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If we imagine Kansas as being the place where “it gets better” then current race relations and violence at the Trump rallies, and multiple outbursts of violence at them have proven we are definitely now far from that place. The mask of a post-racial society has been ripped off the face of America and the grimace wearing specter is staring back at us. There is a level of vitriol in the rhetoric in this current presidential primary around race that is eye opening for white allies and confirmation of what was suspected and felt for people of colorcannot even seriously address Donald Trump however. I cannot believe he actually believes anything he says. It appears he just says whatever he thinks will get the most attention, be that racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever. Whether he really believes any of these statements no one can actually say. There are people now talking of suing him for inciting violence at his rallies. I suspect they are doing so under the legal premise that if it is a crime to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, thereby inciting a riot, it stands to reason then it is also a crime to tell folks you will pay someone’s bail bond if they beat up a protester at your rally.
We all must stand and reckon with the words we say. This brings me to the recent Hamilton casting notice hullabaloo. If you aren’t familiar with it, read over it here: Hamilton.
Ok now as a black member of Actors Equity, let me say this. I have many friends on social media who are white and also union actors. Boy did the crap hit the fan when I started talking about this. The white tears came out in the hundreds claiming outrage at the racist nature of this casting call. The faux outrage was driving me crazy. Where was this outrage when Steve Martin put out a call basically saying the same thing but using the word “character” to shield himself? If you write a show completely devoid of any people of color, then I guess you can shield yourself from racism in casting, because your play is already white normative from jump street. Lin-Manuel Miranda had some interesting thoughts on race and casting. Manuel Miranda . However even some of my well meaning white friends in the theatre could not get over their white privilege in being hurt that one, ONE show wasn’t about them. The interesting thing is, Hamilton IS about white people, the characters are white but the brilliant stroke of casting people of color in these roles illuminates privilege and the whole problem of racism in the history and construction of our democratic republic.
Where is the outrage in writing shows about, for, and by white people all day every day? Where is the outrage about these shows full of white only characters that comprises 99% of the musical theatre canon that makes “color blind casting” a nessecity for black actors anyway? If the vast majority of musicals were not white supremacist, we would not even have to have a talk about diversity. Therein lies the problem my friends. What has this Hamilton mess and and the violence at Trump rallies revealed? They have revealed that America is still not anywhere close to settling the race question. As a country we still want to ignore it, and brush it under the rug. When it is addressed and diversity is introduced a la the casting of Hamilton, here comes the reverse racism crowd to be upset. Over what are they upset over exactly? The fact that there is one show that you can’t have in the 150 years of musical theatre? How funny that the first musical we recognize was called The Black Crook. It isn’t about black people but even using the word “black” to mean bad is problematic. Remember the scene in the brilliant Malcom X by Spike Lee?
So what are we to do with the truth here? What is the language doing? Instead of letting the definition of the word in the culture, in media, on television and in movies define me as a black man, I have to decide to determine and define blackness for myself. The constant affirmation that black is beautiful is vital to the mental health of black people. Several studies have shown what happens to the mental state of black men when we believe and just take for granted the images of ourselves we see in the media. “Specifically, scholars state that images in the media have a negative impact on black perceptions of self.” -Findings of a study done by the Opportunity Agenda
Yes. The answer is that black people must love themselves in spite of everything we see, hear, and read that tells us to do otherwise.
Black love is beautiful.
Take care my brothers and sisters.