I used to think I wore my color like armor. My Blackness ready to show up and pop out for me whenever I needed it to. I do my best to walk into spaces as my whole self: a black, young, womanist raised in the ghetto. There are times though, where I find myself crawling into a little space. I hear a slight microaggression or blatant act of racism that takes me back so much I feel moved to inaction. My color feels bleached, and muffled in a mix of whiteness. This feeling was brought to my reality on the 10th of October when a white man walked on stage and said the “N-word” (hard ER) on Ex Fabula’s stage.
The funny thing about racism is that it has this “know where you are when it happens” type of power. It reminds you of your being, position, and state of mind drawing back to that very moment. I remember sitting down on the back table, blinking camera light out of my eyes, trying to stay awake. It was my first day on the job and first time attending a StorySlam. When he said it, I remember jumping from being startled, then looking around the room for at least one other shocked Black person. Among the 4 in the room that night, I couldn’t find one in that instant. All I seemed to see was white immunity. The show went on, I heard laughs and coughs and claps. What I didn’t hear, no matter how hard I stretched my ears, was some type of disclaimer or call out verbally expressing that Ex Fabula does not condone that type of speech. This wouldn’t have took us back in time and corrected the mistake, but it could have moved the room forward. I spent the rest of the night trying not to be stuck in that moment. All my natural instincts to be the “Oh no you didn’t”, or “So what we not gone do is” person I’m used to being had frozen into inexistence. This experience caused me to feel a certain amount of distrust towards Ex Fabula and its mission to connect Milwaukee because to me, Milwaukee looks just as much like me and my people (Black people) than it does everyone else.
This singular slur said in one moment changed the trajectory of my personal work mission with Ex Fabula forever. To me, this was not just an instance. This was a reflection of the comfort this individual had to say a certain thing in a certain space. This moment to me showed that this cannot be a safe space for a racist and a person of color at the same time.
Fast forward 4 months later, this moment still lingers in the Ex Fabula air. This moment has went from the stage, to the team meetings, to equity evaluation conversations. We as a team look at this situation as a question of “who feels safe to do what at Ex Fabula?” Our mission is to connect Milwaukee through real stories, and hopefully create safe spaces in the process. Because of this, you may notice new signage hanging up on the entrance door when walking until Ex Fabula stage. Bold in white, we have “We do not condone Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, Transphobia, Xenophobia or any other hate speech in this space.” This small step can make a large difference in making people feel safe and welcome to share community.
It is important that when connecting Milwaukee, we attach threads of multiple humanities and life walks. In order to bridge gaps and challenge issues we have to make sure we are all working under common understandings and equitable standards of respect and inclusion.