Everyone’s a little bit racist. Apparently, even me.

Everyone’s a little bit
Racist, sometimes.
Look around and
You will find,
No one’s really
Color-blind.

My bride and I were having a discussion and to an opinion I expressed she said, “You’d better keep that to yourself. It’s racist.” I thought I had progressive attitudes about race but she might have a point.

So, naturally, I need to tell everyone.

I took my daughter to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway. I found a discount for the first preview and it’s good thing I did. I couldn’t afford to take her otherwise. She’s crazy about those books and when she asked to see it I had to say no, which broke my heart. It worked out in the end but my inability to afford tickets makes me feel wholly inadequate as a father. But that’s for another post.

It’s an extraordinary piece of theater but it helps if you’re a die-hard Potter enthusiast (my daughter) or interested in the mechanics of theater and acting (me). Your ass is in a chair for about six hours. Plus, the aforementioned cost.

You can look elsewhere for reviews. They’re all glowing. My problem—the one that landed the accusation—lies with their decision to employ color-blind casting.

The principle actors playing Harry, Ron, Draco and Ginny all look very much like adult versions of their movie selves. It’s easy to imagine these fictional characters transitioned into adulthood. Hermione Granger is played by a black actor. She’s more than capable and an extraordinary actor. I’ve been attending theater for 25+ years and know talent when I see it. She can command the stage and has a genuine presence. I just never saw her as Hermione. Throughout the play I had to occasionally stop and remind myself, “Oh, that’s Hermione.” My brain simply refused to make that leap. It proved to be a distraction. I respect their intentions but the plot flow was interrupted for want of a progressive agenda.

Perhaps it’s the indelible image of Hermione Granger as a young white girl. Or perhaps I have dormant racist attitudes that were inflamed. The wrong kind of woke.

I can’t tell you how alarming this is. It’s heartbreaking. I thought I was more evolved than that. I hope this doesn’t rub off on my daughters.

~~~~~~~~~~

Prior to the play I took her on a gallery hop in Chelsea. At Dia: Chelsea is Rita McBride’s Particulates, a fetching and photogenic industrial laser installation.

The gates keep you at bay because you can really hurt yourself if you try to break the beam, which I desperately wanted to do.

The room is kept cool and clammy. The air is misted so the beams are visible. It might be fun after a few bong hits. I imagine. I wouldn’t know.

There’s a low hum and the beams reflect off the wet floor. Best of all, free admission! Thank you, Dia Chelsea.

I liked this one as well although it was more stark. Dan Flavin’s in daylight or cool white at the David Zwirner gallery.

Flavin construct geometric shapes with neon tubes. Neon on a ceiling reminds me of cold, dreary office lighting. I find it a wholly acceptable medium for art, though.

Unfortunately with these gallery hops, you have to take the sublime with the ridiculous. These were fruits and vegetables nailed to a wall.

I thought they were plaster sculptures but, no, it’s real food. I chatted with the gallery rep and he is charged with replacing the food when it starts to rot. This is why some people laugh at contemporary art.

~~~~~~~~~~

Sorry, everyone, but there are going to be cat pics. There just are.

58 thoughts on “Everyone’s a little bit racist. Apparently, even me.

  1. I think that talking about (the limiting factors of) your cultural programming, is the *opposite* of racist. It acknowledges the power of these forces to shape our perceptions. You don’t stop drinking by stopping, but first realizing you have to stop.

    You’re gallery experiences as of late are slaying me. NC museum of art is about to open a HUGE exhibit of Viola, Turrell, Cardiff, Eliasson, etc. We oscillate between abstinence and overdose here. But I’ll take it.

    Cats: M has been badgering me to get one. I’m enjoying the lack of responsibility for another life. I’ve told her if we are doing this now, we can get a Savannah cat. Might as well set the bar high…it’s at least kept the requests from overflowing.

