When I was growing up, the whole politically correct movement was really starting to influence curriculum. At first we kids were taught that every kid was the same, whatever their gender, skin color, physical or mental disability. But as we grew up, the lesson changed from everyone’s culture being equal to this idea of valuing differences (yeah, I went to private school, and I’m not ashamed to admit it). So instead of being color/gender/disability blind, we were supposed to recognize that we were different, how we were different, and value that difference.
Then there was the thing where if a person doesn’t have their roots in a given culture, they can’t possibly understand it, and should leave the understanding of that culture to those who are intrinsically of it.
Then there was “write what you know.”
So there I was, in college. I was writing what I knew, about being a girl who had really strong passions, who loved alt music and staying out late and drinking 40’s out front of the Philly Record Exchange, a girl who lived through multiple parental divorces, who’d even at one point come home to find all her stuff on the sidewalk out front of my childhood home, put there by my step-mother. I was a girl who’d done lots of stuff that girls do, and I wrote about it.
I didn’t think that I was specifically writing for or about white people, but now that I’m looking at all these casting kerfuffles, I’m realizing that if you’re a white playwright, there’s an assumption that the characters you write are white.
Not cool casting directors.
In my college writing workshops, fellow playwrights T. Tara Turk and Jennifer Mattern, along with prof Edward Allan Baker, said that I should be writing for black people. I said how the hell could I do that? I’m not a black person, how, based on the whole aforementioned academic mind fuck, could I write what I didn’t know/had to value as different from myself? I was scared to do it. I was afraid to be judged, I was afraid the work would seem inauthentic. I was afraid.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want my plays to be only white people, but I didn’t want to write what I didn’t know.
I went to grad school, I studied with Eduardo Machado (lemme just throw out that he’s the greatest). I was writing up this story about a sad murder in my neighborhood, NYC’s LES. I wrote that the characters’ race and/or ethnicity could be whatever. Eduardo said just write down their race and/or ethnicity. I did it, but it felt weird for some reason.
Then finally my 20’s were over. And I realized that I know everything and can write whatever the fuck I want. So I’m writing some plays for black people. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m a racist.