Letter to the Editor: There is no room for anti-Blackness in arts and entertainment journalism

| Former Cadenza and Social Media Editor, Class of 2022

The theme for Black History Month 2024 is “African Americans and the Arts,” and it goes without saying that Black Anthology, for the past 35 years, has cemented itself as the premier and only avenue for the expression of Black art on the campus of Washington University. I found Black Anthology in my freshman year of college, and it quickly became one of my favorite organizations on campus. I still have fond memories of calling the show all four years as its first four-year stage manager. Given my relationship with the organization and my understanding of its legacy as the University’s oldest cultural show, that does not mean I’m saying it’s perfect. Nothing is perfect. That being said, I don’t see a need to critique and call the work that it’s doing to uplift the voices of Black creatives on campus “unfortunate” when it doesn’t quite meet the expectations of one individual. Apparently, the paper that I also called home for four years does. And I find that utterly disappointing. 

It makes me wonder how many people on staff actually saw the production. How many people cared enough to buy a ticket even if they didn’t use it? Was there someone who read the review prior to late-night checks and asked themself, “Maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t publish this?” And if that was the case, then why didn’t anyone listen? During my time on the paper, I saw articles tossed because the staff made the executive decision they shouldn’t be published because they were just plain insensitive and/or incendiary. What happened here? Why didn’t anyone think, “Maybe calling the year-long project, the only established avenue for Black students on campus to express themselves on the University’s main stage, ‘bad’ and ‘unfortunate’ during Black History Month is a bad idea.” 

While a student at WashU, not only did I stage manage Black Anthology, I also served as two-term co-editor of Cadenza, the arts and entertainment section of the paper that has since been dissolved and absorbed by Scene, as well as three-term Social Media Editor. I was upset with the decision to dissolve Cadenza because I poured my heart and soul into that section, and I hated to see it disappear. If this isn’t a case to bring it back, then I don’t know what is. Culturally competent reporters are important to have on staff at any institution, and it is clear that StudLife has decided to ignore that fact. Having trained arts reporters who understand how to navigate writing reviews of culturally significant projects and events on campus is important. 

My relationship to Black Anthology aside, if I had seen that article come through my inbox from one of my writers, staff or contributing, I would have said something. If your writer is not trained or culturally competent enough to cover something, then don’t have them cover it. If you haven’t put forth the time and the effort to provide that training to them, then why are you as an editor trying to do something your staff isn’t prepared to do? Your staff is only as good as the training you provide them. This isn’t to say you can’t have opinions or you can’t have thoughts on what an organization should have done or didn’t do enough of, but to say that “Black Anthology [is] more about supporting the artists than the art itself” minimizes the work that the executive board, cast, and dancers put into making this show what it is. Black Anthology does not start in August. Black Anthology starts the moment the curtain on the previous show closes in February. To print that line paints a picture that fails to recognize that when everyone else is on break for summer, Black Anthology is working to bring a show to campus that highlights the experience of Black people with the University’s Black students in mind. 

Maybe if someone on staff had an understanding of how Black Anthology worked, this wouldn’t happen. Maybe if Cadenza came back and there were arts reporters trained to cover the varying cultural shows on campus, this wouldn’t happen. Maybe, just maybe, if someone looked at the calendar and recognized that printing something with this tone, during Black History Month, is tone-deaf, unnecessary, and “unfortunate,” this wouldn’t happen. Maybe, instead of pointing the finger at the students who are trying their best to do a beautiful and necessary thing, the finger should be pointed at those who provide the funding or lack thereof. Maybe, calling for Student Union (SU) to increase funding to cultural shows so that the unspoken expectations of this journalistic body can be met is a better avenue to take your pen down, rather than labeling the hard work of students, your peers, as “unfortunate.”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.