Echoes of Identity

A while back, one of my blog posts focused on the topic of race in drama. The inspiration for that discussion were my experiences in a class that—here’s a big surprise—examined race in drama. The class? RCHUMS 390: Contemporary Plays on Race in America.

When you think of plays by American playwrights, you might think of plays such as Tony Kushner’s Angels in America or Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. These works are often considered examples of America’s greatest plays—Arthur Miller was a U of M graduate, after all—so your thought process would be understandable. What I challenge you to do, however, is to consider reading or learning about American plays by playwrights of color.

As my professor, Kate Mendeloff, was exploring contemporary plays a few years ago, she discovered that some of the most poignant and interesting works she came across were written by playwrights of color surrounding topics such as race and disparity. Inspired by the discovery, she created the class to bring attention to talented playwrights of color and their works.

Just as the title suggests, my drama class had us study contemporary plays on race in America and other works by playwrights of color. The course included reading works representing a variety of identities, discussing them in class, and acting out scenes from several of the plays. It was interesting analyzing how the characters’ racial and ethnic identities impacted their stories and interactions with other characters. Immigration, drug addiction, and intercultural relationships were some of the topics addressed by the plays in class. They also tackled a variety of time periods and issues, such as the 1967 Detroit riots (Spirit of Detroit by Mercilee Jenkins, Detroit ’67 by Dominique Morisseau).

Facing Our Truth: Ten Minute Plays on Trayvon, Race and Privilege was a collection of plays written by six diverse playwrights as a reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict, while Flint by SMTD faculty member and playwright José Casas explored the water crisis through narratives based on the people affected by the city’s tragedy.

As our final project, our class presented a public performance to feature what we learned and worked on throughout the semester. Some students presented original monologues that illustrated personal experiences on race and privilege, while others presented mashups of monologues from Lorraine Hansberry’s famous A Raisin in the Sun and Joshua Harmon’s plays titled Admissions and Bad Jews. There were also scenes excerpted from plays read in class, like Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World by Yussef El Guindi.

Overall, the class was both enjoyable and educational. I challenge you to give one of the mentioned plays a try and comment your reaction below!


Photo Credit: Robby Griswold

Check out the RC for more classes and awesome opportunities!

The Continuing Limbo

feel a tightness in my chest

only to realize

i’ve been holding my breath

its been a dry well

parched for awhile



i bundle up every night

and eavesdrop on

conversations i will never be 

a part of

i’ve always existed in a continuum

of being in between

because i never truly fit in

despite trying

living a life of limbo



In some way or another we can relate to this. Sometimes we are caught in between, pressured to choose between two identities/groups. Yet maybe we can live in the middle. We don’t have to choose either one. Its possible, that we can inhabit two identities and yet still be, a whole person. Indeed that is something we all have to learn to be comfortable with, living in the crux of in betweens. If we can understand that some truths manifest in shades of gray instead of black and white, surely we wear more than one identity/label for ourselves.

I catch myself always having to choose between two identities. Are you Chinese or Malay? Are you a member of clique A or clique B? Introvert or extrovert? Liberal or conservative? Why do you remain ever so mysterious?

Just as I am pressured to ascribe to one identity, I back away quickly from both sides. And that is how I continuously live in a limbo. Just as I start getting closer to a group of friends, I catch myself wondering if I truly belong or just merely a visitor. What am I in this space? Am I a stranger-turned-member? Maybe I want to live in that shade of gray, neither one or another, just so I can understand both sides of the conversation. Outsiders to the group tell me their unsolicited opinions about the group. Granted, their views are valid. But being in the group also makes me understand the members and strangely I feel at home there too. I don’t intentionally choose to be occupying two spaces and be a stranger and a member all the same. I just find myself in such circumstances. Nevertheless, this limbo comes with the anxiety of asking myself, “Should I intervene when I sense conflict?”, “Should I tell them what people think of them?” or even importantly, “What if I got it all wrong and things are actually not as they seem?”.

However, wearing multiple identities has its perks too. It means you can mix with both groups, yet never be fully categorized as either one. It also means more social invitations from both groups. If I ever needed to take a step back, I can be alone, and contemplate my place in the group or identities people associate me with. In the end, ideally I hope we don’t ever have to need labels to truly identify where and how we have come to belong in a place. Labels, identities are necessary for us to find meaning in communities we choose to engage in, but these labels will only be a part of us, never to define us.

I’m not struggling with these identities anymore. I am content with being neither one or another, because it has allowed me to live in the grayest shade. I will not let labels define me.