Years ago, way back in the way back when, I attended a HBCU: a historically black college.
Then whens and the whys are irrelevant, but as a white girl who had never been in the minority in my life, being thrown into classes where I was lucky if there was someone else with the same skin color as me, I felt weird. I felt like an outcast, I often didn’t feel welcome. As someone who had studied theater extensively and had once dreamed on Broadway, I did the only thing I could think of to try and make some friends: I went to audition for whatever production they were about to put on.
Which was, as it turned out, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.
Which is, as you might guess, a play based around people of color. For people of color.
It wasn’t for me.
I was frustrated, at first: here I was trying my best to make friends with people when I had a roommate who told me I was the “nicest white person she’d ever met” and followed it up with “…that wasn’t a compliment.”
Eventually, for various reasons, the show was changed to another: Rhyme Deferred, a hip hop retelling of the story of Cain and Abel for the bible, and I was not just relegated to stage managing, but I got to play a part in the show. It was great, and I had so much fun and learned so much, but I will never forget what it felt like to realize that there was no place for me on stage.
The fact is, that is a reality for many, many people of color and non-white actors and performers every day. I think back to the shows that I loved as a kid, the parts that I wanted to play. I wanted to be Eliza in My Fair Lady, I wanted to be Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie, I wanted to be Maureen in RENT, which was maybe the only diverse show I remember loving other than The Wiz. For me, I never dreamed that there would come a moment in my life where I would not be needed on a stage, especially because of my skin color. At the same time, I never considered that other people would feel that way. It never occurred to me that there were people I knew who wanted to succeed on stage who couldn’t see themselves as Millie or Eliza. That they needed dream roles too.
Watching the Tony Awards this year, between the opening number and the red carpet, and what I’m sure we’ll see throughout the night, my heart swells with pride for all of the different types of people not only showing up to the award ceremony, but who are nominated. There are kids at home who are growing up the way I did: memorizing every cast recording and hoping that one day they might get to see a Broadway show, but knowing that it isn’t a likely possibility. And if those kids are like me, they cling to the Tony Awards as the one time they’ll actually get a glimpse of what they want.
And a glimpse of who they can be. The roles they can play.
And now everyone can see themselves. Everyone.
Diversity is important. It is important for all of us. Nevermind the fact that everyone deserves to see themselves in the things they want to do, we deserve to learn from each other. From our experiences, from the experiences of others. It can be hard, sometimes, when it seems as if the world wants to get in our way and it wants to get in the way of progress and that there is so many awful things happening. But we need to look forward, and we need to see progress where it is. And somewhere there is a kid who has been told “no” over and over watching Hamilton win over and over tonight and knowing that they will have a place.
I love the Tony Awards. I always have, and some years have been better than others. But tonight, I am proud to be watching.
And I am so, so proud of everyone on that stage and in that audience. Hamilton puts it best: how lucky we are to be alive right now. Really, truly.
Go sing a song, and welcome love into your life. You’ll feel great.
The world is gonna be okay.