As you may remember from our recent blog, Stop Hate UK is very proud to be associated with the up and coming RoL’n Productions’ critically acclaimed play ‘Half Me, Half You’, soon to run at the Tristan Bates Theatre, in London’s Covent Garden.
The play is the remarkable writing debut of Liane Grant and explores the complex relationship of – Jess and Meredith – in incredibly evocative times in the USA, at the start of the turbulent Trump era.
The production, which received rave reviews in its recent 2018 London and New York runs, is also aiming to also raise money for Stop Hate UK.
Recently, we managed to catch up with one of the production’s leading stars, Toccarra Cash, to speak to her about her thoughts on Hate Crime in the UK, the United States and across the rest of the world, and what she feels are motivations, what role politicians play in its incitement and how we can all play a part in tackling it.
Here are the questions we put to Toccarra:
How do you think the current Hate Crime landscape compares and contrasts between the USA and the UK?
“I certainly see similarities; in the era of both Brexit in the UK and Trump in the USA, it’s a fact that we’ve seen a sharp rise in far-right, white supremacist, anti-immigrant sentiment that is spreading like a global disease – look at what happened in New Zealand just last week.
I believe these sentiments directly contribute to the horrifying rise in Hate Crimes we’re seeing perpetrated against the Muslim Community in both our countries, and against the Mexican Community in the US. But the comparison ends there for me.
This is because the sharp contrast is in the fact that, in the USA, black Americans are still the largest group to be victimised by hate crimes.
The FBI’s most recent tally of bias crimes, issued last fall, reported that black Americans have been the most frequent victims of hate crime, in every tally of bias incidents gathered since the FBI began collecting such data in the early 1990’s.
This has nothing to do with being immigrants and everything to do with an enduring legacy of racial terror, from slavery that our government refuses to rectify or even fully acknowledge.”
Much like the UK after ‘Brexit’, the United States has also gone through a period of significant political turmoil under the Trump administration. How much do you think politicians influence or have a direct effect on Hate Crime through their behaviour and rhetoric?
“There’s no question that they have a blatant effect.
Studies have shown far and wide that, in the months of Trump’s presidential campaign, the more he used divisive, racially insensitive rhetoric, the more hate crimes were reported – and, from the moment he was elected until now, that number continues to rise.
There are so many happening, we don’t even hear about them all because the news isn’t reporting them and we often find out about them via social media from people who, thankfully, refuse to be silent about them.”
The latest FBI figures suggest that Hate Crime is on the rise in the United States, as far as right ideologies and terrorism. Why do you think this is the case?
“Well, to put it plainly, the perpetrators feel emboldened in the era of an administration that practically encourages their behaviour. They don’t feel like they have to hide anymore and there’s no shame; And, why would there be when you have a President who refers to the participants of a white supremacist, alt-right, neo-Nazi rally (in Charlottesville) as “fine people”?
What do you think would help reduce racism, discrimination and racial intolerance, and how can people make a difference?
“To be honest, that is a question that black people are exhausted of answering! We didn’t construct this monster called racism or white supremacy, so how can we really know how to reduce it?
But, in an effort to offer something, I always say white allies have to talk to the ones closest to them who they know are racist; your uncle who says problematic things at Thanksgiving; your best friend who dismisses Black Lives Matter with “All Lives Matter” rhetoric; your mother who wears a MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat.
It’s not enough to protest and march and do social media activism, you have to get personal, summon some courage and challenge those you’re most afraid to challenge. We must stop these mindsets from being handed down from one generation to another.
All the ‘ally-ship’ in the world doesn’t matter if you’re not putting it into practice with your actual family and friends.”
As an Actor, Public Speaker, Writer and Teaching Artist, what do you see as being the relationship between your work and what’s going on in the world, in particular, the events of the last few years that have contributed to the rise in Hate Crimes?
“Well, in every one of those facets, I have to keep empathy at the forefront.
Whether I’m stepping into another person’s shoes as an Actor, connecting with an audience while speaking, reflecting the humanity we all share in my writing or inspiring my students to have compassion for one another.
I would hope I’m constantly practicing the empathy I preach, and that somehow, in some way, it’s my small contribution to turning the tide.”
Do you feel the arts in general, have a responsibility to help make positive change within society, and if so, do you feel they are doing enough collectively to have an impact? What more could they do?
“Absolutely! The arts have always been a force for challenging society to face itself, and it’s no different now.
It’s hard to say if the arts are doing enough collectively to have an impact, when I know of so many artists and arts organisations that are working day and night and sacrificing so much to try and make even a dent of an impact.
But, the most vital thing that needs to happen, is that theatres, museums, film houses and all arts organisations need to stop using “diversity” as only a buzz word, and start putting it into real practice, in terms of who they’re hiring for their administration and staff, with the seasons they’re selecting, with the collections they’re curating and the films they’re choosing to show.
They have to stop patting themselves on the back for the one or two they “let in the door” and build a whole new type of door that allows everyone access, and consistently.”
Is there a particular working experience you’ve had that you feel has highlighted or combatted these issues effectively?
“Yes, I’m proud to say I’ve had the distinct honor of working with black-led theatres and festivals, like The National Black Theatre in Harlem, and The New Black Fest, who are always working to highlight the need for access and inclusion.
If we could just now get the major regional theatres, Off-Broadway and Broadway houses, to practice some of this access and inclusion in a substantive way, we’d be getting somewhere.”
You’re about to take on one of the lead roles in HALF ME, HALF YOU at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London. Was the fact that it explores some of these issues (racism, homophobia), any part of the reason you wanted to be involved? Is this often a factor in your choice of projects?
“Oh, it was most definitely one of the driving factors of why I jumped at the chance to take on this role!
It’s the kind of work that us actor/activists dream of – work that seeks to make the audience question whatever preconceived notions about race, gender, sexuality, class they entered the theatre with.
It’s literally my favorite kind of work to do and it will always be a factor in a lot of the projects I choose. Unless, sometimes, I just need to do a comedy and relish in some joy a little bit, like my last show. (Toccarra laughs at this point)
But, seriously, I hope I get to do intense, heart and mind-shaping work like this for the rest of my career.”
We’d like to thank Toccarra for her time and for this insightful, honest interview and we can’t wait for ‘Half Me, Half You’ to start its run! The production previews from 26th March and runs until 6th April. More details can be found by visiting Tristan Bates Theatre or by going to Liane’s own website.