Friday, December 27, 2013

The Second City Taught Me How To Be Black

One year. Two blogs.

I am comfortable with that. I just finished something I never thought I would be able to do: successfully completed 16 credits. I realize that is not a big deal to, probably, anyone but me, but I feel like a chubby kid who just saw and touched her toes for the first time. I am typically a 12 credit kind of lady. If reaching my knees were 12 credits, I just looked past the curvature of my belly, saw my toes, went for it, and succeeded. It was the coolest 16 credits ever because I went to The Second City every day like it was my job. Going to The Second City every day for the past few months was my job!

My Comedy Studies semester is over. All is well. The flowers are still standing. So, how did that teach me how to be Black? Well, that title sounded catchier and more hip than saying, "What I learned at The Second City this semester taught me a new appreciation for my heritage and enabled me to own my African-American culture as I continue my journey in developing my point of view." That's what I am really saying. This blog sounded a lot better in my head, but here goes...

In the time I have been studying improvisation this year in Chicago, I have learned that my look as an actor is what many people describe as "confusing." Move over Special Skill of "Ethnic Ambiguity." There is a shorter word in town that means the same thing as you, you pretentious euphemism. When I wear makeup, my foundation is not dark enough to create believable blackface. (That is not a statement I could have ever imagined I would write and mean in earnest.)

Besides all of these amazing things about comedy and that Bob Fosse had a clubbed foot, I finally learned that any past accusations of my lacking Blackness, being an OREO, or living in Uncle Tom's Cabin have no impact on the reality that I am a woman with African-American ancestry. Well I knew that, but the new part that I truly understand now is that whatever I do, however I choose to live my life, and whichever way I express myself is what a Black woman does, how a Black woman lives her life, and how a Black woman expresses herself.

So even when I speak in my awesome South Indian accent am I still Black? Yes. Polish accent? Yes. British accent? Yes. But everyone sounds way more intelligent and automatically looks like David Beckham when they speak with a British accent, how can I still be Black? Because I am Black. What about when I play a character that is a physician and then people think I am playing into a stereotype because I must be Asian? It doesn't matter because I am black. What about when I am mistaken for Ethiopian or some other African country most Americans don't really know anything about, am I still Black? Tricky, but here is the thing: African and African-American are not the same thing; I am not African, but I am Black.

At the conclusion of this semester, a delightful young man named Jonathan Lee-Rey orchestrated a roast and bestowed me with the Award for "Being in My Head The Most." That's a fancy actor term for saying I think too much. With good reason, W.E.B. Dubois wrote about "double consciousness." As an androgynous, African-American woman, I have quite the quilt of consciousness-es. It keeps me warm. With all these dimensions and choices for social constructions of who I should be based on stereotypes, there are so many options for developing and honing my unique point of view. I mean, I am double-jointed too. My life is like running a race where the finish line keeps getting moved around. Regardless of where the finish line ends up, however, by the time I get there, I will still be Black.



Kirk Sells said...

Great Job Lisette! So proud of you.

You're on your way to becoming an entertainer, boo!

L. said...

Thank you for your kind words, Kirk! I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to read my blog.

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