Dear America by Lorraine Hansberry
Alle Mims first appeared on stage at T3 in Cedar Springs, Or Big Scary Animals about a family moving into a neighborhood where no one thought or looked like them. That was followed by two more plays about accepting, embracing and loving people for who they really are. Alle is unique, talented, outspoken and driven; an artist. She joins an esteemed list of T3 Alumni who, early in their career, honed their skills on our stage. Wish her well as she begins a new journey in Columbia’s Playwriting Grad Program. Perhaps, Lorraine Hansberry needs no introduction. She does need to be preserved, protected, defended, reexamined and celebrated, in order to remain a shining inspiration for generations to come. To be Young, Gifted and Alle!
It’s time we had a conversation.
Fifty five years have passed since I put pen to paper. In my absence, I fear that my life and real work was lost behind the success of A Raisin In The Sun. Success is surprisingly good at concealing the person. To this day, I have those who say Raisin is autobiographical, and leave my story at that. While there isn’t a word that Beneatha says that I don’t believe to this day, the Younger Family is not my own, but rather those I knew growing up. They were a hopeful American family at a crossroad of race and class, always on the brink of disaster and somehow the brink of greatness as well; a family that was sold the idea that hard work, respectability, and money would solve all their problems.
I am quick to remind people that I was raised in a place of privilege, economically speaking. However, that did nothing stop the discrimination my family faced when we moved into an all-white neighborhood in Chicago. On that fateful night when I dodged a brick thrown through our window, I was taught the lesson that no amount of money could shield me from white supremacy in America.
Some twenty years after my play, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” to describe the navigation of oppression at the intersections of discrimination. I find myself at the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality, and no amount of success has done anything except erase parts of that identity. The amount of language that has changed over the last fifty years is exciting to me as a writer. What I find less exciting is how little you have changed, America. Is your greatest accomplishment in the last fifty years electing our first Black Imperialist President?
The Civil Rights Amendment of 1964 passed the year before I died. While I didn’t expect a law to end racism, I hoped it would make plays like Raisin a dated story, but instead, I find it as relevant as ever. No more segregated buses or restaurants. And yet, I see entire neighborhoods separated by the largest wealth gap in America’s history. No job discrimination based on race, sex, color or religion. And yet, who continues to profit, even in a deadly pandemic? Thankfully, poll taxes are a thing of the past. Instead, you shut down hundreds of polling places when you run out of ways restrict who is allowed in them. It’s much more efficient. Even slavery itself has come back in the form of our prison industrial complex. You were built with racial, gender, and class inequality written in your foundation. And yet, we expect that same system to give us our rights, assuming we are asking respectfully, of course.
White supremacy has thrown a cloth over your eyes, America. A white cloth, so sheer that you deny it’s existence and claim you have always seen this way. And perhaps you have. Now, we find ourselves in the middle of a public health crisis, with those in power putting worker’s lives on the line, sacrificing children, for the sake of more money in the pocket of billionaires. The only difference to the capitalism of today and the capitalism of the 60’s is that in 2020, sometimes the capitalist has a black face.
If you see a Black man in a nice house and think, “that could be me one day,” just remember, owning a nice house won’t keep your neighbor’s from throwing a brick through it. Police do not ask for your credentials before they snatch you off the streets. And your landlord doesn’t care how many times you have smiled and said “good morning” when rent is late. All of these struggles are connected and none of them can be ignored.
What intersections do you live at, America? How are your identities connected? How do these struggles affect one another? It is clear we cannot have queer liberation without women’s liberation. We cannot have women’s liberation without racial liberation. We cannot have racial liberation without queer liberation.
We must concern ourselves with every single means of struggle: legal, illegal, passive, active, violent and non-violent. We must harass, debate, petition, give money to court struggles, sit-in, lie-down, strike, boycott, sing hymns, pray on steps—and shoot from our windows when the racists come cruising through our communities. There are many places in the revolution and support for other revolutionaries is just as important as participation.
I will admit, going into my 30’s, I found myself wondering: Do I remain a revolutionary? Intellectually—without a doubt. But am I prepared to give my body to the struggle or even my comforts? This is what I puzzled about until I died. Had cancer not taken me, would I have been targeted and labeled a “necessary death” for the cause? I’m still not sure. But the FBI’s file on me dated back to 1952 does not bode well.
I will tell you what I am sure of: the worst thing we at intersections can do for America is to accept our place in this world and conceal parts of our identity to make it more bearable. Now is the time to live life fully. That is the goal of the revolution. Not to sit on the high hill the oppressor once sat on, but to level the hill completely.
And please know, if you are audacious enough to call yourself an artist, the existence of you is revolutionary. They have tried time and time again to stamp us out and they will continue to fail. This world belongs to the many, not the few.
Power to the People,