Ali Barthwell: Understand and Surprise Your Audience
Ali Barthwell is the cofounder of WakandaCon, a fan and community driven, self-funded celebration of afrofuturism in pop culture, gaming and tech. Ms. Barthwell is a recipient of the Puma/LOL Diversity Scholarship and inaugural member of the Bob Curry Fellowship. As a writer, performer, and instructor, she teaches improv and writing at The Second City Training Center with her work as a TV critic, appearing on publications like Vulture and the A.V. Club. Wellesley College alumna, Ali has also been a writer for the game Cards Against Humanity, performer for The Second City Touring Company, and she appeared on shows like 'Easy and Win It All' on Netflix. You can find more about her work and the upcoming WakandaCon events visiting wakandacon2018.com.
"No one can play a white person better than a black person, a man better than a woman, a straight person better than a gay person. Because we have to learn how to be in those spaces and understand those people. That's satire.
— Ali Barthwell
— Ali Barthwell
Ali Barthwell (guest): Living as a person of color for me specifically living as a black person is an act of satire because we are forced to learn and repeat the views of people that don't like us, and we learn how to perform rights and traditions of people that don't like us or they're in charge and without that ability we would not be able to like get a job, we wouldn't be able to work if we couldn't learn and perform and mimic the views and opinions of others. I say no one can play a white person better than a black person. No one can play a man better than a woman. No one can play a straight person better than a gay person, because we have to learn how to be in those spaces and understand those people, that's satire.
Simone Salis (host): I am Simone Salis and this is The Hoomanist with today's guest Ali Barthwell. Ali Barthwell is the Co-founder of WakandaCon, a fan and community-driven self-funded celebration of Afro-Futurism in Pop Culture, Gaming and Tech. Ms. Barthwell is a recipient of the Puma-LOL Diversity scholarship and, an inaugural member of the Bob Currie Fellowship. As a Writer, Performer and Instructor, she teaches improving writing at the 2nd City Training Center with her work as a T.V. Critic appearing in publications like Vulture and the A.V. Club. Wellness College Alumina, Ali has also been a Writer for the game Cards against Humanity, performer for the 2nd city touring company and she appeared on shows like Easy and Win it all on Netflix. You can find more about her work in the upcoming WakandaCon events visiting wakandacon2018.com.
S. Salis: Ali, the name is WakandaCon?
A. Barthwell: Yeah.
S. Salis: Was the idea born after the movie or did you already have the idea and the movie kind of gave it to you...?
A. Barthwell: No, it was all from… after the film, my brother…so I’m planning with my brothers and then two other friends of ours, Lisa Beasley and Taylor Whitten and we had gone to see Black Panther about 6 times like as a unit.
S. Salis: That's why I wasn't able to go see it.
A. Barthwell: Right, because we had all the tickets, and after you know maybe our 3rd or 4th viewing David our older brother said WakandaCon. I don't know what it means, I don't know what it is yet but this is a thing that I want to do. And originally he tried to like pawn it off on Matt and I been like "here, you go do it", and I'll just like fund it and we were like, no, no, you're organizing this with us”. So, the first thing that we did was we built a landing page that just said WakandaCon coming Summer 2018, a little paragraph about what we wanted to do, and then a little form of put your e-mail down and for more information. And so we said if a 1000 people put their e-mail down then we'll start planning this thing, in the first week we had 9000 people signed up for more information.
S. Salis: I censored myself because my face was clear; my reaction was like "Holy"
A. Barthwell: Yeah, that was our, and that was funny because we put the page up and in the first couple hours like I shared it on my Facebook, I shared it on my Twitter and some like Facebook Affinity groups that I'm in. But you know I wasn't really doing anything and then there was like a just a shift turnover where suddenly it was getting shared hundreds of times from my page and then thousands of times just from my Facebook page, so like that one post had like 4000 shares on it by the end of the day.
