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Hood Behavior? What Does That Even Mean?

Equity in the Arts
A view from upstage, looking at the backs of five actors, facing the audience.
Mic check before a performance for college students.

“You guys do that...hood behavior. Or whatever that is.”

I am sitting across from my cast manager who wants to speak to me about my quiet demeanor around our majority white cast. My palms are sweaty, nervous because I can’t possibly make them understand why I feel guarded after they complimented my Chinese-American roommate’s English because they were “genuinely surprised her english was good”. They could never empathize with my experience as a woman of color and how easily we are demonized when we are angry, sad, or even slightly emotional. So instead, I sit across from them, holding my breath, after they comment on the vernacular I use around my fellow castmates of color.

What does “hood behavior” even mean?

Was it the way I spoke with such ease because I could finally talk to a cast member who has also been told her “English is good”? Maybe it was the way I grinned from ear to ear eating with castmates who also understood the importance of seasoning? Or was it the way I wholeheartedly connected with a castmate who was also raised by a single woman of color?

Microaggressions have plagued my life for as long as I can remember, from childhood teasing regarding my “weird smelling” bento boxes crafted to perfection by my mother, to being told by an acting professor to mimic “fake Asian”. Needless to say, problematic comments from white individuals weren’t new to me. I found my ways to deal with them, picked my battles and decided on what felt to me was the best course of action when these exchanges occurred.

This summer, I was on tour for a company presenting shows about consent education and sexual assault prevention. Its mission is to create and sustain change in the communities these shows are performed in, and throughout the process the executive director stressed how important self-care is, comforting me with their liberal views and their commitment to fostering safe spaces.

But what surprised me most was the type of person this microaggression was coming from: a self-identifying liberal, who had their denim jacket adorned with pins, including “fesbian leminist” and the black power symbol they hoped to get tattooed on their body. For someone so self-involved, shouting to the world their desire for more equality, where was their self-awareness?

I grapple with being 22 and with the fear of being deemed the “difficult person of color”. As someone who is trying to cultivate who I am as a theater maker and professional, I become anxious about advocating for myself because my tears don’t garner the same sympathy as the tears of white women. My self-advocacy can easily be perceived as minute and unworthy of serious examination. Maybe even deemed “hood behavior”.

When situations like this arise in my life, there’s a part of me that convinces myself that by ignoring my anger, I am somehow stronger. I tell myself, “come on Mona, there are worse things happening in the world, don’t let them get to you”. I grapple with the emotional burden I will feel when I explain the danger in microaggressions: it lies in its subtlety, its ability to pierce the receiving individual and utterly glance over the perpetrator, who is at a loss for why they are part of the macrocosm of prejudice and injustice.

During a brief break from my tour, I explained to a fellow friend of color what happened with my cast manager.

“Am I overreacting? Should I say something to corporate about this?”

“Girl, yes”, was all I needed to find the courage to call the program coordinator. I felt ready, planned my eloquent explanation, ready to provide dictionary definitions and statistics on the harmful ramifications of microaggressions, but as soon as I started talking, my throat closed up, trying to hold back tears. I was prepared to be told “they didn’t mean it like that” or, “are you sure that’s exactly what they said?” Fortunately, I sighed with relief as I was met with sympathy and understanding. I didn’t have to explain myself for once. I didn’t have to back up my emotions with facts because I was allowed to be upset. I was allowed to be hurt. Their dedication to harboring a safe space was honored.

But the idea of a safe space is complicated. My cast manager is an example of someone who has externally adorned themself with liberal paraphernalia, using them as an accessory, making them disregard listening when their problematic and racist comments are met with their desperation to express, “but I’m a lesbian! Look, there’s a Hillary sign in front of my parent’s house!” They grasp at anything to show how they occupy a safe space. But being safe doesn’t constitute a space free from wrongdoings. Instead, it means being brave when uncomfortable situations arise. Being brave enough to acknowledge the shortcomings of a space striving for equity, access, and inclusion. Choosing to listen rather than defend one’s self is an act of bravery. To let go of your armor, stand in your ignorance and listen is not only courageous, but necessary to keep conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion happening.

Even when a space strives for inclusion and equity, there is always room for mistakes. Choosing to recognize them, instead of patting yourself on the back or not acknowledging them, is the truest act of bravery.