I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for Hamilton: An American Musical on repeat for the last three weeks. For those that know me well, this is actually surprising. Although I have a background in the performing arts with a degree in theatre, I’ve never been one to obsess over musicals. I just haven’t. I’ve never seen Rent or listened to the soundtrack. I’ve never seen Wicked, The Book of Mormon, Oklahoma, or The King and I. (Yes, that includes the movie versions for the last two.) For whatever reason, I took the dive into this one, and the more I listen to it, the more brilliant of a piece of theatre it reveals itself to be. It could very well be the greatest piece of theatrical artistry in my lifetime. The writing, the vocal performances, the music, the plot lines, everything.
From my lower-middle class perspective, many people attend these sweeping trends of theatre to keep up with the Joneses and have some fodder for water cooler conversations. They still appreciate it, but there is still the possibility that they attend such an event for show. You know, swanky crushed velvet blazer, ascot, and a dry martini during intermission for the VIPs in the box seats. With my theatre background, I look and listen for so many different things in a production. Hamilton blows everything I’ve ever heard or read, play or musical, out of the water. The level of artistry given to so many aspects in that show is phenomenal. The musical themes assigned to different characters and dynamics. The intricacies of the lyrical genius Lin-Manuel Miranda brings to the stage. The mastery of the performances to wield Miranda’s writing. The stories illustrated by the team based on the biography by Ron Chernow.
This musical doesn’t just cover the historical milestones of its title character, it offers multiple perspectives of those around him personally and professionally. It doesn’t seem like Miranda dilutes or “Disney-fies” the story (I have yet to read Chernow’s book), and even with the jumps that are made chronologically, the writing is strung together masterfully whether you’re focusing on the story of Hamilton, Burr, Angelica or Eliza Schuyler, or the evolution of our nation’s political or financial systems.
Corruption in financial systems has been a huge topic in the last few years, especially now in this election year. Hamilton’s relevance to 2016 pop culture in the United States is multi-faceted, possibly more than most realize. I’ll come back to Ham later.
I didn’t know how else to jump in, but that’s what’s sitting in the front of my mind. I’m scared.
Typically I try to focus my blogs on a specific topic, but things are happening too quickly and they’re accelerating at higher rate than…”normal.”
When I got home this evening, I heard about the sniper-style shooting of the police officers in Dallas. A white Facebook friend shared the breaking news story with the comment “Where’s the outrage?” I resisted the urge to say, “THIS REACTION IS PART OF THE REASON WE STILL HAVE A PROBLEM.”
But I didn’t. I tend to take a breath and keep scrolling instead of engaging folks via social media. Face to face discussions I’m more than open to having, but online, not so much.
Murder is never the best answer. It is an answer for too many, but it is NEVER the best answer. The deaths of humans who also happened to be officers is senseless, but unfortunately, the act of outrage and lashing out in reaction to the senseless deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the victim from the Piedmont Park Hanging is…and I hesitate to say this…but it’s understandable and well, to be blunt, expected and in some fashion, warranted.
I’m not here to say “Fuck the police” or anything of the sort. I hold a great respect for first responders and law enforcement just as I do those in the armed forces. I don’t personally believe that the killing of the Dallas police officers is right, but I can see where the shooters justified themselves.
Michael Brown: Ferguson, Missouri.
Eric Garner: Staten Island, NYC, New York
Alton Sterling: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Philando Castile: Falcon Heights, Minnesota
I am not a forensic scientist, lawyer, or eye-witness.
I was not in Ferguson, Staten Island, Baton Rouge, or Falcon Heights. I was not in Piedmont Park, Atlanta when the hanging occurred.
I was not at the Dallas protest where the officers were shot.
And right now, there are people saying, “Those officers in Dallas didn’t kill Alton Sterling or Philando Castile, why are you taking out someone else’s mistakes on innocent people?”
Why are innocent black men being murdered?
Why are innocent Muslims on American soil getting attacked for the actions of ISIS all over the world?
Why are members of the LGBTQ community being attacked and murdered?
There is no singular answer for this, but to me, in what many may identify as being naive or privileged or whatever, but to me…I believe it is because they are scared. The oppressors and assailants do what they do to the victims because they are scared. And instead of choosing to love and listen and learn, they lash out.
And now for something closer to home.
Last week I attended an event at the Civil Rights Heritage Center in South Bend to discuss hate crime legislation and the #JusticeForJodie movement.
In January of this year, Jodie Henderson was murdered in his home town of South Bend, Indiana. A black, gay, veteran who died as a result of the actions of another human.