S. Salis: It happens sometimes it goes viral.
A. Barthwell: Yeah, it’s truly just went viral, and then we sort of looked at each other and said, oh this has to be a real thing now. And originally it was supposed to be one day, but we're like if 9000 people showed up for one day or even half or a quarter of that; that’s going to be unsustainable. So, we decided to do a 3 day like more in the mold of like a Comic Con or C2E2 or something, and so we sort of have been building this thing as we go along and as we're recording it we're a week away. Our first event, we have a comedy show kick off next Thursday and then on Friday, August 3rd is when we like officially launch…
S. Salis: The official opening.
A. Barthwell: Yeah, the official opening.
S. Salis: And where is it going to be?
A. Barthwell: It's going to be at the Hilton Chicago, so its 728th South Michigan, it's across the street from Grant Park. We've sold I think now about 2000 tickets, and so we haven't, and that's also not including people that you know, I kind of joke that there's a natural skepticism after there were some other thing conventions that go through or you know just people not knowing who we are. So, I think people will see oh on Friday the event actually happened something was actually there and then there might be more people coming on Saturday for a full day of events.
S. Salis: Yeah, I think that's a fair assumption. So what did you plan for Saturday, the core of the event?
A. Barthwell: We have a lot of our partnerships that we've been working on with other arts groups or community groups, a lot of those are happening on Saturday, and so we're basically doing a half day on Friday, so the evening on Friday, the full day on Saturday and in the morning on Sunday. And so, Friday is a little more academic driven, we have a lot of academics coming to present their work and talking about things like how Afro-futurism and racism and black culture issues intersect with things like feminism and environmentalism. On Saturday, that's more of our pop culture focus day, so we have a lot of other creative, artists. Sunday is a sort of our community outreach and activist day, so we have activists from Flint coming to talk about their work. We have, we're doing a partnership with Bud Billiken which is an African-American culture parade here in Chicago, and so they're doing their coronation for their King and Queen on Sunday. And we're also having, there's a few black women entrepreneurs that are doing talks about using crowdfunding, leveraging your blackness to help scale your growth and using sort of the themes and the principles in the film and entrepreneurship and business. So, we kind of have a looking in, a creating day and then a looking out day.
S. Salis: Okay, how did you…? Here's the thing, you start with a joke with your brother.
A. Barthwell: Yeah.
S. Salis: And you put up a landing page…
A. Barthwell: Yep.
S. Salis: And then after that a few hours, thousands of people sign up…
A. Barthwell: Yep.
S. Salis: What is the reaction like, Ali's personal reaction, of course, there is excitement but then there is "I have to do it."
A. Barthwell: Yeah, we've kind of gone through these phases of, oh no this is all just a fluke, no one is going to show up, and then there was, oh no we have to do this now, we have to figure out how to build this thing together, and then there was the phase of well it has to happen now. And now, you know we're a week away, sort of having the feeling of like I just want to lie down again. Feeling, it is like I keep joking that I feel like I'm like 8 months and 3 weeks pregnant and I'm just like" Get this baby out of me" because it's been, like with us for so long and it's part and like eating spicy food and driving over train tracks like shake this thing out and you know we were just talking. I was talking with Lisa, one of the Producers, and we're saying, we haven't even entered the phase of what we're going to be doing on the day, so thinking about like, oh what shoes I'm going to wear? If I'm going to be on my feet running around all day, and what am I going to have to have in my like fanny pack with me? And then Lisa and I were like talking about well we're going to have to, we're not to be able to wear makeup because we're just going to cry all day, because it's going to be this like celebration and people coming up to us and telling us sort of what this event means to them. And l was like I'm going to cry, like the second I see like a big room full of people in their Afro-futurist garb or in their cause play, like all excited just to be there and sharing with other, like I was going to burst into full tears.
S. Salis: That must have been a wonderful sensation though because at some point you realize as an Artist, you already did a lot, but I'm going to say for the first time you have the ability to not just reach such an audience but to determine what to discuss with that audience and create a dialogue so there must have been a big factor I guess...
A. Barthwell: Yes; yes and sort of my role in our planning has been the curation and discovery of the panels but thinking about what kind of conversations are going to be productive in that space, how can we start with Black Panther, the film and go somewhere else with these conversations. So, it's not just you know we're going to sit in a room for 4 hours and talk about everything we love about Black Panther, which we could do and which we I have done. But the next step of seeing something like Black Panther, seeing how it resonated with people, how can we sort of take the conversations, and I sort of joked of like how do we bring black Twitter into a location, into a physical space. And also been that step of making sure that the people that are bringing these conversations are the right people and they are prepared and ready to sort of start this dialogue, and share in our value, so it's been a real like curation process and a lot of research and a lot of you know balancing.
