An Open Letter

Dear playwrights, actors, directors, producers, sound board operators, ushers, stage managers, house managers, set designers, lighting designers, and concessionaires:

Please.  I’m begging you.  Stop it with the blackface.

You may think it’s been long enough.  You may think that all the hullaballoo is just about white liberal guilt, and you watch “30 Rock”, and Chris Rock, and you know that there’s nothing better to make fun of than white liberal guilt, and if you’re producing a show in San Francisco you know that your audience is going to be ninety-five percent white anyway!  (The other five percent is mostly Asian, and occasionally half a Cuban.)

But here’s the thing, kids: it’s still not okay.

I mean it.  Even if you toss in a joking reference to the audience signaling to them that it’s OK to laugh — delivered by a black actor, and textually appropriate in a script that regularly breaks the fourth wall — it’s actually not OK.  Even if that joke is a direct commentary upon white people’s liberal guilt about blackface, it’s STILL not okay, because you know whose opinion doesn’t fucking matter when it comes to blackface?  WHITE PEOPLE’S!  White people consuming blackface, and other forms of cultural appropriation of oppressed classes, is NOT NEW.  It is very, very old.  Showing white people some blackface might feel all transgressive and shit, but you know what is never edgy?  Asserting one’s privilege!  And, hey, do you know what blackface is all about — historically, entirely, exclusively?  White people asserting their privilege!  

Let me reiterate that: blackface isn’t edgy.  It’s not cool.  It’s not transgressive and it’s not arty.  It is the Andrew Dice Clay of stage makeup.  It is about hatred and oppression and cultural dominance, full stop.  Now, the fact that is making a weird comeback — at least in hipster theater companies operating in SoMa — might have something to do with the movie “Tropic Thunder,” which used it not to congratulate white audiences for their subversiveness in the face of the politically correct, but to point out how fucking asinine it is that white audiences should find blackface subversive or laudatory in any way.  It was nuanced and substantive, and also funny.  

Here’s what not nuanced and substantive: slapping some bronzer on a tan chick and passing her off as Lisa Turtle.  Here’s what’s not funny: having a black chick tell a white audience that white people are uncomfortable with blackface… and that’s the punchline, right there.  Because what white people think about blackface?  Not the goddamn point!  Black people are not OK with blackface, for very good reasons, and, hey, there’s your reason not to put it in your shows.  

Incidentally, however, this did give me an opportunity to be grateful, once again, that I moved across the bay.  In San Francisco, putting a blackface joke in a show can earn you back-patting for your humor; in Oakland, that shit will get you a punch in the face, just like it should.

Straight outta O-Town,


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