Another one off the deep end. Kent University college production of “To The Mountaintop” has cast a white actor to play MLK to the inevitable chorus of protest by both the playwright and some others.
I seriously am not feeling this. First, because those of you familiar with the hottest play on Broadway right now, “Hamilton”…
Where a majority of the main actors are minorities, who play Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, Marquis De Lafayette, James Madison – and the music is delivered in Hip-Hop. Black folks and Hispanic folks playing dead white guys who were part of the Founding Fathers of our country.
Having read a lot of MLKs work, I have never seen anything as part of his vision that we should segregate on any basis, including the race of an actor. Nor were the objectives of his work limited to just freedom for black folks. It’s a play, dammit! I would imagine the howls if they put him in blackface…To be more “historically accurate”.
Kent University production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop featured a white and black actor, which Hall says was ‘disrespectful’ and a ‘disservice’
The casting of a white actor as Martin Luther King in an Ohio university production of Katori Hall’s acclaimed play The Mountaintop was “a disservice to not just Dr King but an entire community”, the playwright has said.
Hall wrote an essay for the African American cultural website the Root on Monday about Kent State University’s production of her play, which dramatizes the night before King was assassinated in 1968.
Hall told the Guardian that director Michael Oatman’s decision to double-cast the six-show production with a black actor and a white actor as King went “deeper than just casting a white man in the role of MLK”.
“I just really feel as though it echoes this pervasive erasure of the black body and the silencing of a black community — theatrically and also, literally, in the world,” she said.
Oatman, who like Hall is black, said in a statement in August promoting the play that he chose a white actor for the production “to explore the issue of racial ownership and authenticity”.
“I didn’t want this to be a stunt, but a true exploration of King’s wish that we all be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin,” Oatman said. “I wanted the contrast … I wanted to see how the words rang differently or indeed the same, coming from two different actors, with two different racial backgrounds.”
Oatman did not respond to a request for comment, but Hall said she had a respectful phone call with the director about a month after he staged the play at the university’s Department of Pan-African Studies’ African Community Theatre from late September to early October.
She said that Oatman did not discuss the decision to use a white actor with her before the play ran and called the decision “disrespectful”.
Hall said she thought that if a director was going to experiment like Oatman did, then they should include a discussion with the audience or create another forum to measure the success of such an exercise.
“With a playwright’s intention being dangerously distorted, Oatman’s experiment proved to be a self-serving and disrespectful directing exercise for a paying audience,” Hall wrote.
Hall learned about Oatman’s decision to use a white actor in the production after the show had closed. She immediately notified her agent, who contacted the theatre licensing service Dramatists Play Service, which then wrote to the university questioning its decision.
Since the Kent State University production ran, Hall has adjusted The Mountaintop’s licensing agreement to say: “Both characters are intended to be played by actors who are African-American or Black. Any other casting choice requires the prior approval of the author.”
She said that the issue of representation is a common discussion topic for theatremakers of color, but rarely gets attention beyond that community. The decision to cast a white man as one of the country’s best known civil rights figures, however, changed that.
“I feel as though a lot of theatermakers were a bit appalled at the choice that the director made – and that it was supported so wholeheartedly by the institution,” Hall said. “So it was really a moment to talk about playwright intention, but to then, beyond that, talk about much bigger issues, about not only being a black artist but also being a black person in America.”
Fascinating documentary from the BBC. I doubt anything like this would make American TV.
Research in Brazil now suggests that the earliest settlers in America were not the Native Americans who came from Asia, but another group arriving 30,000 years earlier as part of the migration of people(s) from East Africa which settled parts of South Asia now known as Negritos, and Australia as the “Aborigines”.
This article provides several historical facts I was unaware of, including the forced immigration of a group of Southeast Asian sailors to America in the 1500’s. Chinese and Korean serfs were imported to the Americas in the 17th and 18th century to work on the plantations in conditions best described as de facto slavery in the West Indies, and in America, as in fact – due to famine and war in their home countries, they were cheaper than buying slaves. Many of those brought here stayed, after escaping their “indenture”…That is, if they survived in an environment where there were fatality rates as high as 20%.
