Performative Allyship Will Not Suffice

June 18 update: While looking online today for a photo of the mural that was the inspiration for this post.came across an article about the lynching of a Black co-op owner and two employees in Memphis in 1889. I was going to put it at the end as an addendum but decided to put it at the beginning. Read it first and THEN (maybe) read my post.

Original post: Last Tuesday morning, June 9, was the second day of the 121st annual convention of the Minnesota Music Teachers Association. It took place live and online. I was running one of the Zoom sessions. The first presenter of the day, during the sound check, before anyone else was in the “room”, asked me regarding the murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis cops, “What’s your take?” (He was from out of town). My initial — internal — reaction was, “Interesting question… not what I expected to hear.”

What I said out loud was, “Well, if you know Minneapolis, I-35W runs through the south side, and runs north-south. My studio is on 38th Street, a half mile west of the freeway. Half mile east is 38th and Chicago, the scene of the crime.”

38th and Chicago features, of course, Cup Foods, in front of which George Floyd was murdered. They are the ones who called 9-1-1. That is what it is, not assigning blame… but it’s potentially a jumping-off point for a discussion about who we call when only $20 is on the line. The south side of the store now features a world famous mural, painted by a white person, who is now going on social media and admitting if they had to do it over again, they as a white person would not do that without consulting anyone from the community, especially people of color.

Another grocery, the Seward Friendship Store, which is actually a co-op, sits at the former location of the Greater Friendship Church. The “Seward Co-op” as I call it, is a bit closer to my studio, just east of the highway. I go there all the time. It opened in 2015, not without controversy, being that co-ops tend to be patronized mostly by white folks. Right now the co-op’s walls and boarded-up windows are covered with murals. Front and center is a mural with the message, “Performative allyship will not suffice. Demand justice.”

That thought has been on my mind for a few weeks now. I can educate myself on the issues, I can listen more and speak less, I can donate money, I can focus on the intersectionality between climate justice and racial justice. But as a performing and teaching artist, I can also ask myself if my participation in music is relevant and respectful. Don’t know exactly what that looks like yet. For starters, maybe always acknowledge the spiritual source of anything I create? Ask myself, why am I playing this piece? Why am I teaching this piece? I can start there and grow from there.

2 thoughts on “Performative Allyship Will Not Suffice

  1. I just read the article about the book by Ms. Sanders you posted about ‘Black Co-op owners and their collective courage’ and I feel the need to say a deep felt ‘thank you’. This reply is being made much later than when you posted it, but it seems global events and social revelations are happening at a much faster speed now than I ever remember before. When I saw the photo of Ida B Wells, it pierced me deeply. She looks like she could be my relative.. a sister, an aunt, a cousin…I wish I could reach through my laptop and bring her to life right here, right NOW, so I could get her advice, insights, and wisdom to help navigate us all through this amazing and yet intense time in American history. As a school bus driver in the Mpls. District for many years now, food insecurity and lack of access to fresh produce and healthy foods has been a critical issue for POC throughout the Twin Cities. Without consistent and healthy nutrition it is difficult for the students to focus on their studies, behaviors escalate when stomachs are hurting, ringworm, ashen skin, lethargy are very real consequences of this problem that sadly, I have seen with my own eyes many many times. Often, school meals are the only time some of my students eat at ALL during the day. Also, during the height of the pandemic, I delivered meal boxes to homes filled with children and adults where there was no food period, as the major nearby grocery store was incapacitated and boarded up, and there was no car available or money for a cab or bus to go to a grocers much further away. The pandemic revealed to myself as well as to so many others, the HUGE food desert that exists in economically depressed neighborhoods, where POC make up a large part of the demographic. I thank GOD for the Co-op vision and mission statement of providing neighborhoods with wholesome, small farm grown produce, foods and beverages meant to INCREASE the quality and longevity of life for ALL the people, and also teaching families how their food is grown, how to make value laden grocery purchases that last a family for a few days vs. a few hours, and providing access to a real farm visit, and re connecting the people to the land. Do you know how many students I’ve met that have never seen a chicken or a cow in real life? Have never had the joy of digging up a dirty, fat potato or breaking a fresh corn cob off the stalk to eat right away while it is still sweet and tender?

    Recently, I’ve begun to investigate and deep dive into the information about the Tulsa massacre. When people of color prosper TOO much, are thriving TOO much, competing TOO much…inevitably, this arouses anger and fear amongst capital holders who benefit from keeping racially/culturally oppressed residents controlled and dependent on their products and services. I’ve been ANGRY at how much truth was omitted or re written during my entire education in elementary and high school, to down play and even negate Indigenous genocide, African American slavery, Asian and Latino worker exploitation. Honestly, I feel deceived and even robbed of the years that I could have learned about it all, given focused thought to my obligations and life choices to uphold the hopes and visions of those before me that suffered continually in hopes of freedom and racial equity for future for generations, and understood more deeply how the enslaved sacrificed EVERYTHING (on stolen land) to help provide the quality of life so many of us enjoy in this nation today. Reading about the lynching of the blameless Co op owner and his two employees today not only grieves me, but it’s also an honor to keep their legacy alive of remembering their lives and the noble mission they undertook of providing quality food at good prices to their community, and all those who came from further away because they recognized good service, and value. It pains me to think about how the murderer who organized the lynching bought out his victim’s store for a fraction of it’s value. Now that I think about it, I remember the pain of the the voices of those I’ve met in person, whose parents owned homes and businesses in the Rondo neighborhood that were only paid a fraction of their rightful equity by the City of St. Paul, when 94 was imposed on their thriving community. They said that their childhoods were changed for the worse, and that many family members and neighbors they knew, died in grief and depression from the loss of their community, homes and livelihoods.

    As a musician, (at least, I’m hoping to be) how do I move forward in using my abilities to help people remember these legacies, to re connect with the need to stand in UNITY for equitable access to food, housing, education, health care, legal representation…..and so much more? I no longer want to entertain. I feel moved to instruct, share, connect, engage with those listening that we are part of a whole, that needs action, healing, and justice. But how to begin all of this…feels almost impossible at times. I’m thinking that I will take action on the ‘do what you love a little bit every day’ approach that was mentioned earlier. Julia Cameron has changed my life with her books and critical validation for wanting to pursue more art in life and less 6AM to 6PM institutional drudgery. I could set some measurable goals. I could keep writing about the needs of our city and community members. I could find AND learn to read and write music infused with history relevant to our present times. I could start there.

    Honestly, This was a difficult yet informative post to read, and even harder to express my thoughts on. Thank you for providing a space to reply. Apologies for the length, as I see now….that this is a topic I care very much about.


  2. “I no longer want to entertain” – that resonates with me. It’s good to put a smile on peoples faces but it’s also good to do more than that and something else. Elizabeth, you are an inspiration to me! Just do what you do and you do good!


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