Christianity, Islam, Interpretive Dance
The service that I went to Sunday reminded me 1) how little I really know about Christian culture and 2) precisely why I'm not a Christian (always a good thing!).
On point one...
There was one segment of the service which consisted of "interpretive dance." This is aparently becoming more and more common in church services and some churches even have instituted dance ministries. I have no idea where or with whom this all started, but the performance at this particular service really surprised me. Two black boys were dancing/acting out a song about Jesus Christ. They were wearing "white face."
To me, the implications of these two black kids wearing white makeup were really uncomfortable -- ranging from an in your face commentary on the Unity service (yeah, we're all unified as long as we pretend to be white...) to a disturbing interpretation of the Christ story along the lines of white is good, white is pure, white is saved, I'm white... which, at least at certain levels, leaves our two black performers (and the black members of congregation) out in the cold.
Neither one of these interpretations seemed to be their intent, nor did the audience seem upset, so I assume they didn't see it the way I was feeling it. I did some looking around and one website interpreted the use of white face as saying the actors are dead to the world -- ie their eyes are on heaven -- and white is the color of death in all cultures. Another referenced the Poirot/mime tradition since the dance is wordless, and like a mime performance, tries to convey meaning through motion. A black acquaintance who used to do clowning said she always felt like the white face reminded people that nothing about her what white, that whatever whiteness they might see in her behavior was just a facade.
I doubt these kids were that sophisticated. And it appears to be a widely accepted trend:
Whatever their intent, the whole incident certainly made me think about sensitivity and hypersensitivity. Here I was, a white person, feeling disturbed about this white face, when a lot of black folks I talked to, and in the audience watching, didn't seem to be bothered by it at all. Sometimes, I think we can go overboard being too sensitive and read things into something that simply don't exist. And yet, it seems if you have to err, better to err on the side of over-sensitivity rather than under.
This issue always comes up around this time of year for me anyway, given Thanksgiving. On the one hand, I love the idea of Thanksgiving -- a celebration that people of different races, religions, with different languagesm, customs, and world views can live in harmony, helping each other live better lives and survive difficult times. And yet, I hate that the spirit of Thanksgiving was betrayed only a few short years after the event it commemorates. I deplore the treatment of Native Americans, the arrogance with which they were viewed, and the genocide perpetrated against them. As a Mayflower descendant, I am truly thankful that the pilgrims survived that winter, but I'm also stricken that my ancestors were part of the great western expansion that forced the native population from their homelands. And yet, I recognize that this is the way of mankind. Kingdoms are usurped by new kings, the visigoths invaded Europe, the Mongols sacked Baghdad.
Of course, there are other considerations as well. Since my kids aren't participating in other "american" holidays such as Christmas or Easter, I figure it's good to let them participate in this one, with a little consciousness-raising at the same time.
Nonetheless, I figure it's good for me, and for them, to feel a bit queasy about it, much as I felt queasy at the black face.
As for part two... That'll have to come tomorrow