By Travis Reynolds
Since its May 2003 inception, the racially-themed theater show N*gger, Wetb*ck, Ch*nk has gotten people talking.On Thursday, Eastern’s students took their turn to speak.
With a panel of its members taking notes at the forefront, the Student Government Association opened the floor to discuss the controversial show “N*gger Wetb*ck Ch*nk” and the university’s response to the possibility of the show coming to Eastern.
“The fact that you all have enough energy to be here means you’re ready to have a real conversation [about race],” said Marta Miranda, director of Eastern’s Women’s Studies program.
The show, which is performed by a trio of UCLA graduates, aims to de-power the titular slurs through over-the-top comedic and dramatic skits inspired by the lives of the actors.
The forum began with a seven-minute video trailer for the play. The clip mixed cast interviews with segments from the 95-minute stage show, which has no inhibitions when it comes to making fun of stereotypes.
For example, the opening scene features actors Miles Gregley, Rafael Agustin and Allan Axibal dancing onstage while chanting the show’s title.
The skit ends with Axibal and Agustin shouting “Go n*gger, go n*gger,” while Gregley, an African-American dressed as a 1970s pimp, dances along.
“We recognize that this contains a lot of humor,” said Doc Fifer, SGA president. “But it also contains a much more somber component.”
After the video, students took the microphone one at a time to give their thoughts on the play. Initially, students were encouraged to alternate ‘pro’ and ‘con’ opinions.
But when Wardell Johnson, forum moderator and assistant professor of exercise and sports science, asked for a show of hands for the those who oppose hosting N*W*C*, the room went silent.
No hands went up.
“This is where we learn,” Johnson said. “When you get into the real world and you make a mistake, you might not get a second chance.”
Prompted by the moderators, some students spoke up in opposition not to N*W*C* as a whole, but to its scope and method. They called its comedic nature into question and criticized the show for highlighting only three stereotypes.
“Of course, the derogatory language is difficult,” said K.K. Trott, a senior community health education major, “but after watching the video, I thought it was funny.”
Trott, a Philipino-American and chair of SGA’s Non-traditional Student Council, added, “The only thing I think that could be better would be to have added a Caucasian group (to the show). That would have made it less conflicting.”
In addition to criticizing the comedy aspect of N*W*C*, opponents argued the show excluded the “white racist majority” when making light of stereotypes.
But some students felt the play’s method works well.
“Comedy is a good way to get the dialogue started, to break the ice,” said Holden J. Casey, a senior and member of Eastern’s Pride Alliance. “I think this program will do that.”
Miranda suggested its shocking and potentially offensive nature might leave some students hurt and put off. Still, others felt the culture shock N*W*C* provides could be just the thing to begin making real progress.
“The only way to get an elephant out of a room is pushing him out,” said Brent Barnett, a junior English teaching major. “You can’t pat him on the shoulder and get him out. We have to have this (racial) conversation. Are we going to wait until someone’s burning down SSB because they’re pissed off?”
Katie Kinnemeyer, a senior criminal justice major and member of Student Activity Council’s cultural affairs committee, said she agreed.
“I think the comical method is effective. We’ve been trying to have this conversation for how many years?” Kinnemeyer asked. “And look what’s come of it.”
Even though a number of issues concerning N*W*C* were cleared at the forum, some still questioned the Student Activity Council’s ability to make an informed decision based on the ideas of less than 100 forum attendees on a campus of about 16,000 students.
“I’m representing the individuals who are unwilling to step forward,” said Sandra Moore, director of Diversity Affairs at Eastern. Moore said not everyone who opposed N*W*C* would be heard at the forum.
Moore promoted active conversations on race at Eastern, but criticized N*W*C* as a tool to begin that conversation due to its controversial and potentially hurtful nature.
But even if N*W*C* comes to Eastern and offends students, the university will be prepared for fallout.
“We’re gonna make sure there are counselors available for debriefing,” said Zenetta Coleman, director of Multicultural Student Affairs. “This is one of those opportunities when we can start to create a new racial culture on campus.” Speakers also suggested that, even if N*W*C* fails to educate students on race, it stands a chance of getting further dialogues started between students of all ethnic backgrounds.
Colin Reusch, director of communication for SGA, said Eastern students suffer from apathy toward many campus events. He said the title of N*W*C* could be effective by shocking them into attending the show.
But students on both sides of the argument agreed on one thing. Regardless of whether N*W*C* comes to campus, Eastern needs more open, intellectual dialogues about racial relations.
But Barnett said some people might have to give a little ground for those conversations to happen. “In order for us to talk about racism, someone’s gonna get hurt,” Barnett said.
“Racism is a cancer, and you can’t get it out by squeezing. You have to cut it out.