    • But if JK Rowling can see past skin color and if the Olivier committee can see past skin color (she won for Best Supporting Actress) what’s MY problem? I need to do some soul searching. (Auto correct wanted me to do some ‘soup’ searching.)

      By gallery experiences I assume you’re not referring to the rotting fruit? I love throwing in the bad ones, too.

      One cat is not enough. Three is too many. Just sayin’. They’re pretty low maintenance. I mean, it’s not like having a turtle, but the payoff is greater.

      • Who knows what decisions had to be made for the production to choose the path they did. I’m sure they made a conscious choice for the casting process to be inclusive. Is it wrong that it might have been conscious? These things take centuries to built up and generations to tear them down. Give yerself a break!

        Yes. F the Fruit. Silly. Waste of good food.

        Yea, yea. And 2 cats may weigh as much as a Savannah. ;). I’m sure M would love to adopt a couple siblings. Don’t go doing any end runs, makin’ suggestions.

      • They brought the original London cast over to New York. I’d be interested to know if the replacement cast back home included a black Hermione. Because that’d be the opposite of color-blind casting. That’s casting for a specific color.

        When (not if) you get your cat, go to a rescue and test drive them. There were cats that wanted nothing to do with us. We got two loving felines.

  2. I think you’re needlessly beating yourself up (again). That’s not a question of racism but expectations, in this cased based on race. If they had trotted out a Harry Potter with all his personality traits but looking like a California surfer dude, you would have been equally discombobulated, no?

    • Don’t tell me not to beat myself up. I finally found something I’m good at. I remember when they opened the play in London last summer and it caused a controversy. JK Rowling came out and said something like ‘I never said Hermione was white.’ Yeah, but nobody imagined she was black, ieither. What a touchy subject!

  3. I think this is a case of being jolted by change, not necessarily race, knowing you from following your blog tales, Mark. I think you’d be just as unsettled if a director had taken an important plot cat, for instance, and switched it to a dog. (To implement another of your important elements these days.)

  4. I wonder, too, if seeing the play was more about your experience of Harry Potter. I would not find it particularly off-putting because my experience is deeply rooted in the books and audiobooks and less in the movies. But for people whose primary experience is visual, then I think it’s understandable that it would be hard to adjust.

    • I read all those books as well. I guess it’s just my cultural biases but I just assumed those characters were all white. That notion was reaffirmed when the movies were released. I should’ve been able to shift gears but it never happened.

  5. Loved your post! Would love to see …… “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” on Broadway. Your daughter is lucky to have such an open-minded dad. The fact that you were questioning your own sense of possible racism is commendable. That alone…..shows that you are not a racist! The play sounds fantastic! The museum pics look very interesting. A wonderful father & daughter adventure! 🙂

    • Thank you! And thanks, especially, for your kind words about my fathering skillz. I’m glad I had daughters. I know men are supposed to want sons but the hell with that. Daughters rule.

      The play was extraordinary. Some of the most innovative things I’ve ever seen in a theater. And I’ve seen PLENTY.

  6. Obsessing over unconscious bias hardly seems like a useful use of my time. Not only that, but it has a creepy aspect to it which reminds me of some type of Sci-Fi movie about a totalitarian regime.

    • Hey, your new. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Much appreciated. There’s plenty more where this came from and remember…there’s never a fee.

      It just feels kind of wrong and creepy for me to say the role didn’t work for me—not because of a talent deficiency—but because race and preconceived impressions played a role but that’s exactly what happened.

  7. If you have seen the movies, Hermione is going to be stuck in your head as white. But you know yourself best and if you think you need to investigate this further, then you do (you’re probably not going to find anything though).

    Bring on the cat pictures! I love those. But please, no more decaying fruit.

    • Even before any of the movies were made, when I first read the book 21 years ago (21 YEARS AGO??!!!) I never thought of these characters as being anything other than white. Dropping a black Hermione on me is a surprise. I didn’t see it coming.

      Can you imagine being the poor gallery flunky who has to replace the rotting food?

