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Baltimore; Having The Tough Conversations

Last night, I got the opportunity to see Baltimore, written by BU’s very own Kirsten Greenidge.

The play, directed by Adrienne Boris, revolves around the racist drawing on Alyssa’s door, drawn by Fiona, one of the residents of the dorm. While she continues to insist that it was “a joke,” and her floor-mates are too sensitive, the others grapple with the complexity of identity, history, and intention in the world today. While some students were outraged, others believed it was not a big deal— or at least a smaller one than they were making it out to be. The freshmen, caught in arguments amongst themselves, try desperately to find their RA, Shelby, so she can help them. She, however, is nowhere to be found. Instead she avoids the needs of her residents, as the issue is in conflict with her “post-racial” worldview. She fears she is incapable of having or facilitating the kind of conversation that needs to happen in the wake of the incident.

Shelby spends much of the play trying to avoid, to knock aside the difficult questions that gave her pause. Her avoidance is, from what I saw, an unwillingness to listen. She wanted to avoid the conversations that made her uncomfortable. But as this play articulates, those uncomfortable conversations are how we find a common ground. And when people aren’t listening to each other, the arguments can fall on deaf ears and move in circles, as I saw happen in several scenes on stage. I especially saw it in the white characters, in their insistence that they were not at all racist.

But as Leigh points out in a particularly charged scene, we too often like to portray a racist as someone close to Pure Evil. However, overt racism is not the only form of racism. Racism can come from good intentions, racists can be unaware of their own racism. That is because racism is systemic, and interpersonal interaction is not the end-all-be-all. The history of jokes, stereotypes, slurs, etc., still exists. To be post-racial is to ignore or erase history. Fiona being called “snowball” is not the same thing as someone using the n-slur. Being white makes it easier to sweep all that history aside, so putting attention on that is terribly uncomfortable. But it is necessary, especially if change is to be made.

How do we explain this to someone who doesn’t want to listen, though? And that is what this play is trying to tackle. At it’s heart, the play is asking how. How do we meet each other to have difficult conversations? How do we disagree with each other? How can we acknowledge and listen to one another? How do I, a young white female, talk to my peers and the generations above me about this, especially when they have vastly differing opinions?

Baltimore shows, in its final moments, the characters finally sitting down and having a conversation. The depiction is optimistic, portraying the beginnings of what looks like a fruitful, productive discussion about what happened and why it matters. Even if Shelby hasn’t completely restructured her views (though it’s clear something has changed) she is at last willing to listen and let others talk. She’s finally okay with disagreeing and she doesn’t let discomfort outweigh the need to speak.

I come away from this play with a renewed sense of responsibility. It is a absolutely necessary part of my allyship to call attention to actions, words, and other instances of racism. I have to be more conscious and inclusive so as to inspire others to do the same. I have to have those difficult conversations. It’s easy to stand idly by and let it happen, but I commit to be active, to listen, and to be okay with being uncomfortable if it means becoming a more compassionate and aware person.

Thank you to the cast and crew of Baltimore for bringing this conversation to the BU campus.

If you’d like to see Baltimore, they have one more performance in the Multipurpose Room in Warren Towers tomorrow, October 27, at 7pm.

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