Recently I was asked if it is really my intention to write a whole play that has no characters that are people of color.
And I think the answer is, yes. But if the answer is yes, the next question has to be, am I comfortable contributing to the overwhelming white supremacist voice that already prevails in the theater?
So let me unpack the notion that that's what I'm up to.
One time, a long time ago now (or it feels like a long time ago) I vowed I wouldn't ever write about race. "It is not a story that I feel is mine," I told people, and somehow at the time (which feels like a VERY long time ago) I believed that was true. At that time, I'm sad to say I had so much ingrained anti-blackness and absorbed white-centric thinking just from being alive in America, that I would probably have written a play with an all white cast by accident. Without a second thought.
I now write predominantly about race. Because it is in everything I do, everything I see, all of my life, whether I want to look at it or not. So it is my responsibility, I think, as a writer and an artist to delve into these uncomfortable places and if im afforded the opportunity, take audiences with me.
Did you know that white is a race? Did you know that whiteness is, in fact, 50% of my race? Did you know that the majority of theater subscribers are white women over the age of 50? Did you know I am 50% white woman? I did. And so I've written a play about white women. About supposedly "progressive" white women and all their deeply, insidiously flawed and self-righteous humanity. And in this play there are no people of color.
People of color aren't entirely absent from this play, but they're not present onstage. The music is all explicitly by artists of color and the conversation centers largely on race throughout. But in this "safe space" for this group of homogenous "liberal feminists" there are no people of color. And it is important to me that we feel in our bones that that is intentional.
And here's the thing. I want to see more people of color on stage. I want to see all brown skinned casts that are not the exception, but the norm. I want to see work by brown writers, I want to hear our stories and see our struggles live on stage, on screen, on the page. Every motherfucking place. And at the same time, I do not feel compelled to put people of color onstage in this piece. In this singular instance I want audiences to be forced to live with the discomfort of truly watching whiteness on stage. Watching people they have been trained to identify with being disgusting, being racist, being flippant and crass and dismissive with their supposed activism. I want to expose all the cracks in their progressive, eco-friendly, organic, color-blind existence.
Suzan-Lori Parks wrote a brilliant essay about her desire to view blackness onstage in its own right. Not in opposition to whiteness, but as a powerful entity in and of itself.
To my mind, the inverse of this is to see whiteness alone onstage in all it's hideousness. To see not the pristine whiteness of a world like FRIENDS which conveniently excludes people of color as though they do not even exist, but a real ugly whiteness that includes people of color in its reality and actively chooses to shove them out, chooses to fetishize and demean them behind closed doors, the whiteness that's exposed in moments when we think it's "just us".
I am not interested in including a token person of color to confront this whiteness in its grotesqueness, to step in as the "voice of reason". I'm not interested in a black woman coming in and putting these misguided characters in their place. Believe me when I tell you, black women are tired of taking up that role. It is not our job to set you straight. If you're not awake by now, it is not our duty to be your alarm clock.
I'm not interested in weaponzing a brown body as an escape hatch for uncomfortable white audience members. I'm not interested in placing a person of color onstage so that white people can feel relief when their own demons are condemned, so they can cheer a brown hero and feel smug in their own tolerance. "I agree with her! It's just what I was thinking," they'd congratulate themselves. It is not our responsibility to absolve you of your complicity in white supremacy.
And if, by some miracle, this play, with an all white cast, about the horrors of white liberalism in all its masturbatory glory, can make you squirm in your skin, can make you feel as uncomfortable being you as white supremacist culture has insisted we feel about being us; if I can show you the truly denigrating subtle racism that lives in your home (yes YOUR home) then, no. I do not feel bad that this cast does not include a person of color.
And what's more, I don't think that camouflaging myself as another play about white people and their problems in order to infiltrate white audiences, (who say they don't see color but don't buy tickets to the "black play" in their regional theater season), is contributing to the problem. Because y'all are the ones I want to talk to. Y'all are the ones whose bullshit I'm interested in exposing. And what better way to do that then just to hold up a goddamn mirror?
I'm not interested in you looking at me. I'm want you to take a good hard look at yourselves.
BRUNCH will premiere in a staged reading at 18th & Union in Seattle, WA on September 25th & 26th, 2017. Tickets and details can be found here.