At this event last month, tn the room, along with reporters from three different local TV stations, there were plenty of family members, both local and coming in from as far as Kentucky and Rochester, NY. There were many members of the LGBTQ community, and some like myself, who have no familial ties or connections to this case, or this victim’s family.
I attended for two reasons:
1. This is a movement of social justice in the community I call home, and I wanted to learn more.
2. Jodie Henderson is a veteran.
There were several speakers at the event, including a member of the SB Common Council, Oliver Davis, and the Executive Director of the LGBTQ Center, Eli Williams. Among the remarks shared by Williams, Davis, and the other panelists, one of the things that resonated with me the most was Eli Williams saying that this fight belongs to all of us. It’s true. We all have someone or somewhere we connect, identify, and anchor ourselves with, and it’s up to us to decide how we represent that and ourselves.
Jodie Henderson deployed to Iraq and was blessed enough to be one of the soldiers that was able to come home. To the country that he risked his life for while he served overseas. And this country that he fought for and served is where he was murdered. His murder is being identified as a hate crime, specifically in regards to his identifying as a homosexual male.
Indiana is one of five states that are without hate crime legislation. The other four are Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Wyoming. When tweeting out that fact during the #JusticeForJodie event, a white male commented on the associated Facebook post that it’s essentially unnecessary and that “murder is murder” regardless of what the motivation is, and the defendant should be tried as such. Right. That implies an equal treatment. So when Dylann Roof, a white male who shot up a black church in South Carolina gets escorted away while he walks on his own two feet, or is given a bullet proof vest to wear when being transported, that’s equal treatment, right?
Or when Facebook profile photos offer filters to show solidarity with Paris or Brussels, but not with Istanbul or Baghdad, that’s equal, right?
Maybe I should have said this earlier, but I’m not white. Nor am I black. I’m a first-generation American of Filipino descent, disabled Navy veteran. Both of my parents emigrated from the Philippines, and over the last three decades and I have learned behaviors, discarded behaviors, questioned attitudes and beliefs, tested them, smashed them, owned them, learned more, and discarded others. I will never be able to tell you first hand about “the black experience,” or white privilege (which is a real thing, and I’m not budging on this one).
But what I can tell you is that I’m scared. I’m scared that the mob mentality will grow with blinding acceleration and overpower the desire to listen, learn, and love. I’m scared that this election year will continue to fan the flames among the American people. I’m scared that because I am neither white nor black, and that I am even a minority among Asians, that I don’t have a safe place.
I can tell you that anger is a truthful, valid, secondary emotion, and that it is powerful in whatever vein it is channeled through.
I tweeted this earlier today:
Adhering to the 140 character limit of a tweet, I knew there was a potential response that I was ready to address. it came up later on my Facebook feed. A white, male friend of mine asked about the “take action” portion I punctuated. Put simply, it’s a charge to move past those who “only” offer their “thoughts and prayers” and don’t follow up or complement their prayers with actions. The actions I want to carry out and hope to see being carried out are rooted in love, respect, and education. Love your neighbor, listen to their concerns, learn from the situations. Repeat.
My time as an active duty servicemember passed years ago, but that does not mean that I’m hands off and don’t have any fight left in me. I can still take a stand. I can still raise my voice. And that is what I intend to do. Whether it is about #BlackLivesMatter, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, immigration, education, abuse, mental illness, or anything. I will not remain silent. That time is over. I was raised to be silent. I made a decision in the 8th grade not to be silent anymore. And there is no time like the present to stand with my neighbors, fellow citizens, Americans, HUMANS to fight in the ways that I can for the fight that really is all of ours.
Alexander Hamilton was many things, but he is frequently commended for his ability to write. This is what I hear the most when I listen to the soundtrack. His cannon was his quill. His battleground was parchment. His warzone was the world. He was often asked, “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”
“As long as he can hold a pen, he’s a threat.”
-Jefferson, from “The Adams Administration” in Hamilton: An American Musical
“I wrote my way out of hell.
I wrote my way to revolution.
I was louder than the crack in the bell.
I wrote Eliza love letters until she fell.
I wrote about The Constitution and defended it well.
And in the face of ignorance and resistance,
I wrote financial systems into existence.
And when my prayers to God were met with indifference,
I picked up a pen, I wrote my own deliverance.”
-Hamilton, from “Hurricane” in Hamilton: An American Musical
I’m not throwing away my shot. And just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry. And so I will continue to write. I refuse to stay silent. I will not be like Aaron Burr who refuses to let people know where he stands.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” -Desmond Tutu