Despite what I’ve titled this, let’s remember: the pandemic isn’t over yet. Much of the populace is still under-vaccinated (right now, I think the AZ stats say ~41% of people who are eligible have received one or more doses, with no clear count of how many of those people are fully vaccinated), and the Delta variant threatens to send us back to virtual learning in the fall if districts and states alike continue to be callous and eliminate masking and social distancing guidelines. (Or, you know, the government will keep us in person and let people die.) Personally, I don’t expect to be doing much—if any—live performing for the rest of the year at least, especially if my in-person assignments remain in place and I’m coming in and out of shared teaching spaces four days a week.
But gigs are starting back up again, for better and for worse, and as steady performances loom on the horizon, negotiations and conversations about ethics and access will be kicking up again. Hopefully in earnest, but we’ll see. When we left our regular artistic schedules as the pandemic hit, venues and gatekeepers alike were continuing to abuse their power to lock the most marginalized performers out of gig opportunities while further entrenching themselves within organizations in dire need of reform. No single individual will be able to take all of that on—but I’m tired of asking nicely for my less-marginalized peers to join me in aiding our more- and differently-marginalized friends and colleagues. I’m tired of going to gigs that are entirely white and cishet. And as we’re considering how we’ll change our artistic practices as we return to performing life, I want to make sure I’m not actively contributing to that anymore, even if the people I used to hang out with aren’t as invested.
I’ve spent the past several weeks compiling a list of resolutions for myself—things that will affect who I am as a teacher, performer, community manager, and composer. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and I fully expect I’ll be adding to and refining it as I go. These are the parameters I’ll be placing around my participation in artistic endeavors, both on my own and with others.
- Diversify all the supplemental materials I use in my teaching; given I currently teach so much about genres with roots in Black American Music, especially prioritize queer, trans, and disabled Black scholars, adding in sources by other marginalized voices where I’m unable to supplement with Black scholarship.
- Be especially mindful of where less-marginalized and not-marginalized voices both in my classrooms and my sources may speak over, misrepresent, marginalize, and/or diminish intersectionally marginalized voices (both other scholars and students).
- Continually update my slides with better, more compassionate, more correct vocabulary and phrasing. Mindfully edit all slides at least once a semester to check for microaggressions and points that need correction/clarification.
- Seek out queer, Black, and Indigenous figures in every subject to actively counteract their intentional erasure. Teach my students that their identities and positionally are important because they directly shape their experiences of and contributions to the world.
- Find Black and Latine experts to bring into my Hip Hop classes especially, and advocate for appropriate funding to pay them for their time and expertise.
- Craft trumpet and composition curriculum that uses repertoire from a diverse collection of composers, performers, and styles. Improve this every semester, even if I am not teaching.
- No gigs in which I am the token minority (as far as the bandleader/hiring person is aware).
- No hired gigs that pay over $50 with zero performers of color in the ensemble. Where possible (and safe), recommend performers of color for the spot I’m being asked to fill.
- I will not participate in panels or similarly-structured events of all white people; when I do participate, I will keep an attentive ear focused on how my differently-marginalized colleagues are treated, and I’ll support them as best I’m able.
- Starting in summer 2021, for every piece I buy (for myself or to add to my pedagogical rep) or learn that a white cis man wrote, I will buy/learn one or more written by a composer of color.
- I will not play gigs that wheelchair users couldn’t attend and/or play at. (Note for Phoenix locals: this locks me out of the Nash, because their stage is not accessible (and their seating has very limited accessibility).)
- I will not put on concerts I control that program predominantly cishet, white, abled men. Though I don’t do a lot of concert organizing presently, over the next few years I aim to be curating concerts that are vastly diverse across many axes of oppression—every time.
- I will not hire people who I know harm/punch down at marginalized peers, colleagues, and/or students. This is already a pretty standardized part of my practice, but I want to put it in writing because many of my white, cishet, male colleagues do not engage in this practice.
- Pay attention to who I am speaking highly of, and ensure I am sticking up for and vocally supporting my marginalized friends at least as much as I support my privileged friends (across many axes of oppression).
- Never say “ladies and gentlemen” at a gig again, and if I accidentally do, extend it to be explicitly inclusive of folks who are nonbinary, agender, and gender-expansive.
- Call people on their language—racist, misogynist, misogynoir, homophobic, transphobic, transmisogynist, transmisogynoir, ableist, xenophobic, etc. Folks reading this, get used to the idea of me saying “find a better word.”
- Invite everyone when community events or large gatherings are happening. Think critically about who I and other community managers/contributors are forgetting when we say “everyone,” and start actively including those people, too.
- Actually cultivate friendships (when appropriate) with the marginalized people around me, not just business relationships.
- Advocate with venues for a flat minimum pay rate and consistent venue promotion, including on social media. Don’t go fishing for gigs at venues who don’t do this. (Again: not going to be playing the Nash anytime soon.)
- Advocate for and request continued live streaming to facilitate and maintain increased accessibility for those who are unable to travel to a venue, especially for conferences, clinics, and similar events. (This does not replace the wheelchair accessibility bullet point in my Performing section; this is specifically to facilitate access for people who may not be able to leave their home and travel to the venue, and for whom travel is prohibitively expensive.)
- More actively listen to, discuss, and promote the work of marginalized composers and generative artists broadly, especially composers, improvisors, and creators of color working in sound/artistic practices similar to my own.
- Make sure other marginalized creators, especially Black and Indigenous creators, are seeing the same good opportunities I’m exposed to.
- Invest in music by composers and artists of color (soft goal for the next year: at least 60% of my total spending on sheet music, scores, recordings, etc. should go directly toward creators of color).
- Actively learn more about Black American improvised music, so I can better understand the artistic practices of any Black students I may have in the future and help connect them with artists like them, should they be lacking community.
- Continue to advocate for and promote opportunities, events, organizations, and artists doing important anti-racism work, and learn from their policies and actions.
Not all of these are going to apply to everyone—the white, allocishet men I spend much of my time around would not apply the “accept no gigs where I am the token minority” option, for instance—but the vast majority of these points are broadly applicable for many of us, especially if you’re white. Some of these commitments mean I will be speaking intently with bandleaders about who’s in the band, and depending on the circumstances, they might mean I’m turning down gigs, recommending others to take my spots (if they’re willing/interested), and steering clear of venues who refuse to make structural changes to support marginalized performers and audience members alike.
We all have a responsibility to be actively, intersectionally anti-racist in our artistic practices. If these commitments sound like something you could do (especially if they sound like they’d make you a little uncomfortable and ask you to reevaluate your contributions to cisheteronormative white supremacy), sign on. Tweak the ones that don’t apply to you. Add things I’ve overlooked. But commit to doing better actively, not just when it happens to be convenient.
And when these commitments inevitably start some hard conversations, count me in.
Thanks for reading! If you learned something from this post and would like to tip me, head on over to my Ko-fi page. For more analysis and commentary like this in your life, come back every Saturday at 8pm MST. To support the long-term work I do as an artist and advocate, you can find me on Patreon and @honestlyeris on Instagram.