Culture shock is common for students coming to a new place. However, it is very difficult to be a creative when you feel like everything is against you. Jasmine Kiah went through this struggle her first few years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
A First Wave scholar, Kiah came into UW-Madison with the aspirations to further her artistic and acting ambitions. However, she was met with a rude awakening after realizing the institutions in place oppress her and those who hold similar marginalized identities. The education of merely existing here on a daily basis in her own skin was an immense undertaking.
“We put language to what we’ve been experiencing our whole life and we realize the reason why we’ve been experiencing these things,” Kiah said.
In this process of coming into valuable knowledge, Kiah looked inside herself and began a journey of unlearning things that had been institutionalized within her community back home in Portsmouth, VA. Staples in her upbringing such as religion through Christianity and the inequity she saw in school resources came to the forefront. There were also moments of sexism, homophobia, and internalized anti-blackness that Kiah grew to name, recognize, and examine. She then understood how and why these practices need to be dismantled.
“I’m still unlearning,” Kiah said. “I’m still fighting with myself and trying to listen to my spirit more.”
Kiah experienced this not only within her social interactions but in academic spaces as well. She had to take electives in order to learn about the influence of Black people in theater as if it is a separate entity. This frustrated her and caused her to question the systems at play within every setting she stepped into.
“The epitome of racism is me not learning about Black theater in my regular theater class,” Kiah said. “You always have to learn about Black s— outside of the status quo.”
Kiah then created The Humane Experiment out of her longing to fix the environment around her and address how Blackness responds to the systems of white supremacy and capitalism specifically on the UW-Madison campus. It started as a play that came from former First Wave Artistic Director Rain Wilson’s summer class, but has evolved into a series of performances that use interdisciplinary artistic mediums like spoken word poetry, theater, song, dance and film.
The first part of this series, The Encounter, will present specifically how the Black body responds and reacts to whiteness. Kiah’s main encounter was coming to this university and noticing how the systems of racism and anti-blackness had affected how she saw her self-worth.
“To come here and finally learn who I am and unlearn all that stuff they wanted me to be has pushed me to this point to create such a thing,” Kiah said. “It allowed me the capacity and the willingness to understand my people more and love us.”
Now a junior, Kiah gained invaluable experience as a co-director with Breanna Taylor and has enjoyed working with her cast of dancers, choreographers, and crew members along this creative and reflective journey of cultivating self-love and a higher consciousness.
“I love Black people. I need them. They are my niggas. Black people are the most beautiful divine thing on the face of the planet,” Kiah said.
She expects The Humane Experiment to make Black people feel seen and acknowledged for their beauty and struggle and for white people to develop a clearer understanding of how they can be active in dismantling the systems their privilege upholds.
“Oftentimes, things are only done for Black people with the comfort of white people in mind,” Kiah said. “When you say all white people are racist, it’s a systematic thing. Systematically, they are racist because they have the privilege to have access to all the s— that we don’t have access to.”
Kiah’s intentions for creating art for Black people while incorporating the knowledge that she has gained along with the fearlessness that always sat in her heart pushed The Humane Experiment to come to fruition. However, the greater goal is for her work to continue the conversations about confronting the systems that she had to recognize for herself.
“If we all loved ourselves and each other, that means we would all come together,” Kiah said. “Imagine every Black person in America coming together. We will overthrow this b—-!”
The Humane Experiment: The Encounter debuts Wednesday May 1st at the Play Circle Theater in Memorial Union. The doors open at 6:30.