Rage in Context
Pearl Cleage is the Playwright-in-Residence at the Alliance Theater through the National Playwright Residency Program, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Find out more about her residency experience here, and learn about the impact of the program at large here.
“Non-violence is a dead philosophy and it was not the black people that killed it.” Floyd McKissick, Congress on Racial Equality, Summer, 1968
“… the day will not save them/and we own the night.” LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka
The shocked surprise expressed by some Americans after the Dallas shooter, an African American war veteran, was quoted as saying he wanted to kill white people, especially police officers, showed a lack of sufficient understanding of the widespread rage that exists in many African American communities and usually manifests itself in extreme violence within those communities themselves (see statistics for gun violence in Chicago on any given weekend) but is sometimes directed at random white people based solely on race. Sort of like how black and Latino men are disproportionally stopped by police officers based solely on race. This lack of understanding often leads to uncomfortable conversations among cultural workers (that would be us!) where well-meaning but uninformed white Americans begin to quote Dr. King and exhausted black Americans roll their eyes and wonder how it is that we still have to explain that Black Lives Matter really means Black Lives Matter, too, which must be stated and restated for reasons too obvious and painful to keep repeating.
The canon of American dramatic literature includes many plays by award-winning African American playwrights that specifically explore the complexity of black rage and the violent consequences to all American communities when that rage is ignored.
Which brings us back to black rage. The canon of American dramatic literature includes many plays by award-winning African American playwrights that specifically explore the complexity of black rage and the violent consequences to all American communities when that rage is ignored. These plays, many of which were forged in the cultural fire of the Black Arts Movement, include a rich variety of characters and plot lines that may ground more deeply our discussions of the rage and madness manifested in Dallas, as well as of community reaction to the police violence that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and sent young Americans of all ethnicities into the streets in protest.
It isn’t necessary for us to reinvent the conversational wheel every time we try to talk about race or to consider these problems without historical and artistic context. I offer the following plays as a way to take the conversation to the next, hopefully higher, level. This list is by no means comprehensive. Other suggested titles can be added in the comments.
The Dutchman by LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka
Bourbon at the Border by Pearl Cleage
A Soldier’s Story by Charles Fuller
We Own the Night by Jimmy Garrett
The Bronx is Next by Sonia Sanchez