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Communication studies department explores racial issues through social commentary play

Communication studies department explores racial issues through social commentary play

UNT Department of Communication Studies put on a performance of a play called What We Talk About When We Talk About Race on Nov. 8. Brigitee Zumaya

Communication studies department explores racial issues through social commentary play
November 13
15:26 2017

Like a heralding song, startling sentiments were shouted, sung and performed by cast members at the Lyceum on Wednesday night.

“Prejudice plus discrimination plus power equals oppression. Break the silence. Racism involves everyone.”

A cast of communication studies students and professors performed their play, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Race,” which started at 7 p.m. and ended with a Q&A session. This was the cast’s encore performance after showings at the Black Box Theatre last month.

“This was a public event, so we didn’t have any idea what the audience was going to look like and how they were going to react,” communication studies senior Kennedy Wilks said.

In a series of scenes, the cast collectively tackled issues like white privilege, prejudice, discrimination and oppression through powerful personal narratives and adaptations from literature. Cast members visually and vocally performed their own experiences of race, leaving the audience enraptured.

“I’ve got two strikes in a three strike world, and I’ve only got one chance to get it right,” communication studies senior Shannon Johnson said, referencing her mother’s advice on being a black woman. “I can’t afford to miss.”

The production resulted from a year-long discussion among cast members over home-cooked dinners hosted by performance studies professor Jay Allison. Slowly over time, cast members began to share their stories and dialogues about race, which are portrayed in the scenes.

“I was really committed to doing this over meals because I thought that that was the way to get people engaged,” Allison said. “Breaking bread was an important part of this process.”

The idea for the production was sparked by Toni Morrison’s concept of “American-Africanism” which details that even today “the habit of ignoring race is understood to be a graceful — even generous — liberal gesture” that affects victims of racism but also those who perpetuate it.

“In the time we got to know each other, [we became] a family because you’re very vulnerable in that space,” communication studies senior Krysta Overton said. “Being able to tell that much about yourself is part of the process and part about growing.”

Allison said this type of production felt foreign to him since he often works with fictional adaptations. However, he said he does not regret the new experience.

“This is so out of my comfort zone that it made me insane, but I also think it’s the most important work I’ve done,” Allison said.

Each scene contained a compelling story around themes of racism, white privilege, oppression and much more that left guests snapping in agreement or, for some, squirming in their seats in discomfort.

In one scene, a projection of Fox News broadcaster Geraldo Rivera speaking animatedly about Trayvon Martin’s death was shown.

“I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman,” Rivera said.

Then, it cut to a hooded figure walking carefully along a tightrope on the stage.

“My hoodie read as dangerous, furtive, untrustworthy,” communications studies graduate student Kevin Howard said. “And so does the color of my skin.”

Another scene showed a group of friends excitedly clutching red solo cups on election night. As Barack Obama is announced as the president-elect of the United States, they shriek, “GoBama! GoBama! GoBama!”

But soon, the characters were twisting its meaning as an end to all racism and discrimination.

“So you’re telling me that I can walk into a mall and not be followed by security guards,” Johnson said skeptically, to an overzealous consensus.

“I never have to feel weird about slavery again,” Wilks said in feigned excitement.

Soon, cast members were being wrapped up in glittery American flag vests. One cast member was adorned in green fabric with a Pepsi in hand to resemble a makeshift Statue of Liberty.

“It’s important for students to see plays like this that is provocative enough to make them think,” psychology professor Yolanda Flores Niemann said. “If we have the courage to come face to face with the discomfort, we’re better people for it and it makes us grow.”

Many in the audience related to the issues while others walked away with more insight about the topic.

“Trying to connect with it and really seeing racism was really big for me because I come from a sheltered community,” education sophomore Cristina Garza said. “It’s really eye-opening in that you just have to talk about it.”

For some students, this was not their first viewing of the production.

“I was just amazed at my lack of education on the topic and how little I had known about racism and how little my family talked about it,” communications studies senior Kaelah Davis said. “It’s not just something, as a white person, I should stay out of.”

The cast members, through “What We Talk About When We Talk About Race,” advocated to audience members that people must break the silence on race and oppression in order for future growth and progress to happen.

“Despite the fact that none of us built the racial system, we are complicit in it but we don’t have to be complacent,” adjunct professor Anna Marsden said.  

Featured Image: UNT Department of Communication Studies put on a performance of a play called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Race” on Nov. 8. Brigitte Zumaya

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Amy Roh

Amy Roh

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1 Comment

  1. JusticeDelivered
    JusticeDelivered November 14, 08:35

    I suggest that everyone should read the book “If I Had a Son” by Jack Cashill to get the real story about this case.

    Reply to this comment

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