Thoughts on Preemptive: Could s/he be multicultural?
By Rachel Hastings

I should have known that rehearsal for Preemptive would serve as an example of a preemptive strike. A black w/hole preparing to speak back to the white litez. On Saturday, we finally have a complete cast with Tania joining us in Barbados. This is great, simply because the show can’t run without her and the dramatic tension between characters needs to be massaged and worked over. In Preemptive, I play a very small role as an “extra woman” who participates in a home-going ritual (aka a funeral) at the end of the play. My role is to be sad and possibly cry. I play the hell out of it.

Our director Segun, is playing the hell out of his directing role during rehearsal.  I am loving how direct he is in addressing both the verbal and non-verbal behaviors of the cast. For Fatimah, he urges her to seep into the rounded back of an older woman who is full of wisdom. He calls on her to deepen her vocals and fill the space with an energy of intuition that reaches across the Atlantic Ocean. This will assist the audience in engaging in the spirit of Muslim identity, even as it is under attack in U.S. society.

As a more traditional piece of drama, you would think that Preemptive could be approached simply. But Preemptive is not an easy script, given its depth of argument and critical engagement with race relations. Author Niyi Coker Jr. did not hold his pen back from capturing the smallest of details. It is in these details that the true gems of dramatic tension are found.

When I first read the play, my insides were disturbed at the level of internalized race hatred and fear of the other. I hated this feeling, which is what makes the script powerful. On the surface, much of this tension occurs between Uncle Ted, an older, white, retired Police officer living in New York and Ahmed, a U.S. educated Muslim doctor from the country of Zanzibar who is living in the United States. They are brought together by Vivian, a Southern, Christian white woman who is involved in a serious love affair with Ahmed.  It is with her character that I feel most at odds with when I analyze the script.

As a black woman who recognizes that black love is a politicized act of courage, I find the interracial relationship between Vivian and Ahmed to be built upon false cultural commitments, which make their love appear somewhat unbelievable. I know that most of my inability to buy into their love affair has to do with my own choice to love and honor the black man in all of his manifestations. At a very influential age my father told me, “Don’t forget about the Black man.” I took this to heart and have carried it with me throughout my life. But one might ask, what is it that should not be forgotten about the black man?

Preemptive is an ideal text to analyze the ways in which Ahmed’s blackness has been if not forgotten, then very much denied to exist freely in the white imagination and ultimately the world. “It bothers me,” that Vivian accepts him into her home as her lover, but that she does not have the love to expose him to the white supremacist underpinnings of her own reality. Nor can she protect him from the consequences of her world, which ultimately leads to his demise. Since both of Vivian’s parents have passed away, she is limited to her Uncle Ted as a foundation for knowing.

On an individual level, it would appear that Vivian is very much at home in her skin politics when it comes to what is right and what is wrong. The American ideal of honoring diversity is embedded in her rhetoric. The first major scene with Ted positions her as a woman with high morals, a strong integrity and an understanding of justice. As a psychologist employed by the New York Police Department, Vivian’s own integrity finds itself up against an entire system of policing, right down to how she is to interpret the psychology of the boys in blue. This is what she is resisting as she attempts to stand up for what is perceived as the right side of the equation. And yet this same type of integrity is lacking in Vivian’s personal life as one part of an interracial relationship. 

One might ask, who is Vivian protecting by not sharing her two-year old interracial relationship with her Uncle Ted? How might her relationship with Ahmed disrupt the cultural norms of Black Muslims living in Zanzibar, given that he has been promised to another woman? Could not the untimely demise of Ahmed serve as an example of a modern day lynching based upon the politics of skin? Just as Ida B. Wells once exposed how lynching was motivated by white women falsely accusing black men of rape (even when intimacy was consensual), Vivian exposes how history renegotiates its expressions of hate and repeats itself. By not exposing her black Muslim lover to her uncle Ted earlier, Ted’s own perceptions and stereotypes become the only tools available for him to interact with Ahmed. Ultimately, the result is an unfolding of a mess of contradictions that begins with the inability to recognize the politics of loving a black man.  

To love a black man in the United States, regardless of his country of origin, is to commit to a reality of cultural confrontation and political terrorism. American Black men are subjected to the irrational fears of color, sexual deviancy and criminality that are deeply sedimented in the white imagination. Since its conception, the United States has considered the black male a threat to its social systems and has denied him the luxury of existing freely in his own skin. To love a black man is to love his view of the world. It is to honor his God given right to exist without being defined by the ideas of others and to contribute to his construction of a world where his children and loved ones will not have to worry about his safety. For me, Vivian’s relationship serves more as a means of distancing herself from her own racial realities, rather than as an investment in the development of an anti-racist and anti-colonial cultural consciousness.

In the end, only Ahmed initiates a reconciliation between his two worlds, while the commitment to silence on Vivian’s behalf becomes a cost that both lovers must pay for. And so, for any women who chooses to love a black man the request on behalf of black women—who have given birth to these men, who have married black men, who have nursed them through their social conditions, is to commit to an honest love. A love that is open to criticism and speaks back to the systems of oppression that it exists in. The black man deserves to be free. In all of his multiple manifestations.

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