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Not a Fan of Color-Conscious Casting? Get Used to It

Hold onto your seats, white folks: Statistics indicate that by the year 2040, the white race will no longer hold the majority position in the United States. The goal realized. Photo credit: Bahaiteachings.
Black Panther, BK Reader
The Black Panther Family. Photo credit:

Hold onto your seats, white folks: Statistics indicate that by the year 2040, the white race will no longer hold the majority position in the United States.

Color-conscious, color-neutral, the goal realized.
The goal realized. Photo credit:

"The Art of Seeing" by Michael Milton

I am a white American man and I have been in power on this continent for centuries. Before my arrival on these shores, I exercised my sovereignty over England, France, Russia, Spain and Portugal and by extension, I flexed the muscles of my influence the world over. I have raped and pillaged and enslaved, spread unwanted religions and, occasionally, have even done some good. I am the patriarch of a white-centric, straight universe.

But guess what? All that is about to change.

This change can be felt in ways not always as dramatic as the awe-inspiring call-to-spirit sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., or the more recent election of President Barack Obama, or the legalizing of gay marriage, or the momentous #MeToo Movement. But signs of change abound.

Take theater, for instance.

Jessie Mueller and Joshua Henry singing If I Loved You from the current revival of Carousel on Broadway.
Jessie Mueller and Joshua Henry singing "If I Loved You" from the current revival of Carousel on Broadway. Photo credit: Playbill

After the recent Broadway opening of a revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical Carousel, I listened to people argue about the merits of "color-blind casting," or, perhaps more correctly, color-conscious casting. For those of you not familiar with the casting practices of theatre, color-conscious casting means that the world of the play is re-envisioned as a place where every skin color-- and often, by extension, every race/religion/sexuality--are magically made equal, regardless of historical context.

color-blind vs. color-conscious
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Thus, in a color-conscious The King and I, English schoolteacher Anna Leowens could be portrayed by a Muslim woman and the king of Siam by an Hispanic man. Or the character of producer Julian Marsh in 42nd Street could be a black man. Or, we might see an Asian woman dancing in late 19th century American territories in the musical Oklahoma. Strict purists say that a theater piece originally envisioned within the context of a traditional Anglo-Saxon world ought to remain so in subsequent revivals.

An extension of that argument would be that the black world of Catfish Row in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess would not be best served by a white Sportin' Life or an Indonesian Bess. (I would disagree on both counts.) Most purists would agree, I think, that shows currently being written for the stage with stories transpiring contemporaneously ought to take advantage of our society's hard-won diversity by casting all colors and races and sexualities.

In the fore-mentioned Carousel a dashing black man courts and marries a white woman. Some would argue, "Impossible! A man of color would have been driven out of a 19th century New England town for simply looking at a white woman and sent packing way before the two lead characters ever made it to their first act love song, the sweepingly beautiful If I Loved You."

For me, the point of color-conscious casting goes beyond the rancor created for some by presenting history on stage at odds with the deeply bigoted history that has transpired. Color-conscious casting imagines what the world would look like if we didn't actually see color; and by not seeing color, I mean—more realistically-- that we would ideally have a neutral response to any of the colors/races/religions/sexualities etc. we are presented with onstage, and hopefully, off-stage, as well. This suggests a world in which saying the man was black and the woman was white offers the simplest of information without the deeper veins of historical and social interpretation that leads to our uglier biases.

Shoghi Effendi
Shoghi Effendi. Photo credit:

Shoghi Effendi of the Baha'i faith writes, "A tremendous effort is required by all races…casting away the fallacious doctrine of racial superiority, with all its attendant evils, confusion and miseries and welcoming and encouraging the intermixture of races, and tearing down the barriers that now divide them, we should each endeavor day and night to fulfill their particular responsibilities in the common task which so urgently faces us."

Hold onto your seats, white folks, and hold even tighter, oh ye who find color-conscious casting offensive; statistics indicate that by the year 2040—right around the corner, y'all—the white race will no longer hold the majority position in the United States. Some say the pure white race will have been "stained." Other, more open-minded folks say "blended." And, in the end, it doesn't matter what is said. It's happening.

There are many people who are afraid of this not very distant moment. While there has been much heartfelt activity, like color-conscious casting, to pull away focus from skin color, religion and heritage and concentrate on the heart and soul of all individuals, many have yet to let go; on one side there is a generationally inherited bigotry and sense of entitlement and on the other, a failure to develop a true sense of forgiveness.

Those in power fear 2040. "What will happen to me?" they wonder. "What if my rights are discarded, my voice unheard, my education and furtherance in society ignored?"

Collecting rapid firearms, rushing to join the KKK, mobilizing like-minded individuals sworn to "battle until the end," worshipping in places rife with narrow-mindedness and living a life that tries to secure some sort of insularity all will, ultimately, be useless. Unless, of course, one is willing to ignite a second civil war.

Shoghi Effendi continues: "…visualize while there is yet time, the dire consequences that must follow if this challenging and unhappy situation (prejudice) that faces the entire American nation is not definitely remedied."

After centuries of dominion, the white race is given an opportunity to see the other side more clearly and the black race, in combination with other colors, beliefs and sexualities, to enact a perfect exquisite forgiveness. Will this be painful? Of course. Change is always painful. But is that pain worse than the specter of a second civil war?

Rising tide of color against white supremacy
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I believe that though there will be an initial hunkering down with all of our individual groupings—American Turks hiring American Turks, whites employing fellow whites, Indian companies favoring fellow American Indians, Korean owned factories feeling more comfortable hiring Koreans, an African-American companies tilting their hiring hand more towards a fellow black future employee—all of this will eventually right itself. How? Through the same concept inherent in color- consciousness casting. We become neutralized to differences.

"…I'm a cock-eyed optimist…and I'm stuck like a dope with a thing called hope…," chirps Nellie Forbush in another Rodgers and Hammerstein mega-hit, South Pacific. I am a bit of an optimist myself. I believe that eventually, we will forget about color, sexuality, religion. And the faster we all get on board with this, the less uncomfortable the future will be if we insist on digging our heels into our particular and singular beliefs.

Think about the forgiveness demonstrated by the film Black Panther. The bad guy isn't even white! That astounded me. The movie goes beyond that. It preaches forgiveness at every turn. The denizens of Wakanda understand, ultimately, the importance of letting go of the past and moving on…together.

Shoghi Effendi writes, "…let the white …abandon their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority… Let [African Americans] show by every means in their power the warmth of their response, their readiness to forget the past…let neither think that the solution of so vast a problem is a matter that exclusively concerns the other….let neither think that anything short of genuine love, extreme patience, true humility, consummate tact, sound initiative, mature wisdom and deliberate, persistent and prayerful effort can succeed in blotting out the stain which this patent evil has left on the fair name of their common country. 

Black Panther
The Black Panther Family. Photo credit:

I am a white American and I have held sway for centuries. Soon, I no longer will have that advantage. Who will be kind and forgiving towards me? Who will be the first to hold out a hand and say, "Let us heal this…together?"