We don't want too many things that are doing the same thing on the same day and looking at one hour of programming, and saying if you're into this you can go here, you can go here, if you're into this thing so I'm making sure there's a big range of some stuff. And there's of course topics that I had to lean on my brothers, you know like I'm not a huge tech person, that's just not been my interest and so my older brother has been running his own Graphic Design and Web Development Company since he was 16. So, he's been in a lot of these nerd techy spaces whereas I've sort of been like pop culture nerd spaces, so sort of coming together…
S. Salis: You compliment well.
A. Barthwell: Yeah, and making sure we're and my younger brother, he’s a Social Worker, so he's in a lot of activists spaces so making sure we're sort of hitting on all different kinds of topics and stuff like that.
S. Salis: I very much will probably have a different perspective on the movie than you had of course. What did it mean to you? You went to see it 6 times.
A. Barthwell: Yeah.
S. Salis: So, it must have meant something to you that was different from other movies, other superhero movies. Silly question but I want to Ali Barthwell, what you personally...
A. Barthwell: I have you know, and I sort of told the story before but joking about when I would be younger and with my brothers and we'd play video games or it's like alright let's all be Power Rangers with my friends, there was maybe one black character. That black character wouldn't often be a woman if there was a woman character she wouldn't be black or the things that were coded black or female like sometimes weren't even human. Like you know thinking about how often in Sci-Fi and fantasy in video games, the black or the person of color is coded as like an animal or like a monster, so thinking about, like the Orcs in Lord Of The Rings, like those, there's been a lot written of like that's a racist betrayal of people of color from a British person. So, they represent you know Africans or Indians or sort of like an amalgamation of these groups, and then going to see Black Panther and realizing there's 4 black women that I could pick and relate to and choose who matched my personality, and like what I wanted to be and you know so for me it was like looking at Shuri, I was like, oh I'm a little sister.
That was, I've never seen like a black little sister that was also smart and intelligent and fashion forward and you know even this image of like the hair and the makeup in the film, sorry I'm like getting all misty eyed thinking about it. But you know having this film for the first time or that I could really identify, I had gone to see all the Marvel movies, and I love the Marvel movies and I've seen all of the Lord Of The Rings movies and all the Harry Potters but there wasn't that range of portrayal of black people that I could like, oh this is the person I want to be. I can be Shuri because I like her not because she's the default, the only person I get to be. And then you know my younger brother was talking about with the film, there's a moment where they first go back to Wakanda after being there somewhere in Nigeria, the screen falls down and the image of the city like comes into view. And my younger brother says he cries every time he sees it and he had… and they said were home and sort of having that feeling of, those images of like this is a place that we never thought possible and seeing it on screen was so inspiring and when I was a kid, we did it in 3rd grade, I think this was 4th grade.
We did an Ellis Island project because we were talking about immigration into the U.S. and in the 1800's, and then the early 1920's and stuff, we all had to pick where our families were from and like do a project of like where your family emigrated from. And then at the end of the month, we had Ellis Island Day where our classroom became Ellis Island, and we all dressed up in traditional garb where we're from and immigrated into America. And half the kids were immigrants, and half the kids were Ellis Island employees and we like to talk about all the different stations, the eye tests and all these different things you had to do. And I asked my parents, I go "Where are we from?” and they just go "We don't know, we don't know, we have no way of knowing that, we have no way to figure that out". And I remember going to my teacher and saying, “ my parents said we don't know”. And I grew up, my brother and I grew up in the West Suburbs of Chicago, so we were a lot of kids were Irish, a lot of kids were German, a lot of Greek kids, a lot of Italian kids and so sort of like we don't know.
My mother said the best we know is West Africa because like that's what we know where slaves came from and our family came over during slavery and so my teacher just goes "Oh just pick a country in West Africa that you want to research for this project". But because there had been no like acknowledgment of like the black kids in the class, cannot do this project because they never immigrated. Most, the majority of black kids where I grew up were families that were descended from slaves, they were not recent, their families weren't recent immigrants of Africa or the Caribbean and so you know and thinking about Wakanda as this place, I was like now if I was as you know a 9 year old in that class I would go,“ well, I'm from Wakanda".
S. Salis: 15:17: I am Simone Salis and this is The Hoomanist with today's guest Ali Barthwell, Co-founder of WakandaCon.
S. Salis: Do you think that Afro-futurism is kind of an indication of this like being stripped of the roots and recreating like the future and the culture at least? We've indicated the ability to be able to do so culturally and psychological.
