Amanda Kemp tackles racial bias, envisions inclusion during Common Hour

By Amanda Leonard || Staff Writer

“I want to let you know from the get-go: this is not going to be a normal talk,” this week’s Common Hour speaker Amanda Kemp said.

The session started off not with a greeting, a statistic, or a quote, but a violin. Kemp, a racial justice mentor and performer shared a piece of spoken-word poetry entitled “Walking While Black,” which was accompanied by her husband and Senior Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music at F&M, Michael Jamanis.

In this piece, Kemp recounted an experience of taking a brisk fifteen minute morning walk in a middle-class white neighbourhood while wearing a black suede coat, perhaps the very same one that she wore on stage. She asserted that she had internalized the message that black, both the color and the racial tag, is dangerous and threatening. Eventually, she opened her coat so that the white family she saw wouldn’t think that she was hiding a weapon. She could not take a simple walk without practicing what she would say to the police and worrying about her black sons while “Trayvon Martin [sat] at the back of [her] consciousness.”

After this powerful opener that illustrated the ongoing and pervasive issue of racial bias in this country, Kemp invited audience members to share their thoughts on the piece, and invited people to step up to the microphone throughout the talk, not just in a Q&A at the end. Kemp also clarified that she wanted her common hour to, “…focus not on the problem but on what you can do” about it.

The first “thing you can do” that Kemp focused on was “cultivating your own vision of inclusion.” People should “envision what it would look like, sound like, feel like, to belong to an inclusive community.” With that, Kemp and Jamanis performed a second piece. This piece pulled together excerpts from one of the most well-known music compositions containing some of the most-well known historical quotes surrounding the issue of inclusion—or rather the lack thereof—over time. Kemp emphasized the cruel irony that almost exactly one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, “the negroes are not free,” and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered “I Have a Dream.”

In 2018, this statement still does not hold true. In a call for action, Kemp cries out that “we will never be satisfied” unless the issues of racialized police brutality, segregation, opportunity and educational gaps, and lack of representation are solved. Continuing the paradox, Kemp proclaimed, “I still have a Dream.”

Secondly, Kemp suggested that everyone in a system that is going through change, and especially those who “take a beating” as a result of activism work, commits to practicing self-care. As an advocate for mindfulness practices, she led the entire audience through a guided meditation, in which she encouraged them to breathe all the way from the bottoms of their feet to their chests. In doing this, she introduced the concept of creating relaxing and mind-clearing “holding spaces” throughout our day as we jump from one activity from the next.

Finally, she advised us to regularly and consistently check our own racial bias, but to do so in a self-compassionate way that allows for “rough drafts.” She suggested doing this outside of our own heads and in a community, where you can spend time getting to know different people and work towards a common good.

Yes, this was an extremely unique and interactive hour that was artistically enriched with the musical and poetic evidence. However, Kemp’s true aim was to illustrate how we can move past all of the talk about racial issues into enacting change in our everyday lives. It served as a follow-up to the Day of Dialogue, during which the F&M community engaged in thoughtful and often difficult conversation which uncovered the reality of what is going on both on campus and in the world right now. Now that these problems are better understood, we have to do something about them.

First-year Amanda Leonard is a Staff Writer. Her email is aleonar1@fandm.edu.

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