6
DIFFICULT LOVES
Anna Deavere Smith and the Politics of Grief

Could politics ever be an expression of love?

— Ralph Ellison

Although race studies holds much intellectual capital in academic research today, the history of racial grief in America— along with its accompanying burdens of conscience, consciousness, guilt, and ressentiment—has made our capacity to communicate our thoughts and feelings about these dark inheritances far from adequate.There is still tremendous confusion in contemporary American society about how to approach the task of racial healing; indeed, at times, it seems as if race relations in America is doomed to play out a tragedy of endless retribution.

In a powerful dramatization of contemporary racial trauma in America, playwright and performance artist Anna Deavere Smith records in her docudrama Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 the aftermath of one such cycle of retribution: three days of burning, looting, and killing in east Los Angeles in response to the Rodney King verdict.From its inception, the King case was mired in the history of black-white antagonism, and the ensuing riots advanced that antagonism to encompass Korean Americans in the neighborhood under siege.This incident tells not just of racial rage but also of grief—and the impossibility of taking on that grief when who is mourning and what is being mourned for are contingent and conflicted. Through the words of Mrs. Young-Soon Han, a former liquor store owner, Smith gives us a sense of how binding and how insupportable it is to be caught between grief and grievance; the ensuing monologue, based on transcribed interviews, is called "Swallowing the Bitterness":

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