‘Citizen’ Actress Tina Lifford on Racism: Take action now to bring hope for tomorrow

'Citizen: An Americam Lyric' at the Fountain Theatre

‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

by Tina Lifford

“I don’t know how to end what doesn’t have an ending.”

This line begins the closing sequence in Claudia Rankine’s play Citizen: An American Lyric that I have been rehearsing since June 15th and blogging about since June 30th. Citizen depicts both everyday unconscious and overt acts of racism in America.

Looking through the lens of systematic oppression, hundreds of years in the making, it is easy to surmise that there is no end in sight to our historical predicament. However, this is not the lens through which I see.

Instead, I peer through the lens of social achievement. From this perspective, something within the human spirit seems to consistently triumph. The spirit that animates humanity continues to expand and advance. Crossing over ignorance. Trespassing upon man-made limits and ideas. Forcing change, no matter the circumstances.

Tina Lifford

Tina Lifford

From this purview, what happens to the line of dialogue – I don’t know how to end what doesn’t have an ending – when it is held up against the dismantling of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin wall, and the civil rights gains of gay, lesbian and transgender Americans? Next to these social accomplishments, an affirming thought emerges: our innate resilience is indomitable. It forges unprecedented paths and unpredictable outcomes. Hope for the future can spring from this thought.

Of course, in the face of recent racial strife, it is prudent to understand that the path ahead is not an easy one. The dismantling of institutional racism clearly takes time. But I find comfort in walking through the history of humanity and seeing the consistent presence of an indomitable spirit in action. The two-term election of President Barack Obama comes to mind.

I am also mindful of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Mountaintop speech, wherein he says that he has been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land. It is worth noting that the he never attached a completion date to his vision. I suspect that its fulfillment is an ongoing process. And, for it to be fulfilled we must all do our part.

Our job is to question, and then take actions that align with the march of humanity. When we’re trying to figure out what is best for us all, the question we must courageously ask is “What action most honors the idea that every human being is innately equal?”

When we give our attention to important questions like this, that attention empowers the question, making it strong enough to inform and conjure answers. This is the path of scientific discovery. It is also the path to social change.

Despite the current disquiet and heightened racial tension, there is cause for celebration. Against all odds, in 60 relatively short years, the civil rights movement has created massive change. We must not lose sight of this. Of course, more is still needed. But by acknowledging our gains thus far, we can gather the courage and determination needed to stay the course.

We cannot allow bloodcurdling injustices to blind us or distract us from getting to the promised land. Present challenges and heartbreak must not be permitted to obscure the bigger picture.

We must never throw up our hands, defeated.

Bernard K. Addison, Simone Missick, Leith Burke.

Bernard K. Addison, Simone Missick, Leith Burke.

We do not have to know how to end what doesn’t have an ending. We only need to commit to taking the small steps that are ours to take.

You and the actions you take are the hope for tomorrow.

To forge change we must turn the insights acquired here and elsewhere into action. Applying new insights to current life challenges creates more fulfilled and powerful lives. Lessons learned will support the dismantling of bigger issues, including racism.

When we approach both our personal well-being and the well-being of society with the belief that something inside of us is innately creative, resilient, empowered to make new choices, and undeniably whole and worthy, we become fortified in the ways that achieving change requires.

Tina Lifford is an stage, film and TV actress and founder of the Inner Fitness Project

Citizen: An American Lyric is now playing to Sept 14. More Info/Get Tickets

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