The impetus for this play was a series of interracial “dinners” (really, afternoon snacks) over a two-year period ending for my wife and me just after 9-11. These monthly get-togethers were sponsored by the Urban Enterprise Center and supported by the City of Seattle.
My interest in participating was in wanting to learn more about how minorities, particularly black people, viewed a number of issues affecting their community, including: “gangster” rap and clothing, crime, drug use, teen pregnancy, educational quality, police profiling, and more. What we both learned was that the minority participants were more interested in communicating their grievances with the white majority than in educating us (although certainly this did occur).
Since that time and in writing this play, I began to understand that talking about recent issues only scratches the surface of what makes open and honest communication between blacks and whites so difficult. Recently, I read a book by Tracy Thompson called The New Mind of the South. One passage seemed to me to explain the avoidance that marks communications between blacks and whites:
“Is it possible for white America to really understand blacks’ distrust of the legal system, their fears of racial profiling and the police, without understanding how cheap a black life was for so long a time in our nation’s history,” asks writer Philip Dray. Thompson adds this thought: “Today, we’re like partners in a marriage that has suffered a profound trauma, and who have decided to just pick up and go on without ever grieving or speaking out loud about the terrible thing that has happened. But the terrible thing won’t go away.”
The continuing influence of this “terrible thing” lurks beneath the words and actions in Parsing Race.