1928, an Indian immigrant named Vaishno Das Bagai rented a room in San Jose, turned on the gas, and ended his life. He was thirty-seven. He had come to San Francisco thirteen years earlier with his wife and two children, “dreaming and hoping to make this land my own.” A dapper man, he learned English, wore three-piece suits, became a naturalized citizen, and opened a general store and import business on Fillmore Street, in San Francisco. But when Bagai tried to move his family into a home in Berkeley, the neighbors locked up the house, and the Bagais had to turn their luggage trucks back. Then, in 1923, Bagai found himself snared by anti-Asian laws: the Supreme Court ruled that South Asians, because they were not white, could not become naturalized citizens of the United States. Bagai was stripped of his status. Under the California Alien Land Law, of 1913—a piece of racist legislation designed to deter Asians from encroaching on white businesses and farms—losing that status also meant losing his property and his business. The next blow came when he tried to visit India. The United States government advised him to apply for a British passport.
According to Erika Lee’s “The Making of Asian America,” published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act, signed into law on October 3, 1965, this swarm of circumstances undid Bagai. In the room in San Jose, he left a suicide note addressed, in an act of protest, to the San Francisco Examiner. The paper published it under the headline “Here’s Letter to the World from Suicide.” “What have I made of myself and my children?” Bagai wrote. “We cannot exercise our rights. Humility and insults, who is responsible for all this? Me and the American government. Obstacles this way, blockades that way, and bridges burnt behind.”
Bagai could have been speaking for the mass of Asian-Americans—Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Hmong, and Filipinos—who escaped colonialism or economic hardship at home only to encounter a country rancid with racism. Racism, as Lee shows, was the unifying factor in the Asian-American experience, bringing together twenty-three distinct immigrant groups, from very different parts of the world. It determined the jobs that Asians were able to acquire, the sizes of their families, and their self-esteem in America. If Asian America exists, it is because of systemic racism.
A few weeks ago, Donald Trump climbed a stage and crassly mimicked a Japanese (or was it a Chinese?) accent, in supposed admiration of the old stereotype that the Japanese are soulless, rapacious businessmen. This was just after Jeb Bush defended his use of the term “anchor babies” by saying that it was “more related to Asian people” than to Latinos. In September, the F.B.I. finally dropped all charges against Dr. Xi Xiaoxing, a Chinese-American physicist at Temple University arrested, in May, for passing on sensitive superconductor technology to China. The F.B.I. had claimed it had blueprints of the technology, but when independent experts examined the blueprints, they found that they weren’t for the device in question. “I don’t expect them to understand everything I do,” Xi told the Times. “But the fact that they don’t consult with experts and then charge me? Put my family through all this? Damage my reputation? They shouldn’t do this. This is not a joke. This is not a game.”
These are just a few recent stories, of course, but they stand in for many others. Asian-Americans are still regarded as “other” by many of their fellow-citizens. And yet one finds among some Asian-Americans a reluctance to call out racist acts, in part because of their supposed privilege in comparison with other minority groups. Meanwhile, much of the history of Asians in America, a history that now spans nearly half a millennium, has been forgotten.
The first Asians to come to North America, Lee writes, were Filipino sailors. They came aboard Spanish ships in the late fifteen-hundreds, and were subjected to such a torrent of vermin and filth on these vessels that half died en route; when they got to colonial Mexico, many refused to cross the Pacific again. They settled in Acapulco and married local women. Asian America began in desperation.
Many of the immigrants in the seventeen-hundreds and eighteen-hundreds came from lands sucked dry by colonialism, such as the Guangdong province, in China, reeling from drought and famine after the Opium Wars. Lured by contractors and agents, Chinese, Indian, Korean, and Japanese men travelled across the globe to toil on sugar and tobacco plantations in the British West Indies, Hawaii, and the Deep South as indentured laborers or “coolies,” working ten hours a day, six days a week, for five or more years before gaining freedom. (Some Asian women were hired as indentured servants, too, mostly in an attempt to pacify the men.) When the men gained their freedom, though, they often chose not to return to their homes—either, Lee writes, out of shame (their earnings didn’t match their boasts to people back home) or because they had married locals during their lonely sojourns and couldn’t take them back. Lee cites a few of their melancholic letters to family members, but one wishes she had gone deeper into the psychology of exile: many immigrants subsist on a diet of denial, believing, sometimes until their deaths, that they will go back.
