This past Tuesday night, I co-stared in Loyola University’s production of 8 Women, an eclectic performance by women of color as part of the celebration for Women’s History Month. 8 Women was created by Loyola's women students, faculty and staff in order to provide an avenue for all women and those who identify as women to examine various forms of femininities and gender related subjects by examining our personal thoughts about gender identity and expression, religion, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, politics and other identities through the process of creating individual and collaborate performance pieces.
Throughout the process we created art on whatever topics came about, built strong bonds, and discovered a lot about ourselves and sisterhood. The production presented performances that express our stories through various forms of art such as body movement, song/chant, poetry, image, narrative, and research.
The experience for me has been very hard to commit to due my often busy schedule, but the rehearsals allowed me to really vent on some of the frustrations that I had with society as a whole and to creatively turn that anger into a sound performance piece. In the production, I had to embody the archetype of women as teachers, based on my past as an advocate for alternative community educational support in AmeriCorps. As part of my solo piece, I had to envision what I would say to youth and adults as an educator, which led to this article that Dan has referenced back in February.
In the article, “Lessons from the Street: Don’t Back Down“, the Chicago Tribune profiled various inner city black youth on the “street mentality” of fighting. The article, set up to be a pseudo ‘day in the life’ piece, detailed the youth as common thugs caught up in an ongoing cycle of violence they are voluntarily committed to. What was even more interesting, is the controversy it stirred revealed in the uproar of dialogue/commentary started by readers online, which have since been removed. Apparently the article was supposed be used as an open forum for youth to share their opinions on inner city violence, not to characterize them as know-no-better youth criminals. Statements from the Carroll Care Center and Cease Fire Community, two programs in which the youth profiled in the article both have connections to, have sent out public statements to the Trib condemning the reporter for playing on common media stereotypes of black young males. I read the comments for an hour to try to see what the various opinions were: some in support of intervention techniques, some advocating for an increase in community leadership and programs geared towards youth, and others that blatantly attacked the youth profiled using bigoted statements and negative racial slurs. Overall, the article made me reflect on the idea of self-determination. How much control do youth in marginalized communities have on how they are represented to the “audiences” in every day society?
I don’t think I need to remind anyone reading this blog the problem of youth violence amongst marginalized communities in Chicago and all the news reports, tv stories, and research statistics associated with it. Violence does start at home, but are we too quick as a society to produce negative assumptions about a core group based on a common problem the dominant culture profits from promoting? And if so, how does our prejudice determine how we perceive minority youth and confront them in situations where education is a key. The 8 Women performance was crucial for me in a point in my life when I was yearning to be able to define myself in my own words, under my own terms, and in front of an audience surrounded by people who love and support me. Although, many youth of color are not given opportunities to do the same; just living for them becomes a staged production complete with the media ready to misconstrue their actions and cut up their opinionated voice into false statements for the sake of creating sensationalized stories and reader-hooking sound bites.
The problem of youth violence in marginalized communities is ever-growing, but alternative forms of news reporting should encourage and promote healthy and positive community outlets for youth to get involved in as opposed to condemning them which does nothing in offering sound solutions to the problem. People blog because we want to offer other lenses of perception on everyday common ideas and issues in our society in a way that the dominant news and media industry has not. We have a way of defining our identities based on the social commentary that we produce. In exchange, the least we can do is to make sure that when we create stories, our subjects are left with dignity as human beings.