I’ve never been a big fan of synopses—especially if the synopsis is lengthy and appears in a program for a play in modern English. I, as it happens, understand contemporary English very well as it is the language in which I speak, write, and think.
Opera in Italian? Sure, why not. But a play in English for an English-speaking audience? Not a fan.
But that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be synopses in programs for English-speaking plays. If I see one, I generally just—get this—turn the page. It is not for me to say who in my community requires a synopsis. And if it makes the play more interesting for that person, who am I to judge? Why should anyone?
So why do some board members, executive directors, and other nonprofit arts folks feel so empowered as to speak for those people in their own community who do not share their background, experience, and, let’s face it, their privilege? Not only empowered, but confident in their opinion about “those people.”
I was speaking with an educator recently who bemoaned the face that his middle school had just adopted a new DEI policy. Yet, when it came to sending email to parents of kids whose families not only did not speak English, but had specifically asked to be sent information in their own language on the school’s annual questionnaire (a state requirement), the staff balked at the 15 second process of running the email through Google Translate because, “the administration said that ‘those people’ would be offended, and how can we force them to learn English if we’re capitulating to their needs?”
I guess they didn’t read the definition of equity, or understand that equity is “about each of us getting what we need to survive or succeed—access to opportunity, networks, resources, and supports—based on where we are and where we want to go.” Acts of equity allow everyone to reach their best self given the individual obstacles that stand between what is and what could be.
If that obstacle requires a synopsis, fine—do it. If it requires a letter from school translated into broken Spanish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Mandarin, or Arabic, fine—do it. If the receiver doesn’t want to view it, will they complain? Or will they just turn the page? And if a receiver can’t read that letter and you put the onus on them to solve the problem, will they (or their children, in that teacher’s case) reach their best self, or just be isolated into yet another group of “those people?” By now, you’ve seen this image. I used it when discussing the difference between equity and equality.
You’ve probably even seen a third variation where the fence is taken down entirely, with the caption “JUSTICE,” noting that the systemic barrier had been removed.
If you care about your community, you have to serve them on their terms, not yours. It’s as bad as unskilled teachers who declaim their lessons to their students, thinking that just because they said words out loud, that constitutes teaching.
In education, the object isn’t teaching. It’s learning. Teachers are there to serve the student, especially when the student already has barriers to learning. Not the other way around.
In the nonprofit arts sector, the object isn’t presentation. It’s about contextualizing life. Nonprofit arts organizations (both visual and performance) are there to serve the community, especially when the community already has barriers to life. Not the other way around.
I’m fatigued by those who claim that this new world of diversity, equity, and inclusion is tiring and takes too much energy. Your board members and staff don’t think of themselves as today’s Archie Bunkers, but too often, they are. To those among us who continue to believe that DEI initiatives are inconvenient, tough tacos.
If you don’t understand what that means, I’d be happy to provide a synopsis.
This is a taco.
Using the alliteration of “tough” ahead of the “taco” (which, incidentally, is a delicious Mexican dish composed of various meats, vegetables, cheeses, or other items folded into a tortilla, often with a sauce) has nothing whatsoever to do with the food item. Instead, it is a euphemism for a bawdier phrase that has been deemed impolite for public use. Generally, then, “tough tacos” is a phrase that implies that the listener’s viewpoint is, in this particular case, invalid, and should be dismissed entirely.
If you didn’t need to read that, were you offended by its inclusion? I didn’t think so.
Based in Kirkland, Washington, Alan Harrison is a writer and speaker specializing in nonprofit organizations, strategy, the arts, and life politics. His columns appear regularly in major publications. Contact him directly at email@example.com.
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Alan is always looking for good opportunities to write and consult for nonprofits that need a hand. And, of course, that elusive Perfect Opportunity™.