Equality  /i-ˈkwä-lə-tē/  word. – the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities. See also. Equity

Interview with Hilari

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

Well, I’m from Kansas City. Born and raised since 1992. For a while my parents lived together. My mother is White and my father is Black. So I grew up biracial, mostly just with my mother as a single mother. We moved to Independence (Missouri) in 2000 and that’s where I was until the fall of last year when I finally moved out on my own. Growing up in Kansas City and living over by Van Brunt, like near the police station, it was a little rough around there. My mom protected me from most of those things, so now hearing stories from childhood about the neighborhood, it’s just like, Oh, I wasn’t aware of that. Growing up in Independence was a little different too.

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I think a lot of it was kind of figuring out who I was. Being mixed, I couldn’t be “White” cause I’m not light enough, but if I’m Black then I’m like denying my mom. I didn’t really notice those things until probably like middle school or so when I was becoming more self aware and stuff. And then after graduating high school and getting into a community college, I went to MCC-Penn Valley (Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley) for community college for apparel and textile design and product development, which is a fancy word for “fashion design.” I got to experience more culturally, not just from Black people but other people as well. I started to be a student ambassador and started to work at Penn Valley. And just being around more types of people I think was really good for me. As far as what I do now, I’m working for a commercial photographer and then I also am a professional improviser in Kansas City at Comedy City, for about three years. And then the KC Improv for about a year and a half, um, started teaching at, um, Improv Shop KC. Uh, so the only, right now the only can’t say improvisor at, uh, all three of the major improv comedy clubs in KC.

How would you describe/define beauty? Black beauty? Black style?

I’m always trying to take those tests of like, What’s your style? Are you more preppy, boho or another style? I guess I’ve never really felt like I identified as any of those, I just kind of saw what I liked and wanted to wear and felt comfortable in and I may have seen some other, popular things that some friends wearing at the time but if it didn’t really feel like something I wanted then I just wouldn’t do that. So I try to go for more things that I know that I’m going to feel comfortable in, not necessarily what’s like “of the fashion” and I will mix up pieces and stuff. Um, I usually get compliments on what I’m wearing so I think I’m doing something right.

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I think just in general, beauty…for me it’s more just confidence and what you have in yourself. I’ve been a “pretty girl”, I guess, pretty much all my life. I was approached at the age of seven or eight by a local modeling agency, just out at a restaurant with family for a Mother’s Day thing. We didn’t end up going with them. But, now I am with a modeling agency and have been for the past 5 years in Kansas City. For just general beauty, I think it’s more of a kind of confidence of just wearing what you know you can work in and what you feel comfortable in.

Um, for Black beauty I think the most beautiful thing is just being free. So, you’ve got your hair however you want it, whether it’s straight, ‘fro-ed out, whatever is going to put your sass in your body. And also just a smile…and not everyone has to smile…but just a genuine smile and just being comfortable with yourself. I feel like Black people, as far as fashion and stuff, we can kind of get away with wearing things that are a little more wild and take more chances with mixing patterns and being more bold in color choices and things like that. It’s kind of more, to use a pop culture term, like more swag or just being more comfortable with yourself and just wearing what you want and not really worrying about too much about what people are going to think or say. Just being unapologetically yourself and unapologetically Black. Like going all out with an Afro or whatever. And of course, you can go and wear African garb and people will think like, Oh, it’s so cool. And I’m just wearing things that I like and I don’t put too much into it, more than comfort and being practical.

“For Black beauty, I think the most beautiful thing is just being free. So, you’ve got your hair however you want it, whether it’s straight, ‘fro-ed out, whatever is going to put your sass in your body.”

How would you define Black beauty? Black culture?

So I think the thing I like and respect most about Black beauty or really the beauty of any minority community is it’s fearlessness. You know, by definition Black beauty is kind of going against what is considered mainstream or universally accepted as beautiful. And so, you know, celebrating different skin tone, celebrating different hair textures, celebrating. My favorite is bright, loud design clothing. You know, I think it’s just amazing how that’s become more and more mainstream in the past decade and how when I was a girl, there were not a ton of examples of especially professional women who really celebrated their black beauty. But now there are a lot of professional women that dress the way they want to dress and wear their hair. They want to wear it, wear the makeup that they want to wear and don’t try to assimilate with conventional or what I’ll say is white beauty in the United States.

“There have been some times when, in my head, I’m like, Just cause I don’t know the “Black things”, I’m just not Black enough. Even when asked to do this, I was just like, Well, I’m mixed. I’m not full Black. I don’t have that experience.”