From the initial ports of entry, Asians, particularly the Chinese and Filipinos, radiated outward, so that, in the mid-eighteen-hundreds, there was a Filipino fishing village in Louisiana and a Chinatown in Havana, as well as active Chinese communities along much of the West Coast. Lee describes life and labor in these communities well, explaining, for instance, why Chinese immigrants got into the laundry business during the Gold Rush. (At the time, it was cheaper for someone living in San Francisco to have clothes washed in Honolulu than to get them laundered in the city. Chinese immigrants seized the opportunity that provided.) Lee is particularly acute on the racism these immigrants endured. Chinese were called, at various times, “rats,” “beasts,” and “swine.” The president of the American Federation of Labor said that the presence of the Chinese in America was a matter of “Meat vs. Rice—American Manhood vs Asiatic Coolieism.” Kaiser Wilhelm woke from a nightmare in 1895 and commissioned a hideous painting showing the archangel Michael beset by heathen hordes from the East—the famed “yellow peril.” When more Chinese started coming after the Gold Rush, employed on large projects like the Pacific Railroad, anti-Chinese sentiment became shrill. In 1882, on the basis that Chinese workers undercut wages, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, banning low-skilled and family immigration, and making the Chinese, in Lee’s words, “the first illegal immigrants.” (As Jiayang Fan noted in a recent piece for this magazine, “The act, which wasn’t repealed until 1943, remains the only federal law ever to exclude a group of people by nationality.”) Special agents known as “Chinese catchers” appeared on the border with Mexico, and the Secretary of Labor despaired that “not even a Chinese wall” along the border would stop Chinese immigration. In 1871, in the largest mass lynching in American history, seventeen Chinese men were murdered by a mob of five hundred, in Los Angeles…Read the Rest Here…
Been gone a long time…Now he’s back. Dick Gregory, the comedian turned Civil Rights icon has always had a viewpoint…
…Well, first of all I have to ask–as someone who was born in the Jim Crow era and who marched in the civil rights movement, what do you think of the progress we’ve made since then?
Well, we’ve come a long ways but the important thing we haven’t even started changing is the mental thing. See, going from slavery to the early ’60s we had to worry about being physically beat up, physically lynched. I mean, if someone got lynched tonight we’d be shocked, whereas up until the ’60s, we wouldn’t have been. But now it’s a mental thing. Until you solve the mental thing… that’s the interesting thing about the history of black people in America, we’re the only people on this planet who went through what we went through and opted for education instead of liberation.
We’ve never been liberated. I mean, George Washington wasn’t beating up the British so he could open up another college. The sign don’t say, “Give me education or give me death,” it says, “Give me liberty or give me death.” And so to have a bunch of people that are educated not liberated, man… of course, they don’t know it.
When a black person teaches their child: “Be careful if this white racist cop pulls you over, don’t talk too fast, don’t move too fast, cause he might kill you.” Any time you tell a child to respect and fear, to behave, for a murderer — children don’t hear what you mean, they hear what you say. So they think there’s something wrong with them. Why else would my mother and father tell me to be afraid of a cop, unless I’m doing something wrong?
So… you’d say the fear of violence does more harm to black Americans than violence itself? Would you agree with people who say the solution needs to come from within the black community rather than outside, then?
We’re like people who’ve been taking aspirin for 20 years because they thought they had a migraine but then one day they found out they had a brain tumor. I can’t bring you aspirin no more, but I don’t know how to get it out.
Just cause I’m black, I don’t know how to get it out. You want somebody doing heart surgery, then you’re going to get a heart surgeon to write it up. Not just somebody who had a heart attack. What do they know about it?
What happens with fear? When you go into fight or flight? What kind of poison and chemicals go into your body? How do you deal with it? How much sex and drinking and drugs do you do?
A lot of black folks dealt with it by looking to God. God and fear can’t occupy the same spot, you see. We saw them, back in the day — black women, little children, black men. King and them. It worked for a time.
But then they came out with the guns.
A lot of those cops were Klansmen. When King gets the call, “N***er, we’re gonna blow up your house at 2:00 in the morning,” he can’t call the police. They’re probably the ones that made the call. So he’s gotta grab two children, and Coretta grabs two, and on their faces the children see something they’ve never seen before. Fear.
Fear works different on different people. You see a mother go down to the garage, jack up the car to change the tire, then the phone rings, then she comes back and the baby pushed the jack under the car and fell under it–and she lifts up the car! Soldiers on the front lines, taking that hill. That’s fear, that’s fear that comes and goes, it does its job and disappears.
