Ideas: June 2008 Archives
Laurie Anderson performance of Homeland at this year's Spoleto Festival was similar to a couple of other performances: They felt a little late in the game. Drag queen and performance artist Taylor Mac and the Nottingham Playhouse's performance of Seamus Heaney's The Burial at Thebes had political overtones, too. But while one maked fun of the absurdities of the past eight Bush years (airport security, etc.), the other underscored the tragic elements of those years (the social and political dangers of nationalism and xenophobia). In neither, however, was politics essential to what they are. They had more to offer. For instance, Mac, the transgressive, cross-dressing trickster and fool, is a master shape-shifter, able to manipulate and charm any kind of audience. Though some of his material has lost its *frisson* (i.e., jokes about "unattended bags"), he elicited an amazing range of emotions -- from mirth to sadness to pity to respect. On the other hand, Thebes was a spartan and ingenious production that spoke to timeless themes of concern to all of us -- death, duty, honor, family, and religion. King Creon himself was an oblique allusion to George Bush, but one could completely ignore that allusion. Creon is a tragic figure that has stood on his own since Sophocles wrote Antigone. The same couldn't be said of Anderson's Homeland. It depended almost entirely on politics and current events that aren't as current as they used to be. It felt stuck in time.
It's been a couple of weeks since the end of the annual international arts festival here in Charleston, but I'd like to post a few of the things we did here at Charleston City Paper, primarily from the paper's blog, Spoleto Buzz. Our blogs, during May and part of June, attracted some 742,000 hits from more than 58,000 unique visitors. Not great, but not bad for a mid-sized independent weekly newspaper in a city of about 600,000 people. Let's start with this. [MY BLACK FAMILY AND MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH'S *THE BREAK/S*](http://spoletobuzz.ccpblogs.com/2008/06/04/my-black-family-and-bamuthi-josephs-the-breaks/) I never thought the one-drop rule affected me personally until I read David Matthews' memoir, Ace of Spades. The one-drop rule is a phenomenon of American slavery. It determined who was black and who was not. In brief: If you had as little as one drop of "black blood" in your ancestry, you were considered black. If you were half black, you were black. Looked at the other way: If you were half white, you were black. It damned African Americans if they did and damned them if they didn't. At its core, Matthews' 2007 memoir is about a youth spent "passing" as white -- and the serious and obvious questions the social phenomena raises about the metaphysics of race and the paradox of racial identity -- while coming to terms with the price he paid for abandoning his heritage and family.
"I was not a racist; I was a hater. I hated the netherworld in which I found myself, the one that tacitly reassured me that it would shun, relegate, fear and ignore all of me if I acknowledged half of me. Half-black, eighth-black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon -- all meant black.I have five aunts who married black men. Four on my mother's side I never got to know well, nor did I know their children, my cousins. On my father's side was Margie. She married Jerry. They had three boys and girl. I grew up with them. I went to church with them. We ate Sunday dinners together and played in our grandfather's apple orchards together. We knew each other. We were blood relatives. Yet in my childhood, my entire family, even I suspect Margie and Jerry, thought of my cousins as black. Warren, Douglas, Phillip, and Bathsheba are as white as I am. But such is the perniciousness of American racial pathology -- the unconscious yet ubiquitous application of the one-drop rule -- that I came to understand my own kin as the Other. Their blood was my blood, yet they were black, not white. They were seen to be different from us even though they were the same. Race in America, as was the case in my family, has always been either/or. With us or with them. One thing or the other. Never both. A throbbing paradox. I hope my white family had no intention to privilege one race. I'm certain my "black" family members themselves didn't. Even so, are we, all of us, guilty? Yes, I'm afraid we are.