This American Thing

No one wants to see himself as a racist. Especially in the United States, where the question of race is so sticky, people actively avoid any words, actions or even thoughts that could be interpreted as racist. But is it possible to live a racism-free life in a country where race is such a central component of personal identity? Is it honest for anyone to claim that he or she is completely non-racist? If, ask creator/performers Evan joiner and Kobi Libii, there's anyone who thinks that because Americans are very careful about their attitude toward race, it means that the US is on its way to purging itself of the problem, let him come and be challenged by Boiling Pot. Created from interviews with over 125 Americans, this piece of documentary theater manages to give an accurate and wide portrayal of the confusion the question of race creates in today’s American mind. Middle class African Americans trying to be white, and a white teenager who is convinced he is O.J Simpson’s son, are some of the characters encountered on the Black-White front. Touching on the grim attitude toward Muslims in this country, we meet Arash, an Iranian American who gets called by friends “Camel Jockey” and in turn falls into an intense rage. When he sees images of the devastation Israel has created in Lebanon he wants to “fly home and fight.” It is a complex picture of the perpetuation of racism both by individuals and states (in a telling moment we learn about the public admission of an official committee of the state of Ohio that acknowledged its own criminal justice system’s bias against African Americans.)

Joiner and Libii act with heart and intent. Libii especially is a joy to watch slip in and out of the real people he interviewed and now portrays onstage with precision and skill. However, there is at times an overly-earnest quality to the play, a politically correct attitude towards race, which has a distancing effect on the understanding of racism. It is this quality that keeps the show from providing revealing insight for people who already acknowledge the sad reality of race in the US. That said, this is a play that can and should tour university campuses and high schools country-wide, and will help young Americans better understand their own racial tendencies.

Print Friendly and PDF