  8. We all have pre-conceived notions. At least when yours were challenged, you were aware of it and took time to question it. All growth stems from initial awareness.

    But six hours in a theater? Yikes. Double yikes for the food art!

    • The play could definitely use an editor but, having said that, it’s a memorable evening. Actually, TWO evenings. The play is in two parts. You can see them on consecutive nights, which is what we did, or you can go on a Wednesday or Saturday and see Part 1 at a 2:00 matinee and Part 2 at 8:00.

      • I’m glad you explained this because although I love Harry Potter, there is no way I could set through six hours. Of anything.

        To me your thoughts don’t make you a racist at all. You might be guilty of being a purist, but certainly not racist.

        I’m glad you include the really bad art too. It gives me an opportunity to be smug and condescending.

      • It’s not six hours straight. Each play has a :20 break. Although, from the time you walk in until final curtain, you’re there six hours.

        Yes! I’m a purist! I insist on racial purity when it comes to fictional character! 😉

        I feel smug, too. It’s very satisfying. But that artist makes a ton of money and doesn’t sit in an office all day, like I do, so he gets the last laugh.

  9. Yeah…. stop beating yourself up…. beat yourself up for not liking fruit and veg nailed to a wall instead – it’s genius, and hilarious at the same time.
    Sx

  10. I’ll concur with the rest of the folks, you’re making something out of nothing, JK may have signed off but let’s face it, say Harry and Hermione and you think Danny Radcliffe and Emma Watson, it’s like if you saw a play based on Rocky and the lead character was a well-spoken, intelligent, Asian Man, it’d be hard to wrap your head around right?
    I can vouch for bong hits and laser lights, the real problem is that once you rip a few bingers the only thing you’re getting off the couch for is the pizza that’s being delivered, you might watch the laser show on the telly but you’re probably not leaving the house, i know of which i speak, lol!!!
    and as the proud papa of four cats i’m always down with cat photos, i’m a sucker what can i say?

    • But the inability to connect with her performance because she’s a different ethnicity than what I’m used to feels kind of icky. Not sure what point JK was trying to advance but it affected me in an unintended way.

      You could get one of those vape pens and do a couple hits just before entering the gallery. Sure, of you do it from home you’ll never make it.

      I am trying to chill out with the cat pics but it takes all my will power.

  11. Hey now. I love the cat pic. I’d be happy if you posted more. Racism is just what it is. We as white people, are racist within our own race. I am friends with a person of color and she told me that she was not color blind about her own race if the people were too dark or were dressed in a way that she found inappropriate.

    • I’m afraid of turning into a cat blog. They’re almost as bad ass Mommy blogs. And that’s saying something.

      The whole thought makes me squirm. The role would’ve been more effective for me if it had been played by a white woman. That’s just GROSS. It’s also how I feel.

      • I fully understand. But mommy blogs are the pits and get old real fast. I am a mother but all the bragging and yammering about your own kid is just too much. A cat pic now and then, mingled in with all the other photos is not going to make your blog a “cat blog,” 🙂

  12. Politics probably doesn’t belong here, but…someone I’ve known for years said, when Obama first won office, “Well, that’s the beginning of the end!” And when Trump was elected she said ” At least the ***ing Yanks have elected a white man this time!”

    I think my brain would have found it a jolt to see this Hermione. But I’ve seen and been perfectly fine with a Polynesian Henry V so I could probably accept this Hermione.

    Only one cat pic? C’mon! Glut the blog! 🙂

    • The play is almost SIX HOURS LONG. You’d think I’d adapt by, say, hour four. But I don’t think I ever made the jump. It’s not right.

      Don’t you worry about cat pics. I’m just getting warmed up.

  13. Why in the world is the play six hours long? That’s ridiculous. That’s twice as long as Dances With Wolves or The Godfather. I think I might rather watch the fruit rot.

