By Josh Elstro
I am a straight, CIS, white, American male writing a review of a proudly self-proclaimed straight, CIS, white, American, Christian (hey there’s one difference!) male’s solo show… about race. It’s a bit of a tricky tightrope to walk but I’m game.
“White Privilege” is actor Jim Hopkins’ exploration of the history of this concept which still seems hazy to about half of our fellow citizens. He combines history, both national and personal, with occasionally self-deprecating humor to share personal wake-up calls from his own life. His ultimate goal? Sending out a challenge to his audience, which it seems he accurately trusted was going to be mostly white, self-proclaimed “liberals”: Open up a dialogue and step up when friends, family, and community members get too comfortable sharing their own ugly racism.
The catch, he points out, is that those in his audience he trusts are familiar with the concept of white privilege likely fail to see that their having the option to simply disengage with racist conversation is, in and of itself, an exercise of that very privilege. He points this out with examples of un-followed family on social media or skipped Thanksgiving dinners. Those who suffer the actual harm of racism, don’t have the option of turning it off; of just making it stop.
Perhaps the strongest moments of the show are when he infuses American history that may have been swept under the rug in most of our history classes. Toward the show’s opening, as the audience is still being softened up by Hopkins’ light and approachable humor on the subject, he dons a bathrobe as he explains 1700s race laws. He suggests they were created by the rich in this country to systematically infuse racism into our blood stream and to ensure the lower class would scapegoat each other for their problems. Hopkins’ believes this was done as a move to forever protect the rich from class uprisings, which one could imagine being like the French or Russian revolutions. From there, Hopkins’ gets brutally honest about his own familial history, being vulnerable and frank when discussing their history of racism and his own slips over the years. His redemption as a white privileged man dipping his toe in the testy waters of race discussion, is that he never forgives anything, including himself.
Josh Elstro is an audio production and recording engineer with Cincinnati Public Radio by day and a freelance podcast and music producer by night. Suffice it to say, he REALLY enjoys storytelling, journalism, and performing arts of any kind. He is Lin Manuel Miranda’s best friend… he’s just waiting for Lin to realize it. You can check out his independent podcasts Bellwether (bellwethershow.org) and Still Life With Simpsons (stilllifepod.libsyn.com)