'Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better.'
This poster is displayed in a Birmingham Primary School. One of our actor-teachers saw it last week and it got us thinking about what the image represents. The image took us back to the Anti-Racism training The Play House did with Rebecca Hemmings from Strawberry Words and more specifically, conversations that were had around unconscious bias.
The fence in the image represents dominant culture as it is, a culture that has been constructed by few, that serves individualism and maintains a systemically racist structure. Those who manage to see over the top of the fence are successful in navigating the dominant culture and are allowed to join the ‘normal’ club. However, there are barriers in place that prevent people from seeing over the fence, which are seemingly invisible to those already looking over. We have to ask ourselves, do we want to be successful navigating the current system, to be part of the ‘normal’ club, or do we strive to change it?
By being aware, we can tackle such systemic challenges and remove barriers by responding to the different needs of communities, and the individuals that make up those communities. It is important to reflect on issues such as inequality, inclusivity and representation as we strive to achieve a culture that isn’t representative of a few, but all. We are not immune from unconscious bias and we need to recognise this in ourselves in order to be the change we want to see.
As a Theatre in Education practitioners, it is especially important that we understand things from different perspectives. We often represent thoughts, ideas and views as characters that are different from ourselves, which enables us to empathise, recognise and understand different people and their perspectives too.
Our time with Rebecca from Strawberry words enabled us to initiate a conversation around unconscious bias, microaggressions and how to be an anti-racist organisation. Following our training we have published our Anti-Racism action plan for The Play House, which can be found on our website. This is an ongoing dialogue, not only within our company but as a community of individuals who check themselves and each other regularly. It is true that we can never fully understand another person’s experience as we have not lived it. However, we can empathise and validate by being supportive and checking our assumptions and unconscious bias regularly.
We can do better, to reflect the communities that we work with and represent. Encouraging applicants from underrepresented communities goes hand in hand with examining our standard of support for such artists. We are on a journey to become more inclusive and representative and we are acknowledging the systemic inhibitors and seeking to support our colleagues / associate artists by putting the work in.
Our intentions have always been to meaningfully represent the diversity of Birmingham. We have worked with multi-lingual practitioners, dancers from Pakistan, actors from Korea and China as well as working with Hearing impaired actors. Our pool of associate artists and freelancers from Birmingham are from a range of heritages and backgrounds. We have attempted to support artists with their individual endeavors and seek to source opportunities for those who are underrepresented, however, we can do better!
We have started our journey and by making it public, we are inviting you to hold us accountable if we fall short or can do better.
The Play House Team