Hiding differences, denying individuality
A major plot line in "Dreamgirls" is that of mainstreaming. Manager Curtis Taylor Jr. is focused on success. His version of success is stardom, money and record sales. He pushes each character in different ways to give up or change aspects of themselves in the name of this goal - to varying results.
When played out on a stage the conflict is easy to see. The character of Jimmy repeatedly says "Jimmy got to have soul" while Curtis repeatedly takes the soul out of Jimmy's acts to get him into higher paying (whiter, more mainstream) venues. Jimmy eventually, mid performance, breaks out into himself and breaks down in front of the audience. In life, it's not always laid out for us so blatantly. And it doesn't have to be that blatant to be damaging.
There are big things that we all wear on our faces and skin and vocal cadence that we have no choice but to show. But there are invisible things that are just as much a part of us as our skin color, nationality or sex. And just because they can't be seen doesn't mean they aren't a major part of who we are and what makes us ourselves. Take a day in which you pay attention to how often you edit part of yourself that matters to you. Whether it's hiding your political leaning, your love of red meat, that you live in a certain neighborhood, like a certain type of music.
And it goes both ways. Take another day where you pay close attention to how you react to others. Are you unnecessarily or overly reacting to an opinion, style or approach that's different from yours? Are you shutting down an opportunity to see things differently by stopping the thought at the reaction that it's different?
I was guilty tonight. In interviewing people in line for the Muny's free seats, a 30-something black male, when asked to name his favorite Muny show of all time, replied "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." If you asked me to come up with the whitest show I could think of, I just might pull out "Seven Brides." I realized, in my moment of shock, that my shock was pretty lame. That my narrow view of what people might like "Seven Brides" was totally unfair to this guy, and that in reality perhaps some of the things I think I'm odd for liking aren't fair either.
The opportunity and richness that diversity offers any experience can only be realized if the differences are brought to the table. Mashed up. Exposed and expressed. Listened to and processed. And often, uncovered as not really differences at all.