I attended a reading at East Carolina University recently. The theme of the book being read by the author was that white people cannot see their own racism and the best thing to do is admit we’re racist. At the time I didn’t agree wholeheartedly with his premise. I certainly can’t see mine. It’s a Southern thing. There was only one black person in the middle of the audience, taking up more space than anyone else, and no black people represented in the faculty. I felt bad about the optics and resisted being lumped in with those white academics. But, because I know junkies and have sympathy, I understood enough to defer to those who are obviously racist and fighting it like an addiction they can’t kick. It’s hard to give up the help.
So, I return to Moab and this Yo’ Mama! thing is thrown in my face and sho’nuff white people don’t see their racism. As a fine artist with a terminal degree in performance art and much experience teaching fine art and art history at the university level, I have lectured on this issue many times before. Let me help you see what is going on here:
Cultural appropriation is defined as “the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.” Quoting directly from an easily accessed source, Wikipedia, “Cultural appropriation may be perceived as controversial, even harmful, notably when the cultural property of a minority group is used by members of the dominant culture without the consent of the members of the originating culture; this is seen as misappropriation and a violation of intellectual property rights.”
Please go on the internet and Google “cultural appropriation” and “cultural misappropriation.” Follow the links to examples and literature miles deep. Because we are living on appropriated Ute land, I recommend Ward Churchill’s “Fantasies of the Master Race.” And please pay attention to the words, “dominant culture” and “originating culture.” Yo’ Mama! is not only cultural theft in a can for profit, it is a can of worms in art’s wheelhouse and Yo’ Mama! done open herself to Yo’ Criticism!
Simply put, if yo’ want yo’ local theater to be used to display racism, yo’ got it. If yo’ think it’s all right to steal from indigenous and African American cultural narrative in an attempt at self-promotion and profit, show up at Star Hall so everyone knows who yo’ are. And natives remember, if she uses your words or your stories without written permission, she is libel. Not only is a white person channeling a black woman from a can insulting to black people to an outrageous degree, it is incredibly disrespectful and even destructive to the originators, our Native cultures where “shamanism” resides as a power specific to their people, curing ailments specific to their culture. When white people do this, it is called “theater” and to those with experience in theater, Yo’ Mama is embarrassing, blatant “blackface” racism. The “artist” is going to demonstrate how yo’ do it with no makeup. She represents the Billigana, the obvious dominant culture, so I would hope to see people from the native population stepping up because an actress from the spring break “Porky’s” movies is channeling Chief Sambo, calling it shamanism, trying to get your attention. I pray you give it to her. I suggest standing in front of Star Hall in blackface.
Editor’s Note: “Yo Mama — Un-Canned” is a one-woman performance by local resident Kaki Hunter, who will be appearing at Star Hall on Friday, Jan. 27, through Sunday, Jan. 29, and again on Thursday, Feb. 2, through Saturday, Feb. 4.