“An Equation for Black People Onstage:” An Excerpt
The use of the White in the dramatic equation is, I think, too often seen as the only way of exploring our Blackness; this equation reduces Blackness to merely a state of “non-Whiteness.” Blackness in this equation is a people whose lives consist of a series of reactions and responses to the White ruling class. We have for so long been an “oppressed” people, but are Black people only blue? As African-Americans we have a history, a future and a daily reality in which a confrontation with a White ruling class is a central feature. This reality makes life difficult. This reality often traps us in a singular mode of expression. There are many ways of defining Blackness and there are many ways of presenting Blackness onstage...
Can a White person be present onstage and not be an oppressor? Can a Black person be onstage and be other than oppressed? For the Black writer, are there Dramas other than race dramas? Does Black life consist of issues other than race issues?
And gee, there’s another thing: There is no such thing as THE Black Experience; that is, there are many experiences of being Black which are included under the rubric. Just think of all the different kinds of African peoples...
So. As a Black person writing for theatre, what is theatre good for? What can theatre do for us? We can “tell it like it is;” “tell it as it was;” “tell it as it could be.” In my plays I do all 3; and the writing is rich because we are not an impoverished people, but a wealthy people fallen on hard times.
I write plays because I love Black people. As there is no single “Black Experience,” there is no single “Black Aesthetic” and there is no one way to write or think or feel or dream or interpret or be interpreted. As African-Americans we should recognize this insidious essentialism for what it is: a fucked-up trap to reduce us to only one way of being. We should endeavor to show the world and ourselves our beautiful and powerfully infinite variety.
(written in 1994)