“Yo Mama,” a rare local theatre production, opened at Star Hall last weekend to enthusiastic and appreciative audiences. But the crowds were smaller than hoped for, some fear because of a letter in the Sun last week by Lee Bridgers (“Yo Mama is embarrassing theatre,” Jan. 26 – Feb. 1, 2017 Moab Sun News).
In a crude personal attack, Bridgers accused artist/author Kaki Hunter of “blatant blackface racism,” and of committing “cultural theft … for profit.” (Yes, Lee, there are HUNDREDS to be made in community theatre). Bridgers’ polemic reads like a bad term paper for Pinhead Philosophy class. As a “fine artist” who has a degree and has taught “at university level,” he mansplains that Kaki has committed “cultural appropriation,” although he wasn’t privy to one word of the play’s monologue or lyrics.
So we get this tortured rant that asserts all us white folks need to admit we’re racist, and apparently, we also need to create only “white” art, or we are stealing (from the people we can’t help hating). This is profoundly ignorant of how art and cross-cultural currents really work. Black people invented blues, jazz and rap. Indigenous peoples invented shamanism. Many white folks come to adopt these cultural forms (the ones who are NOT racist). To deny that a white boy can sing the blues (Paul Butterfield!), or a white girl can engage in shamanic healing, is to deny reality. To say that being influenced by another culture equals “cultural theft” is absurd, and seems to imply that we should all just stay in our own ethnic bubble.
So it’s ultimately very odd for someone who has written an original work to get accused of “stealing.” Sadly, this is also an attack on a large crew of volunteers and musicians who have labored mightily over the past few weeks to create this production, none of whom feel like thieves. On the final weekend, they deserve some love.