Curated by production dramaturg Jules Odendahl-James
In my program note, I discuss how Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play, We Are Proud to Present…, uses the device of a young company of actors devising work together to uncover how ill-prepared we are as Americans to discuss issues of race and the experiences of and privileges afforded by structural racism. While the following words do not appear directly in the text of the play, they describe attitudes, actions, and events referenced and enacted by Actors 1-6:
The disaster of the man of color lies in the fact that he was enslaved.
The disaster and the inhumanity of the white man lie in the fact that somewhere he has killed man.
And even today they subsist, to organize this dehumanization rationally.
–Franz Fanon, White Skin, Black Masks (1952)
Taking the experiences of Actors 1-6 to heart and recognizing that audience members will come to this play and its presentation of these issues from myriad perspectives, the following are a list of vocabulary terms to facilitate understanding and hopefully more productive dialogue and action than what we see the on-stage ensemble find at the play’s end.
- Averse Racism. A theory articulated by social psychologists John Dovidio and Samuel Gaertner in 1986 to describe the actions of white individuals who self-report egalitarian conscious attitudes regarding race but who nevertheless display unconscious, racially biased attitudes towards people of color. In situations when the basis for social judgment is vague or when one’s actions can be rationalized on the basis of some factor other than race, aversive racists may engage in behaviors that ultimately harm Blacks but in ways that allow them to maintain a non-prejudiced self-image and insulate them from recognizing that their behavior is not colorblind.
- Colorblind Casting. Sometimes known as “non-traditional” casting, this idea was initially heralded as a much needed diversity measure within theater, calling on directors to cast the best actor for the role without consideration of race or ethnicity. In practice, it only modestly increased representation for actors of color. Recently, artists of color have advanced a shift to color conscious casting where race, ethnicity, and culture are carefully considered not just when plays are cast but when they are commissioned, programmed, and marketed.
- Colorism. A common tendency across all races and cultures to discriminate in favor of those individuals with light(er) skin and Western European physicality and aesthetics. You can see the colonial expressions of colorism in the letters from German soldiers that are read by the Proud to Present company:
WHITE MAN: In a group of natives –
a soldier can walk up to the tallest one –
with the straightest teeth –
–and the fairest skin,
and without a doubt,
address him as Leader.
- Intersectionality. A term coined by critical race theorist and legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in relationship to feminist theory of the late 1980s. This is the idea that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees influenced by intertwined systems of race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity. Intersectionality has become a key component to coalition building and systemic change that recognizes all aspects of an individual’s identities and experiences.
- Microaggression. First articulated by psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce in the 1970s, the term was taken up in the 2000s by psychologist Derald Sue who defines it as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” For examples, visit www.microaggressions.com.
- Post-racial. Appearing in press and popular culture around the time of Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign, this term implies that with the election of an African American to the highest office in the land America has turned a corner in race relations between whites and blacks where racism is symbolically if not actually overcome. The question remains whether the post-racial indicates the ultimate realization of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of “not be[ing] judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” or is more likely an expression of averse racism (see above).
- Reverse Racism. A colloquial term used to argue that whites suffer equivalent discrimination at the hands of people of color. Institutional interventions such as affirmative action and color conscious casting are invoked as evidence of ways in which people of color use their race as an unfair advantage. What this idea obfuscates is the fact that racism is defined as structural and historical discrimination. It is not simply prejudice, which everyone can express. To be in a position to “reverse” discriminate means access to institutional power that people of color do not possess in American society.
- White-‘splaining. A term popularized on social media for when a white individual takes it upon themselves to explain racism, racist acts or behavior to or for a person of color usually in a way that silences the person who has a lived experience of racism. See also man-’splaining.
MTV’s Decoded Video, “White People Whitesplain Whitesplaining,” offers a satirical illustration of the term.
- Whitewashing. When a character of color’s race and/or cultural-linguistic background is erased by casting the role with a white actor. Closely linked with the practices of yellowface/redface/brownface/blackface, which is the casting of white actors as characters of color. In the most egregious examples, these actors use makeup and/or costume to facilitate their passing as a non-white race.
Watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’s take on Whitewashing.