HarlemDuetOthello

HarlemDuetOthello - 14 December 2007 Racial Perspective and...

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14 December 2007 Racial Perspective and Cultural Standards The issue of race has played a significant role in the history of the United States, beginning over four centuries ago with the arrival of the first Africans on North American soil and the subsequent diverging construction of the country’s black and white cultures. It was around that time when England’s William Shakespeare wrote the tragedy Othello, in which the main character of that name would become known as the first black hero in Western literature. Though the two events were unrelated in the 17 th century, the evolution of America’s black and white cultures over the last 400 years has formed a strongly relevant connection. Shakespeare’s Othello is a dark-skinned foreigner who wins the love and hand of the fair Venetian Desdemona. As commander of Venice’s army, the man holds a respected position in Venetian society—and yet he remains an outsider, with the color of his skin being pointed out time and again to prove his difference and what can be construed as his unworthiness in the eyes of others. Another Othello in a 1997 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, entitled Harlem Duet , more poignantly confronts this issue with racial identity . Canadian playwright Djanet Sears sets her characters up to explore the cultural constructions of race and sexuality in the heart of Harlem and simultaneously spanning three different time periods—1860, 1928, and 1997. While the play centers on the relationship between Othello and Billie, his partner of nine years, it is in fact Othello’s interracial relationship with Mona that provides the drama and becomes the catalyst for the ex-couple’s heated cultural discussions. By focusing on the struggle faced by both Othellos for identity and acceptance in a dominant white cultural society, it
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is possible to demonstrate the historical breadth and continuing relevance of the racial identity conflict faced by black men and women. The present day Othello of Harlem Duet and Shakespeare’s Othello both share unique and esteemed positions in society that contribute to their conflicting identities. To reach these positions they have broken free of the [standards] attributed to their race and have deemed worthy of inclusion into white society. However, this inclusion does not always go smoothly and the two men often voice their painful awareness of being the exceptions, the outsiders. In Harlem Duet , Othello is a professor at Columbia and in a discussion with Billie he reveals the inner turmoil caused by working in a predominantly white cultural environment. When Billie questions his aversion to affirmative action, stating that it’s because he wants White people to respect him (299), Othello responds: For my peers…my peers to respect me. You know what it’s like. Every day I have to prove to them that I can do my job. I feel that
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HarlemDuetOthello - 14 December 2007 Racial Perspective and...

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