From the Empathy Gym – July 2020

From the Empathy Gym – July 2020

Empathy Into Action

We hoped the coronavirus pandemic would teach us something. Surely, some good would come from the fact that it has touched all humans, that for the first time in recorded history, we all face a common enemy. And how profoundly that point has been driven home by the lightning speed at which the pandemic has circled the globe. Hopes have been raised that we would put away our hatred and live in peace.

And yet, how we continue to bicker and blame and punish. How we fear and hate. Change, it appears, must be earned as always, one step at a time, one tiny act of kindness, one sliver of self-awareness, one sudden jolt of understanding.

Now, to remind us how far we have to go, George Floyd and so many others have been struck down by the cruel forces of hatred and fear; by heinous individuals to be sure, but just as surely by the systemic racism that plagues our nation and our race. The racism that bares its fangs in racist police practices and corrupt political scheming, but which like Mack’s knife, is working out of sight in well-meaning liberals like myself who give lip service to equality while being consciously or unconsciously oblivious to the insidious racism built into and underlying our civilization; racism on auto-pilot, running in the background, embedded so deeply in our institutions that we despair that it will never be rooted out.

So where does San Francisco Playhouse figure in all this? Knocked flat by the pandemic, we are down to a skeleton staff struggling to survive, not knowing if or when we may be able to open. Will it be a few months, six months, a year, till there is a vaccine? Yet in midst of our quandary, the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent brutality perpetrated by police at protests about police brutality have forced us to draw a line in the sand. And if our line may be a bit meager in the nearest future, our determination is absolute. We will put empathy into action, starting in our own backyard, by making changes to our company that will more accurately reflect and represent the vibrant community in which we work. Effective immediately, we will:

  • Enhance the membership of our Board and staff to mirror the demographic shape of our Bay Area community
  • Broadcast new job openings much more widely and actively recruit diverse talent wherever it resides, from staff to designers to directors and beyond
  • Seek out the advice and consultation of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community to help us understand how we can better serve and create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for all
  • Ally with other arts organizations to advocate for social change

I believe that despite the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic, it did create a rift in our collective consciousness that has set the stage for a great awakening in our country and the world. Our awareness that we are one humanity has amplified the reach and power of the demand for racial justice. The line has been drawn in the sand. Our nation must change, must root out systemic racism in our institutions. And we must do our part.

There is no justice without equity and inclusion. We cannot practice empathy without working towards greater diversity. As long as people of color in America are marginalized in the interests of white dominance, none of us are free. Empathy cannot be merely an ideal posted over our door to make us feel good about ourselves.

There is a revolution brewing in America. The pervasive racism at the core of our culture must be acknowledged and changed. We must hear our siblings in the BIPOC community. We must change the way we live. We must put our empathy into action.

Please write me at arti[email protected] to share any thoughts you may have.

Bill English (Artistic Director)

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