By Benè Viera
Snow fell from the clouds as people hurried in the Musical Arts Center for IU’s rendition of Lucia di Lammermoor. As I sat in my car I observed many attendees exiting their beloved Range Rovers and BMW’s dressed in a way that equally exemplified their status. Upon entering the theater my invisibility became ever more apparent. From that moment on I knew my experience at the opera would be contrary to those who were so close in proximity yet so far in reality.
A crowded lobby of enthused individuals chitchatted with their families, colleagues and friends. Mink coats, Yves Saint Laurent suits, and everything encompassing of class- upper class- was prevalent. Of course there were those clothed in their not so expensive jeans and Ugg boots. Yet, even those dressed in the tackiest wardrobes blended in with the crowd more than I ever would.
Lucia di Lammermoor reinforced my day-to-day existence surrounded by so many elitists.
My eyes searched high and low for someone, anyone, whose skin contained any amount of pigmentation. Of course, there were far too few. My paranoia, actually my consciousness went into full force when I started getting ‘The Look.’ The look that gazed at me with piercing eyes, and if it could speak would ask, “What is this young black woman doing here?” But, I was all too familiar with this feeling. One would think I would be accustomed to the stares, the isolation. After all I do attend a PWI with about 40,000 students and less than 2,000 black students. And people say we live in a post-racial society. Yeah right. Yet, even at an opera I could not escape my psyche long enough to just enjoy the show. Let’s face it, what does opera have to do with race, separatism, and disparities? But, in my world this opera had everything to do with the aforementioned.
As the audience enjoyed the beautiful soprano voice of Lucia, I sat there deep in thought. Although the story of betrayal and tragedy was appealing, I could not focus on the opera in its entirety. Thankfully, as a young child I was exposed to many things that are usually equated with the elite society, the opera being one. Therefore, I didn’t feel bad for my mind floating adrift. In my eyes I wasn’t missing much.
Watching the cast perform did not incite attentiveness either. It did however, cause my attention to refocus on another aspect: the cast. Not one black performer. Even in 2010 the lack of minorities in the arts: film, art exhibits, operas, ballets, and plays, is still a very real issue. Listening to the harmonic voices of the cast did not distract me from noticing the lack of representation of my ethnicity. It was quite disturbing. Disturbing in the same way my curriculum is constructed, where a non African-American authors every required book. Similar to the disturbing fact my Journalism department does not have one black faculty member. The opera was not any different the feeling was the same. At one point I remember asking myself, why should my money support the arts when it steadily promotes exclusivity?
So you see I was quite distracted during the show. I was unable to enjoy the heavenly voices, the madness murder scene, the love story theme or the betrayal climax. My mind was too busy thinking about the subliminal, the obvious, the un-talked about truths of the arts. During intermission when the couple next to me debated whether or not the super titles were a distraction, I thought yes the super titles are a distraction. They’re distracting people from the real issues at hand.
If Lucia di Lammermoor did anything for me, it reiterated the need for intelligent dialogue. It strengthened the argument that there is a need for black arts organizations, black productions, black producers and black directors. Something intended to be a beautiful form of expression portrayed the ugly truths of such problematic issues in all forms of art.
As everyone stood for the ovation of Angela Kloc, who played Lucia, my thoughts orbited full circle ending where they began.
Cheerfully they lauded the opera, the lead singer and even the tenor. I wondered did any of them for a second think about how their elitism and white privilege allows them to continuously disregard an entire race of people. Or how it allows social structures to remain the same where white men are at the top and minorities are at the very bottom. Thing is, white people never have to think about their privilege, or being white. No one reminds them of it every day. Very seldom are they forced to be the only white person in a room full of thousands. Whereas blacks are constantly put in the predicament to be the only one- in companies, classes, meetings, senates, and the list goes on. Everything in the media, history, art and higher education institutions resembles white Americans. All things good are associated with white. I realized that even with my middle-class upbringing, a long lineage of educated family members; I would never be a part of their world. Our experiences and outlook would always be polar opposites.
Donizetti’s opera was a clear reminder that my passion and dedication to my race overtrumped my love for the arts. And even as an arts lover, I had to hold it accountable for its embodiment of isolationism.