James Baldwin wrote in 1962, "The brutality with which Negroes are treated in this country simply cannot be overstated, however unwilling white men may be to hear it. In the beginning—and neither can this be overstated—a Negro just cannot believe that white people are treating him as they do; he does not know what he has done to merit it. And when he realizes that the treatment accorded him has nothing to do with anything he has done, that the attempt of white people to destroy him—for that is what it is—is utterly gratuitous, it is not hard for him to think of white people as devils. For the horrors of the American Negro’s life there has been almost no language."
Being condemned to an underclass because of one's dark skin is all-too familiar to African-Americans. William Electric Black's newest play, "The Whites," aims to illuminate the feelings that accompany this experience for the benefit of all the races. It's done with a unique concept of race reversal. He offers us a family drama in which the situation and characters are culturally Black but the cast is White. Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., will present the play's world premiere run November 7 to 24, 2019, directed by the author.
"The Whites" takes us into a universe where the races are flipped and Whites are actually citizens of an ethnic underclass that is dominated by African-Americans. We watch the Caucasian family of Harris and Rasheeda White contend with gun violence, school segregation and the aftermath of prison. For this family and their surrounding community, the everyday experiences of economic, political and social injustice are imposed by Blacks.
Harris is a bus driver who strives to keep the family together. His wife, Rasheeda, is an activist who drives her children to succeed in school. Their son, Raymond, will possibly find basketball his ticket out of the neighborhood. His twin sister, Taylor, crusades to rid the community of guns. Harris' brother, Bunk, is a recovering alcoholic and ex-con who wants to make amends for his troubled past. His son, G- Good, is an at-risk youth with gang ties. Surrounding this extended family are colorful neighborhood personalities: Miss Martha, an advice columnist; Ujamma Man, a local street corner philosopher and Sugar Jefferson, a budding Spike Lee-type film maker. The plot culminates in one life lost and one wasted, a neighborhood resolved to rebuild a church that has been burned, and a resolution by the young White people never to let Black people "put you in a box."
Stylistically, the play is something like an "Our Town" in which a cast of white characters has been placed into a modern day Black story line. Like "Our Town," it is played with very little scenery or props. The minimalism is deliberate: the people and their social position are to be our focus. Scenes and their transitions are underscored by live acoustic bass played by Marc Schmied, imparting a jazzical feel.