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What Did You Think of the White Card

Thank you for attending ArtsEmerson’s presentation of American Repertory Theatre’s The White Card. 

In the making of The White Card playwright Claudia Rankine has asked how we as a society can stay in the room to have a conversation about race. You may have stayed to participate in an Act II discussion. The conversation continues here. Please leave you thoughts and reflections in the comment section below.

Please note, we have a comment policy that we will enforce as we publish comments.


  1. Scott SancettaMarch 3, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    We did not stay for the discussion – both of us frazzled by driving in during the storm – but found the play thought provoking and inspiring. My favorite moment was late in the first scene when Charlotte cut through the increasingly positional discussion/argument with a simple “is my art just like this medical diagram?” – I cherish those moments in life when someone is able to drop their ego, their position, defensive posture or long held belief… and I feel I’m in the presence of a real person.

    Scene 2 was inspiring to me largely because Charlotte, in the face of Charles’ defensiveness, hung in there – she would not quit on him but kept giving him clues to her insight. I felt despair when she finally sat and said “I thought you were different” – “No, don’t give up!” I screamed inside :-). I only wish that the Charles character had been more believable in the last moments: I didn’t believe it when he grabbed Charlotte; I didn’t believe his sudden insight/conversion (my wife and I both thought Charles was making fun of Charlotte with his Skin Soliloquy). But reflecting later, I connected with what I imagine was the playwright’s intent: to show two people genuinely wrestling and coming to a genuine meeting.

    I (a well-off hetero white male) did not find this play to be mostly about race… I took it as a hopeful plea for people to risk being human and vulnerable: to acknowledge and reach beyond our limited ego/upbringing/cultural bias to at least recognize our limitations; and to try to speak to that deeper, truer part in others.

  2. (caveat: I’m an older white guy)

    I found most of scene 1 was as expected: the roles weren’t stereotypical, but not outside the norm. This changed towards the end when the artist understood that the feeling she tried to convey with her work to her patrons, bore no real relationship to what they were feeling — even though the words they used sounded to her like they did “get it”

    This induced a crisis on her part and her work changed soon afterwards. Scene 2 was the attempt of the (potential, eager) patron and the artist to come to terms with the issues of how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how we think others see us. Scene 2’s roles were not expected and showed two people trying to bridge a gap that has developed over centuries.

    The play ended with a mute image of the two of them posed for a photograph (the artist was a photographer) — very powerful

    So yes, a commentary on race, but secondarily all the other ways in which we have difficulty seeing what the other is and is about.

  3. Nancy ChamberlinMarch 12, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    I very much enjoyed this play. There is a lot to think about. It’s amazing how many subtleties she was able to pack in. For example she hit on the problematic components of helping and trying to be an ally: the true motivation and whether it is to actually help or to make oneself look good (the Foundation and the xmas card photo); the caring (or not) about whether the protests have any real effect; assumptions that all African Americans are activists; the idea of helping the Others as opposed to helping all of us. There were also things I just did not get. I don’t understand the significance of the incarcerated older son. I know all about how slavery morphed into Jim Crow and then into mass incarceration of POC, but I still think I’m missing something. FYI I’m a white lesbian, not super wealthy but definitely privileged.

  4. Sumru ErkutMarch 14, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    I saw the play on March 9, 2017 and found it to be thought provoking. The set, staging, lights, costumes, and the clever use of AV material, particularly the Serena and Venus video were spectacular. To my eyes and ears the characters’ discomfort in the first scene was a bit exaggerated, making me wonder if these were amateur actors just learning to say their lines, which they are not. More subtlety might have worked better.
    The content of what was said was spectacularly honest, with many examples of microaggressions. So much so that, the play seemed didactic. On the other hand, the last scene was the most dramatic I have had the pleasure of watching in any play in my long theater going life. The double exposure of a bare chested white man and a black woman on the “auction block” brought to life what Charlotte said about she and Charles being shipwrecked on the same side. Slavery is as much a white issue as it is a black issue. Our historical selves are intertwined and cast a long shadow on our self-selves. The White Card reminds audiences that the focus on black deaths and lives, without highlighting white complicity is not
    the way to stay in the room to have a conversation about race. Brava, Claudia Rankine. Thank you ArtsEmerson and A.R.T for bringing her work to Boston. May this play go on the road and be seen all across the U.S. and the rest of the world.

  5. Jeanne McKnightMarch 18, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    I stayed for the discussion on Friday night, but hesitated then to share my thoughts – let me try now. I was struck by the privileged positions of both the couple Charles and Virginia (seemingly super-rich to whom $1 million is nothing) and the artist Charlotte, whose mother is a lawyer and whose father is a doctor and whose grandmother gifted her with an expensive camera when she was 9 year old (seemingly an upper-middle class family). It seemed to me that Charlotte’s privileged position enabled her to confidently challenge Charles. I observed that Charlotte was better dressed than Virginia. As a daughter of the working class who became a Weston homeowner in my 20’s with my husband, the MIT-grad son of a policeman, I was often clueless and insecure about upper-middle-class mores, and am still sensitive to issues of class. Nobody discussed the play in terms of class power dynamics, but I think that was an important aspect. Alex was an interesting character – out in the street bodily demonstrating solidarity with victims of racism – and asking why his father Charles didn’t use the power of wealth and position to save his brother – why didn’t he?

  6. What and who was on display and what exactly were the pressure points? Those are two questions I find myself still grappling with that can help me further understand the play. I found multiple moments in the play where it seemed like the show and artifice were the main subject matter. The careful orchestration of seating and the white box/room (which are just the staging aspects), as well as the constant mention of different works of art (Between the World and Me, Philando Castille, projections on the wall, etc.), as well as the central figure of the artist made me wonder what was actually on display. It made me question how representations are just as powerful as what they depict. That reality is a construction that we constantly negotiate, and that we often have to fight for control of the narrative. That brings me to my second question which was what were the actual terms of the debate? I understood that there were several different characters coming together for a dinner party where the Black character was an artist whose work the family was interested in buying. That seems like enough of a powderkeg, and a power struggle, but the nuances of the arguments were difficult to entangle. What exactly created the conditions in which politeness erupted into policing? I’m also a librarian, and I’m interested in continuing the dialogue in that space as well.

  7. Susan LarsonMarch 25, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    Charles and Charlotte are the same name. He is trying to buy not only her art, but her. Even though she is an educated woman, she is still a black entertainer, like a football or tennis player, existing to make us whitefolks feel better. He is also perhaps downloading his white guilt and his unexpressed grief for his son onto her and her work. Maybe is so angry at Charlotte, his alter ego, when her art no longef provides him an outlet, or an out, for mourning. Their showdown was very emotional for me, it seemed like a little and agonizing step in the right direction. Centuries of evil stand between us, and, like Alex, with whom I identified, our efforts at fixing things can seem puny, phony and misguided. Owning our white complicity and our white profit from damaging others is baby step one, I think. Start from the real despair…

  8. Can’t get the show out of my mind, which is good! My wife and I (both white) stayed for Act II, despite knowing full well that it would be challenging and uncomfortable. My main question is, “What’s a white person to do?” What would make a difference, i.e., without pandering, condescension, lip service, or just relieving white guilt — which for us is palpable?


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