A. Barthwell: Yeah, and I think like the number one act of violence that can be done on a group is to strip them of their future, like to strip them of images of their future. And you know you think about things of like infant mortality in black families in America and you think about black women dying in childbirth like we're were ripping these families of their future. You think about police shootings and police brutality; we're ripping these kids and these adults of their future by limiting education where you don't have the tools to imagine your future or to participate in industries that might be the next step for a society. We're ripping these people, we're ripping my people from a future, from their future, so by having these images of people that look like us that are African are distinctly coded as black, appear as black, are black. All these things and being in a futuristic setting it can, just to see yourself is huge. Just to see yourself in the present is huge, and then to see yourself in the future or doing things that are futuristic I think is that next step of like to remind people, to remind ourselves that the future is coming but it cannot and will not exist without black people. Because we have been the past and we're the present, so there's no reason to believe we wouldn't be the future and it's just an affirmation of all that the future can hold.
S. Salis: In this view of the future, I think the key of imaging the future is hope to build something, that's what is dear to you but in this case but, you organized this with your family.
A. Barthwell: Yeah.
S. Salis: How many of you? How many of your siblings?
A. Barthwell: Me, my older brother Dave, my younger brother Matt and then I reached out to 2 of my girlfriends, who are Event Producers, Lisa Beasley, and Taylor Whitten, so two girlfriends of mine. So, our team is 5 people, you know, we're doing this; we keep reminding people like if your e-mail back takes a minute it's because there's 5 of us.
S. Salis: Yeah, and there's 5000 like versus 5, there is no like team for Marketing and PR.
A. Barthwell: Yup, our team for Marketing and PR is Lisa…
S. Salis: [18:04 cross talking]
A. Barthwell: She's our Media Relations, right.
S. Salis: You are here now organizing this, on the verge of getting this, letting this baby out and if one like 20 years ago, when you were a kid, told you, "what would you do? ", what was Ali's answer to that?
A. Barthwell: I wanted to be a Psychiatrist; like our, Dad is a Psychiatrist, and I just remember they're like, "oh my friends always ask me for advice, so I'll go do that". And that kind of lasted for a little bit and then they’re, you know to be a Fashion Designer or to be a, you know being a Writer like writing movies or something. And then I wanted to be like a teacher and like an English Teacher or something for a while but I kind of, you know that’s when you're a kid, and I think the first thing that kind of, I was like oh I'm going to take active steps to do this thing was Improv and Comedy. Which is its own non career sometimes. But that was the first time, and I was like, okay I'm going to kind of like devote myself to this and I really enjoyed theater in high school, and I did speech and debate. And then when I got to College I sort of found Improv because I was like "I don't want to learn lines, if I'm going to be doing all this homework, I don't want to learn lines for play, so I was like "Oh, its Improv" and I sort of fell in love with
S. Salis: Why?
A. Barthwell: I think like the best thing about it is it's play and I sort of say it's the one space where you're present and you're honest when like so many other places in our life we're taught not to be fully present and fully honest. And it's fun to be in a space where you can be anything like there's no limit to what you can create and you just, and that's just how well you sell it to the audience and the audience will come along with you on that journey of whatever you want to create. Yeah, my family, we've always loved to make each other laugh and we joke around and I also think that living as a person of color for me specifically living as a black person is an act of satire. Just all day every day because we are forced to learn and repeat the views of people that don't like us and we learn how to perform the like rights and traditions of people that don't like us or that are in charge. And without that ability we would not be able to like get a job, we wouldn't be able to work if we couldn't learn and perform and mimic the views and opinions of others.
And then there's a natural culture of mocking and parody and humor, and so sort of that thing of, I say no one can play a white person better than a black person. No one can play a man better than a woman. No one can play a straight person better than a gay person because we have to learn how to be in those spaces and understand those people, and then you know combine that with the natural you know playing the dozens and roasting and boasting, all like that's satire. There's so many things in black culture that were, and lots of other you know cultures of color where it's like they were mocking the colonizers or the white people or the oppressors and it became comedy, it became theater tradition. It became all this stuff so and then sort of finding it and having a name on it, like oh this is satire, I was like "oh shit, I've been doing that my whole life”, like that shouldn't problem. I got to get on stage and like talk at these white people and like make them like me and then surprise them with like a little more truth than they were prepared for. Like oh, that's what I've been doing this whole time.
