The Thinking Man's Idiot

The unruly brain and bad habits of a writer, artist, and grilled cheese sandwich-enthusiast.

With Attitude: ‘Nigga-Roo’ at The EXIT

p

“You have Martin Luther King saying the n-word – that’s going to be highly offensive to many people – why?”
“Actually, we had him say ‘nigga’; we don’t us ‘the n-word’ on my show.”

– Aaron MacGruder interviewed by Cynthia McFadden about the Boondocks episode “Return of the King”, Nightline (16 January 2006)

I haven’t logged into my Twitter since August 2016, and I haven’t missed it one bit. One can only put up with Nazis, Hoteps, and butt-hurt misogynist fanboys for so long before they decide that life’s just too short. One of the many, many conversations that gave let me know it was time to go occurred in June of that year, when I tweet about the anniversary of the murder of Freddie Gray. That’s when H. Lewis Smith came at me.

If you don’t know who he is… well, you’re not alone. All you need to know is that White people like him because he believes Black people are responsible for their own troubles because we say “nigga”. I’m not kidding, he even wrote a book about it. He saw my tweets about Freddie and decided to declare to me that Freddie deserved to be killed by Baltimore PD because he probably used the word “nigga”. You can see why contemporary White America loves H. Lewis Smith so much.

August Wilson didn’t apologize for regularly saying “nigga” and neither will I. I’ve never really bought into the whole “reclaiming the word” thing since that implies the English language was ours to begin with, which it wasn’t. I’m also not part of that Oprah Winfrey/Jesse Jackson school of thought who thinks the word should be banned because that wouldn’t end racism, just lead to the create of a new word. For me, it’s just that I’ll be damned if I let anyone – White or Black – decide how I define myself.

Dazié Grego-Sykes is both White and Black, so he’s spent his entire life having people tell him what he is rather than letting him decide. All of that frustration has resulted in an emotional spoken-word piece now playing at The EXIT. It’s the result of someone angry doing the one thing everyone should do with anger: put it into words.

The first thing one will notice about The EXIT Stage Left is how bare it is. I was just there last month and it’s easy to forget how spacious that place can be with nothing in it. I also didn’t think that blackbox could get any blacker, but somehow it did. Before the show begins, the only thing that stands out on the completely blank stage (which may or may not have gotten a fresh coat of paint) is a projection showing the whites of Grego-Sykes’ blue eyes accompanied by text advertising Make Me Black, the soundtrack to this show. Sharp observers may notice the all-black chair and table hidden behind the pillar for later use. The overhead speakers go through a playlist that jumps from Childish Gambino’s “This is America” and Jay-Z’s “The Story of OJ” to Lauryn Hill’s “Freedom Time” and Erykah Badu’s “The Healer”. This is all designed to tell the audience that they are literally and figuratively entering a “Black” space.

And that space is one I know well, but enjoyed seeing acted out all the same. A place where the headlines of Emmitt Till’s death stand alongside a clip of Nina Simone unapologetically saying that “Black people are the most beautiful”. A place where our host begins his show in the same burnt-cork blackface used by Al Jolson, but reminisces on how Black folks chided him for not being “Black enough”. A place where our host – like Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, and the also-quoted James Baldwin – finds his Blackness further reduced by the addition of his homosexuality. The bi-racial Grego-Sykes has spent his life trying to be many things to many people as the world kept spinning without him. This hour is his attempt at simultaneously forging his own identity and coming to terms with the world’s reactions.

And it’s good… for the most part.

Grego-Sykes leaves no sacred cow unslaughtered, from ditzy White girls who chastise blackness as they work on their tans, to Black folks who consider him less-than for being “a mulatto”. His video work – excellently done by collaborator Miz Sequoia – is equally educational and humbling, showing a chilling visual account of The Middle Passage and Grego-Sykes’ manipulated blackface with excellence. And his defense of “Black language” as an evolution of oral history damn-near made me jump out of my seat and high-five the brotha. “White folks can have history,” he says, “but brown folk got ancestry.” He, Sequoia, lighting designer curtis o., and director Ramona Laughing Brook have put together a great show emphasizing that Blackness isn’t something for which someone should apologize.

Yet, there are flaws. The first is with the format: the show is a collection of separate spoken-word poems, and it shows. This is fine in the beginning, but none of the pieces quite fit together beyond the theme of Black identity – they don’t flow into or out of one another cleanly. In fact, the show doesn’t really end so much as it just stops. Mind you, they’re all good pieces, but this isn’t a solo show, so much as a poetry collection. What’s more, a video sequence in which Grego-Sykes laughs at bullshit YouTube “prank” videos that play off White fears of Arabs did not work for me. At all. I was the only one in the theatre not laughing at this sequence and I’ve spent the days since wondering if that was the point? Was it to call out the hypocrisy of us laughing at the dangerous racial profiling of another group, or was Grego-Sykes genuinely tickled by the sight of people in turbans being run away from in fear? Whatever point was meant wound up lost, and it’s a major blemish on an otherwise really good show.

And it is a really good show, well worth an hour of your time. In a time when the son of White police officer decides to burn down Black churches, a show like this is a strong push back against those who want to kill us for our complexion. It’s both a celebration and condemnation for every connotation associated with “Black”, “nigga”, and every descriptor in-between. It’s by no means a perfect show, but with the hope of telling more diverse stories comes the chance try again as often as possible. There isn’t any one way to be Black, so there shouldn’t be any one story meant to singularly represent the entire Black experience.

This was just one story. And it’s a good one.

GRADE:                                                                B

Nigga-Roo is scheduled to run until 27th of April on the Stage Left theatre of The EXIT in San Francisco.
The show runs roughly one hour with no intermission.
For tickets and information, please visit the production’s official site here.

And what do YOU think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

F.M.K. Lit Podcast

Silly, sexy fun

Chasing N.E.D.

Our family’s journey navigating this thing called colon cancer

kaylamaysuarez.wordpress.com/

"No legacy is so rich as honesty."

When Sex Hurts

Healing is not Linear

o

o ---------- art of Hannah Birch Carl

Dena Takruri

Presenter and Producer

annikaelinbergman

Actor, Singer

Sisters, Scots, and Scotch

Holy Crap, we're moving.

Awesome theatre

"Theatre for People Who Didn't Know They Liked Theatre"

ashcows

Love lover, writer, voiceover artist, actor, mama, wife, Hufflepuff Prefect, Bachelor franchise junkie, the ultimate fan of dipping foods in other foods.

Shannon Kelly White

Food, utter nonsense and general fuckery

The Chameleon's Dish

promise crammed

Pleiades

World Premiere Female Driven Play in San Francisco

Colin Johnson

ONLINE PORTFOLIO FOR VIDEO AND THEATRE SERVICES

MacGIRLver

Tips and tricks from a gal who's been there

San Francisco Theater Pub

Make it good, keep it casual, have a beer.

Laura Valladao

Director of Photography

Bitter Gertrude

Blogging about Culture, Equity, and the Arts since 2013

Julia Blogulia

The adventures of an SF gal heading East

Eileen Tull

Performer, Writer, and Theatre Creator

The Dynamics of Groove

the creative writing of Barbara Jwanouskos

Writhing in Apathy

Larissa Archer

%d bloggers like this: