The Scottsboro Boys: How Far Have We Really Come? (Written By: Malcolm X)

November 3, 2010
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This past Sunday I went to see The Vineyard Theater production of The Scottsboro Boys at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Scottsboro Boys, based on the true story of nine black boys who were sentenced to death for a crime they did not commit, portrayed the Scottsboro story through a minstrel show using dancing, singing and acting. Beginning in the 1830’s, minstrel shows reflected racial stereotypes in a comedic way. In my opinion, the dancing and singing was stunning. I admire the hard work put in by the actors in order to make the music and choreography flawless, however the core of the production goes so much deeper than this. Interestingly, I found that while majority of the actors were black, the entire production crew was white. So while I agree the performances of singing and dancing were technically perfect, here is the problem I have with the show: how can a white producer justify the creation of a racist production with black actors, a white crew, and a minstrel structure?

Excluding the majority of the actors, all of the people who worked on this production were white. The author of the script was white. The people who wrote the music and lyrics for the show were white. The director was white. The entire production crew was white. They have done it again. White people have found a way to create a performance discounting racism without even realizing it. Because they are white, they do not understand how this play hurts and offends black people. It is not possible for them to have the same reaction and feel the same emotions I felt while watching this play, and therefore no white man will ever understand. We have made it to a point in time where some people believe racism is “so far behind us,” people justify laughing at it.

These white devils have produced a show supposedly for people of all races and colors, about white people being racist towards black people. The problem is not that the show portrays past racism. In fact, a positive aspect of this show involves the fact that it showed white people being racist in the past, a part of this nation’s history everyone should see and know about. But the problem remains, that this show, based on such hard and uncomfortable topics, was produced by white people. Only white people. There was no opinion of black people considered which shows racism in a present form. The white producers think they have come up with a brilliant show that portrays how far America has come. They assume the show says that America is no longer a racist country. But the truth is it demonstrates the exact opposite. I sat in an auditorium full of white people and few people of color. So many white people wanted to see this exemplified racism. When I wanted to scream, I heard laughter. I heard applause, when I wanted to cry. This just further displays the differences of opinion and experience between black and white. The white production crew created a play that is offensive and hurtful to black people and apparently enjoyable and comedic to white people. To me, that does not sound like a country that has gotten over its racial prejudices.

The cast consisted of twelve people: eleven black, one white. At least five of the black cast members played a white person at some point in the play. By having black people play racist white people on stage, it literally looked as though black people were making fun of and being racist towards other black people. By doing this, the white devils are saying: “Hey! Look at that! Black people are racist towards other blacks, so it is perfectly legitimate for white people to be racist towards blacks.” I am sure with this, the production crew is trying to make some kind of bold statement, but it just came off as rude and disrespectful. The one white man also played multiple roles, all of which were of power and superiority. So while the white crew only hired one white cast member, they made sure to give that white man the most power in the show. This show represents the fact that black people are still doing whatever the white man tells him to do. My black brothers have not yet found a way to stand up and use their voices against the white man.

When I went to this production of The Scottsboro Boys I saw something I found completely inappropriate and hateful. What I saw was black actors wearing blackface. In the past, white actors wore blackface in minstrel shows as a way of making fun of black people. In this case, the white crew told the black cast to make fun of racism by using blackface, which is exactly what they did. Towards the end of the last scene, the actors wiped off the blackface while still on stage. One may argue for this as being a representation of the American black man moving forward and away from the white man’s control, but the actors agreeing to put on the blackface in the first place shows how willing they are to fall at the feet of the white devils. What is the world coming to when people tolerate seeing black actors wearing blackface, black actors making fun of themselves? Somehow, the black actors have been convinced of the fact that white people making this show means that America is somehow moving forward. Someone needs to tell them the truth. The truth that they are still being tricked into believing what the white man wants them to believe.

I have spent my time in this article talking about the hatred and racism present in this production of The Scottsboro Boys, which is important, but not the only aspect of the show that should be recognized. I have not spent nearly enough time applauding the actors in this work. While the way these topics were illustrated may not have all been justified, I cannot deny that the actors put on a wonderful performance. Their confidence shown through their characters, despite the difficult topics, is commendable and should be admired by all. I have been asked multiple times if I would recommend this play to others. I warn people greatly when they talk to me about this play, not because it is bad, but because they should prepare themselves mentally if they are planning on seeing it. They need to know it can be both uncomfortable and frightening at times. But usually, my response to these questions is this: yes. I would recommend this show to people. Not only because our country needs to see the past for what it really was, but more importantly, our country needs to see the present for what it really is.

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