We hope the conversations started by Help will inspire you to engage and connect with others in deeper ways. These resources provide further context to the themes explored in the play.
We’ll update this page throughout the run of the show, so check back here for more. Thank you for swerving with us!
Notes from the Creative Team
In July of 2019 the New York Times published an essay I wrote entitled in the print version, “Brief Conversations with White Men,” and online, “I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.” The piece received 2,197 comments. I also received over 200 email correspondences from people I didn’t know. Surprisingly, I was suddenly in conversation with hundreds of white men and a number of Black women. Though I wasn’t able to respond to each person individually Help became a way to use theater to continue the conversation.
Help is a play in which the Narrator inhabits the category of the Black woman in order to be in dialogue with the category of the white man. As the playwright, I was interested in exploring with various publics our power structure, comprised primarily of white men, that ultimately determines all civic possibility. A 2014 survey, for example, found that white men comprise 31 percent of the US population. Yet, since the Supreme Court’s inception in 1789, 95 percent of justices have been white men. In today’s 116th US Congress (the most diverse in our history), 62 percent of its members are white men. According to Fortune magazine, 7 in 10 senior executives are white men, who also account for 72 percent of corporate leadership at Fortune 500 companies.
The text spoken by white men in the piece was primarily culled from responses to the Times article; public statements by men in the government and public life; and interviews conducted with white men by civil rights activist and theologian Ruby Sales, or documentary filmmaker Whitney Dow, or myself. Where the men’s lines were excerpted from interviews, no autobiographical details were included from correspondence. This is a play holding loosely the categories of white man and Black woman. The various white men do not hold any single identity throughout the play, but speak with the many voices and positions expressed in response to the original article.
Help builds on the desire to create a shared reality. One in which there is agreement not in how to respond but in what we see is happening. If it’s raining, can we all agree it is raining? How we respond to the rain varies, but can we agree the rain is coming down? Can we live in relation to each other within a shared knowing?
The genius analysis, language, and work of Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman, Lauren Berlant, Frank Wilderson III, Jared Sexton, and Christina Sharpe is foundational to Help. As Ruby Sales has said, “I want a theology that begins to deepen people’s understanding about their capacity to live fully human lives and to touch the goodness inside of them, rather than call upon them—the part of themselves that’s not relational. Because there’s nothing wrong with being European American; that’s not the problem. It’s how you actualize that history and how you actualize that reality.”
Theater has always asked us to step into the shoes of another. And Help does beautifully and incisively affirm and articulate what it is to wear a Black woman’s shoes. But Claudia Rankine asks us to take it one giant step further. Her writing is also intended to invite the white audience to examine their own shoes. Race is a lie, but the categories that skin color places us in are not. The shoes we wear are present at each moment of our interaction with the world. The violent history of whiteness has always been allowed to be neutral when its legacy and present function is anything but.
Let’s look down so we can look up.
In The Works Videos
Judith Butler and George Yancy, “What’s Wrong With ‘All Lives Matter’?” The New York Times, January 12, 2015.
Robin DiAngelo, “Why It’s So Hard To Talk To White People About Racism” Huffington Post, April 13, 2015.
Cheryl Harris, “Whiteness As Property,” Harvard Law Review 106, no. 8 (June 1993): 1709 – 91.
Saidiya Hartman, “Venus In Two Acts,” Small Axe 12, no. 2 (2008): 1 – 14.
Peggy MacIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible” Peace and Freedom Magazine (July / August 1989): 10-12.
Elizabeth Martinez, “What Is White Supremacy?” Published by Catalyst Project.
Fred Moten, “Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in The Flesh)” South Atlantic Quarterly 112, no. 4 (Fall 2013): 737 – 80.
Emma Okoro, “Blackness and beauty. We need a radical new paradigm for thinking about blackness that recognises beauty’s potential to save lives,” Aeon, October 10, 2019.
Claudia Rankine, “I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.” The New York Times, July 17, 2019.
Thomas Rodger, “The History of White People”: What It Means To Be White,” Salon, March 23, 2010.
Ed Simon, “How ‘White People’ Were Invented By A Playwright In 1613,” Aeon, September 12, 2017.
Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (Summer 1987): 64 – 81.
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The Age of Colorblindness (Revised edition) (New York: The New Press, 2020).
Carol Anderson, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2017).
Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012).
adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy – Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (California: Ak Press, 2017).
Chris Crass, Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2013).
Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (London: Allen Lane, 2019).
W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Penguin Books, 1989).
Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of A Different Color: European Immigrants and The Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).
Fred Moten, Black and Blur (consent not to be a single being) (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017).
Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011).
Dorothy Roberts, Fatal invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in The Twenty-First Century (New York: The New Press, 2012).
Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (New York: Liveright, 2018).
Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: on Blackness and Being (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016).
Shannon Sullivan, Good White People: The Problem with Middle-Class White Anti-Racism (New York: SUNY Press, 2014).
Tim Wise, White Like Me: Reflections on Race From a Privileged Son (New York: Soft Skull Press, 2011).
Whiteness Project is an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as white, or partially white, understand and experience their race.
The Human Genome Project was the international research effort to determine the DNA sequence of the entire human genome.
Race, The Power of Illusions is the online companion to California Newsreel’s three-part documentary about race in society, science, and history.
NPR Ted Talks: The Consequences of Racism explores the ways racism impacts our lives, from education, to health, to safety.
Scene on Radio: Seeing White investigates where the notion of whiteness comes from, what it means, and what it is for.
Allies for Racial Equity is an antiracist movement of white Unitarian Universalists working to understand whiteness and privilege, unlearn and challenge white supremacy, and confront racism in ways that are accountable to communities of color.
Catalyst Project is a center for political education and movement building committed to anti-racist work with mostly white sections of left / radical social movements.
The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB) is a national and international collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers and educators dedicated to building an effective movement for social transformation.
Training for Change, White People Confronting Racism Workshop is for white people who want to challenge the racism around them—and in their own heads and hearts—and who are searching for a way to strengthen their work for racial justice.
Race Forward is a nonprofit organization that catalyzes movement building for racial justice. In partnership with communities, organizations, and sectors, we build strategies to advance racial justice in our policies, institutions, and culture.
The Racial Imaginary Institute is a collaborative organization committed to the activation of interdisciplinary work and a democratized exploration of race in our lives.
Interaction Institute For Social Change works with people and systems to build collaborative capacity in individuals, organizations, and networks working for social justice and racial equity.
Showing up For Racial Justice (SURJ) is a national network of groups and individuals working to undermine white supremacy and to work toward racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability.