Harvard segregates the audience for a theatrical performance tonight

Segregation is back, as the racialist frenzy that has gripped America since George Floyd died in police custody after overdosing on fentanyl has infected the grown-ups at America's richest and ostensibly most prestigious university.  In clear violation of state and federal laws, as well as its own stated policies, Harvard University is hosting a segregated performance of Macbeth tonight.  Here is a notice sent out about the disgrace:


FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is as concerned as am I and documents the illegality and policy violations of this segregation:

Under federal law, excluding university students, faculty, and staff from educational enrichment opportunities based on race is forbidden. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids all institutions receiving federal financial assistance, whether public or private, from discriminating "on the ground of race, color, or national origin." Colleges and universities like Harvard that accept payments from students who receive federal financial aid are covered by Title VI. Massachusetts law also bars discrimination based on race in places of public accommodation, defined as "any place . . . which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public." This includes performance spaces such as theaters.

The American Repertory Theater's decision to restrict a showing of "Macbeth in Stride" only to audience members who identify as members of a certain race or ethnicity is also problematic because it appears to run afoul of the theater company's own policies, which profess dedication to "making a welcoming and accessible space for people of any identity, background, or ability" — which is no surprise, as Harvard's student body has become more diverse than ever.

Hosting a racially segregated performance where people with the wrong racial background are specifically told that they are not welcome flies directly in the face of that commitment.

No doubt, the sponsors of this outrage see their good intentions paving this road to hell as excusing them from the law and common sense.  Perhaps they think the use of the expression "Black identifying" means they are not limiting the ability of racially Caucasian and Asian people to attend. 

I have no objection to adapting Shakespeare's work, as this performance does.  Here is how it is described:

A dazzling theatrical event created by Obie Award-winning artist Whitney White and performed by White and an ensemble with a live band, Macbeth In Stride examines what it means to be an ambitious Black woman through the lens of one of Shakespeare's most iconic characters. The first of White's five-part series commissioned by A.R.T. excavating the women from Shakespeare's canon, the production uses pop, rock, gospel, and R&B to trace the fatalistic arc of Lady Macbeth while lifting up contemporary Black female power, femininity, and desire. Directors Tyler Dobrowsky and Taibi Magar (We Live in Cairo) co-stage this groundbreaking world premiere with choreography by Raja Feather Kelly.

But I take from this that the concept of "cultural appropriation" is now out the window at Harvard.  So I hope ethnic Halloween costumes, Taco Tuesdays, and Caucasian actors portraying Black characters are now OK at Harvard.  But we'll see if this permission applies only to cultural artifacts created by Caucasians.

Perhaps some brave member of the Harvard Community will try to buy tickets without declaring a Black identity, be refused, and file the requisite complaints and lawsuits.  I hope so, though I suspect the person who did so would receive a boatload of social hell for his or her or xir's trouble.

In decades past, when I was a grad student and then a professor at Harvard, for a few years I had season tickets to the American Repertory Theatre performances at the Loeb Theatre.  I saw some wonderful performances there, including a memorable version of Midsummer Night's Dream.  It breaks my heart to see racism flaunted there.

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