There are angels in the midst. I learned that while I was in the struggle while attending SMU in the 80’s. I was a very naive, eager and talented theater major. I saw racism’s ugly face time and time again in the very place where diversity was supposed to be accepted and celebrated – the School of the Arts. I was told things like “You’re too pretty to play a character and no one ever casts a black Juliet.” (Uhm…guess they never heard of ‘colorblind casting’ huh DTC?) “We can’t fix the problem you have with your diction.” “Can you do something about your hair?”
I remember auditioning for the Crucible. Finally…a play that called for a clearly defined person of color from the Caribbean. I spent weeks with my friend from Trinidad learning the dialect so that I would have authenticity to my audition.
First cuts – I made it through.
Second cuts – I got this.
Final audition – An open reading with members from the Theatre Department present to witness. It was between me and a white girl who copied my every enunciation/movement/expression. I knew I had this!
Posting of the cast – Guess who was awarded the role?
They decided that year that they wanted to experiment and try something different that would be a stretch.
I remember the first class immediately after the posting of the cast list and my fellow classmates coming UNGLUED!! I remember J Barrett Cooperstating very loudly that what had happened to me was “bullsh*T”. He may not remember, but I do.
I remember my dear friend Tom De Nolf asking for an explanation and literally not allowing class to take place until someone answered some questions.
I remember these two angels who spoke the words that I was too afraid to say because I was just another black girl who was being overlooked in the theater department.
There was another angel: Gail Cronauer was one of my teachers. I loved Gail’s class because she truly saw the talent in me and encouraged me to truly express myself in class. I ran into Gail last year and I thanked her for being my saving grace. Gail did something that really shocked me. She apologized for all of the crap that we students of color had endured in the department. Her apology was very cathartic for me because it validated what I had been feeling.
What was the result of racism on me directly? It made me give up my dream to perform. When you are 21 and have been beaten down for 4 years and have no system of support, you have no place to turn. So I turned away.
Take this experience, the water gun experience and countless others that most of us encountered during our tenure while at SMU and you wonder why we are disengaged, disenfranchised, unattached as alumni?
We’re waiting for an apology. We’re waiting for the assurance that the injustices that we encountered have ended. We’re waiting for the University to take a stance like OU and say that there is ZERO TOLERANCE.
Tomorrow, I will talk about pledging a sorority and why separate but equal fraternal institutions were needed and still are.