I also keep paying attention, trying to notice where my blind spots are.

Adriana will be teaching in Switzerland, France and Germany this September. Her workshop is Munich, Germany is titled ‘Mending the Divide’ which will be held on September 30th. Learn about this workshop and her other offerings here.

Self-Published September 2017