S. Salis: In what you should not be forced to live since you grew up…
A. Barthwell: Right; right.
S. Salis: You ended up with an amazing tool.
A. Barthwell: An amazing skill, right. So I was like, that's like to me black people are so, you know, that's why we're so funny and so like so observant and able to pull these things because that's what we've been having to do forever.
S. Salis: Oh yes, [20:19 inaudible].
A. Barthwell: Yeah.
S. Salis: These comedians have, that's always true, even if you were in the second city, and the second city in the past 20 years I think it has been doing like at least an effort.
A. Barthwell: They've been trying; they’ve been trying.
S. Salis: They’ve been trying I mean, I've not been there long enough or I'm not a black person obviously, but they accent is [22:41 inaudible]. But that said they've been trying to make an effort but still you can feel that like now the teams are, like the companies are a little more balanced in diversity and genders and orientations and all of that, why if you go on stage the audience is always white…
A. Barthwell: The audience is always white.
S. Salis: Or from the suburbs.
A. Barthwell: On my last night with the touring company, I, you know you sort of make your little speech and you thank everybody and one of the things I did I go, “oh I want every black woman in here that's not related to me to make some noise” and I let it be silent for a full 30 seconds.
S. Salis: Just to let them feel the embarrassment for a second.
A. Barthwell: Just to let them know, yeah and I mean there is a comfort level that you have when you know you're performing for people that understand you because you can enter that shorthand so much quicker. Because humor is one of those things where you're constantly signaling who's in and who's out like that's one of the functions of laughter. You say something, certain people laugh, certain people don't. You're signaling you're part of my group, you're not part of my group and by manipulating that, you can expose certain things of you know I make a joke and only the women laugh, and the men don't like that's exposing a gap in something of the men's knowledge or experience they're not able to connect to the thing that I'm saying that's making all the women laugh. And so without a balance and diverse audience there's a whole chunk of my experience, my history and references that I don't get to use because I have to first educate the white audience to understand what I'm doing, and then get them to laugh at it, like I'm doing two kinds of work immediately, and you know you can’t just sort of present.
And so you present these things and it doesn't work and you sort of have to have that conversation of like, "did it not work because it wasn't funny or did not work because I'm in front of a bunch of white people" and then like what do I have to do in my work to get white people to like be on board. And it's just like it's an extra step, an extra ask that we have of the performers of color, that we have for gay, queer, trans, performers, you know we don't ask it, like for white women I know that is there in some way. But I think because male, female, like women, do this and men do this, is such a part of our like community like language that I don't know if it's there in the exact same way. But it is definitely you know doing things and the audience doesn't get that or this is scary or for going to like you know, touring, you're going to small towns in Wisconsin and Iowa where the demographics of the town are 90,95 percent white. And we go there all the time, so there are certain things that I just you know I knew I couldn't say or do on stage if I don't have another black person with me or if there's not a black person in the audience and it’s just like and it's an extra ask that we're making of those performers. And then you get, you know you're being, most of my career I've been directed by white people, and I love them and they're very wonderful and I had great relationships with them but again there's that extra step of like they don't intimately understand this thing.
S. Salis: Of course.
A. Barthwell: So, it's either, so at some point, I have to make it so that a white person understands it before it can even like get on stage and be judged if it's good.
S. Salis: Does that make you exhausted sometimes?
A. Barthwell: Yeah, oh yeah.
S. Salis: Because let me make this clear. I am not going to put it on the same level but I remember sometimes giving up with my straight friends in high school or in college, trying to expect that they would understand something from LGBT, gay, whatever. Different point of view from straight like, and at some point, it was like, but then you need it because I mean it's different for me because I don't have gay written on my forehead while the skin color is there. So, it was like if I had like the word gay tattooed on my forehead, and I don't and sometimes that is also a privilege of like white gay people.
A. Barthwell: Yeah, absolutely and I mean and I think it's understanding, and I do this with my students, I teach them understand what the audience assumes about you the moment that you step on stage. And with that set of assumptions, there's work that you are going to have to do or there's work that you're not going to be able to do or there's going to be an instant trust put in you that your other cast members aren't going to get.
S. Salis: More relatable.
A. Barthwell: You're relatable, you look like their kid. You're from where they're from, you know, you can you know, you got the references or whatever, and so I…but it's just, I think sometimes we don't, people don't acknowledge that when I step on stage, I have a different set of asks that I'm making of the audience and that the audience is making of me. And then you have to think about how do I live up to or not live up to those assumptions by the audience, and you know I grew up in the suburbs. I grew up with a lot of educational privilege, my family, we never had to struggle economically, you know, there were difficult times and moments but that was never sort of part of my childhood. And so when I step on stage as a black woman and this voice comes out and my set of references comes out of the growing up in the suburbs and going to, you know Liberal Arts Women's College on the East Coast, it's not what they're expecting.
S. Salis: There is a moment of crush…
A. Barthwell: Yeah.
S. Salis: You are adjusting the brain, where stereotype doesn’t [28:21 inaudible].
A. Barthwell: Yeah, the stereotype doesn't fit and I joke like sometimes and in private sketch, they expect that all the black women can like sing gospel and like that wasn't, I can't sing, I didn't go to like a church where that was the musical culture. But sort of, yeah, just that thing of like so then what happens if I don't live up to the expectations and assumptions and stereotypes the audience has? How can I play into them or teach them that; that's not who I am? And again it's like okay now I'm doing a whole another thing, I'm working with that and the stories that I'm telling are black stories because I'm black and they're my stories. But they're not what a you know a Mom from Stokie who's coming into the city and all she hears about black people in Chicago is shootings on the South Side, and I'm in there talking about like the Oak Park Library and like, you know whatever or the racism and sexism that I've experienced in these different other kind of space, that's not, like that super overt stuff. That is also a challenge and balancing the expectations and assumptions of the audience and you know there have been times where I fell I have to play up this certain type of blackness and it's like but that is not authentic to me. That is not, and to play that up in an effort to like be blacker is closing in what the narrative of blackness looks like and restricting it to things that might be stereotypical or focusing on the tragedy. And so now I'm creating like tragedy porn of the black experience for a white audience that doesn't understand that I grew up in the suburbs and went to school with their kid, you know. I went to school with kids that are probably their kid's age but they don't, that's so it's like again balancing, I think it's just an extra piece of work, an extra ask on me that is not there for my white counterparts.
S. Salis: I am Simone Salis, and this is The Hoomanist. You can listen to this conversation again on your favorite podcast app or visiting hoomans.ist. Today's guest is Ali Barthwell; Performer, Writer and Co-founder of WakandaCon.
I'll just like this to explain to myself. You're playing with an extra rule, you have the game of doing a job or the game of living your life and you have an extra rule that other people don't have even in doing something funny. But you're turning it into a tool, you're turning, like you were talking about the divergence of gap between men and women and the expectation of what they see and then what they find relatable or not. And, you go like once I know that consciously then I can use it and understand what I want from an audience and how I want to communicate with them and you also teach that to students.
A. Barthwell: You know, and I teach my students of color like their, you know what the stereotypes are, you've heard them, they've been said to you, you now own them and that is a tool that only you can use because you're an expert. And I start teach my students you know, playing with race, playing with gender on stage, they're all tools, but some of them are cranes and steamrollers and proton colliders and some of them are screwdrivers, and hammers. And the screwdrivers and the hammers we all can pick up but when it comes to the cranes and the proton colliders, my students of color, my female students, my gay students, they're born at power drill. You know, they're walking in with the power drill set of knowledge, they have that license…
S. Salis: [32:19 cross talking]
A. Barthwell: Yeah, and so it's letting them know, you can start experimenting with that, I got to get everybody else up to power drill and like helping them see that this is a gift to them, that their gender, their race, their sexuality is not a liability on stage. It's a gift; it's a tool that only they can use and then teaching the white students, here's how you support your classmates who are women, who are people of color, who are queer people. Here's how you support, that they want to use these tools but you're not there yet, you got to learn how to support that. And part of that is sometimes teaching those white kids, like you're going to play a racist because if somebody wants to do a scene about racism and you have a, you know, an Asian woman in your class or a Latino kid, like they might need somebody to play the racist, so how do you play that?
S. Salis: I love that you are…
A. Barthwell: Right, or is it, you know…
S. Salis: It is.
A. Barthwell: If all the women in the class want to do a scene about feminism, one of the guys might have to play a misogynist, and knowing and teaching those students and this is sort of more at the upper levels but like we don't have to save or redeem the racist or the misogynist in the scene because the hero isn't that person. We can relate to them because we know people like them but we should not make them the hero. They can be relatable; they don't have to be likable. they can be a person but we don't have to humanize them. Teaching those students also, the white students or the male students like how to do that? How to play those bad people it's a another bit, it's a like probably the first big ask that might be made of them beyond you're going to get on stage and talk without script. And so wanting to sort of help them with that is something that I'm like I don't know if we address enough because so many of the other our audiences are white and a lot of our teachers are white, our directors are white, other writers are white. So, there's this urge to like humanize or make them the likable racist, the likable misogynist, we were humanizing the people that voted for Trump when they knew what they were voting for. When that may not be the, like I don't know if that's the way to convert people's hearts and minds but humanizing, making people of color, women, trans people, queer people heroes might do a bit more. And that's going to make the women, the people of color, the queer and trans people, make them feel seen and make them feel appreciated and that they're contributing rather than having to do the scene that you pitched about racism that is now about making the racist likable or making them have the transformation.
S. Salis: Isn't this is going to be very simplistic? I'm going to say I promise…
A. Barthwell: Yeah.
S. Salis: Isn't it just an excuse that has been used as a tool to manipulate the difference in race, especially the difference in race? It's just, it is very real for people I understand that there is an actual consequence in the real world…
A. Barthwell: Yeah.
S. Salis: But at high level, isn't that a very simple tool used to divide people on the basis of something that doesn't really matter?
A. Barthwell: Yeah, when I think they sort of say, we can be different if the difference doesn't matter.
S. Salis: Okay.
A. Barthwell: A giraffe and a goldfish are different but we don't use the difference between those two things…
S. Salis: To discriminate.
A. Barthwell: To discriminate, to make moral judgments, to make one better than the other, they just are different things; they just are different things. You know, we can look at people saying living in New York and living in L.A. are different, and there's culture in those cities, there's rights and traditions and norms in both of those places but we don't sit here and say that's cause for discrimination or that's bad or we have to make one more like the other.
S. Salis: Yeah; yeah.
A. Barthwell: And, so for me, it's like I don't know what my blackness has to do it anybody else. S. Salis: Yes, that’s the point. Like why does anybody else care?
A. Barthwell: Yeah.
S. Salis: It sounds naive probably, especially for a person doesn't have to do that but that is true with that; that is true with trans people, like I don't understand, like it’s just literally I don’t want to like that person wants to do something with their body, how does that influence me at all…?
A. Barthwell: And I think what makes people really uncomfortable is when marginalized people feel pride. That makes people really; really uncomfortable because, for a lot of reasons, and one is just if you were taught that this group of people is below you, beneath you, they're not fully human, why would they have pride? And you don't understand that. If I'm taught my whole life that gay people or bad, gay people are different and I should be afraid or ashamed of them and they feel pride, why do they do that? And that confusion turns to anger really quickly if you are in power, confusion turns to anger really quickly. And then I also think black people, specifically black people of like, we're able to constantly define and change and shape our traditions, our cultures, our norms, our rights of passage because they were stripped of us. Like, I wish I knew more about specifically where my family was from so that I could reconnect to a lot of those cultures and traditions and like I said at that 3rd grade class like bringing a food.
Like one of the things was like bringing a food from where you're from like I'm from Illinois like I'm from Chicago. And I think seeing black people define their culture and make choices about it and say this is the thing that defines us and it is important to us when white culture, in making itself the norm, has made itself the default and made itself universal. Like that can be really confusing and scary for people, and black people able to look at how white, black people, people of color, scholars, whatever looking at how whiteness was created and constructed to maintain…
S. Salis: A status code.
A. Barthwell: A status code, to maintain power and then marginalize people looking at it and being like this is white culture, this is what white people do, we're going to generalize you the way that you generalized us and not even generalizing in a bad way, we're just saying like this is the culture. These are the values, these are norms that we see repeated and white people being like, I thought we didn't have, I thought it was just normal, and again that questioning, that defensiveness from white people turns to anger really quickly when they could just be chill. They could just be chill and like let us have our stuff and the same way that I see, you know, that St. Patrick's Day is a specific, it's an Irish thing, why is St. Patrick's Day for everybody? Why do I got to participate in your St. Patrick's Day nonsense? When I am perfectly fine not wearing green being at my house, whatever and it's like there couldn’t be a better of like… I remember one year I went out to St Patrick's Day, and I didn't have green and I got pinched by a stranger like is that not a better metaphor of like, you didn't assimilate to this thing that we told you was important, so now we're going to like touch you. And I’m like, what if I did the same in any other instance if someone didn't participate or understand some black tradition. I'd be a crazy person, and if I have to, and I start to know everything of these other holidays, and if I had to know when St Patrick's Day is so I don't get pinched in the street, you all need to step up.
S. Salis: Or shut up, just listen.
A. Barthwell: It's a lot, we carry a lot.
** S. Salis**: One more thing before we go, you also worked for and I'm scared of asking you this, Cards against Humanity.
A. Barthwell: I did, I did work for Cards against Humanity.
S. Salis: What did you do? Are you one of the people that, how do you write the cards? Did you write the cards? What did you do?
A. Barthwell: I was in the writer's room, and I…
S. Salis: Which cards did you write?
A. Barthwell: I wrote, I have cards in the Sci-Fi pack, the Mass Effect pack, the College pack, the Period Pack.
S. Salis: We have Sci-Fi and College pack, right here.
A. Barthwell: Yeah, I'm probably forgetting a couple but starting with the Sci-Fi and the Mass Effect pack, and then…
S. Salis: Okay, what is the process?
A. Barthwell: So, we basically had to, on your own you had to generate 40 cards a week.
S. Salis: That's a lot, like for white cards or black cards? Let's explain, white cards are the fill in the blanks which like everybody ...
A. Barthwell: Yes, so the black cards are the questions or the blanks, and the white cards are the answers or what fills in the blanks.
S. Salis: For example, I was given the Bright pack at the Color Test in Chicago, and I pulled a black card right away and it was like we are here then blank, which was supposed to be we are queer, we're here to stay get used to it.
A. Barthwell: Yeah.
S. Salis: And then I picked the white card and it was older fitness gays…
A. Barthwell: Yes
S. Salis: So, the result we're here, we're older fitness gays, we're here to stay…
A. Barthwell: Get use to it.
S. Salis: Get use to it.
A. Barthwell: Right, yeah.
S. Salis: So, you wrote those?
A. Barthwell: We wrote 20 black cards and 20 white cards a week, and then in our meetings, we would basically go through our big collection of all these cards that people had generated over the week. We would test them out, we punch them up, we'd rewrite them, we would write in our meeting. So, sometimes in your meeting, you might generate as a group another 50 year, 100 cards and then we would go off on our own, so again you might generate another 20 to 50 cards on your own in a meeting and then, yeah, we would test them out. We would have to go play test the cards sometimes, so we would have like all of our ideas and you'd go take them to, you find a group of people, it's like you have to get 6 people together, you'd buy them pizza and then we would watch them play a game and we'd have to take notes.
S. Salis: Did they give you money to buy the pizza?
A. Barthwell: Yes they did.
S. Salis: So, let me recap this job, I don't know how much it paid but you got to write half one liners of jokes…
A. Barthwell: Yes, have some jokes
S. Salis: Shared with a roomful of comedians.
A. Barthwell: Yeah.
S. Salis: Then your job is to go, play a game, buy some pizza and go back to tell the jokes again
A. Barthwell: And then tell them well this joke worked and this joke didn't.
S. Salis: Okay, and that pays bills?
A. Barthwell: It attempted to.
S. Salis: It tends to go towards…
A. Barthwell: It’s an accumulation of multiple things.
S. Salis: It pays half of the Internet and half of the…
A. Barthwell: Basically.
S. Salis: You know, there is still pizza in it.
A. Barthwell: Yeah; yeah; yeah.
S. Salis: Ali, thank you so much.
A. Barthwell: Yeah
S. Salis: WakandaCon is going to be from August 3rd to August 5th…
A. Barthwell: Yes.
S. Salis: In Chicago at the Hilton. There are still tickets even though you sold thousands.
A. Barthwell: Yes, there's still tickets available. We're expecting walk-ups, and we're prepared for that but get your ticket in advance.
S. Salis: Okay, thank you so much for being a guest today on The Hoomanist.
A. Barthwell: Of course, thank you.
S. Salis: Ali Barthwell is the Co-founder of WakandaCon, a celebration of Afro-futurism and black culture in a society that strip African Americans of their past, she's a Writer, Performer, and Comedian. Teaching her students how to use stereotype on gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation as a tool of growth for themselves and for their audiences.
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