What We Talk About When We Talk About Race

Event Date: 
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Event Location: 
Lyceum Room 226
Start Time: 
7 p.m.
Event Description: 

The impetus for the production was Toni Morrison’s (1992) concept “American-Africanism,” the idea that what it means to be White in America is very much dependent on a carefully unacknowledged, but nonetheless distinctive othering of the “abiding Africanist presence” (5) that has haunted the nation since its founding. Morrison points out that even today “the habit of ignoring race is understood to be a graceful, even generous liberal gesture” (9-10) that has effects not only for the victims of racism, but also for the “mind, imagination, and behavior” (12) of those who perpetuate it—often unknowingly.

The production emerged over intimate, home-cooked meals among the cast members. Breaking bread together, we gradually began to broach the silences that existed interracially. Gradually, haltingly, we learned to share stories, current and historical, that were hard to tell and, perhaps, harder still to hear. Through those conversations, which frequently moved in fits and starts, we discovered issues that we had to confront if we were ever to begin to have meaningful conversations with each other and, ultimately, with a broader community through the production.

The title of the show is a deliberate attempt to point to the limitations of any production that purports to deal with race. No performance, certainly not one arising in the current political climate, could hope to address the multitude of issues related to race in America. Thus, we limited our scope to what we talked about in our intimate conversations about our experiences. The issues and stories that resonated with us on our journey are the focus of this show.

The performance has been collaboratively written, directed, and performed. It is largely devised, though it contains personal narrative as well as adaptations of literature. All the verbal and visual texts included in the production have emerged from our exchanges and explorations. What you will witness has been informed by considerations of prejudice and discrimination, oppression, racism, white privilege, and white fragility.

One of our primary objectives in the performance is to help the audience, particularly the white members of the audience, recognize that although they do not perceive themselves as racists, they are deeply enmeshed in highly racialized social formations that perpetuate racist ideologies and racist material circumstances; and, no matter how enlightened any of us perceive ourselves to be—and this includes the cast as we have negotiated this process—we cannot hope to begin to dismantle our current social circumstances until we take a hard look at ourselves and the ways in which we are implicated in them. Our ultimate goal is to attempt to address the barriers that inhibit the kinds of hard conversations that we shared in the process of creating this production.

Morrison, T. (1992). Playing in the dark: Whiteness and the literary imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.