Black Drama of the Federal Theatre Era: Beyond the Formal Horizons

By E. Quita Craig | Go to book overview

THREE
MYTHS, STEREOTYPES, AND THE DUAL COMMUNICATION SYSTEM
BECAUSE of the power differential between blacks and whites in America up to now, and the calculated effort to eradicate ethnicity and force all minority groups into the same 'assimilationist' white Anglo-Saxon mold through the imposition of severe social penalties . . . blacks . . . have avoided the known risk of asserting their cultural norms in contexts governed by The Man.1

This statement by Thomas Kochman in his preface to Rappin' and Stylin' Out contains a veritable bouquet of reasons why black dramatists writing for biracial audiences were faced with problems far beyond those normally encountered by creative artists. In the thirties, they were forced to avoid the known penalties while attempting to create plays that were both acceptable to white patrons and meaningful to black patrons, because black drama occurred almost entirely in contexts governed by The Man.

Certainly, white America was in no way prepared to have its myths of white superiority disturbed and the system played both ends against the middle: on one hand, it demanded and whenever possible enforced conformity to its myths and stereotypes; on the other, its drama critics described the characterizations of black playwrights as "caricatures of caricatures" which accused them, in essence, of a lack of originality for accepting the stereotypes and presenting them in the settings of white superiority. The contradiction inherent in this mode of thought is inescapable, but it contains a far greater discrepancy, the presumption that the use made by the black playwrights of those myths and stereotypes inevitably resulted in white structures. Such a presumption is analogous to believing that because a cathedral in Paris, a suburban bungalow in Singapore, and a Chick Sales privy in a Southern sharecropper's backyard might all be constructed with bricks, they must all be identical structures. This is obviously a false assumption. The questions then are: what did the black playwrights

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