It was midnight and I was staring at the ceiling of the theatre in complete silence. The crew was elsewhere doing prop checks, and most of the actors had gone home for the night. The rehearsal itself had been long and meticulous and, although the hour was late, my brain was still moving at 300mph…at it so often does. While I had attempted to count the ceiling tiles in my current position of contemplation, I was more preoccupied with what I was facing. One of the biggest shows I had ever attempted was 72-hours away, and the task ahead to get the theatre “show ready” was …well…it was massively impossible.
I hadn’t heard one of my best friends, who also happened to be an artist, sit in the row behind me; his cologne alerted me to his presence before his signature voice did. “You have a good show,” he stated matter-of-factly. I didn’t answer him. I wasn’t in the mood to feel ‘better.’ “What are we worried about?” he asked.
“Aside from our mic situation?” I asked with hint irritation. “I have costumes that I’m still trying to order, three actual doors that I don’t have, nor do I know where I’m going to get them; I have an entire finale that I’m still trying to time through, and to top it all off,” I lamented finally sitting up, “I have yet to have a wet or dry tech!”
I finally glanced back at my friend who met me with an emotionless face. I didn’t want sympathy, and he wasn’t going to give it, but his lack of concern did piss me off. He, like myself, was a theatre person and knew I was trying to finish three weeks worth of things in a matter of days. I scoffed at his non-reaction and went back to staring at the ceiling.
Finally, he leaned forward and rested his arms on the seat in front of him. “How do you eat an elephant?” He asked.
“What?” I frowned. Here I was, three days away from a huge debut and he changed the subject?
“How do you eat an elephant?” he repeated.
I was stumped, slightly cynical, and discouraged with the entire situation.
Maybe like you are now…but not about a “big show.”
Fighting for social justice reminds me a lot of that moment in that semi-lit theatre. When you’re constantly behind the line, and you want change, it’s a lot like being three days from a show. There seems to be a laundry list of things to do and each day brings new things to be concerned about. On one day someone is unjustly murdered by law enforcement, but the next day a court case from the last time that happened gets dismissed. Yeah, someone was targeted for standing up for basic human rights, but within the hour a powerful person uses their pull to discriminate against others who are already oppressed.
And all of this keeps building, and building, and building…. until you have an elephant of a problem.
And now, everyone sees this thing, the size of an elephant…and they know it’s there, but nobody can figure out how to tackle it.
And it’s just standing there…taking up space in this room we call our country…and we can’t agree on how to get rid of it.
And because we can never agree on how to move the whole thing, we squabble over the ideas of others, deeming them less important or less effective. I mean, how dare we try to tackle little parts of this enormous problem when it’s as big as it is.
The other day, I realized that the biggest threat to social justice isn’t the lack of doing; it’s the “Whattabouts.” These groups of people (who in a twist of irony are largely diverse) have an amazing knack for coming into every decision, stand, or protest, and lessen its impact by insisting that there is something greater to be concerned about.
We need to be concerned about police brutality.
“Oh yeah? Well, whattabout black on black crime?”
We need to show that we’re united against racism.
“Really? Well, whattabout Chicago?”
We need to boycott the NFL until they recognize their subtle contrarianism regarding social justice and racism.
“Y’all worried about the NFL? Whattabout our churches?”
We need to come together and talk about the inequality among people of color in this city/state./nation”
“Oh yeah? Whattabout what’s happening with our kids in our own neighborhood?”
And the ‘whattabouts’ keep picking at other smaller issues, not realizing that it takes away from the main elephant sized issue that still sits in the center of the room….growing; never understanding that it’s all the same massive beast.
What you ‘whattabouts’ fail to realize is that sometimes it’s impossible to tackle an entire thing all at once. Sometimes it’s something as simple as a woman so fed up with having to give up her seat on the bus that she decides, ” not today.” Sometimes it’s as small as 4 boys in Greensboro, North Carolina walking into a Woolworth and sitting down for lunch in spite of what the sign says. Sometimes…it’s something as minute as sneaking out one person at a time, on a wagon of junk, in the midst of a Nazi uprising. Change doesn’t always begin with a large, grandstanding event with millions of people. Sometimes…it just takes a few people to start a movement.
The problem with racism and hate in this country is that it’s massive, it’s ugly, and it’s growing. Two things aren’t going to help: those of you who insist on blaming the victims, and the others of you…the whattabouts…that insist that those that are taking a stand are concentrating on the wrong thing. You may not realize that sometimes it’s not about where you start…
…sometimes…it just takes…
“Are you being serious?” I asked my best friend, who had rested his chin on his arm. “What does that have to do with any of the stuff I just said?”
He chuckled, leaned back, and took the position that he found me in earlier—staring at the theatre ceiling. “It’s after midnight,” he said finally, “and we have a massive amount of things to do and a short amount of time to do it. And right now, it seems bigger than us…and it is.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be helping me not feel overwhelmed?” I asked.
“Sunny,” he said looking me right in the eyes, “how…do you eat…an elephant?”
I was silent for a moment. “How do you eat an elephant?” I asked.
He placed his hand on my shoulder and rose to his 6-foot frame. “One bite at a time.”
Change can come. Let’s do it together…one bite at a time.