We hope the conversations started by Help will inspire you to engage and connect with others in deeper ways. The resources on this page provide further context to the themes explored in the play.
We’ll update this page throughout the run of the show, so please check back for more to explore. 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 structure of white supremacy. As the playwright, I was interested in exploring with various publics our power structure, comprised primarily of white men who ultimately determine all civic possibility. According to the US Census Bureau, for example, white men comprise approximately 31 percent of the US population. Yet, since the Supreme Court’s inception in 1789, 94 percent of justices have been white men. In today’s 117th US Congress (the most diverse in our history), 60 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 the 16 Fortune 500 companies that share demographic information.
The text spoken by white people in the piece was primarily culled from responses to the Times article; public statements by men and women 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 dialogue was excerpted from interviews, no autobiographical details were included. This is a play holding loosely the categories of white man, white woman, and Black woman. The various white men and women do not hold any single identity throughout the play, but speak with the many voices and positions expressed in response to the original article and recent events (including the January 6 insurrection and the global pandemic).
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.”
A note on the text
Portions of the dialogue in this play are woven from correspondence and comments responding to Claudia Rankine’s 2019 New York Times Magazine article, “I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.” The script also includes public statements made in the media or online by government officials, journalists, and other individuals.
This is a list of quotations and their sources, as of March 18, 2022.
Let’s face it. I am a marked woman, but not everybody knows my name. “Peaches” and “Brown Sugar,” “Sapphire” and “Earth Mother,” “Aunty,” “Granny,” “God’s ‘Holy Fool,” a “Miss Ebony First,” or “Black Woman at the Podium: I describe a locus of confounded identities, a meeting ground of investments and privations in the national treasury of rhetorical wealth. My country needs me, and if I were not here, I would have to be invented.”
—Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (summer 1987): 65.
Such a nasty woman.
—Donald Trump, 2016 presidential debate against Hillary Clinton, October 19, 2016.
Lemme ask you: why don’t—why don’t you people act a little more positive. It’s like getcha. Getcha. Getcha. And you know what? That’s why nobody trusts [you]… Look, let me tell you something: be nice. Don’t be threatening. Don’t be threatening. Be nice. Be nice.
—President Donald Trump, White House press conference, March 29, 2020 (speaking to “PBS NewsHour” reporter Yamiche Alcindor)
Well the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.
—Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), press conference, January 20, 2022
“An entire 2019 West Virginia class of correctional officers photographing themselves”
—refers to a photo referenced in “Prison guard trainees were photographed giving a Nazi salue. The entire class was fired.” Washington Post, December 31, 2019
The afterlife of slavery
—Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997).
The Negro-in-America, therefore, is a form of insanity that over-takes white men.
—Walter Hines Page, The Southerner (New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1909), 104.
A false fight
—Stefano Harney, Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (London: Minor Compositions, 2013).
You know, they have a word, it sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, “Really? We’re not supposed to use that word?” You know what I am? I’m a nationalist. OK? I’m a nationalist. Use that word. Use that word.
—President Donald Trump, rally for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), October 22, 2018
White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?
—Rep. Steve King (R-IA), interview with the New York Times, January 10, 2019
Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end.
—Rep Steve King (R-IA), Twitter, September 18, 2016
We’re working to turn our good cop/bad cop situation into a good cop/good cop situation. Changing the name of a stack of bricks and mortar is at the bottom of my to-do list.
—South Carolina State Senator Harvey Peeler ®, Twitter, June 17, 2020
There’s nothing good about diversity other than food, and we don’t need 128 million Mexicans for the restaurants. … Proposing an immigration policy that serves America’s interests should not require an apology.
—Ann Coulter, ¡Adios, America! (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2015).
I really want to go talk to these ladies and ask them what they are thinking, and why they are serving in our American government. They really should go back to the Middle East.
—Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Facebook video (since deleted), February 2019 (prior to her election to Congress)
We are witnessing a great awakening. Millions of Texans, millions of Americans are rising up to reclaim our country, to defend liberty and to restore the Constitution. —Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), victory speech, Houston, August 1, 2012
“Just the other day while waiting for a flight I saw a video of a police training seminar on the news.”
—The dialogue in this scene is taken from a December 2017 video recording of a training session for the Plainfield, Indiana, police department.
“After uttering the phrase ‘white male privilege,’ Captain Weber was put on paid administrative leave, and a reprimand was placed permanently in her file.”
—Vic Rykaert, “Plainfield officer on leave for ‘white male privilege’ remark,” Indy Star, Dec. 6, 2017.
Everybody’s asking me how do I feel? I don’t know how to feel, ‘cause it’s so sad, bro. This man was literally right here at 8 pm yesterday. I was walking my cousin to the store, and I just see him on the ground and I’m like 'What is going on? …
—Darnella Frazier, public speech* at the site of George Floyd’s murder (which she filmed and shared online) on May 27, 2020
*Content Warning: video contains footage of Floyd’s murder
But what of black women?… I most sincerely doubt if any other race of women could have brought its fineness up through so devilish a fire.
