We Is Still Colored
This past Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening a truly beautiful thing happened in the Agassiz Theatre as BlackCAST put on their annual Fall play. This year's selection was "The Colored Museum" and what was on display here was far more than what meets the eye. Through eleven vignettes the cast of the "The Colored Museum" brought to life the words of George C. Wolfe on stage. I went on two nights, Friday and Saturday. Both performances moved me in a way but after the first time around my second time was a double-edged sword. On the one hand I knew what to expect from the jokes and so the shock or comedic novelty factor was gone. On the other hand, I understood more and more of the play and developed my interpretation of its message after my second exposure to it. Nevertheless, my assessment of the play is that it is one that speaks a lot to the past, present, and future of Black people in the U.S. specifically and the world more broadly. (more in expanded post)
The messages presented in "The Colored Museum" should resonate with people from many diverse backgrounds. I was happy to see both the diversity of the crowd as well as the strong showing of the Black community in supporting this event. BlackCast has only two staple events per year--their Fall play and their Spring production "Eleganza"--but when they do it they do it BIG. The move to a larger venue than last year's "Before It Hits Home" in the Adams Pool Theater showed that BlackCAST aimed to get a greater amount of students to its show than they had in recent years. When I went on Friday, the Agassiz Theater was nearly sold out and I saw many different people there from aspiring I-bankers to revolutionairies-in-training, Final Club big whigs to Final Club hagglers, straight and queer, Black and White, old and young...you get the picture. Each probably came due to the massive amounts of e-flyers, Facebook messages, and other such requests they received as well as an interest in seeing a good, provocative, student-led performance locally for a cheap price; I doubt that they left unfulfilled.
My favorite scene was the one with the past and present Black man who had to throw away parts of his past culture in order to assimilate and rise in a new one. His most poignant quote to me was "King Kong would have made it to the top if he had only taken the elevator". Deep. Having to hide the essential things that make you who are--one's artisitic tastes, one's preferred, clothing, one's mode of speech--should never be done. Nevertheless, the man in the play feels that he is forced to as he pursues a climb to the top of the corporate ladder. This is pertinent to domestic racial minorities in general though those who are at Harvard particularly who seek to enter fields often dominated by individuals who may be from different cultural or racial backgrounds than themselves. Those individuals who are at Harvard have even more of a chance to rise to the upper reaches of the corporate and government world due to their Harvard degree, possible professional contacts gained here, greater access to internships and entry-level positions, etc. We must recognize what comes along with this change as historically important cultural sacrifices are often made whether consciously or subconsciously in the pursuit of the almighty dollar.
The play's coverage of a number of different time periods in the Black experience gives us insight into the past, present, and future of our people. It exhibits (or acts out) slaves just arriving from Africa to the "New" World (disregard the existence of millions of Native Americans already here for numerous millenia) and re-developing their culture and identity in a new land that regarded all they previously knew (and currently existed as) as inferior. The past was wrought with getting an understanding of what was left behind in their native land including family, culture, religion, and freedom. Presently, "The Colored Musuem" showeed a need to be in touch with all of these things alongside the difficulty in maintaining them in today's climate as Blacks became enterainers who "never say anything profound" and socialites from the backwoods of Mississippi who purport to have French accents. The future shows that unless their true selves are reconciled, unless their true essences are allowed to come forth, we can be no internal reconciliation or peace as a people since will constantly seek to emulate that which is foreign to us. We must decide whether we will continue to strive for money, fame, and material gain or if we will work hard to ensure that our history and culture and not exploited by the "powers that be" that will seek to utilize it for financial gain while constantly deriding it as inferior.
This play is a message of self-pride, self-consciousness, and self-assurance. The self-pride in the play shines through at numerous points such as when the aforementioned Black man struggling to get rid of his old self due to his new career path displays and suppresses an interest in singing along to the Temptations' classic "My Girl". The character understands the importance of the song as a piece of his cultural history, but feels forced to push those deep-rooted feelings aside as he strives to "make it" in the corporate world. Self-consciousness is exhibited in the scene where the male and female movie stars strut their stuff on stage while acknowledging the fact that their world is one of fantasy, devoid of substance, and altogether out of touch with real people. This is part of the danger of rising to the upper reaches of society or pursuing high political office--leaving one's own people and operating solely in a realm where rhetoric rules and all is deemed well since everyone is smiling. The self-assurance comes through the confidence of the character Ms.Roj as she feels comfortable standing up to any and everyone from her drunk, inflammatory father to a muscle-bound thug from Brooklyn. Her assurance of the validity of her lifestyle is admirable and reflects the importance of being OK with your personal indentity in the face of societal backlash. Hey, this is what Black people in the U.S. deal with everyday since despite our progress as a people or as individuals at Harvard we must not forgot: WE IS STILL COLORED!