Arts preview: 'Acting Black: Demystifying Racism' at the Wexner Center

Andy Downing
Courtesy of Carlyle Brown

Playwright Carlyle Brown can't recall a time when he wasn't aware of the concept of race and racism.

“Black parents … try to raise [their children] for the world they're going to be in, so right away black parents say, ‘There is this thing called racism, and there are things that you can't or should not do to get through the day and just get along in the world,'” Brown said by phone from his home in Minneapolis. “A responsible parent is going to communicate those things to a child on day one so the child can protect themselves — and not just their physical selves, but their psychic selves. That's a strategy of people of color.”

But even instilled with these early lessons, the country remains a dangerous place for people of color — a place where even those charged to protect and serve can and do respond with deadly force when confronted with situations ranging from 12-year-olds playing with toy guns in the park (Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by Cleveland police in 2014) to 32-year-old, gun permit-holding men pulled over in minor traffic stops (Philando Castile, shot and killed by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, in 2016).

In response to these shootings — as well as those familiar, predictable conversations that moved into their wakes — Brown crafted “Acting Black,” a race-based one-man show he described as “part Ted Talk, part standup.”

“What I try to do is deconstruct what racism is and call attention to the fact that it is unreasonable. It's based on the idea that there's a group of people who, because they have a certain level of melanin in their skin, are inferior to other people. That's ridiculous, man,” Brown said. “There's nothing about the level of melanin in your skin that indicates anything about your behavior. It doesn't say anything more about who you are or your capacity as a human being than the number of hairs you might have between your toes.”

Most importantly, Brown's portion of the evening leads into a facilitated conversation designed to get white audiences thinking about the larger issue of race, and the way it is currently discussed within our society.

“I don't really invite anybody to talk to me; the audience members have to talk to each other. And sometimes I'll explain: When talking about race you're almost sure to say something that will offend me. I'll get pissed off and I'll be in your face, and then you'll have dreamed up an angry black man. I want to take that guy out of the room,” Brown said. “People of color suffer from racism, but it's … a white pathology. And if you view it as a pathology, which it is, you need to ask: Am I really sick? What are the symptoms? Do I get better? What does it mean to me? Because my sense when I hear people talk is that they have not yet asked themselves those questions.”

UPDATE: There is also a second performance scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 17, at the King Arts Complex, 867 Mt. Vernon Ave. in King-Lincoln.

Wexner Center for the Arts

7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15

1871 N. High St., Campus

"Acting Black: Demystifying Racism"