Straight White Men, which ended it’s run at Houston’s own Stages Repertory Theatre on March 6th, is a socially conscious play written for those who want to confront their privilege in a constructive way. The play which is written by Korean-American Playwright Young Jean Lee surrounds a small white family consisting of a father and his three sons during the holidays. Their frank discussions flow from gay-bashing to racism in an ironic and humorous fashion. Ed, the father, and his deceased wife raised their sons to be cognizant of the advantages afforded to them simply because of their skin color. And they get it. Each brother in his own way is completely aware of the space they occupy in society and how their privilege interacts with the all-encompassing other’s lack of it. The play, however subversive and the characters however aware, presents an interesting question: where do we go now?
The fight thus far has been about getting the majority of straight white males to even acknowledge their privilege. We seem to be somewhat winning that fight at the moment. There is at least an open conversation happening, see Macklemore’s song White Privilege or the Oscars So White controversy. The men in this play are privy to the unbalanced playing field. The deck is stacked in their favor, and they know it. Racism and by the same token privilege are systematic oppressions perpetuated by biases and laws built into our social, economic and justice systems. The question is what does one do with that knowledge? “What do we want straight white men to do that they’re not doing? And what happens when they do that?” Do we want white men to recuse themselves from the major roles of society acknowledging that their privilege has played a major part in getting them there while allowing those living on the outskirts to elevate themselves to more positions of importance? Do we want them to take themselves out of the conversation and allow those negatively affected by their privilege the center stage? Or do we want them to lead the conversation since they are the most listened to demographic? What happens after they educate their unknowing cohorts?
My point is this, getting a group of people to acknowledge not only that a problem exists, but that they are part of the problem is valiant. I think the Black Lives Matter movement has done wonders for this. However, once we achieve that, which I think is happening quicker than we think it is, there needs to be a very frank discussion and reach a consensus about where we go next. These are very complex problems and privilege is at the root of it. How would we like our white brothers to proceed in order to start healing any and all afflictions because of course they will look to us, as they should, in order to figure it out?
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