I’ve had a hard time writing this post. “Philomena and the Heart of the Confederacy.” Such a lofty title. The idea came up after the first two table reads of our script during this workshop process. The play is set in Richmond, VA, one of the characters is a Confederate Civil War re-enactor, and one is a descendant of slaves. So, naturally, questions around the issues of racism in America arose during each one of those talk-back session. Interestingly enough, though, when we did the first public readings of this script, six years ago, none of those questions arose. Those were the heady days of the Obama Presidency. The Leader of the Free World was a duly-elected (twice!) Black Man. He was smart and articulate, and cared about continuing to build an America that includes ALL of us. An America where we all share equally in the Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness envisioned by our Founding Fathers. Anything was possible then. Free at Last!
Those were the good old days, and this is 2018. We have the Anti-Obama in the White House, whose hate speech has encouraged the racist underbelly of America to openly raise its ugly head. Black men and women are being shot by police with such regularity that we have almost become numb to it. Black athletes who use their Constitutionally-granted right to peacefully protest these killings are called unpatriotic and worse by those in power, and denied the opportunity to work, no matter how good they are at what they do. Black people going about their daily lives run the risk of having the police called on them for doing – well, anything – while Black. And I am tasked with writing a blog post about it all.
Do I castigate our Founding Fathers for being the hypocrites they were -- sanctioning the continued enslavement of African men and women on one hand while declaring all men created equal on the other? Do I rail at the white privilege that is woven into the very DNA of our country? Do I bemoan the fact that the country had to literally fight a Civil War to abolish slavery, and yet we are still dealing with deep-seated prejudices and stark, rampant disparities in the general quality of life between Black and White Americans?
I could do all of this and more. So much more. But, really, there would be no point to it. Because, beyond being the historical event that sets the stage for the events in our play, the Civil War has no place in the world of The Quickening. Yes, its consequences may help fuel the inner emotional life of our characters (or not, as the case may be). Yes, the play takes place in Richmond, the city which served as the Capital of the Confederacy. The city whose Monument Avenue was designed to house many imposing statues dedicated to Confederate leaders and has, itself, been declared a National Historic Landmark. (Have you seen the one to Jefferson Davis? [attached] There’s no knocking that sucker down!) But as far as Philomena is concerned it is just one more overt symbol of America’s historical racism to become inured to. And in the end, we individual Americans, like the characters on stage, have to deal with issues of racism and white privilege on a one-to-one basis. Face-to-face. Each one of us has to decide whether to be ruled by events of the past, or to craft a better future for ourselves and our country. We all have our own choices to make.