    • It’s a complicated plot. It takes a long time to tell the story. It’s actually two plays; Part 1 and Part 2. Part 1 is two hours and 40 minutes and Part 2 is two hours and 30 minutes but in total you’re sitting there for about six hours. You can choose to see them on consecutive nights or if you go on a Wednesday or Saturday you can see Part 1 at a 2 o’clock matinee and Part 2 at the 8 PM evening show. Part 1 ends with a killer cliffhanger.

  14. In the book Hermione is just described as a girl with very frizzy hair (or something similar), and doesn’t hint to her race. I kind of liked a dark Hermione when I watched it but I can see how you could find it hard to get used to as she is always been portrayed as being white. Looks like you had a great time though Xx

    • Many thanks for taking the time to weigh-in on this. Much appreciated. The book description doesn’t specify a race but I’m willing to bet that because of cultural biases that affect us all, everyone assumed she was white. Conversely, if Hermione had been played by a black actress in all the movies and they suddenly shifted to a white actress for the play, it would’ve been just as jarring.

      We had A GREAT time. It’ll stay with us for a good, long time.

  15. I also had a disturbance back when; Mick Jagger was cast as Ned Kelly, the famous Australian bushranger, in the seventies film of the same name directed by Tony Richardson.

  16. I don’t think that’s a racist thought at all. You have an image of Hermione from the several films before so that’s what you’ve come to expect. I think the problem here is that you are afraid that it might be because the sensitivity surrounding race is very delicate.

    Love those beams! Awesome!

    • Well, it FEELS racist. To say I had a problem connecting with a character because she was once white and now she’s black does not sound helpful. But good news. I’ve absolved myself. Woo!

      Those beams are up through June. Just sayin’.

  17. This is part of the Big Plan and it seems like it is working. You are starting to question yourself, your feelings, your thinking. The wife already is there by telling you “It’s racist.” I would of told you the same thing, but sarcastically. The color-blind casting issue is one more way of stirring the race pot. It will take smart progressive thinkers, like yourself, to stop this white guilt. We can’t help what color we are born and we are trying to correct our ancestors mistakes.
    I am still being amazed with these light installations. And they will just get better with technology. I wonder about the fruit/vegetable nailed to the wall. Wouldn’t the last gallery rep who replenished the items be the current artist?
    I see a happy cat with care giver, Nice Pic!

    • Well, yes and no. We are being conditioned to think a certain way and ask certain questions. But it’s not such a bad thing. I found the performance lacking because she’s black and I’ve been conditioned to think that character is white. To say that’s got nothing to do with race is naive. It *shouldn’t* make a difference! I remember years ago when ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was on Broadway, Toni Braxton took over the role of Belle. My bride’s ole, racist, Irish aunt snipped, “I don’t think Beauty should be black!” I asked her why and she wouldn’t give me an answer. “Because I don’t” is all I could get out of her. That needs to change. Might make some folks feel manipulated but it can’t go on.

      Man, that food on the wall was the worst. I can see why people would point and laugh. You’ve got to see through the terrible stuff to appreciate the innovative stuff.

      • Yes, the ole aunt’s comment was obviously racist. Have a Play about Tupac and Biggie Smalls casting Daniel Radcliffe and Jonah Hill and you will also see racist remarks. Unfortunately Color will always make a difference in this society on both sides. I don’t agree about “being conditioned”. We are blessed with a wealth of knowledge. In the end we choose are thoughts from life experience.

  18. I wonder if substituting the actor’s race/colour for some other difference would help, for example if Hermione was played by a male or a dwarf or someone who’s obese would you also have had a problem? Also, if the whole cast was black would you have found it easier to accept that shift? Also, don’t a lot of people dislike films of books they love, not because the films are bad but because the characters don’t look the way they imagined them, regardless of race?

    That said, we have all been conditioned to feel race makes a difference and that people of certain races are inferior – my mother, who was brought up in Burma (now Myanmar), and was a mixture of English, French, Armenian, Burmese and Indian was racist against the Burmese because she’d grown up hearing they were lazy drunken thieves. She also railed against Indian men, even though she’d married an (Anglo) Indian man and her beloved son was one!

