Last night I went to the Princess of Wales Theater in Toronto to see the musical production of Motown. It was amazing! Quite possibly the best live theater production I have ever seen. The singers were phenomenal. The costumes brilliant in color and adaptation. The character representations stunningly portrayed with sensitivity and humor. And the reality of how Berry Gordy fought for the equality of Black recording artists at a time when war, revolution and discrimination was at its Zenith was not only educational and charming, but powerfully stirring. History is so poignantly and gracefully strung together with all its death and violence, and its beauty and majesty. I can not say enough about the quality of this performance and urge anyone with the slightest interest in the music, the times and the history of Motown to go and see it! It’s in Toronto until November 1st and then I have no idea where they perform next. But it’s worth the price of admission!
However. Some deep shit got stirred.
Just before entering the theater, I was accosted by a Black Enthusiast looking for donations towards dispelling the myth that black youths are no more then their violent stereotyped depictions. He spoke quick. Precise. With a “sister” reference to me here and there, surely meant to consolidate our mutual beliefs and affiliation with the Black community. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was preaching to the wrong Colored woman. That I have never felt any mutual anything with Black folk. Except once. In 1969. A red Chevy pick up carrying a load of white blue collar workers on their way to the GM plant felt the need to yell out “Nigger” as they drove past me on my way to school. I was eight years old. Living in a white community. With a white family. Attending a white school. My knowledge of color had been absent. Until that day.
The next time I was to face such blatant and ugly discrimination was when Canada relaxed it’s immigration laws in the late 70’s early 80’s and the line between Canadian Blacks and all the other Blacks become dangerously blurred. First generation Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Guyanese and Africans set a precedent that we Canadian Blacks are still rebounding from. The girls hated me because I was lighter skinned and pretty. And knew the boys would crave the different-ness. The boys…well they just proved them right. Growing up in this somewhat hostile and negative environment, sadly, bred my own prejudice. I felt like I and my Canadian counterparts had been all but obliterated in our own country. I can’t remember the last time I was asked where I was from and the query ended with me saying Canada. The inquisitor, no matter their color or race, inevitably tags on, “No. Before that…where are your people from?” Seriously? I was born in Canada. My people were born in Canada. I am half Ojibwa. The other half traveled through the Underground Railway. So ya! I am CANADIAN mother fucker!
But, like the Europeans invading our Motherland, when these “sisters and brothers from another mother” landed, there was no melding of culture. No gentle compromise. And no acceptance. Nope. Most of my experience of racism and discrimination came from people in the 50 shades of my very own color. And it was horribly cruel and demeaning. It was also during this time of the Carib/Island/Afro influx, that I was personally affected by a strong example of how thin the veneer of professionalism is in the Black business community. Showcasing how money quickly dispossesses solidarity. How Blacks do not support or encourage the success of their own. I do not claim that all Blacks are “in it for themselves” but to date, having witnessed this personally and professionally, in business, this is the mentality I have come to expect. And sadly, to date, I have not been proven wrong. But would be happy to be so.
So, while I admired this Black Panthers Enthusiast’s enthusiasm and commitment to his cause, I truly felt no desire to support it. I have been burned by supporting these zealots in the past. And like many citizens of thriving metropolises, feel abused by the askings of zealots and advocates of the disenfranchised – especially if we have acquiesced and offered money, only to witness the abuse of our gifts. Eventually we all grow tired of this prey on our emotions and our pocketbooks and simply give no more. Which is such a sad commentary on our society. And even sadder for the zealots and advocates who are genuine in their pursuit of change. Plus, admittedly, I was more than a bit peeved by the fact that this hair-slicked, white suited, ebony-skinned, quick talking, Black-culture-fact-spewing man had centered his attention on the only Black person visible within a sea of White theater goers. Ya. I had a slight problem with that too. Grrrr. But, having said that, know that I am deeply offended by the atrocities set upon the Black male youth of today, but have my own opinions on the root of that particular problem. Well documented are my feelings in the many papers I have written on the subject of Racism, Sexism and Discrimination. I can and will always validate my argument, so please do not take offence or consider this post an attack on the Black community, to which I do belong. And even though facts do speak for themselves, I am always happy to amicably debate my hypothesis. ;)
But I digress lol …back to Motown in My Town.
The show was powerful! And a promising example of an almost all black cast’s ability to come together as one to create brilliance. I would like to think that as artists, the show was bigger then the ego but, people are people. And Diana did leave the Supremes. So there is that. I was also hoping that the power/producer/money behind the making of this amazing musical was Black, but alas. Even though Berry Gordy wrote the play and “assembled the perfect team to execute his vision”, the perfect power/producer/money team he chose – Doug Morris and Kevin McCollum – are White. Which, in my mind, begs the question, “If Motown had been produced by Black folk, would it be such a success? Or have even seen the light of day?” I’d like to think yes, but Berry Gordy’s choices reflect otherwise. Don’t they? I will step down from my podium now, lol. But I could go on. And on.
Many things got stirred up in me last night. Some race related. Some memory related. Mixed feelings about being in Toronto again as I traveled through well worn routes and familiar neighborhoods. The Village. The Danforth. My Tree. And the last time I stood in front of it. Gamble Ave, where my life was affected in so many ways. Even the very people who extended the invite to attend the musical are part of a somewhat rocky and emotional history I have with Toronto. My relationship with them circling the black-white conundrum. Bordering on Sally and Tom. Me being Sally, the corporate heads being Tom.
Did I mention I was one of only five Blacks in the audience! I can’t tell you how surreal that was.
And how telling.
Lots happened last night when I went to see Motown in my town. However, all personal expostula aside, the Motown Musical, and all the shades of love that brought it to life, is truly a masterpiece! A perfect example of what can happen when you believe in your dreams.
You should go see it!!!