Friday, May 7, 1:00pm (Toronto)
Kim F. Hall (Barnard College): "Can You Be White and Hear This? The Racial Art of Listening in American Moor and Desdemona"
This talk examines the ways that Keith Hamilton Cobb’s American Moor and Toni Morrison and Rokia Traoré’s Desdemona address the whiteness of the various “industries” that discipline black responses to Shakespeare. Their appropriations of Shakespeare’s Othello speak over what W.E.B. Du Bois called the color line by performing conversations that highlight the missed readings and over-readings in the play. Drawing on Jennifer Lynn Stoever’s The Sonic Color Line, I suggest that Morrison, Traoré, and Cobb are “theorists of listening” and of whiteness. Their plays demonstrate how Black speech and articulated Black experience are continually conditioned for white consumption.
American Moor stages the ways the Black actor’s verbal and emotional exuberance is channeled and shaped by white interlocutors. Desdemona, by resituating Desdemona in the afterlife, is able to work around whiteness’ refusal to hear and create a listening space. Both pieces hold out hope for generative conversations across racial and historical divides, but make clear that true change will take place only with both Black decolonization and white unlearning.