    Love the lasers; am amused by the fruit (tempted to nail a few of last year’s gooseberries (currently frozen) to a plank and spray them with blackcurrants for my exhibition!).

    • The Potter films were so well done and so successful people (and by people, I mean ME) couldn’t help but to cement the image of what these characters look like. Whether he likes it or not, Daniel Radcliffe will forever be Harry Potter. ANY dramatic cat substitution would have been equally unsettling. I think that’s born more from established, long nurtured, impressions than any underlying racism.

      Don’t be amused by the fruit. It’s lazy! It doesn’t require a high degree of skill. The gallery rep was telling me he needed to replace the strawberry. It was dried out and looked like a prune. Where’s the artistic merit, please?

      • Good, that’s settled: you are not racist, but merely discombobulated by unsolicited changes to your long held sensory impressions.

        I supposed I’m amused that a gallery will put on an exhibition of nothing but fruit nailed to a wall; it does make the art establishment look extraordinarily gullible. It would be interesting to see more of the artist’s work and discover his/her motivation.

  19. The self awareness is an important step. i have busted myself for thinking such things – and then will share it with Studley. We call each other out – i called him out for the sombrero and poncho for Cinco de Mayo at the office, and he’s slapped me on numerous occasions for stereotyping lower income white people. You put it right out here – and i think it’s important. Plus, you gave me a great ear worm! “Everyone’s a little bit racist… sometimes!”

    Those lasers? We used to swing a hot dog through the beam of a bigass CO2 laser as a safety demonstration. The ones in that display will blind you, probably not fry skin, but they’ll give you seriously bloody eyeballs….

    • Of all my commentors, I was sure you, above all, would know where that lyric came from. Well done.

      There’s a sign on the door of that laser exhibit. Before you enter it says:

      DANGER
      Laser Radiation
      DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MAKE CONTACT WITH ANY LAST BEAMS!!
      (Yes, TWO exclamation points)
      Maximum power output 20 watts combined @ 520nm / continuous wave.
      Maximum power output 1.2 watts any single beam @ 520nm / continuous wave.

      I thought the sign was mumbo-jumbo and part of the installation but perhaps it’s legit.

    • Who is funnier than Chris Rock? Nobody. That’s who. I just got around to watching that clip this morning. I’m glad I waited. I needed that.

      What do you mean the next time? When was the last time you were here? Recently?

  20. I saw a big retrospective of Dan Flavin in London a few years ago. It was superb. So simple but very atmospheric and a beautifully pure form of modernism. The tubes are incredibly delicate and the gases in them are hard to find, so once they break that’s it.

    The laser works look like some rave clubs!

    • The Flavin exhibit was getting a pretty healthy crowd. The fact that it’s free doesn’t hurt. ALL of these Chelsea exhibits are free. It’s a miracle and a gift to the community.

      If that’s what you see when you go to a rave, I’ve missed out. I thought it was mostly just monotonous music and narcotics.

  21. Affirmative action is at work even at wizard school. Or witch school. Whatever the heck discipline it is that Harry does. Hey, I think it’s cool that you’re being honest about your reaction to the race issue. It’s healthy to get it out there and make sense of it. But I will say it’s probably better in this direction than in the olden days where they would paint white dudes to play Native Americans and things like that. I do hear what you’re saying about envisioning the little white girl growing up to be a Black woman. A change of race like that is something I haven’t seen since C. Thomas Howell in “Soul Man.”

    • It’s a step in the right direction for sure. I’m just not sure I should feel bad about having certain expectations and preconceived notions about a fictional character and not particularly enjoy a performance when those pre-set standards are messed with. Is that a character flaw in me? I’m not so sure.

      Another egregious example was lily-white Fisher Stevens as an Indian tech-whiz (of course). They colored his skin! Oh, no you didn’t! Oh, yes, they did!

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