‘White’ – The Story that inspired the Play

The story of White is inspired by the true story that took place in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

In 2014, the museum invited three outside curators—Anthony Elms (Associate Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia), Michelle Grabner (Artist and Professor in the Painting and Drawing Department at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago), and Stuart Comer (Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art at MoMA)—to each curate one floor of the exhibition from their varied perspectives and methodologies. 
Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs at the Whitney, Donna De Salvo, touted the exhibition’s offerings as, “one of the broadest and most diverse takes on art in the United States that the Whitney has offered in many years.” However, of the 103 invited participants, just nine were black. Of those nine artists, one, Donelle Woolford, a 37-year-old woman from Conyers Georgia, was actually the fabrication of a white man, 52-year-old artist Joe Scanlan. This brought the total of black female artists in the biennial down to one. 

More resources here:

Guest Essay: HWITE

by Kenya (Robinson). LLC

I love my Afro. It is a sable cloud, a medieval halo that reminds me of my mother and sharpens our resemblance. Hair picked to achieve maximum radius, the soft crinkle recalls a black and white photograph that is among my most prized possessions.  Two figures predominate –  my mother, be-’froed and bespeckled, holding a notepad, upon which, the other person, appears to be signing an autograph. I’d never thought much about the other figure or the circumstances around the image until I recognized the geometric print of the signer’s dress, late 1960s sock-it-to-me style. This gridded pattern has been oft repeated on Black History Month calendars, google image searches, and appropriately reverential artistic renderings of a particular presidential candidate from 1972. 

“I am black and I am a woman so I’ve got two strikes against me right away”, a significant refrain of my particular embodiment. I am an avatar of ethnicity. Assigned the task of culture-making, without recompense, no less apparent than when the Afro is in full effect. I cannot count the number of occasions where a phenotypical member of the HWITE tribe has insisted that their well-intentioned compliment of my cocoa coiffure must involve the touching of my person. Or, more accurately, plunging their well-meaning-not-racist-digits into my aforementioned medieval halo. 

This is a global phenomenon. Shanghai to Seattle.  And even that one time in business class –  I’ve had to remind the HWITES of their early childhood home training, “keep your hands to yourself” or “use your words”. Etcetera.  If we are to consider a shared American history as an established rubric, it’s no wonder that HWITE folks, and, HWITE men in particular, believe that Black women’s bodies are best considered under their guidance (surveillance?). Or, as outlined by the play WHITE by James Ijames, most suitable as an archetype for professional currency. ‘Shake that money maker’, and other such time-honored maxims. The Kardashians, along with a host of older-others, have made their fortunes upon Black femme embodiment. Only to discard the husks, once the value has been severely extracted. Universal uterine interdimensional portals. Sex as production, non-consensual, and complicated. Mama’s baby, papa’s maybe an entry on the plantation ledger, Jefferson style. Or, lot number so-and-so, on the auction block.

I’ve known a Gus, or twenty, in my time.  Joes in different areas codes, of Ivy League extraction with a penchant for minstrelsy, presented as a thinly veiled thought experiment. Gus or Joe or Dave or some other moniker swimming in the same talent pool of future executioner, ahem, executive. Waterlogged. Shirley sells seashells at the seashore all while claiming that “other kinds of people can steer the ship of state besides white men”. Irrespective of these Other Kinds of People, we seem committed to the Captain. Conditioned to give credit undeserved.  At least a little bit. “Why would you want someone else to take credit for your work?” Vanessa asks. Credit, from the Latin creditum is defined as “a loan, thing entrusted to another,” and the neuter past participle of credere – “to trust, entrust, believe”.  And here lies the fulcrum of WHITE’s machinations. Of the balkanization of Balkonaé. The guile of Gus. The truth of Tanner and the juxtaposition of Jane. Trust and belief are tenuously connected, especially when taking credit for another’s work is the prima materia.   I just wished I could’ve warned VanKneesia.