In late July of 2017, I pushed my way into un-air conditioned warehouse-turned performance space to see an eccentric program called “Sixty by 60,” a series of 60 spoken, danced, mimed, sung one-minute performances produced by our much-loved, no-longer-local, disruptive arts nonprofit, Fusebox.
The piece I remember most vividly featured a young African-American woman wearing a white t-shirt that read in bold, black letters, “Be Nice.” A small woman, standing in the middle of the stage, she invited the 200 of sweating her sweating audience to pick up the white t-shirts she’d placed on their chairs and wave them over head, joining her in shouting “Be Nice!” to loud music.
Her minute landed lightly with her worn-out audience, as we shouted and laughed and clapped, and as the year passed, I realize how profound her message was, how many notes she struck.
I’m assuming the artist — why didn’t I get her name? — knew the allusion to the iconic New Orleans R&B queen Irma Thomas’ waving her white handkerchief as a sign to her audience to put their backfields in motion and acknowledge black woman power. 2017 was the year that even the most delusional among us had to recognize that all bets are off in terms of social, business and political discourse. This was not news to black women. On more than one occasion, when the fearlessly talented Thomas invited her to wave a white handkerchief, they also waved Confederate flags.
But 2017 brought us a new president, Travis Kalanick, Harvey Weinstein, shootings by and of policemen, fake news, children gunned down in churches, and more. There is a lot of material to work with during 2018.
Though if it were up to me, a woman raised with the same words, I would make it BeNice2.0 to make it clear they no longer mean, “Don’t ruffle feathers, don’t offend, don’t speak up.” We’re done with that, having discovered that it yields its flip side: anger, resentment, alienation, hurt feelings, etc. We don’t need enemies. We need collaborators, supporters, friends, critics who are willing to listen.
The other thing I like about BeNice2.0 is that it takes us beyond “be kind,” unquestionably a necessary and admirable life rule. To me, BeNice2.0, suggests a more active, engaging stance. Ask for what you need, point out unfair behavior, propose better approaches. Be active; #BeNice2.0