Friday, January 9, 2009

Because it needs be said

I initially thought I might wait until after seeing The Emperor Jones to post this, but I don't know what train of thought the show might send me on, so in case I don't end up talking about the whole racial kerfluffle the show is causing, here is a reposting of my thoughts from the comments section of Chris Jones' blog. This is mostly in response to the following comment from a Lena Brown:

"This is BEYOND racist! This does not spark discussion on race; it ridicules the history of oppression and injustice suffered by Black people in America. Whites in blackface can NEVER be anything but racist. Let me put in terms you can understand: What would be the reaction of Shakesperes play Merchant of Venice if it had the (already racist)character of Shylock (the Jew) played by an actor/actress dressed as HITLER! You need not reply because we all know the answer to that. The Goodman Theatre has just lost another patron."

Lena, if we're gonna throw Nazis into the picture, let's not be hypothetical, let's be historical -- race relations in America today, especially in the arts, are easily comparable to those in post WWII Germany. Our forebears committed atrocious acts and we've created a deafening silence in their wake because it's just easier not to talk about it. There is a contingency of black artists approaching the subject, but a massive lack of white artists doing the same, partly because they don't know how to approach the subject and partly because, as this is proving, investigating the sins of the fathers is still so closely equated with perpetrating them.

In order to enable the race discussion that this country still so desperately needs to surface, we need to acknowledge that there is such a thing as scholarly and artistic use of words and actions in order to discover how they became so charged and how to discharge them (note: discharge them, not shove them in a closet, which just hinders the conversation more). We need to work towards a society in which everyone can speak towards the racial problem frankly; in which we are aware, no matter how many black presidents we elect, that things are not a-ok and silence is not the way to fix them; in which panel discussions (and this is for you, Goodman) are not just peopled with minorities, because these are problems which affect everyone and which everyone should and is able to comment on with equal consideration.

The most frustrating part is that the groups, such as Third World Press, who are encouraging this boycott are exactly the ones who are dedicated to raising the same issues as Wooster Group is attempting. When even like minds are trying to create silence rather than sharing, what progress can there be? Dialogue does not happen by limiting vocabulary. This is an American problem. In order to move forward, we need to enable America to talk about it as a whole rather than further the division by dictating who does and does not have the right to speak on the subject.

That's the more that I didn't write earlier. And you're right, Lena, none of this NEEDS a reply, and come next week everything will go back to the way it was, because none of this will GET a reply. But it's not because everyone knows the answer. It's much worse than that: no one knows the answer and we're all too frightened of saying the wrong thing and getting a response like this to ask each other for help figuring it out.

P.Rekk
2009

2 comments:

ian mackenzie said...

Awesome post Paul. I love this:

"There is a contingency of black artists approaching the subject, but a massive lack of white artists doing the same, partly because they don't know how to approach the subject and partly because, as this is proving, investigating the sins of the fathers is still so closely equated with perpetrating them."

I would say the same goes for the First Nations genocide topic in art in Canada.

Kerry said...

I do think it's unfortunate they couldn't run the show longer, since the only logical response to people who object is to ask them to see it first. I also really wish that the plans to bring in the National production with a black actor in the part had come together. It would have been interesting to contrast that. Wooster is the only production of this play I've seen.