Whose World is this Wednesdays: The Uppity Negro

All right, I’m gonna say it…I’m going to offend a lot of people when I say it too.  Stop peddling Black folks like we’re  for sale. And Black folks…stop waiting around to be peddled.  I know you’re going to be angry at this post.  And I’m glad, you should be. As a matter of fact, you should be so angry that you respond.  But you won’t.  And I’m tired.  I’m tired of seeing these plays where the black people lament, lament, lament…with no soul or purpose.  I’m also tired of seeing these plays where we make complete buffoons of ourselves.

Maybe I’m too young.  Maybe too reactionary.  Maybe I’m just too unlearned to follow the trends of Black Chicago theater.  I don’t get it.  Is this happening everywhere too?  The last play I saw made me think that I might not be cut out for this gig.  This theater gig.  I don’t fit.  I don’t fit in the uppity “Negro” section of theater and nor do I fit in the “Chitlin’ Circuit” crowd.  I started questioning who I was as a director all over again.  Am I really going to do something so challenging that makes people feel something?

Is it wrong for me to want to feel something?  Am I just theatrically numb and ill-equipped with the arsenal of theater history to understand that style of acting done at these larger institutions?  Why did I feel like we were “puting on airs?” “Keeping up with the Joneses” in order to show them …look we can act.  It almost makes me think of The African Company Presents Richard the III by Carlyle Brown.  In this drama, the company members are apart of the first African-American theater company called The African Company.  Set in the mid 1800s, it reveals the frustrations of  a group of actors who were only regulated to perform minstrels.  These actors wanted to step out and do something daring and unheard of.  They decided to do Shakespeare.  The highest form of art of the time, and ours if you think about it.

The play is based on real events during the 1820s when James Hewlett and William Alexander Brown founded this company 6 years before slavery came to New York.  Ira Aldridge was also a member of this company and later moved to Europe to perform Shakespeare.  But just like these men-tired of playing the minstrel; I too want to see challenging work on stage.  I guess my qualm is with the institution. Should I be so uncomfortable with our portrayal in front of white folks?  Should I just learn How to Eat Your Watermelon in the Company of White Folk (And Enjoy it)?

Seems like it’s a bit of double consciousness that Du Bois mentions in Souls of Black Folk.  We have to be aware of “being American and Negro (the term used of the time.)  Which brings me to my other point.  If we live in such a “Post-racial society”  then why did I read a review that had this to say?  In the end are we just the “color of our skin” to these institutions?

Yet when Lawrence and Evans are hauled off to jail, you begin to understand they are the best Negroes for the job at hand. Hedy Weiss

There are no quotation marks or italics around the word Negro in her review.  It is disrespectful to call the black actors in a play Negro just because the title suggests.  I think she missed the whole point.  They were not The Good Negro that Ms. Wilson was exploring.  In fact they were the opposite of The Good Negro.  We’re not living in 1960s; the play is set in the ’60s.    You can’t call us “Negroes” on the low just to prove a point.  Which, in a way, proved my point.  Sad state of affairs folks.  Sad state of affairs.

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