It's July in Indy, so you know what that means... it's time for the Indiana Black Expo's Summer Celebration or as many call it, Expo. For me, Expo is the time of year to get cool earrings that I'm told come straight from West Africa and maybe a chance to get some discounted hair products. And of course, it's a time to see old friends and classmates because most of black Indy comes downtown for it.
I'm actually having an event on the Thursday of Summer Celebration, it's a happy hour, a networking event. Shortly after I posted the promo image for it online, I got a message that said "is there any room for awkward white girls at this event?" I thought that was interesting. Do white people not feel welcome at Black Expo? Do they not feel invited? Do they feel uncomfortable as the minority? Is this how black people feel, well, everywhere? I really wanted to explore this.
IBE fills two weeks of July with a ton of stuff to do and most everything takes place in downtown Indy. There's a concert with The O'Jays, a different one featuring Jill Scott. There's an employment fair and a film festival. There's a corporate luncheon that Spike Lee will attend this year. There are hundreds of exhibitor booths featuring artwork from Indy's local artists and schools. There are companies vending their goods, non-profits providing their service. There's an arts pavilion showcasing Indy's cultural organizations. There really is a lot going on and it's a great chance to learn about black Indy. So, why aren't the white people there? How do they feel about it? I conducted a couple street interviews to find out.
Lauren Day says when she was younger, she and her family would go downtown to eat during Summer Celebration. They'd ask to sit outside to "just watch all of the cool cars go by." For those who don't know, the streets do turn into a car show during Expo. There aren't as many cars as there were in say, 1998, but it's like an unspoken, un-promoted tradition. For Chelsea, she is well aware of Summer Celebration. "I hear about it all the time on the radio, it's like every other commercial on 96.3." I asked her why she hadn't been yet and she said she doesn't go because it seems like a family event. "I don't have kids so it doesn't seem like something I would enjoy. The basketball match does sound cool but I still don't know if I'd go."
Then I talked to Aaron Hurt, he's 25 and says in a matter-of-fact manner that he isn't going to Black Expo. I asked why and he admitted that he didn't really have a good answer. "It just never has been something that I've been compelled to attend, nor do I actually know when it is." I tried to dig a bit deeper, I want to know why white people don't go. I asked Hurt how he thought he would feel at the event. "I think I would probably be pretty cognizant that I was one of the few there that were white, but I don't think that would affect the time I would have. Particularly if there was a talk I really wanted to attend, I think I'd be more interested in the conversation than any anxiety."
It's interesting that he used the word anxiety.
I just read a tweet that said "Should us black males start entering every room and saying 'I am not harmful or dangerous, please don't be scared of me.'?" In a society where black people, males specifically, don't feel comfortable anywhere because they are always the minority and are having their every move judged, it's almost difficult to hear a white person say they might be anxious to be in a place where almost everyone is black. And they have the option to avoid that feeling; they don't have to attend the event. Whereas black people, daily, are forced to be in a position to be the minority and to always have that feeling of being cognizant of their race. It's interesting because we live in the world together and we even say we want and love diversity. So wouldn't we be thrilled to put ourselves in atmospheres to learn about other cultures? Shouldn't members of the "majority" want to experience the life of a "minority?"
Maybe not. If you do, the Celebration has officially begun. Visit Indiana Black Expo's website for a complete schedule of events.