A More Equitable MayDay
Some folks are not sure what HOBT means when we say we have a problem with cultural appropriation, microaggressions, and a MayDay process that marginalizes artists of color. And we understand that most people watching the parade don’t see a problem that needs solving.
Though the first Sunday in May might look like a wildly diverse celebration, it has usually been at the expense of authentic relationships and inclusion with non-white communities. We are choosing to listen to and prioritize the lived experiences of IBPOC artists who tell us that they have felt marginalized by HOBT’s MayDay process.
We hope we can agree that Minnesota has some of the widest racial disparities in the country and that disparate treatment of people of color is built into our institutions. Even progressive people running progressive institutions get caught in the trap of maintaining old ways of doing things that maintain the old ways of doing things. Changing the world starts with changing ourselves.
What MayDay Artists Tell Us
HOBT's MayDay process brings together the work of up to 1,000 people to build a parade, festival and ceremony attended by tens of thousands on the first Sunday in May. Nearly every aspect of the parade and ceremony are built from scratch each year in a community build process that does not begin until April. Artistic creation of this epic scale in such a brief timeline fosters a sense of urgency that asks too few people to do too much work over too short a period of time, for too little compensation, particularly artists of color. The feverish pace of the work does not make time to address microaggressions, opaque decision making, and cultural appropriation. It also replicates systemic oppressions of unpaid emotional labor for women and femmes and communities of color.
We have heard from former MayDay artists who tell us:
"It's hard to establish trust when you are invited into a space and you think it's a genuine invitation to collaborate. You share your ideas, your culture and [then] you see these ideas implemented and put on display without referencing you, your work and your culture. When it happens over and over again, you don't want to go back."
"There was a toxic environment. There were micro-aggressions. I was overworked. Everyone else says, 'That’s the MayDay process'. We should do it with love, with care – not the way we really did it. I love this job, but I won’t be coming back. It’s not my job to explain to you what a micro-aggression is."
"[the MayDay Parade] hadn't genuinely made itself safe for people who aren't liberal in a white, South Side kind of way. ... There's a lot of work to be done around the soul and identity of this space that goes beyond mission statements”
We take these observed patterns seriously. The quotes shared here represent scores of comments from artists of color that were shared both throughout this summer’s Imagine MayDay Community Engagement Process and in MayDay Artist Evaluations year after year.
MayDay artists of color tell us that these dynamics are not unique to HOBT. These are the ways that White Supremacy Culture creates obstacles for people of color in other workplaces as well as in housing, education, and the justice system. HOBT did not invent White Supremacy, but we have been fostering it in our work in a way that is antithetical to HOBT’s values and have a moral obligation to dismantle White Supremacy embedded in HOBT's process and culture.
Excerpt from Corrie Zoll's Time to Change
I like to say that, if you sit on the curb and watch the MayDay Parade go by, you are likely to see a more genuinely diverse range of authentic cultural expression than you will see in any one place on any one day anywhere in this state or any state touching this one. We should all feel good about that. But if you go a couple of steps up the decision-making process, HOBT still has a very White decision-making structure. Voices of color are welcomed to the table but expected to quickly get on board with the way things have been done around here in the past (sometimes for decades).
New people are welcomed, but new ideas are not. HOBT has actually pretty good at recruiting new artists of color into the MayDay process. Those artists report feeling welcomed at first, and feeling like HOBT will be an artistic home for them. But then, two or three years later, those same artists leave HOBT feeling unwelcome, silenced, and - at worst - taken advantage of. Ironically, that diversity you see out on the street comes at the expense of artists of color feeling shut out of the decision-making process.
HOBT board and staff see the changes that are needed in the world around us, and the changes that are needed in institutions if we are to live up to our own promises of an equitable society. I see the best - the only - place to do this work is in ourselves and with our neighbors. In a very personal way, that is what it means to me to work in the heart of the beast. This is an opportunity to be honest about the ways in which we have allowed culturally White systems to harm people, and to use this time of transition to make meaningful change.
HOBT Culture Change Resources
HOBT has invested time and resources since summer 2017 to better understand ourselves as an organization and to identify what changes will be necessary to more authentically represent the communities present in HOBT’s core neighborhoods. You can read more about this work here.
Culture change takes time and commitment. We certainly do not claim to have fully addressed the issue, but staff, board, and artists have a shared understanding that only by fully embracing this work can we carry the organization forward. We do not pretend to be experts. Here are some of the resources we have engaged with to deepen our understanding and commitment to action.
- Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture Explores fifteen characteristics of White Supremacy Culture, how they show up, and what we can do to address them.
- Me & White Supremacy Originally a workbook, Me & White Supremacy is now in the process of being published. Me & White Supremacy leads readers through a journey of understanding their white privilege and participation in white supremacy so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on black, indigenous and people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.
- My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem My Grandmother's Hands invites each of us to heal the racial trauma that lives in our bodies.
- The Intercultural Development Inventory. Over the summer of 2018, all board and staff completed an Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) assessment and attended a one-on-one session with a certified IDI assessor to review assessment results and individual development goals.
- Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown In the summer of 2017, the HOBT board engaged in a training session to begin the process of understanding our own culture as individuals and as an organization as a way to better understand our relationship with other cultures. All board, staff, and MayDay artists were provided copies of adrienne maree brown’s EMERGENT STRATEGY, and participated in group discussions aimed at building common vocabulary around the change work we want to do together.
- HOBT’s January 2019 Equity Statement. Our full statement about HOBT’s work since 2017 to address White Supremacy Culture within our organization and find ways to authentically represent the communities present in HOBT’s core neighborhoods.