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

Being biracial, a little bit lighter, I do have some privilege as to kind of walk between like both worlds. Just cause my skin is a little bit lighter –and I’ve even been told that I have like the perfect skin tone when it was meant as a compliment, but realistically it’s like, I don’t know what that means — and I smile and I talk “properly”.Some people who are around biracial people will be able to tell, or if I’m with my mom they’ll be able to tell that I’m biracial. But to someone who is a racist that story won’t matter to them. So in the past three or four years I’ve really just embraced just what I look like and accepting compliments. Even though I have in the back of my brain that someone could dislike me enough because of the color of my skin to cause harm, I still go on because I know I look good.

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There have been some times when, in my head, I’m like, Just cause I don’t know the “Black things”, I’m just not Black enough. Even when asked to do this, I was just like, Well, I’m mixed. I’m not full Black. I don’t have that experience. But also just like, no, because I know even though I haven’t fully experienced outright racism, I’m looking back at certain scenarios and thinking, This probably happened because of the way I looked or how my hair was. I can be around all Black people and feel like I can like let loose a little bit more. I’m with Kansas City’s first and only all Black (improv) troupe called “You People ” and I put together a panel of improvisors of color so we could come together and talk about our experiences and we’ve talked about that.

I used to struggle a little bit with…like…if I’d post about Black Lives Matter…Will that offend the other half of my family? So it’s kind of feeling divided. But, I think I’m getting over that now, that feeling of not fitting in either way.

For not feeling Black enough, it’s more of my knowledge of pop culture, Black things and what to do with my hair. Like, I hadn’t seen Do The Right Thing until like last year, but I’d always heard about it. I like learning about these famous Black actors and actresses and just like knowing those names and the pop culture stuff.

Even sometimes knowing “White things” or certain popular references and still being like, I don’t get that, but I know this thing. And it’s like, No, I don’t understand what that thing is either. So some things…like everyone watched the Cosby show, but then some people probably didn’t watch like The Parkers or Moesha or One on One…Like growing up…Seinfeld, I never really watched that..but I watched Will and Grace. So, sometimes with those things like, I can’t connect to you. Cause I have no idea what you’re talking about.

And sometimes I feel like I have to choose like who I’m gonna like be around and hang around. But I think I’ve gotten over that feeling of like, I don’t know this thing or I don’t know the other thing…I don’t feel as much of that feeling. Sometimes I feel like I have to pick (when I talk about) like social justice things…like the Black Lives Matter movement and being aware of just like civil rights things or racial tensions. If I pound on those too much, then people are like, Why does it have to be about race? And, I’m like, Well, when you walk around with a little note in the back of your head that someone could cause harm to you just because of how you look. Yeah. It’s going to be about race. Not always, but that’s the thing.

I’m getting away from like the superficial pop culture references and kind of figuring out how to maneuver the interactions that are different and sometimes in between both worlds like…how you talk to each other and greet each other or, things like that.

But, I think on the White side it’s more obviously about skin tone. Sometimes I look around I’m just like, I’m the only one here that looks like me. I’m the darkest person here. Even in the winter when I lighten up a little bit. So one is more of the things I know, on the Black side and the other one is more of kind of just appearance in general.

Have you ever experienced of racism or discrimination? If so, any stories you would be willing to share?

What comes to mind is…one I’ve never really experienced up around Kansas City, but about 5 years ago I went to communion in Birmingham and my cousin and I were walking around at this shoe store and it was the kind of typical…just a little extra attention from the White sales associate. Whereas the two other ladies in the store who were White probably had more questions than what we had. We were just walking around looking at what I wanted to get. I don’t think they ended up getting anything.

It’s a sense of, Is this happening because I’m looking suspicious? So then I start to make sure that I keep my hands out of my pockets…I don’t pace around in the same area…come with a smaller bag or just my phone that has a wallet attached to it…but just look less suspicious. Looking at myself, I went in and made eye contact, I smiled, acted just as I regularly do. But, noticing the sales person’s coming over more than they would to someone else who’s in the store who’s not Black, sometimes you have to see it to believe it.

What do you feel you have accomplished if your life? What are you proud of?

I think I’ve always been just really good at seeing people and making people feel welcome. Just like reaching out and having a warm presence so that people can feel comfortable to get out of their shell and feel just a little bit more confident. And just me doing the things that I enjoy doing can inspire them to embrace themselves and go for what they want.