But when you study what fear does to people who’ve been in it so long… You can go down the South, to Mississippi, to see black folks who’ve got three PhDs who still look like sharecroppers. The jaw fell, the eyes sunk…
Someday we’ll find out how all this works, all the chemicals, what makes us die so much younger, but it comes down to fear, fear, fear, fear. You see a cat that sees a dog, how its body changes, its hair swells up, its muscles clench. That’s how we live every day. We got used to it, we live with it, but that’s what’s happening.
Most white folks don’t know it but you can smell racism. You can smell fear and you can smell hate, just like I can smell whether my mom’s cooking barbecue or baking a cake. Black folks know it when they’re around it, it’s animal, it’s chemical.
Wow. So, you’d say that the power of the civil rights movement was faith staving off fear? And the end of the civil rights movement was a case of fear ultimately overpowering faith?
Look at the Haitians. Napoleon had the greatest army in the history of the planet at that time and they went over there and the black folk whooped their ass. Napoleon came in and they said no, you get back. And what did they blame it on? Voodoo. Now they teach everyone that voodoo is something mysterious and something negative. But “voudou” was just a word meaning spirit. It was spirituality.
We had something with King, with the movement around him. He had no guns, man. They had no evilness. They didn’t say nothing on those cameras or when then the cameras left. “Those no-good honkies, man” — there was none of that. It was a different thing.
And I learned so much from that. I never thought I’d see the day I’d sit here and tell you I’d rather be killed by somebody than kill somebody. That’s what I got out of that movement. We took on the greatest nation in the history of the world and brought them to their knees. With no meanness, no bitterness.
And everybody’s talking about where it went wrong, the thing they miss — When they killed Jesus, they didn’t get none of his disciples. When they killed Caesar, they didn’t mess with his friends in the Senate. When they came after us, they wiped everyone who had the power to change things. Malcolm. Martin. Medgar Evers. You go down the row, the list of names, and see what happened.
And you think that after those leaders were killed, the community gave in to fear?
When you stop and think… It’s like, what do you say when white folks bring up the Confederate flag? We think Hitler was one of the most powerful tyrants — them Nazis one of the most powerful governments that ever existed — but you can’t go to Germany and see a swastika. Not in public. So what does that say about us here?
We’re more vicious. These white American racists were more vicious than Hitler and them Nazis they hung on years after the war was over. You know how long World War II’s been over? And yet to this day they’ve got Nazi sympathizers but it’s not permitted in public. But we Americans don’t demand that of our racists. Black Americans don’t demand it.
You know we have thousands of black cops in America. And you never turn on the TV or hear the radio or pick up the paper where a white family is crying because these black cops shot their loved one in the back of the head 40 times. You think black folks don’t do that because they’re more spiritual? You think they don’t do that because they’re better? No! They know white folks won’t tolerate it! And as long as we do tolerate it it’s gonna happen.
By don’t tolerate it, I don’t mean get no gun. I mean organization, boycotts. When white folks say they’re gonna boycott Christmas shopping until they get this change–they get it.
The gays proved that. In March, when the governor of Indiana who was gonna sign a law saying businesses did not have to serve same-sex couples? And then the gays, and the people who were friends to the gays, rose up so bad, and then all at once people started canceling out conventions–and he changed that so fast like he always meant to do it.
And so let me give you an example. There’s still five states that display the Confederate flag in their state flag in some fashion. (Ed note: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas. Nine states, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, continue to display the Confederate flag on license plates.)
Now you saw what happened in Charleston, right? Now let me tell you how this white racist system feels about us. After 50 years, after nine people were massacred, they finally took that flag down in South Carolina. Let me tell you something. If black folks were to come together and said we’re holding a press conference today, and said to this state here or that state there, if that Confederate flag is not gone from official display, all the Negro athletes in your state are gonna start a boycott — no more black men coming to play sports in your state?
It’d be gone that night. That’s what they value–black athletes, compared to human beings.
It sounds like you’d clearly disagree with people who think America has somehow entered a “post-racial” era. Do you think America is still, fundamentally, a racist country?
See, a black person cannot be racist. Even some black people don’t know that. I can dislike a white person because they’re Jewish, I can dislike them because they’re Italian, or if they’re Russian. That’s prejudice.
But racism is the ability to control somebody else’s fate and destiny. And I can hate white folks all I want. I won’t have the power to take their job or see to it their kids go to a bad school.
The problem is really white supremacy. Most white folks don’t know what that means. They believe it means prejudice based on race. No, no, no. That’s the excuse. It’s supremacy. Who is supreme? Compared to you?
