The Dallas Examiner
Last year, tragedy stuck the city when a lone shooter ambushed Dallas police officers after a peaceful march protesting a national epidemic of African Americans killed by police. The shooting led to five deaths and multiple injuries. Although time may heal wounds, some citizens are still figuring out how to heal the city.
While a few individuals express their thoughts through setting up conferences and marches, others use art as a medium. On June 25, Kitchen Dog Theater showcased Br’er Cotton, a play addressing police brutality and racism, stirring up conversation among its audience members.
During a roundtable discussion after the performance, the audience came together to revisit the tragic event and share their views on the play and racial injustice in America.
“The thing that strikes me about this play that’s so moving to me is the generational endurance,” said director Rhonda Boutte. “Each generation is represented in this play and that endurance falls on all of those factors. A lot of the past is coming up through the play.”
The production tackles racial identity and tension from the vantage point of a 14-year-old African American boy in an impoverished neighborhood that was once a thriving cotton mill. The piece raises many tough questions that society faces, from “Does the world realize racism?” to “Who’s the real enemy?”
Boutte expressed that the play wasn’t only a political statement to address troublesome issues but also a platform to assert her voice.
“I’ve been the type of person who has been silent on things and then the Dallas ambush happened, and it was so close to home that I felt like I couldn’t be silent anymore,” she said. “That’s why I chose to direct this. I felt helpless when that happened, and I felt like the only way I could do anything was through my art because I think it speaks to a lot of things we’re feeling right now, and it elicits conversation.”
Audience members described various emotions, with some people describing the play as ranging from empowering to frustrating. The roundtable veered off from a discussion about the actual play to how controversy displayed in the production is portrayed worldwide compared to in the past.
“This play has been really interesting for me because of all the things that have happened since 2013 on at least a monthly basis. Everything is either televised over social media and network media.” Boutte said.
The discourse was diverse, with participants varying in age and race. The difference opened up the floor for an assortment of personal stories providing context to how racism has been shaped over time.
“My birth certificate has me written as colored,” said James, an older roundtable participant and audience member. “I’ve had a gun pulled on me by a cop, and by the grace of God I’m still here.”
Some of the older attendees even used examples from past media event that reflected race on a wider scale, such as the 1995 OJ Simpson murder trial, which one of the audience members stated reversed the roles and made America see how African Americans feel when justice isn’t served when another Black person is wrongfully killed.
“How they [White citizens] felt during the OJ phase is how we feel on a monthly basis,” he said.
While non-millennials’ racial struggles may differ, some millennials may feel as if these problems haven’t resonated with the generation until over the past five years.
“For our generation, it hasn’t really hit us or it wasn’t as blatant as it is now,” a younger audience member said.
Although the piece places a huge emphasis racial tension, it also shines a light on camaraderie and racial empathy.
“There is so much fear in the world,” said Gina, one of the audience members and roundtable participants. “I felt sad, confused and powerless watching this play. This happens so often, [and] I’m not sure, as a Caucasian woman, what to do.”
There are times when people are not sure how to address race and feel as if they must represent an entire race with their views when in discussions due to preconceived notions.
“Don’t represent your race …represent you,” James said.
Despite differing stories and views, the audience found common ground on at least one factor; the importance of open, consistent dialogue.
“We don’t get together and have conversations about race until when somebody is gone,” said a commentator who, as the roundtable concluded, pointed out the need for more community conversations.