Recently the members of the Kenyon community, myself included, have seen more attempts to achieve the necessary discussion about race. But at a school like Kenyon, a predominantly white and wealthy private liberal arts institution, we cannot afford to be satisfied with just sparks. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the default view, a default made possible only by privilege: “I do not see color.”
The Kenyon College Dance & Dramatic Club performed Baltimore, a play written by Kirsten Greenidge, as a staged reading in the Bolton Theater on April 6 and 7 to replace The Good Samaritan for the club’s spring season. James Michael Playwright-in-Residence and Professor of Drama Wendy MacLeod retracted The Good Samaritan after she was accused of promoting offensive, racialized stereotypes in the play.
I played one of the characters in the two night production. The relatively thin crowd on both nights was a testament to the fact that although many members of our Kenyon community agree that racism is bad, only a small fraction of that group is willing to put themselves in a position where they may have to confront the realities of race on our campus, let alone have a discussion about them. Still, on both evenings following the show, a brief discussion was held between the cast and the audience members who did not run out after the actors took their bows in another attempt to encourage conversation about race on campus.
Thomas S. Turgeon Professor of Drama Jonathan Tazewell, the director of the production, facilitated the conversation both nights, leading with the questions: “What would a ‘post-racial’ Kenyon look like? And is that something we even want?” “Post-racial,” as described in the play, is the idea that we as a society can progress beyond race; that race is no longer a factor in the way we live our lives.
People who believe in the post-racial fantasy are the same people who try to jump-start progress by claiming color blindness. It is tempting to say, “I don’t see color,” the way a white character in Greenidge’s play so adamantly repeats, when you do not have explicitly racist thoughts at the forefront of your mind. It is tempting to say “I don’t see color” when you treat your friends of color the same way you treat your white friends so it seems that racial bias is an obstacle you’ve already overcome. But the truth about growing up in America is that no matter what skin tone you are, you grew up in a world that preaches racial inequality, one in which every day is laced with micro- and macro-aggressions.
For Kenyon to be post-racial, it would have to erase every person of color’s experiences, invalidating our feelings and the way we perceive things. Race is a social construct created to isolate people with arbitrary definitions and ever-blurring lines. There cannot be a post-racial Kenyon because the divisions lie deeper than skin tone.
Associate Professor of English Ivonne García, who sat on stage with the cast members the first night, when we were all too stunned by the scope of the question, responded with, “I don’t want post-racial, but I do want post-racist.” While many of us would love to see a post-racist world, or at least a post-racist Kenyon, it is just another fantasy that seems too far in the distance to even be considered a possibility. It is impossible to end the violence directed toward people of color in any and all forms, until we are able to have discussions about race, until people allow themselves to be uncomfortable, until people confront their own biases that are undeniably present.
Elizabeth Iduma ’20 is a film major from Silver Spring, Md. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.