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.

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