The title of my play can be taken as a statement of fact, an explicit injunction, or an implicit question. Whatever one’s take on the title, the play itself is intended to serve as a basis for a dialogue not only between you and others, but also with yourself. To get black people to examine some of the elements that make up what it means to be black was the creative impulse behind my writing the play. Identity defines, but it also confines. Separating one from the other is not always easy—and it’s impossible unless there is a willingness to question that which is taken as a given. I hope my play provides one such opportunity.
Saturday morning. Black Community Forum. Frank is up on the podium.
Thank you very much Florence. Thank you for those kind words about me and thank you for that enlightening opening address. As Chairperson of the Board of the Montreal Black Association your observations about the current state of affairs are both critical and timely. And most of all, thanks to all of you for being here. I look out and I see many familiar and unfamiliar faces. I see you Carlin and Gwen and Thomas, people who have done so much for our community. Of course I see my lovely wife Dorothy. But most importantly I see the faces of our youth who are both the hope for the future and our hope that the past won’t be forgotten. To all of you, welcome to the very first Black Community Forum. I almost said ‘The First Annual Black Community Forum’, but that suggests that we are doomed to useless, eternal attempts to change our present circumstances.
If I thought that that was the slightest possibility, so much time and effort organizing would not have been spent. Things can change. Every item of the agenda for this weekend is important. However, I have recently become aware of something that I cannot keep to myself. I believe that it will shed an illuminating light on everything that will be said over the next two days.
The indignities, the difficulties, the abuses our community and black people everywhere have suffered have many causes and roots, but I’m afraid that one of the main reasons behind our situation has to do with how we identify ourselves and are identified by others. You’ve all seen the cowboy movies where the good guy wears the white hat and the bad guy the black hat. Or in the cartoons there’s Snow White, the perfect symbol of purity and goodness, done in by the black-hearted Queen. Black humor. Blackmail. Black Monday. Blacklist. Black mark. Black death.
And there are lots more. Black is and has for a long time been associated with all that is bad, dirty and evil. It is the underside of things, that which has to be avoided or despised. Black is bad and therefore if you’re black you’re bad, and if you’re bad then it becomes easier to do bad things and easier for others to do bad things to you. Genesis says: “And in the beginning was the Word.” True. Equally true is that in the end there is the image. What the word ‘black’ stands for is bad and is not the image we can afford to carry around anymore. Its continued existence as an identifier will only allow for us to be mistreated both from inside and outside our community.
He moves away from the lectern.
Oprah Winfrey. Very successful woman. Very rich woman.The highest female income earner in entertainment in the United States. Know why? Because she’s managed to sell herself as a woman, not a black woman, just a woman. When you see her you don’t think black, you think person. They’re even calling Chicago ‘Oprahville’ now.
He moves into the audience.
I see many of you frowning and shifting uncomfortably in your seats. I understand, but I have a little bit more to say and it comes in the form of a request. First, do not dismiss what I’ve said, please give it some consideration just in case I’m right and If I am, then do this for me, no, not for me, for yourself, for all of us: stop using the word ‘black’ to identify yourself. It does not describe me, or you, or you. So, instead of black, may I humbly offer as a replacement, God’s Colour. That’s right. God’s Colour. Because that’s who we truly and rightfully are. Go ahead, laugh and hoot if you want. God’s Colour Community Forum. I think it has a nice ring to it. Anyway that’s all I have to say, so thank you for listening.