How do you believe this new work references, or has an influence on, the present moment?
One of the most important lessons in my life was trusting strangers. We are often thought the opposite and that has lead us down so many bad roads
...yeah. And I love the, I love the message. So tell me about the message about Trust Your Global Stranger.
Uh, um, I think we're all kind of aware of like kind of, um, closing up of borders. And I think in some way, many of us are sort of aware of like what it seems like we're kind of becoming a more open world has sort of, you know, bumped into a couple of walls recently.
To tell you the long story, I was, um, backpacking through Latin America and this was like sort of, uh, pre Obama. And there were a lot of times where I'd go into a certain like wealthy neighbourhoods and one time like, uh, somebody called the cops on me because a friends was letting me stay in their house. And even though they knew the friend was letting me stay in the house, he just didn't trust the black guy in their house. And so I became like really aware of what it meant, I mean, there were some times as an American, I was super welcomed into places, but there were some times where being a black person, it definitely triggered some people. And then, um, one day I was in Oaxaca and a friend of mine
In Mexico, Oaxaca?
Yeah. Um, and a friend of mine had been like, uh, had asked me to come teach a class, an art class, maybe two hours outside of the city. And the whole time I was thinking like, oh, how do I warm these kids up to me? And I was trying to think about like weird jokes in Spanish that I could tell that maybe we'll kind of disarm them and, you know, cause it's like this small town. So I'm imagining first thing, they don't really see a lot of strangers, but also they don't see a lot of black strangers. And so I thought I would sort of like the whole time I'm mentally preparing myself for it. This sort of like weird joke. And, um, and we walk into the classroom and there's about maybe 40 kids or something like that. And a bunch of them ran and gave my friend, like the biggest hug because they were still excited to see her.
And then she said, she leaned over. And then she said, then that's the class. Oh, this is, uh, Alvaro. And a whole bunch of the other kids after the introductions ran over and gave me the biggest hug. And it was really disarming because the whole time I was mentally prepared to like try to win them over. And here he was like, just embracing me in such a way that I hadn't expected. And I kept thinking about that hug. And so our hours into the class, I asked her, what was that about? And she said, you know, usually in foreign states, like in Western states, they teach you to not trust strangers. It's like a big one don't trust strangers. And so what ends up happening is that when you meet someone new, they, that person has to prove to you that you can be, they can be trusted.
And she said over here, did they teach you that people are to be trusted until they prove to you until they prove to you that they shouldn't be trusted. And so it's a much different sort of emotional impact. You meet people and then you immediately give them a space of trust. And then they have to give you a reason to not trust them. Versus here you have so many institutions that are created basically on this idea of not trusting people. And it was, I remember just being in Oaxaca before that experience and wondering, wow, this, this place feels so magical and I hadn’t quite been able to put a finger on it. Um, despite like traveling to so many places, I was like, why does this place feel so incredible? And I was supposed to be there just for like two, three days. And I ended up staying a month.
And, um, it was one of the best times as an incredible experience, but it's something I've thought about a lot, this idea, how many, how many times this idea of not trusting strangers has caused so many harm in our, in, in how we exist and created so many institutions built around the mistrust of the other. And so, um, it's something that's always been in the back of my head and I think, um, these kind of flare up of not trusting, not trusting the other sort of always tends to play itself out. Um, and so it just kind of felt like something that I wanted to put out there in the, in the energy. Cause I think one of the things that Art can do is to sort of put out ideas and, um, or that idea sort of sit in space and sit in people's imagination.
“Humor gives me release. Sometimes there’s just too much tension and you have to let it go. Laughter is such a great natural physical response to do that.”
Humor has been a tool for success for Alexis Wilkinson, and not just a tool for survival. She writes for Brooklyn Nine-Nine and previously wrote for VEEP, a job that she got right out of college, at the age of 22. And, before that, she made headlines as the first African-American woman to be president of Harvard Lampoon magazine.
Alexis Wilkinson is a staff writer on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and wrote for HBO’s Veep. She’s also written for several publications, including Slate, TIME, and The New Yorker.
CLICK HERE to listen to Alexis Wilkinson 'Disarming People With Laughter' podcast
“You asked me what family is And I think of family as community I think of the spaces where you don’t have to shrink yourself Where you don’t have to pretend or to perform You can fully show up and be vulnerable And in silence, completely empty and That’s completely enough To show up, as you are, without judgment, without ridicule Without fear or violence, or policing, or containment And you can be there and you’re filled all the way up We get to choose our families We are not limited by biology We get to make ourselves And we get to make our family” . —Blood Orange, “Family,” from Negro Swan (London: Domino Recording Co. Ltd., 2018)