A live performance of The Wiz was broadcast on TV last night. If you aren’t familiar with it, The Wiz is a Broadway adaptation of The Wizard of Oz that first debuted in 1974. It has (and always had) an all-black cast. This is intentional. Some white folks, apparently, think it’s racist.
It isn’t, though. It’s no more racist than the notion that black people get a free pass to use the n-word and white people don’t. Having the ability to distinguish context, power dynamics, privilege, and structural oppression goes a long way toward understanding the issues involved.
Perhaps the shortest version, though, is that as long as black people remain relatively (to white people) underprivileged, underrepresented, and impoverished, it is necessary for black people to have more and better representation, and to have full ownership of that representation–such as by having an all-black Broadway cast.
The classic joke here is that someone should make an all-white version of The Wiz. If you don’t get it, think about it for a minute or two. (Or maybe look up the original cast of The Wizard of Oz.)
Rarely do white audiences bat an eye to a movie, TV show, or Broadway performance that features an all-white cast, of course. But let there be just one where all the performers are black, and the Internet starts crawling with thinly-veiled (and sometimes not-so-thinly-veiled) racism and other ignorance. Where are the complaints from white folks when yet another comedy comes out made up entirely of white people, or a new historical epic is produced where all the characters, regardless of their historical origins, are played by white actors? The same people who complain about The Wiz are curiously silent in those instances. One wonders why. One wonders.
Although not specifically mentioned in this instance, black people doing something that white people would hypothetically (but not necessarily) get in trouble for doing is often referred to as “reverse racism.” This is somehow meant to make it distinct, even though “reverse racism” would just be… racism. But racism isn’t a context-free condition. Treating it as one is ignorant at best, and purposefully dishonest at worst.
I will close with a thoughtful Facebook post from a man named George Arnett: