I was chatting with a few friends over coffee last week. As we discussed what we are currently working on, one of the friends mentioned that she loved my recent piece “13 Seconds”, but was curious as to why I dedicated it to Representative Omar, given the fact that she had made antisemitic statements.
I was really happy that she asked the question, because I was aware of the statements and went back and forth about it myself. I explained that there were a couple of reasons why I finally decided to dedicate the piece to her.
The first reason for the dedication had less to do with the person and more to do with linking the origin of the piece to a specific event and time in history. The title is a little ambiguous if you don’t have the historical context. Now, I’m making two really big assumptions here, one hopeful and one not so much. These assumptions are:
That my music will survive, and be heard in the future,
That a there will be a need for this piece in the future.
As far as my works surviving, I think most artists think about this a little. As for the need for the piece, although I hope there will be a future where bigotry, misogyny, homo and transphobia, sexism, racism, antisemitism, and hate cease to exist, I suspect there will always be some group that hates another, which is why the piece doesn’t specify the 13 words or phrases: I wanted it to be used in any country, at any time.
The second, and most important reason for the dedication, has to do with what the work hopes to accomplish. In the beginning, people are chanting the hateful words. The purpose of this is to force the performers and audience to confront those words, their emotional response to them, the feelings and beliefs around the groups identified by those words. It’s similar in a lot of horror movies when someone performing an exorcism tries to get the spirit or demon to name itself, giving it an identity.
Now, I’m aware that some or all of the members of the group chanting are probably going to also be members of one or more of the groups associated with the words that are chanted. This chanting of the hate words may help the performer identify some of the internalized hate that they feel or believe about themselves. In a society where many of these beliefs are institutionalized in policies and power structures, it is almost impossible to grow up without internalizing some of these false beliefs.
I was born in the mid 1960’s. As a gay man, my very existence was an illegal act. I was also living in a little village in the middle of the country. Gay people, if there were any, were invisible for the most part. And, if they did appear, they were seen as the subject of ridicule, or some thing to be targeted and abused or even killed. I know I had internalized some of those false beliefs, and had to do the work to confront and overcome them. I’m sure everyone who is a member of a marginalized group has.
I mention this because I know Representative Omar spent her early years in a country where antisemitism may have been relatively common. Again, I’m making an assumption here. In any event, the second reason for dedicating the piece to her was, that upon hearing antisemitic words or phrases being chanted, hopefully she, and everyone else can come away with a deeper understanding of ourselves. Hopefully we will begin to question the beliefs about groups of people that have been programmed into us, look around, and begin the work of reprogramming our beliefs with love, exactly the way the piece ends.