I’m an international student. So when I took a class to fulfill the Race and Ethnicity requirement for my LSA degree, I was initially very uncomfortable. My class holds a lot of in-class discussions that revolve around racial issues, especially- at least up until now- racism towards African Americans. A lot of times I was skeptical about things like institutional racism because I thought, just by seeing black artists on movies, I could assume that America HAS progressed from the Civil Rights movement. I thought some students were too sensitive at times when they talked about their experiences with racism. Basically, I didn’t understand what the minority experience was like in the U.S and the extent, for some, of its negative implications.
But by 10pm on Friday when Urban Bush Women’s performance ended, I think I gained a little more sympathy. The experiences of students I listened to with a deaf ear and authors I had to read about with a blind eye, came alive in the performance. One of my favorite scenes was one where four dancers enacted a scene where a young black woman got her hair “done,” which I learnt was the painful process of straightening supposedly “ugly” original hair into the straight, “TREsemee- smooth” hair that was socially acceptable. The tension between the beauty you see in yourself and the beauty norms that others inflict on you was well-expressed by the jerky, restless movements of dancers impersonating strands of hair being viciously pulled out. What differed in this performance from a regular discussion or lecture was its ability to TRANSFER the feelings created by this personal anecdote to other people. Pain, irritation, and confused anger. The vicarious feelings that reached out to me found an audience within my own memories. I know the feeling of succumbing to peer pressure about ideas of beauty that I know doesn’t apply to me. I know the awkward confusion and uncomfortableness of finding personal values that clash with the status quo. And they all resonated with what I saw on stage.
In other words, I related. This was the transcendental power of Urban Bush Women’s multi-dimensional performance Hair and Other Stories.