Saturday, April 17, 2010

I Did A Racist Thing

I did a racist thing the other day, and it is pissing me off.

I am a theatre critic.  As a general rule, I do not give standing ovations.  This is largely because, as a critic, I do not want to tip my hand.  I don't want someone thinking, "Yes!  The critic gave us a standing O!  She loves our show!" only to find that my review is less than a rave.  I'll applaud your work, sure, but if you want to know what I thought of it, read my review.

(OK, yes, there are exceptions.  Sometimes a show is just so damn good that I am impelled out of my seat in a rush of emotion.  While, as a matter of philosophy, I tend to think that that is the only situation in which a standing ovation should be given, I understand that, as far as the public is concerned, the standard is somewhat lower.)

In any event, as a rule I don't stand.  If anyone asks me why, I explain that I'm a critic.

OK, here's the picture:  I'm a person of whiteness.  I'm seeing a play about racism in America.  It's what you might call a racially-charged piece.  The cast is mostly African-American, as is the audience.

The play ends.  The audience stands.

I stand too.

I know damn well that I am standing because I don't want the African-Americans in the audience to believe that I'm remaining seated because I'm opposed to the message of the play.  Basically, I'm afraid that they'll see me: (1) being white and (2) sitting there, and leap to the conclusion that those two facts have a causal relationship.

I hate myself for doing this.  Because, I mean, I'm making an assumption that the black audience will make an assumption about me because of my whiteness.  I don't think, "eh, they'll think I'm a critic," or "they'll think I've hurt my foot," or "they'll think I've hated the play."  I immediately go to, "they'll think I'm a racist."

Which is, of course, a totally racist thought I'm having -- as I'm assuming something about the rest of the audience based on their own color. 


But the thing of it is -- while I'm really annoyed with myself for having this racist thought and for acting on it, there's still a sizeable part of me that says my action was the prudent thing to do, because even if most of the black audience would not have reacted in the way I feared they would, there probably were some people there who would have, and why piss them off (and let them think badly of me) if it could be avoided by just going along with the herd and standing up?

So I basically sold out my principles (against standing) in exchange for not irritating some random black person who I am (on a racial basis) assuming is thinking negative thoughts (on a racial basis) about me.

Yeah -- on reflection, probably not cool.


Anonymous said...

Now, if you weren't wearing your critic hat, would you have given a standing o? If so, then I think you should cut yourself some slack. If not then well, tough noogies! :) -peg

Wil said...

Prudence, m'dear. A very under-rated ability to survive in the face of overwhelming odds.

Would you have volunteered to join a Hitler Youth group in the 1930's? Or, perhaps you'd rather have dealt with the riots in Watts in the '70's as a Korean-American storekeeper?

"To thine own self be true" ... and carry a loaded weapon.