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I feel like I’m really good at connecting and kind of being a glue for people, as well. So I think that’s best about me is being very inclusive, and inspiring, but also compassionate for people. But, I also just believe in myself as much as I can. I mean, I’m still working on things like imposter syndrome, especially right now with improv, but also knowing that I’m pretty important. I’m working on knowing that I have to also focus on myself so I can continue to do those things so I have a lot of self reflection as well.

Since starting in the workforce my sophomore year of high school, I’ve probably had over 10 different jobs. I don’t sit in dissatisfaction very often, like, career wise.  So I just decided that I needed to not be there anymore and I’m not going to wait around, I can find something else. So, I am good at getting away when I’m not satisfied. And so I’ve been able to like hustle and take up space, but I still am able to create space and opportunity for others and  to connect people.

What are your personal dreams?

I’ve always wanted to be an actor or a model. I’m focusing more on acting. Like, big dream goal was of course to have my own series on like Netflix or Hulu or something like that or whatever the big streaming network happens to be at the time. And like doing movies and stuff and being a celebrity would be great. But also still being able to bring that success back to Kansas City and give back to communities that need it…and help to fund projects…and eventually have some type of foundation that would help bring arts to kids so they can explore what they like a little bit earlier in life. But also figure out how to like help kids with those other mental blocks of figuring out how to stand up for themselves sooner and be more comfortable in their skin sooner so they don’t have to struggle with the dualities and insecurities that we probably have all had to wade through.

“I’d like help kids with those other mental blocks of figuring out how to stand up for themselves sooner and be more comfortable in their skin sooner so they don’t have to struggle with the dualities and insecurities that we probably have all had to wade through.”

Where did the confidence come from to do improv?

Well, I’ve always wanted to be a performer. Like since I was a little I wanted to be a model, actress, singer, but I was still kind of shy. So I think just having the people around me enough to encourage me to go and try different things and then just also the willingness to go out and kind of do what I wanted to do. So now, just as a performer, I have more confidence going in. I think it also has to do with like being accepted and having that knowledge of, Oh, I know what I’m doing and now I could just have fun with it.

Is there a Black improv group? Or, are you one of the few minorities in improv?

Typically, I’m one of the few minorities. At Comedy City I’m the only Black female improvisor and a couple of us are really the only ones of color. So usually in the “mainstream”–I don’t like to define it like that, but that’s the reality of what it is–I’m usually the only one. There’s this push to figure out how to connect to the community. So there’s some classes for something called Tribe University which is run by Trey Coppedge and he brought me on and we taught classes at Blackbox on Troost. It was refreshing for it to just be all Black people and one Hispanic girl, for it to be all people of color. So that’s something I want to figure out since I am used to being like this glue, when I can walk in between kind of like both worlds, I want to be able to connect them so that we can have a refresher on how improvisation in Kansas City and have more different types and shades of faces as well.

“Here’s also added pressure of like, We’ve got to be twice as good. I have that worry of just kind of being a “character” instead of just being good and actually performing well and doing what I’m supposed to do. It probably is more of a pressure that I have on myself but I want to show them that they can do this too and also want to show them how to do it well”

Why do you think representation is important?

I think representation…just because it’s been so long that you only could go to a certain channel, like BET. So now you see shows…like…Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, of course cause that was a Black woman putting other Black women in that position. But so far as like Kansas City mainstream for improv or a lead, I’m probably that female lead where Kansas City currently is in improv and performance.

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Once for Comedy City we had one of these private shows at this middle school. It was me, another woman, and then the rest were three White males over the age of 45. I just remember, the kids are like assembling and there were these three girls of color in the back, some Hispanic and Black as well and I was in there with my hair…my little poof hair, natural, no makeup or anything. And they were audibly excited to see me…they were like, Yes, and pointing at me verbally excited. I looked up cause it caught my attention and I just kinda did the head nod of like, Yeah I see you. So hopefully that’ll also get kids of color to pursue improv, which is the thing that I love so much. To either seek out or be able to bring it to them because it is another art form that helps if they want to be actors, improv definitely helps you be a better actor.

It feels good to see me, but also there’s also added pressure of like, We’ve got to be twice as good. I have that worry of just kind of being a “character” instead of just being good and actually performing well and doing what I’m supposed to do. It probably is more of a pressure that I have on myself but I want to show them that they can do this too and also want to show them how to do it well so that they can also succeed and maybe even surpass me at some point.–as long as they are staying and being true to themselves and feeling comfortable and loving what they do.

