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Filters, Prisms, and Racism


PrismThese are thoughts of a sleep addled mind, one that refuses to return to sleep.  So instead I write.

Prisms Filters
Heavy, weighty, handheld glass triangular cylindersAcrid science room airLight distortions. No clarity

Hard, unbending.

Broken light, parts separated

Cold, but interesting

Cerebral, anti-tactile.


Flimsy, filmsy plasticHappy colors cast on faces and bodiesLaughter

Heat of gel lights

Combinations for effects


Hardwoods under feet


Dark audience.

Light cast on the cast

Flexible altered images

Darkroom filters

Digital filters are flexible but not tactile

The heat is worth it.

Those are middle of the night thoughts about prisms and filters, pretty much in the order that they came to me.  Both sets are from memories long ago, high school and college back in the 70’s, the prisms high school only.  I did a lot of theatre both on the stage and then backstage with my friend Don Mersereau at Twinfield, and later as a Techie to help pay for going to the Boston Conservatory. Mountain dew, mountain dew to stay awake through the night.

The Trayvon Martin case is all over the sensationalist news.  They keep talking about seeing the events through the prism of race.  I can’t recall if they mention filters.  So I’m looking at my list.  What can be applied?

I’m struck by distortions and lack of clarity when looking through prisms.  The prisms themselves are hard and inflexible.  So whoever looks at the events with Trayvon Martin through prisms won’t see it clearly, will be incapable of bending the prism to the flexibility that is required in real life.

There is nothing fun about looking through a prism, though the results can be interesting.  But that interests is cold, intellectual.  The environment is acrid, cutting.

Filters aren’t being applied.  And yet they are…

Everything filters light, changes it, bends it.  In theatre the filters were gels, plastic, bendable.  Light cast through them superimposed over the reality of the actor.  They enhance the imaginary, the fantasy.  Real life filters are stereotypes: race, class, economics, activities, jobs, relationships.   And stereotypes will not be eradicated, as they are endemic to being human.

How do filters apply.  You can’t have stage theatre without filters.  You can’t live life without stereotypes.  You use filters to highlight and augment the play.  We use stereotypes to augment life.

Sooo…We could enjoy the filters of race.  Enjoy the tang of difference.  The differences in our smells, our foods, the interest of white skin against black.  We could celebrate diversity, which is touted in all business now-a-days but never given more than lip-service in implementation. It is where the stereotype meets reality that the interesting happens.

That’s even true in music.  If I write a song that is strictly done through music theory, then it is very boring, banal at best.  But if I cross the barriers, mix the stereotypes something wonderful happens; Chopin’s endings on his nocturnes and preludes are transformative, blues bends the third, the seventh, and sometimes the sixths and fifths to create something way beyond the stereotype of the conventional major scale.  And the subdivision of a beat into thirds instead of the stereotype of halves creates amazing rhythms and flexibility.

We need to accept stereotypes, celebrate them, joyously use them.

But stereotypes taken too far harden our filters into prisms.  Flexibility and joy are stolen.  Light is separated.

Trayvon is black, George is white.  In the 911 call George says there is a suspicious person wandering his neighborhood, looking in all the windows.  He only says that the youth is black when asked the race by the 911 operator.  Through the black prism this becomes racial profiling.  George is a white supremacist going after an innocent black youth.

George is white, Trayvon is black.  In conversations with his girlfriend he says he is being followed by a crazy cracker.  Through a white prism that is about as racist a statement as you can get.  But his girlfriend would have us believe that Cracker is no longer racist.  She would also have us believe that Nigga is no longer racist.  I don’t think that I could get away with walking into a bar and shouting “Hey, what’s up Niggas and Crackers?”

Here is something very interesting.  I have trouble knowing when I am looking through the white prism or its effects.  But I know that I am looking.  How do I know this?  Well let’s apply the ending of Grisham’s “A Time to Kill” to this.  Look, there is the suspicious youth.  Look there is the neighborhood watch volunteer.  Look he get’s out of the car despite being told by 911 police to not pursue.  Listen there are screams for help, but whose.  Listen there are gunshots.  Now open your eyes.  They youth who lies dead is a white, blonde teenage girl, the neighborhood watch volunteer a black male.

My reaction to what happened changed.  I’m looking through a prism.

What I am struck by is that by applying and encouraging prisms, the media is stirring up racial discord.  It is doing the opposite of what it tells us.  It is NOT trying to promote racial harmony.  The tragedy here is that a boy’s life is loss and a man’s life ruined.  And yes, both are tragedies.

I am not blind.  I know that there are racial inequalities in the system.  I know that race colors everything.  I know that there is the dishonesty of political correctness everywhere.  We have work to do.  Somehow, we must offer true equality for all.  Somehow we must

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