—W.E.B. Du Bois, Fisk University lecture, 1888
While I was at the hotel to-day an elderly gentleman called upon me to know whether I was really in favor of producing a perfect equality between the negroes and white people. [Great laughter.] While I had not proposed to myself on this occasion to say much on that subject, yet as the question was asked me I thought I would occupy perhaps five minutes in saying something in regard to it. I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. [Cheers and laughter]
—Abraham Lincoln, Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858
Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.
—Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Philadelphia, PA: Prichard and Hall, 1788): 147.
The Blacks are so bad in their nature that they have not the least grat[i]tude for the kindness that may be shewed to them.
—Martha Washington, letter written in 1795, featured in “Martha Washington as a Slaveowner,” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 2022.
The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
—Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” in Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (eds), This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (New York: Kitchen Table Press, 1983): 94-101.
Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?
—James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (New York, NY: Dial Press, 1963).
I don’t know any people that aren’t proud that they’re white, you know, not in my social group. Most guys in my social group, they don’t say they’re Polish or Italian. They might be from a Polish or Italian or Irish background, but they… they know they’re white … I think affirmative action was nice; it had its time. I think the time is over with. We gonna keep this up for another 150 years? Oh, you know, “We’ve gotta have so many Asians in the fire department… we gotta have so many blacks in the fire department. We gotta have so many latinos.” The white guys’ll never have a chance to be a fireman or a cop anymore. A lot of minorities should understand that a lot of white boys aren’t gonna be pushed around, you know.
—Ronald, interviewed in Buffalo, New York, by Whitney Dow in July 2014 for The Whiteness Project: Inside the White/Caucasian Box.
I’m asking you to stop recording me. Please take your phone off. Then I’m taking a picture and calling the cops. I’m gonna tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life. Excuse me. I’m sorry, I’m in the Ramble, and there is a man, African-American, he has a bicycle helmet, he is recording me and threatening me and my dog. There is an African-American man, I am in Central Park, he is recording me and threatening myself and my dog. I’m sorry, I can’t hear you either, I’m being threatened by a man in the Ramble! Please send the cops immediately! I’m in Central Park in the Ramble. I don’t know!
—Amy Cooper, Facebook video posted by Christian Cooper, May 25, 2020
He was trapped like a rat. I think he was wanting to flee and he realized that something, you know, he was not going to get away. He had an opportunity to flee further, you know. We had chased him around the neighborhood a bit, but he wasn’t winded at all. I mean this guy was, he was in good shape.
—Greg McMichaels, police interview following the murder of Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020 (quote read from interview transcript in court by Sgt. Roderic Nohilly as part of McMichaels’ trial in November 2021)
You will see that three Minneapolis police officers could not overcome the strength of Mr. Floyd. … The evidence will show that Mr. Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, his coronary disease, ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the adrenaline flowing through his body, all of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart.
—Eric Nelson, attorney for Derek Chauvin, opening statement, March 29, 2021
I put this person in a prone position on the ground. I’m holding them for my safety and their safety.
—Eric Nelson, attorney for Derek Chauvin, closing statement, April 19, 2021
So I was getting into an elevator with one of my staffers. You know, we’re leaving the Capitol and we’re going back to my office, and we get in the elevator, and I see a Capitol Police officer running, hurriedly, to the elevator. I see fret all over his face, and he’s reaching. And I’m like the door is shutting, I can’t open it, like what’s happening? I look to my left, and there she is. Ilhan Omar. And I said, ‘well, she doesn’t have a backpack, we should be fine.’ So we only had one floor to go, and I was like “enhh do I say it, or do I not,” looked over, and I said, “Oh look, the Jihad Squad decided show up for work today.”
—Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), campaign event in Colorado, November 2021
This case has nothing to do with race. It never had anything to do with race. It had to do with the right to self-defense. I’m not a racist person.
—Kyle Rittenhouse, interview on Tucker Carlson Tonight, FOX, November 22, 2021
I’ll tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser! Holy shit, I just shot him! I grabbed the wrong fucking gun! I shot him. Oh my god. I’m gonna go to prison.
—Kim Potter, body cam footage of shooting of Daunte Wright*, April 11, 2021 *Content Warning: video contains graphic footage of the shooting
We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that—we’re denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear.
—Doc Rivers, press conference shortly after the shooting of Jacob Blake, August 26, 2020
—Brett Kavanaugh, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, September 27, 2018
I still can hear him say, “Aw, talk to me so you can see what’s going on.”
—The Commodores, “Nightshift,” 1985
No secret, my friend, you can get killed just for living in your American skin.
