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August Wilson On Blackness…

August Wilson On Blackness...

Interesting conversation between August Wilson and Bill Moyers from 1988 (thanks Bev Smith for the link); Wilson’s name is one that’s come up a number of times on S&A. His controversial I Want A Black Director op-ed from about 20 years ago immediately comes to mind. I think I’ve shared that here two or three times, given the subject matter and our interests.

The conversation below centers primarily on this thing we call blackness; what it means, how to define it, etc. Long time readers of S&A will know that we’ve tackled the matter several times, and will likely continue to.

From the few essays I’ve read by Wilson, and interviews I’ve watched with the man on the issue of blackness, I don’t entirely agree with his take, which I think is too rigid; I long decided for myself that it’s simply just not definable, and any attempt to do so will be a frustrating, fruitless endeavor, since we can’t universally agree on what that is. Our experiences (the experiences of black people all over the world) are far too varied to validate the notion of some singular, “identifiable blackness.”

I’m not implying that we shouldn’t wrestle with the question, especially as artist and cultural critics… I do constantly; but not necessarily with the goal being to reach a definite answer, because I just don’t think there is one; at least not a universal one. Maybe it’s a personal, individual thing.

However, I’ve always enjoyed listening to Wilson, and greatly appreciate his work.

Of most interest in the clip is his derision of The Cosby Show; I remember one of Sergio’s previous post in which he also derided the series, but not quite for the same reasons that Wilson does. While Sergio found it “bland” and “dull” as a series, Wilson just didn’t think it represented “blackness.”

But the whole 15-minute clip is worth a viewing, as it touches on topics that frequently arise here on S&A.

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I don’t care what ya’ll say….love listening to August Wilson and his work! :D


Gotta love them wannabe “down” intellectuals. Got Malcolm’s field negro, house negro divisive thing going on. Fools the heck out of old white journalists, lazy liberals and the confused. What August forgets, and maybe hopes that we’ll never figure out is that being whoever/whatever you want to be is not a privilege held only by whites it’s what truly free individuals do; and only the insecure seek to huddle and hide in a homogenous mass of stereotypes, averages and cliches.

Tell “Brother” August Richard Pryor wants his routine back.


Well Duh.

You know what’s really stupid – being a so called gifted playwright and spouting that crap like he’s the damn Dahli Lama of negroid people.


@ Jmac

I don’t wanna “hi-jack” the post but what do you mean by non-Black looking man? I am about the same complexion as August Wilson and I respect him as a gifted playwright. But saying something like non-Black looking? Is really dumb! I think you and me both know Black people come in different shades.


Interesting that this non-black looking man feels he can define blackness for everyone. The Cosby Show was more of an accurate depiction of “blackness” for my friends and I than Good Times. You don’t need to whitewash yourself to succeed.

Blacks in prison have a warrior spirit – yeah right. Warring against themselves and their race.


Let me be the first to say,… I. Adore. August. Wilson. Period. He is by faaaaar my favorite playwright. Having said that, he’s a PLAYWRIGHT. The dude is not a social-psychologist, a city planner, an economist, a politician, or anything else that dictates or affects social/political/economic policy. He is a Griot, and I use that term with all the Honor & Affection it deserves, but by definition there are things that a Griot does not do, and one of them is “lead the pack”. He’s a keeper of the history, a teller of stories to remind us of where we’ve been and where we’re going. And as important as that is, it does not make him keeper of the “Black” stamp, deciding how is & who ain’t.

So when he talks about “blackness” and HIS definition of it, it’s just that, His. He grew up in the Hill District in Pittsburgh, one of the more famous majority black neighborhoods in the country-like U street in DC, Harlem, Watts, Southside Chicago, Poplar Halls area in Norfolk, VA) where all of his plays are set and most of his characters are based on *real* people (note: *real* denotes that the characters are “not”). So his view of “blackness” is very narrowly focused, because much of my upbringing (not all) was closer to COSBY SHOW vs THE WIRE. Does that make me, or anyone with that sort of history, any less black? I think he would’ve been happier with the original incarnation of the show where Cliff was a plumber (a blue collar job just like many of the character’s in August’s plays) and Claire was a housewife (again, a decidedly stereotypical “female” occupation accompanied with all the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s you can think of). But that was not the show, thanks to Bill’s wife who asked him to change the nature of the characters, and thus changing the landscape of not only television (up ’till then we had Jefferson’s, Sanford & Son & Good Times as the bugle call’s of Black family life) but the image of Black People.

Yes, we have nuclear households. (the irony being many of August’s plays deal with the disintegration of the black household and the men leaving, not the men staying).

Yes, we have degreed, accredited, INTELLIGENT family members

Yes, we are regular people with the same problems as you.

No, we do not have tails.

Sergio and I may disagree about the “entertainment” value of the show, but I would hope we can agree that what lifts the show above many others is the CRAFTSMANSHIP of the project-shit was done EXTREMELY well. Harkening back to the burden of representation discussion, Bill could’ve put some mess out there that had everyone kumbaying and holding hands, everyone with a nice house, a nice car, and money but weak writing, acting & directing-doing stereotypical type of crap to make you laugh but still “positive”-and slapped some “where have you been?!” actors in it & sold it to TBS. But he didn’t.

I just recently watched a marathon on Centric & remembered just how damn funny & smart it was…unlike ACCORDING TO JIM which is one of the more unfunny, joke from a mile away, worst acted sitcoms of the recent decade-but still a hit. (and while we’re on that subject, Tim Allen’s new show for ABC is just bad, but they’re hoping people will sit thru it because of Tim :-/ )

I love August, I really do, and will do his plays ’till the cows come home, but he really needed to keep all that quiet, seeing as how he premiered his plays at Yale Rep and not Howard or Morehouse. Or at Arena Stage utilizing all the black students from Howard, or Atlanta’s Alliance theatre using students from Morehouse or Spelman or Clark.

There’s the rhetoric, and then there’s the starving artist who just wants his shit made…depends on the day I guess…

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