“White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” -Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility
Remember that time, during Michael Cohen’s televised testimony to the House Oversight Committee, when Rep. Meadows, a powerful white Congressman, brought Lynne Patton, a black Trump lieutenant, to stand at attention behind him to mutely refute Cohen’s assertion that the President is a racist?
And remember when Rep. Tlaib, visibly shaken by the stunt, tried to call it out but was unable to read her own words, stumbling over them twice? And the explosion between Meadows, Tlaib, and Chairman Cummings? Meadows, voice shrill and shaking and on the verge of tears, outraged at having been called a racist and attempting to exonerate himself by revealing he has black family members?
Much was made of Rep. Meadows’ reaction as a classic example of White Fragility. A white person coming undone over a person of color’s temerity at pointing out the obvious racial dynamics in their action or speech. He couldn’t just listen to her critique, and so he could not learn from it as it unfolded.
What’s stuck with me about that incident is Rep. Tlaib’s tongue-tied attempt to call the committee in around this stunt. She seemed to be trying to focus the committee members on their tolerance for an act of minstrelsy; a white ringmaster propping up a black character and putting words in her mouth. I have heard Rep. Tlaib speak passionately, fluidly, pointedly on other charged moments and ideas, and yet here she struggled to read her very carefully worded statement. Was it rage that knotted her words in her throat? Did the words scramble on the page? Was the connection between her eyes and her brain short circuited by her racing heart?
Keith Hamilton Cobb has spent years connecting his heart and his mind to his tongue and in American Moor he will let it fly. It will be bracing for some, frightening for others, and charged for everyone.
I appreciate the scholarship here, as much as the performance. It is thorough and revelatory. Mr. Cobb has precisely unpacked Othello from a point of view I had not heard, though I’ve acted in the play twice and can recite many of the lines by heart. The argument here, alone, is an achievement and worthy of our time and attention.
Yet, it’s the lived experience that is the true gift that Keith is here to offer all of us. He’s invited his audience into his mind, right at the moment of the offense, and had the courage not to make it safe for the white people in the room. Shakespeare’s Othello seems to have made the choice to perform a role on behalf of the white boss. Keith’s refusal to do the same reveals something in Shakespeare’s character. Our response reveals something in each of ours.
I am grateful for the opportunity to listen and learn. I hope you will join us and receive the gift of it.
- David Dower, Artistic Director