by Yuni Chang
“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” – Zora Neale Hurston
Outside the quaint suburban home of an all-American white couple, an expelled member of the KKK readies himself for an explosive entrance with noose and gun in hand. When his initial targets – the Black neighbors across the street – enter the peculiar mix, what follows is a gruesome chain of events that sets fire to the bloody contradictions of racial politics and liberal consciousness in the Obama-era white American psyche.
White History, a play that confronts the violence and toxicity of whiteness and white spaces, comes to the stage at an unbelievably appropriate time: in the aftermath of national student protests for racial and gender justice, the creation of an institutionally supported center for ethnic studies, and campus-wide conversations about privilege and the meaning of inclusion.
Dave Harris, director and author of the play, is the second Black playwright in the history of the Dramat to have his work featured and produced. His patience with white audiences has run thin, and he is not about to let their next theatre excursion be a palatable foray through a “post-racial society.” White History forces white people to see the ugliness of their power up close, and the play does not shy away from naming the death count embedded in their skin.
“Someone once asked me if I was proud of America’s racial progress. My response was to burst out laughing,” Harris says. “People like to distance themselves from America’s past, as if we were not all the sons and daughters of our history. White History puts our typical ideas of ‘racism’ in context with our ideas of innocence and colorblindness. Just because you’re not wearing a hood doesn’t mean you do not have work to do. And you definitely have work to do.”
White Yalies: I saw you when you stood by the sidelines during the March of Resilience, and smirked as if you knew better. I saw you when you threw your copy of the Yale Daily News in the trash, when its cover story was about how students of color were organizing for a more equitable, accountable university. I saw you chuckle, gawk at, and belligerently antagonize the pain of Black, Latinx, and Native students with your willful ignorance and open mouths. I dare you to reckon with what you have inherited. See this play, and hear it.
White History is playing at the Yale Repertory Theatre from Thursday March 31 to Saturday April 2. You can purchase tickets at dramat.org under the box office tab.
You’re not ready for this shit.