What does it feel like to be a woman and a person of color on the stage? What does that feel like?

I don’t even think of how I look, but I know on stage I have a presence…cause I’ve got my hair all out and natural, and I kind of feel like I just shine in general. It helps more when the people that I’m playing with, if we’re having fun and vibing well with each other…then it’s going to be entertaining andwe’ll be able to successfully do what we want to do. I think, now though in improv, there are definitely more women in general, but just not as many women of color. So, for me sometimes I just don’t think about it as much. I’m just doing my thing.

I mean, that is something that I have in my head is like, Am I just here because I look the part for diversity or am I here cause I’m easy on the eyes. But once I get past that and I’m like, No, I’m here because I am talented and I have worked on my craft and I kinda can dominate., especially if I’m out of my head.

Have you ever experienced feeling forced to play a minority role on stage, more specifically a stereotype minority?

I have been kind of leery of doing a character of Black people. But then also in the past year I was playing with “You People” and we’re like, Oh, we can say the n-word onstage, no one’s gonna say anything cause no one else can. But I do try to make sure that I’m not playing a caricature of what people think a Black person is. We do have some character games, but typically I just go as myself…but sometimes maybe I can play with it a little bit and kind of lean into like Blackness or whatnot a little bit more.

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That’s something that I haven’t thought about as much, but I don’t put too much thought into that….I guess I probably do subconsciously. I feel like now that I’m becoming more confident as a performer ,in general, that I can play around with those things. I’ll probably start to play around with those things a little bit more being maybe “hood” on-stage just because I can and I know no one else can do that. Or, they could do it but it probably won’t go well for them. I think about it and I’m like, Have I encountered someone who’s actually liked this? And then if it’s, Yes, then I’d be like, Okay, well this is my inspiration and now I have a story for and I can tell you about this person that I interacted with who was a very real person.

For “You People”, even getting that started, we were just like, Where are the Black people in improv? And it’s the ones who not only are funny, but can also perform improv well. If we’re going to be the only ones, we have to be the best, we can’t just clown around. We have to still be entertaining and do the improv rules as everyone else has learned them. And, so right now we’re struggling a little bit because there’s only so many of us so it’s like wanting to get more Black people into improv so that we have some more to pull from. And then if I need to take a step back, I won’t have to feel bad about leaving my group kind of high and dry.

“Her allowing me the freedom to just kind of be creative and do what I want, but also still be able to like fail and learn from that is probably the best thing.”

Back to beginning… Growing up in a single parent home, how did your mom inspire you?

You know, I think I’ve always been fairly mature for my age. Which probably comes from growing up as an only child with a mom who tried to keep me well rounded and put me in different activities. Like, I did ballet…I’ve tried playing the violin…she took me to the music conservatory at UMKC…she took me to things like Kaleidoscope… and artistic things that really helped me be creative and let me try out things. So, I could figure out what I liked and what I didn’t like. She’s really pushed me to be a strong independent individual.And she’s really strong.

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I mean it’s just mostly me and her. I was kind of her focus after her and my dad separated. Well, they were never married. She didn’t want to get married but she knew she wanted to have a kid. Then, we lived with my grandma for a little while…from when I was like three until I was like eight, so until I was in third grade. And then we moved to Independence. She is very analytical and will like research things. She’s very smart. And she would always just be very encouraging so that I could try the things that I wanted to try. And if I wanted to just not do that anymore, she didn’t really make me feel bad about it. She never really was someone who would try and like guilt trip me. But she also just cares a lot. With the growing pains of pursuing acting and stuff and worrying about if I’m going to be able to make it money wise or getting paid…she’ll just listen to me and we can have conversations about things. She’s come to almost all of my shows, unless she was too tired or her back hurt and then she would feel bad for not coming.

So I just have to tell her like, Oh, it’s not, it’s all right. You’ve come to plenty of shows. Yeah, she comes to the shows, she loves coming to them. She doesn’t ever feel obligated or complain about going to the shows and usually before every show that she comes to she’ll also tag me on a post on Facebook just about how excited she is and to tell me that she’s proud of me too. Yeah, she’s also a glue — I feel like I get that from her or even from my grandma. I love to connect people and kind of be the strong force. I think we both probably have that aspect of trying to be strong but maybe taking on too much. So there’s a strength and a weakness in that. Her allowing me the freedom to just kind of be creative and do what I want, but also still be able to like fail and learn from that is probably the best thing.

Additional Information

Interview Date: November 6, 2019

Day 12 — Story posted on February 11, 2020

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