Wednesday, January 27, 2010

N*W*C* Race Show Challenged Racial Stereotypes At Ferris State University

More than a few people were uncomfortable with a good chunk of the language used during the N*W*C* Race Show (Jan. 20), in G. Mennen Williams Auditorium on the Ferris State University campus, as part of the 2010 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration: The Jim Crow Era: Then & Now.

N*gger, Wetb*ck, Ch*nk is a controversial (not to mention thought provoking and enlightening) play that co-written and originally performed by Rafael Agustin, Miles Gregley and Allan Axibal. As a member of the 2010 MLK Celebration Planning Committee, I had a special opportunity to meet with the group prior to its performance on Jan. 20 in Big Rapids. Members of the committee had lunch with the N*W*C* crew in the Rock Cafe on the Ferris campus the day of the show. Some committee members met with the group at lunch and later at the conclusion of the show in the Williams Auditorium lobby.

The show itself was an eye-opening experience for those from the Ferris State University community that attended. Prior to the show, more than a few people quietly wondered if Ferris was ready for such a show in Big Rapids. It's fairly clear that some people likely were not quite ready (from a comfort standpoint considering the subject matter), but for most of the people who were ready, it was quite a unique experience (one that hopefully opened lanes of communication about race-related issues).

Sure, there were awkward moments as you hear powerful racial slurs often being used in a variety of ways (mostly humorous) to amplify the stereotyping in our society and provoke thought. Throughout Williams Auditorium, it was clear that some people wondered whether it was appropriate to laugh at the language or jokes tied to racial stereotypes.

If the N*W*C* Race Show didn't break down barriers it's likely that it put cracks in some of those barriers that continue to divide us.

The N*W*C* Race Show was supposed to strike a nerve with people.

The N*W*C* Race Show was supposed to make us at least somewhat uneasy.

The N*W*C* Race Show was supposed to make us think deeply about important issues.

The N*W*C* Race Show was supposed to make us talk and engage each other in a meaningful fashion.

It was impossible not to watch the N*W*C* Race Show and not feel the emotion and energy of the play. The language, by design, is raw (so much so that even some civil rights groups have protested the show over its use of racial slurs). At Ferris, the show's title probably scared some people off. But those who witnessed the free show surely hopefully learned valuable lessons about being willing to openly discuss race-related issues.

This play was not, however, all laughs and jokes. The play had powerful moments that illustrated the pain that stereotypes and hate can cause real people.

Some people may have been scared off by the title. Hopefully the next time an opportunity like this presents itself, our campus community will feel a little more comfortable and open-minded to see that we are more alike than we are different and that race should bring us together more than it should divide us.

I dare say most of the people who attended the event enjoyed it. The entertainment value of the show was top notch. So, while it had a powerful message, it was not some boring after-school-special many people dreaded in their youth.

This was a show that had both a powerful and in-your-face-message that was presented in an entertainment format by some talented guys who brought their "A" game to Ferris State University on Jan. 20.

Yes, the show was that good.

For those of you who saw it - appreciate it.

The show started with three guys coming on stage dressed in somewhat stereotypical attire for their races. Through the play, the three went through the racial filter and ended the show all dressed in the same color - symbolizing they were and are more alike than different.

For those of you who missed it - don't be afraid to learn more about the N*W*C* Race Show. There may not be a next time for the show at Ferris State University, but there can be a first step for you to take a shot at breaking down the barriers that divide us.
Learn more about the N*W*C* Race Show by checking out its Wikipedia site, here, or by visiting the group's official Web site, here.

You can check out some of their videos on YouTube, here.

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