My decision to have an African-American woman as the protagonist in this show first came to me out of a desire to write more roles for older women and women of color. The idea of having an African-American woman as the one who brings sexual health to our planet was one just too appealing to pass on. As I did the research on the statistics of sexual violence against women I came across this article put out by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. What caught my eye most in the article is that African-American women were among the first women to confront and organize against rape and that this happened as early as the 1870s. Ida B. Wells being one of the first. That confirmed for me that my instincts were correct. At the same time it presented a challenge. As a white male how could I accurately portray a middle-aged African-American woman? In talking with my producer, Vivian Nesbitt, she suggested we do a table read of the show. That led me to Ramona King, an African-American storyteller, solo artist and coach. It is with Ramona that I have begun exploring what commonality of experience I, as a white male, have with the experience of middle-aged African-American women.
I began by looking at the involvement I’ve had with African-Americans throughout my life, what my experience has been and what prejudice I harbored. I grew up in suburban Minneapolis. I can’t tell you if I had an African-American in any of the schools I had up to and including college. I simply don’t remember. I do remember laughing at and repeating both racist and sexist jokes in my teens. These jokes not coming from any experiences I had, but arising from a desire to be included when those in my social circle would tell the jokes. It wasn’t until seminary that I was confronted with the reality that by participating and repeating these jokes I contributed to systemic racism. This done in a class called Transformations led by the late Vincent Harding. The realization rattled me. Up until that point I had no idea of the power of words and especially my words. That I was contributing to racism by telling jokes had never crossed my mind. But, Transformations, laid it out for me. That led me to scrutinize the language I use to describe my experience. To scrutinize it with an eye toward whether it harms or alienates another human being. It is a scrutiny that I apply to this day.