I should, the arguments go, resist my gut feelings and basic instincts to "protect" the accumulated accomplishments of black contributions in music and literature by continuing to advocate that the presentation and interpretation of that music and literature is best done in culturally specific organizations. And claiming that the people about whom and ( I hope) for whom this literature and music is created should receive a degree of the psychological and economic benefits to which they are heir by presenting that music and literature in their institutions and in their community. It is my contention that we (in culturally specific institutions), when studied and informed, understand the work more deeply and are capable of providing the context, the rhythms, the musicality, and the gestures that are the intent of the African American artist and playwright.
My "protection" has, in the past, taken the form of speaking out about the motives and responsibilities of those major regional institutions who seek to admit, and thereby interpret the African American experience for the public.
Perhaps, I have been overzealous. Excuse my mistrust when I look at the affect upon black institutions when white institutions have "discovered" the relevance, beauty, and economic rewards in brokering black creative, economic, or educational impulses. This "discovery" most often leads to the debilitation and eventual impotence of black institutions. The present state of the black community, after availing itself to the benefits won by fighting for an unsegregated society and full participation in American politics should be most instructive. The attraction that held atomized efforts and lives together became dissipated and drained. The community which inherently held the power to reinforce and rejuvenate its own endeavors gradually began to look outside of itself for definition, guidance, and help. I perceive the result to be both spiritual and economic dependence. This dependence is directly related to the debilitation inside the black community.
The artistic interpretation of the African American experience by white institutions deserves specific attention since this is where I most often find myself at odds with the established white theatrical community. Most of the stereotypical constructs under which my community labors are ones created by white institutions. Should black institutions now, because white institutions have "discovered" its art, surrender the stewardship of that art and literature so that it might be shared with a broader audience? Personally, I find it difficult to trust these institutions' interpretations or their motives. Their "discovery," intentional or not, has the cumulative effect of creaming and greening the cultural history and creative impulses of those they seek to admit. In fact, one might go so far as to argue that admittance or assimilation of black art benefits mostly those seeking to admit it. And that somehow that art or literature becomes more relevant or accessible because it has been "discovered." In this scenario, Picasso makes African art relevant by incorporating it into his motifs, white jazz musicians make jazz relevant by inviting it into Carnegie Hall and Lee Brewer makes black gospel music relevant by tacking it onto his Sophoclean yarn. Who benefits from "discovery?"
In my view, the multicultural efforts of major regional organizations often have the effect of destroying black artistic institutions. They create an open world out of which some of the most accomplished artists and thinkers in the African American theatrical community bleed. The body which nurtured and sustained these artists is rendered anemic as its resources flow into the vacuum which these institutions create. The result, so far as I can see, is the degradation and decay of African American institutions. Even more damaging to artists seeking to have their craft exhibited is the affect of uninformed bestowal of merit and/or criticism. Major regional theaters have enough influence to create a system where black artists begin to believe that the approval of these institutions is relevant or even necessary. This, in effect, places those institutions and those who maintain them as "value arbiters" for the black community. I now am witness to talented black writers who register concern about the "ghettoization" of their work by production in black theaters because major institutions have offered the possibility of production. I view the behavior of these institutions as detrimental to the development of black theatre art. If black artistic institutions were afforded the funding support they deserve, they would be able to reward and support artists who they deem to be accurate, compassionate, talented, and insightful.
I tend to view the major institutions' forays into this arena as colonialist. Quite often they are guided by those who, because of their privileged position, occupy and extend their control over my art. They tend to place value on facets of my existence without understanding that existence in totality. When these institutions become arbiter and interpreter, they even skew my perception of myself. They, by virtue of their privilege, foster the idea that those whom they choose to admit are more accomplished or more talented because those artists chose to accept their "color-blind" invitation. Even more damaging are the preposterous statements these artists are forced to make in these scenarios. Many times they most deny their own history and culture. Willie Lowman's black brother's relationship with diamonds in South Africa in the Guthrie production of Death of a Salesman is indelibly etched in my mind. Such an insensitive and misleading representative of the truth! I witnessed white theater-goers holding their hands over their eyes and saying "See, they are exactly like us." After being subjected to this misrepresentation, I've even overheard blacks arguing stupidly that there are some blacks who have benefited by the economic rape of the African continent!