—Bruce Springsteen, “American Skin (41 Shots),” 2000
The sound design for this scene includes audio from the following sources:
We’re gathered together in the heart of our nation’s capital for one very, very basic and simple reason: To save our democracy. …
—President Donald Trump’s speech at the Ellipse, Washington, DC, January 6, 2021
—Social media footage taken at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, including licensed footage by JR.NYC
We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel, but go home, and go home in peace.
—President Donald Trump’s video address to rioters, January 6, 2021
I’m proud of everything that I was part of today and I’ll be proud of everything that I’ll be a part of at the next one and we’ll see what happens at that.
—Jenny Cudd, Facebook live, January 6, 2021
No one wants to believe that their beloved democracy is in decline, or headed toward war, but if you were an analyst in a foreign country looking at events in America … you would go down a checklist, assessing each of the conditions that make civil war likely. And what you would find is that the United States, a democracy founded more than two centuries ago, has entered very dangerous territory. We are no longer the world’s oldest continuous democracy. That honor is now held by Switzerland, followed by New Zealand. In the U.S., encroaching instability and illiberal currents present a sad picture.
—Barbara F. Walter, How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them (New York: Penguin Books, 2022).
The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” speech given at the National Cathedral, March 31, 1968.
If you can wait in line for a COVID test, you can wait in line to vote.
—Texas GOP, Twitter, January 7, 2022
a death-driven system that reduces all of us.
It requires us to commit suicide against our other identities.
It requires us to dissociate from our deepest selves.
We need a change in how you feel. We need a change in what you do.
—Ruby Sales, quoted in Adam Pendleton’s Who Is Queen, Museum of Modern Art, 2020
White men support gun rights, and then 77 percent of white gun deaths are suicides.
—Richard V. Reeves and Sarah E. Holmes, “Guns and race: The different worlds of black and white Americans,” Brookings Institution, December 15, 2015
This week we’re continuing our opioid update with an episode on deaths of despair, a category of deaths that includes drug overdoses and suicides and that are contributing to a decline in US life expectancy.
—Healthcare Triage, “Deaths of Despair and Decreasing Life Expectancy in the US,” YouTube, August 13, 2020
In every state, in prime age, whites’ deaths from suicide went up… We think it’s a real sign that something is not right.
—Angus Deaton and Anne Case, interviewed by Jason Bellini for the Wall Street Journal, February 27, 2018
The political leanings of the county where a person lives may indicate their risk of dying from Covid-19. A new analysis from NPR found that conservative counties had nearly three times the death rates of more liberal ones.
—NPR News, “Pro-Trump counties now have far higher Covid death rates. Misinformation is to blame,” December 5, 2021
I’ve paid more than anyone in taxes. If I’d had to pay $20 billion, it’s fine. But, you know, when you say I should pay $100 billion, ok, then I’m starting to do a little math about what I have left over.
—Bill Gates, New York Times DealBook Conference, November 6, 2019
Q. [Mr. Sackler], do you know how much the Sackler family has made off the sale of OxyContin?
A. I don’t know.
Q. But fair to say it’s over a billion dollars?
A. It would be fair to say that, yes.
Q. Do you know if it’s over 10 billion dollars?
A. I don’t think so.
Q. Do you know if it’s over 5 billion dollars?
A. I don’t know.
—Dr. Richard Sackler, deposition for Commonwealth of Kentucky, ex rel. v Purdue Pharma L.P., et al., August 28, 2015, p. 42 (Read the deposition transcript)
While the American people are enduring the impact of Covid-19, I have become a top target of baseless attacks from political adversaries and the media. The truth, as I said when the accusations first surfaced, is that I have never used any confidential information I received while performing my Senate duties as a means of making a private profit … My family’s investment accounts are being used as weapons for an assault on my character at a time when we should all be focused on making our country safe and strong.
—Kelly Loeffler, “I Never Traded on Confidential Coronavirus Information,” Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2020
Jeff Bezos: I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all of this. Seriously, for every Amazon customer out there, and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart very much. It’s very appreciated. … Big things start small. But you can tell, you can tell when you’re onto something and this is important. We’re going to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build the future. We need to do that.
—Blue Origin press conference following Jeff Bezos’s flight to space on July 20, 2021
It’s been now almost half a century since humans were last on the moon. That’s too long, we need to get back there and have a permanent base on the moon—I think, like a big permanently occupied base on the moon. And then build a city on Mars to become a spacefaring civilization, a multi-planet species. We don’t want to be one of those single-planet species, we want to be a multi-planet species.
—Elon Musk, press conference following NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission launch, April 23, 2021
The analysis of our murderer, and of our murder,
is so we can see we are not murdered
—Fred Moten, “Blackness,” in Keywords for African American Studies, eds. Erica R. Edwards, Roderick A. Ferguson, Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar (New York: NYU Press, 2018).
You‘re not the only one on top of the world
You’re not the only one to feel feel.
—Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely, “On Top of the World,“ 2020
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.