Yes, this is another Strange Tale of the Great Stupid.
A depressing one.
In the opening scene of Down in Mississippi by African American playwright Carlyle Brown, a white man calls a black character “nigger” multiple times and threatens him after learning that he’s in the area to help register black citizens to vote. Texas Wesleyan’s Black Student Association shared an Instagram post about how many students were “deeply disturbed” that such scenes would be shown on campus, because it might “hurt Black students and possibly students from other marginalized communities.”
So the university decided not to mount the production. Brown, the playwright, argued that the word’s use in the play was necessary to maintain historical accuracy and to provoke strong responses. Yes, and he might have also pointed out that this is live drama, and the objective of live drama is to arouse the audience’s emotions. Glenn O. Lewis, the first black board chairman the university has had, diplomatically said that he understood how the language could make some students uncomfortable, “But when have we ever … learned anything in our comfort zone?” Lewis asked. “You don’t learn anything new until you get out of your comfort zone, and I think that is what Mr. Brown intended for this play to do.” Lewis added that censorship of Brown’s work is not a real solution.
But the school censored the play anyway. It was easier to do that, you see, than to have to tell self-righteous students that they were wrong, that they don’t understand history, theater, drama or art, and that it is time to shut up and learn something. “These crucial conversations need to continue,” university officials said in a campus-wide weenie email after the production was killed. What’s the point? If the university won’t stand up for artistic expression that students find “triggering,” then all a discussion will do is reinforce self-righteous intolerance.
Almost exactly 20 years ago, my theater company The American Century Theater produced a revival of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” using the George Aiken adaptation that was prominently produced on tours during the first half of the 20th century. I co-directed the play with my late friend Ed Bishop, who was black. The script had “nigger” spoken repeatedly, and several times in the first five minutes of the first act.
The show was viewed by more than our Arlington, Virginia company’s usual contingent of black audience members, with many students attending. Do you know how many of the black audience members, families and teens complained about “the N-Word”? None, and that’s over a month-long run. I asked many of them specifically, and they looked at me like I had three heads. Of course they weren’t offended, they said. How could you tell Harriet Beecher Stowe’s powerful story without using that word?
That was during the Bush administration. We have gone backwards in race relations and the understanding of the importance of unfettered speech and expression.
Good job, everybody.
Pointer: Res Ipsa Loquitur