Adam Falkner is a poet, musician, educator, and race and equity strategist. Much of his work studies intersectional themes of race, gender, queer life and social justice education. He was also a featured performer at President Barack Obama's Grassroots Ball at the 2009 presidential inauguration. Falkner shares his Brief but Spectacular take on performing privilege and forgiveness.
John Yang: Adam Falkner is a poet, musician, and educator. He describes the focus of his work as race, gender, queer life, and social justice. Tonight, Falkner shares his Brief But Spectacular take on performing privilege and forgiveness.
Adam Falkner, Poet and Musician: The name of this poem is called let’s Get One Thing Halfway Straight.
Said I would like to get one thing halfway straight I have spent my entire life trying on costumes because nobody told me I couldn’t. And the stakes were never that high which I have come to think is mostly what makes a white writer. The last time anyone referred to me by that name was exactly never. But that is also the point. I am a queer poet. I am a child of an addict. I am a masquerading white boy. My best friend died, and it was sad. And these are the stories I water into bloom.
I am camp counselor, test cheat, choir boy, cipher rapper, scratch golfer, honor roll, pothead, point guard. And Whitman? Well, Whitman says very well. You contain multitudes. But Whitman was a white writer, too. The not so funny thing about spending a life proving you aren’t something is that any story you tell that isn’t the story is just survival or a brick for laying until the wall is high enough that you are safe inside. And one day you wake up and you say, my God, whose house is this? Who did I hurt to get here? And is it too late to call for help?
I am a poet, an artist, and an educator. I grew up in the Midwest, and I am based in Brooklyn, New York. Two themes that I think a lot about in my work are forgiveness and accountability. And in this poem, I’m trying to lift up some of the examples, I think, from my own life of what privilege is and how it shows up in the lives of a lot white people, often subconsciously.
And in that how when we are confronted with the discomfort or the frustration of the reality that is unearned access or advantage in our lives, we often overattach to other marginalized identities or stories or wounds that we hold. But the question for me is more of the stories that am most silent about which ones are harming other people.
So I’m often wrestling with those questions in my work and what it means for us to show up with forgiveness of our past selves and of each other, but also how do we hold ourselves accountable to still growing and learning and evolving and listening even when it’s painful? My name is Adam Falkner, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on performing privilege and forgiveness.
John Yang: And you can find more of our Brief But Spectacular videos on our website, pbs.org/NewsHour/Brief.