Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Not Letting David Mamet Win

I haven't seen Race yet. I don't know if I will. But, as a few of us out here try to talk about the difficult subject of race in this country, I've been thinking about this quote, which has turned up in just about every review of the play:
Mr. JAMES SPADER (Actor): (As Jack Lawson) There is nothing, a white person can say to a black person about race, which is not both incorrect and offensive. No. I know that. Race is the most incendiary topic in our history. And the moment it comes out, you cannot close the lid on that box. That may change, but not for a long, long while.
Part of me has a kneejerk reaction of "Absolutely!" The experience of being a black person in America is so total, so invasive from birth, so pervasive in every aspect of my life, I can't escape it. But most white people simply can't see it. My daily life involves a constant and complex form of trigonometry that gets me from A to B while keeping my soul intact, from the smallest interactions on the subway to writing this blog to making my way in a field dominated by white people. It is exhausting and painful and totally invisible to even my closest friends. Every single time I deal with someone, I'm wondering, "Are they treating me this way because I'm black?" Whether it's good or bad. And that's just an experience that a white person can not grasp. I'm sorry, you can't, the kneejerk part of me says. You can not speak to it, you can't understand it, and, really, on some level, you've benefited from it. You have an easier life because I have a harder one. There is hurt and anger and frustration there, behind that.

But, for me, there's another part. The part that sees both of us in the same boat. That's the part that wants to reject the idea that you can't speak to race. In fact, that voice says, even thinking that is part of the same system. It sets a white person above the fray, outside of the swirl of chaos and pain. It gives them an out and an invulnerability. But they're here, too. They know it, too. Some don't want to be reminded and prefer to ignore it. But some are willing to turn into the wind and fight back. And sometimes they want to be acknowledged for it. Because it's hard for them, too.

I love Glengarry Glen Ross. I really like American Buffalo. I enjoyed the hell out of Heist. But I don't like David Mamet. I don't like how his thinking is manifest in his plays. And I don't want to let him be right. A white person may say things that are incorrect and offensive. They may mean to, they may not. But as long as we're talking, we're going somewhere. I want to keep talking.


Christopher Ashworth said...

{quietly, emerging from the corner of the room}

Thank you for writing this and your previous posts. I'm grateful to read them.

I'm terrified to leave any comments to them (even this one), but you said "I want to keep talking."

So, speaking for myself: I want to keep listening.

{heads back to the corner}

joshcon80 said...

Thanks for this.

No, I have absolutely no idea what it is like to be a person of color. But I do have empathy. I do have humanity. I don't want people to quietly suffer emotional traumas on the subway every day. (I mean, just because they're Black. We all suffer on the subway.)

To echo Christopher, it's scary for white folks to talk about because no matter what, we're still wrong.

But people are people and people are trying.

99 said...

Thanks, you guys, for chiming in. It's never going to be easy, but who wants easy?

Thanks for trying...(and Chris, you don't have to stay in the corner...unless you like it there...)

Tony Adams said...

my comment ended up being way way to long . .

posted here: