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A reflection on Whitewashed: the racism project

If someone were to ask you when it comes to racism, what ideas and topics in history or the present come to mind, what would you write? What does it mean to tell the story of racism in America and to tell it honestly and unapologetically? I want you to imagine a room, actors sitting around in a circle and three large pieces of paper stuck to a wall full of everything from slavery to redlining to segregation to police brutality to you name it.

I'm not going to lie. At the beginning of this project I thought this is a tall order. There are racial disparities in health, education, government policies, and the list goes on. While we met in the development phase, it was clear to me that we were up for a challenge but one that I feel we were all very committed to and somehow, even if we didn't know it then, we would find a way to squeeze this big idea into a reasonable amount of time to perform on stage. That was in 2019. Since then, Whitewashed: the racism project sold out to a few live audiences before shutdown last year and now it's been produced into a film. Over time, new cast members have joined the journey and now the medium of delivery has even changed but what has remained is the power of this show.

Last year, amidst a global pandemic, there was also a global response to the murder of George Floyd. But even before that, I remember when the initial shutdown happened some of us in the cast were scheduled to perform excerpts from Whitewashed via Facebook Live for a YWCA-GCR event. The day before the event, I watched a video of a man who had been jogging and shot down. His name is Ahmaud Arbery. I remember struggling through my piece but more than that I remember watching my friend and fellow cast member break down during his piece. He had also watched the video. We both hadn't fully processed what we had watched before performing and here we were doing this work so relevant to what had happened. Whitewashed isn't just a show. It is lived experience. It's a testimony. It's an outcry. It is the meticulous unfolding of neat racism. It says look at this mess and stop folding dirty laundry to tuck away in a drawer. It says racism still exists and it calls the members of the audience to do something about it.

And after Ahmaud, I learned about Breonna Taylor who was shot in her home. And then another video of a murder on camera, this time a knee on George Floyd's neck. And he wasn't the last. There were more people. "Black people were 28% of those killed by police in 2020 despite being only 13% of the population" and let's not forget that in 2020 we were and still are in 2021 dealing with a global health pandemic at the same time. Whitewashed: the racism project couldn't be more relevant.

I am grateful to have been a part of this process and proud of this work that we collectively poured into. If you haven't seen it in any of its forms, I really encourage you to get your tickets to go watch it at Madison Theater in Albany but beyond that, I hope the ripples reach far and wide. As relentless as the show is, I want us all to be even more so with dismantling racism for real. May it be a relic of the past and may we be able to tell our future that we all did our part in making it so.

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