For fuck’s sake… In case you haven’t seen it: this is what Berlin’s Schlosspark Theater deems good entertainment.
That’s right: the new year has begun (2012, by the way), and people think it is appropriate to put a little Blackface back on stage, since minstrel shows are always such good fun.
“I’m Not Rappaport” is supposed to be starting tomorrow, and if you feel like you have something to say to the people responsible, here’s their e-mail address: email@example.com
I’ve sent them a short rant, and here’s the
gist complete version of what I have written. It is not very explanatory and does not go into detail, but I don’t think people like those at the Schlosspark Theater don’t know what they’re doing or aren’t aware of the fact that this might be – wait for it – offensive (read: “Schlosspark Theater, you’re racist as hell, you dumbass cactusfuckers.”) – they just don’t care. That’s why I think people should tell them that there are some who actually do.
“Dear Schlosspark Theater Team,
I presume you have received a number of very polite protest messages as well as slurs directed at you for your stroke of genius, your version of “I’m Not Rappaport” (“Ich bin nicht Rappaport”). I have decided on a compromise. To believe that it is somehow appropriate or even funny in 2012 to stage Blackface is a mere testimony of either (or both?) impressive stupidity and ignorance or impressively blatant racism. A black-painted white person is not a Black person. A black-painted white person is inevitably a stereotypical and defamatory caricature of an alleged Black person. It stands in line with a Minstrel show tradition that has always and exclusively been amusing to racist white people and is linked to racist apartheid regimes like the U.S. Jim Crow South. It is an impertinence to have a white, black-painted actor play a Black character and thus, your staging of an allegedly “adorable tragic comedy” is nothing more than a dim-witted show of colonial racism. What this is supposed to mean? Cancel it. Or deal with the fact that you are now officially Berlin’s most racist theater company that should not be surprised by the ensuing boycott. And for latter, you’re most welcome.”
Or, in the words of Yo, Is This Racist: “Yo, you have to admit, though, the main thing that jumps out at you about “Germany’s idea of racism” is that it’s very, very racist.”
Update: The Schlosspark Theater has reacted to criticism on their Facebook page, and I quote: “[…] What is your problem? […] For your information: the actor Joachim Bliese will play the role of the ‘Black American’. He has already played it in the german premiere in 1987 at this house, and he has received expressed authorization of the author Herb Gardner. In the future, do we have to drop ‘Othello’ […] from our repertoire because we don’t have a ‘black actor’ in our ensemble? Do we have to forego Friedrich Schiller’s ‘Fiesko’ and Bertolt Brechts ‘The Good Person of Szechwan’? Would you accuse Anna Netrebko of racism, if she sung the role in Puccini’s Turandot even though she is not Asian? Or the role of Aida, even though she is not African? Is Gert Voss at the Burgtheater not allowed to play ‘Shylock’ in The Merchant of Venice because he is not a Jew?”
Moreover (brace yourselves…): “Very few theater ensembles in germany, Austria and Switzerland include black actors. If only because a theater repertoire’s few roles that can be offered to them during a season cannot justify a permanent position.”
[sources: Schlosspark Theater FB-page and their response to a blogger here]
I got BINGO! Well done, Schlosspark Theater – you hit the mark on poorly executed defensiveness and miss it on everything of relevance; all you have to do now is throw in some offhanded joke about fat women and “disabled” people.
Also: bonus points for putting Black actor in inverted commas… Obviously, Black actors are non-existent (like a mirage, really… I should have known). Anyone who’d ask a theater to actually let Black actors play even Black (let alone: leading) characters and not paint white actors in Blackface is just plain ridiculous – white people, the magical, universal default humans, act (and have agency and individuality and skills, and can, therefore, play every role), Black people just are (…well, Black).
I now have to realize that I should have sent them a full-fledged “Go Fuck Yourselves” e-mail; they are even worse than I thought. Do their PR people have some sort of right-wing extremist history and the Schlosspark Theater thought it would be awesome to give them a second chance (and that coming up with a pathetic “defense” of Blackface obviously is the sign of a successful german re-integration – which… isn’t all that far off, actually)? Or is this just the most disgusting self-revelation of average white privilege and overt racism I have encountered in a long time? I suspect a combination of both.
Why, thank you, Schlosspark Theater, for being so refreshingly honest and direct in your racism. It saves many people, including myself, a lot of time that should not be wasted on explaining the basics to you.
You know exactly what the problem is. You like the problem. You are racists and unapologetic about it. So: yay, more time and money for different theaters, and I’ll make damned sure everyone I know or randomly meet some place knows where not to go. I might even throw in an official report against you at some point – just to piss you off. This is my kind of “adorable tragic comedy.”
Update 2: well, the time for an official complaint has come, since the Schlosspark Theater cannot refrain from mocking the criticism it has been confronted with and keeps posting delightful pictures of the blackfaced character. I have written an e-mail to the official “anti-discrimination office” of Berlin’s Senate (…if only because of the fact that the Schlosspark Theater is at least partially publically financed; yet, it propagates racism and explicitly sticks to a discriminatory employment policy that is funded by this money…), and this is the address if you would like to weigh in as well: firstname.lastname@example.org
(I have also CC’ed it to the Governing Mayor of Berlin: email@example.com; and it might also come in handy to add some potential media contacts.)
Follow-up post (…round-up of the critique and commenting on the Blackface defenders racist’ “responses” …): “Reasonable” Racism.