When Hitler decided he was trying to create a perfect race he wasn’t talking about black folks versus white folks. He was talking about Germans versus everyone else. Anyone who was a misfit got killed, white-looking or not. Consequently ‘whiteness’ is not a skin color, it’s an attitude.
There’s people in this world making millions of dollars every year just as interest on their money. That’s what I mean by “white folks.” I perform 200 days out of the year, and every time I say if I took over America, the first thing I’d make the black folks do is apologize to the white folks–because you’re mad at the wrong white folks! The white folks you’re mad at couldn’t hit at you if they’d like to. You guys get mad at the white folks at the Sears & Roebucks, the Walgreens, but I want you to be mad at the Saks Fifth Avenue ones. But they’ve got power, and you’re scared of that.
Who are you mad at? The Ku Klux Klan? Lynch mobs? How many black folks died from lynching as opposed to the effects of public policy? You think Negro-hating rednecks who can’t read or write, you think they determine public policy? You think the fucking Tea Party determines public policy? Let me tell you, if they do shut down the government that’s because the damn Rockefellers in power want it to be shut down. If that one percent didn’t want you to do something they could have tanks in your neighborhood and wipe you out before they’d let you get away with it, you understand?
The people who run this country, who run the world–I’m an old Negro. Coming up I wanted to be white because I thought white folks knew what was going on. Now I find out you white folks are as dumb as we are. Schools only a little bit better than ours. The same game they run on us they run on you.…More…
Just a few salient points about Dr Carson. Seems he has forgotten a lot of things while spending life in the bubble at that hospital surrounded by intern and student doctor fawning sycophants. That seems easy to do for some folks. I wonder if the good doctor ever volunteered with folks like Doctors Without Borders?
Get out there in the real world and it will put your ego in check real fast.
It’s not racist, or even controversial, to point out that black people in the US face systemic hardships and prejudices, from increased poverty rates to higher police brutality. But as that observation, notably via the Black Lives Matter movement, has begun to attain broader attention and more influence, the only serious black candidate for president seems determined to push the discussion out of the spotlight.
Ben Carson, a Republican candidate for president, is stumping with language that underplays the need to talk about race in this country, decrying “purveyors of hatred who take every single incident between people of two races and try to make a race war out of it” at the first Republican debate.
This sort of language presupposes that the likes of black activists interrupting Bernie Sanders makes them troublemakers who can’t see beyond race. That is, in this logic, it makes Black Lives Matters members racist.
It’s an old conservative talking point that those who “see” race and agitate for racial justice are the “real racists.” But because this rhetoric has long drawn criticisms of racism for the Republican Party, it’s a small wonder that a black candidate supporting the old cause is making Carson a conservative darling.
During his August 12 campaign trip to Harlem, New York to promote “self-reliance,” Carson said black Americans must realize that “there is a way to go that will lead to upward mobility as opposed to dependency, and let’s talk about that way, and let’s not be satisfied to be patted on the head and kept like a pet.” Carson was referencing the conservative “welfare queen” contention – that poor, black Americans have chosen the easy malaise of economic dependence over bootstrapping their way to the middle class.
While touting “self-reliance” as a form of individual empowerment, Carson is de-emphasizing race and ignoring racism as a powerful social force that constrains people and limits their choices, instead redirecting the conversation America could – and is starting to – have on race to one of morality.
That is, his supposedly populist call for empowering the black community to rise beyond economic circumstances and become independent, is really trotting out the old Bill Cosby line that black communities have chosen poverty over success or dependency over mobility. “Those whole value systems, the values and principles that created strong families and gave people that kind of foundation that they needed to resist the influences on the street – those are not there anymore,” he said during his Harlem campaign stop.
But black people in America face structural barriers to achievement that begin with crowded and underfunded schools followed by a pay gap between them and their white peers regardless of the educational level they attain. When a black man minimizes this to endear him to his target base, it just makes it harder for everyone else who doesn’t have the luxury of denying pervasive truths. Carson places an unfair distance not just between himself and potential voters but between disadvantaged communities and the voting process. Why go out and vote when politicians use your community as an example of what’s “wrong” with America?
While his supporters may find his brand of “raceless” individualism and self-reliance to be compelling, communities of color – which must contend not only with the disempowering effects of structural racism but also with politicians encouraging self-blame and decontextualized “bootstraps” pathology as the path to liberation – have little reason to support Carson or any of his peers at the polls.