Why Do We Hate?
During my junior year of high school, about a month before it was time to go on summer vacation, I decided I was going to write a one act play. That year was my first time in a real theater class, but I had been attending performance classes outside of school a few years prior to that. Theater was a real gift to a student like me, who thrived more in the arts and creative expression than in academics. The school I went to however, favored academics far more than the arts, and their theater program suffered immensely as a result. I was informed that there may not be enough money to put on a full production my senior year. I proposed an idea to my theater teacher about possibly writing a play about a group of people who have very strong prejudices towards specific people. To my surprise, my teacher completely trusted me to write and direct that story, and said it would be the senior play for the 2015 - 2016 school year. In those days, as students were counting down to summer vacation, I was finding every moment I could to collect research for this play.
The idea first came to me when my performance group and I were invited to Harvard Graduate School of Education’s 2015 Alumni of Color Conference. It was at this event that I sat in on a breakout session on critical pedagogy, what in simple terms essentially means ‘a reformed way of teaching.’ During this session, a grad student explained how he came to be in a class that taught him how to take steps towards being a more effective social advocate. “It all starts with learning about yourself.” He said. “Before any of us can take on ‘the system’ we first have to assess how our inner systems work.” I was given a sheet with a list of words. There were terms like “racism, marginalization, xenophobia, homophobia” and the first thing we had to do as a group was define them. It seemed like a relatively easy task but we soon realized that not everyone knew what some of the words meant and there were some who didn’t agree on the definitions that were given.
The next activity was harder. He asked us to reflect on a personal moment that we feel really shaped who we are as a person. These stories ranged from small moments, to ones that almost felt straight out of a movie. By the time it came to me, I had changed stories several times in my head. It was hard deciding on one specific moment, since I feel that many moments had assisted in making me who I am now. I suppose that the purpose of it was less about having an answer and more about taking the time to reflect on who you are and on your core beliefs. Towards the end of our time together, the facilitator asked us to reflect on some questions: “Why do we hate? Why do we hold on to hate even when we know it’s not good for us and why do we let it have so much power over our lives?” That’s when I began to think to myself that I couldn’t answer such loaded questions in just a simple response. I needed another way to express all the ways I was thinking about it, and I kept searching for a way to answer these questions even after this event was over.
I read through all the notes from that day while I was outlining my script. I knew I wanted a facilitator character in this piece to help organize and push the piece along, but I didn’t want them to come off as a person who had all the answers. Instead I wanted someone who was figuring out the process as they went along. The first character I hatched up was simply called “Professor.”
I decided that this play was going to take place in a small liberal arts college, focused on one class about restorative justice. Things started coming together a bit faster from there. I knew I wanted to represent characters of various backgrounds and perspectives, so I really started to think hard about how I would write and shape these figures who would produce the main source of conflict throughout the play. It was a small class of seven students. These are the descriptions I wrote for each.
SEAN: A very ambitious student who is passionate about creating social change but is unsure how he can do so effectively. He’s a biracial (black and white) young man and comes from a middle class background. He’s very conflicted with his stance on many topics, especially those involving race, and often wishes he could ‘just pick a side.’
CLAIRE: A very skeptical student. Wants the world to change, but doesn’t think it will so soon. She’s a Muslim American young woman who recently made the choice to stop wearing her hijab. She feels that people associate her religion with all the negative ways people used it in order to defend hateful actions by the few radicals in that community. She appears very outspoken but seems to be unaware of how she tends to bully others whenever they don’t share her similar views.
HENRY: A very critical student. He generally believes that the world can only progress once people stop letting their past hold them back. As a young white male, he often feels targeted in the class since people that typically look like him cause the majority of oppression to other people. He constantly tries to prove that he is on the side of justice and not white supremacy.
DANIELLE: A very optimistic student. Strongly believes that the good in life can and will outweigh the bad if people look for it. She’s a young white Christian woman who thinks that there is still a lot that can be learned from the Bible even in modern times. She believes that part of the reason why there is so must destruction in the world is because many people lack fundamental values that can only be found through a belief in God.
JAMIE: A very introverted student. Has a lot of great ideas but is too shy to share them. She’s a Hispanic young woman who is used to being told to keep quiet and that what she has to say will not make a difference, and overtime she has developed a very neutral nature about controversial issues. She has great curiosity about the theories and practices that go into the fight for social justice but does not yet see herself as someone who could make a big difference.
CHEYANNE: A tenacious student. Fierce advocate who enjoys talking about major issues. She’s a young woman originally from the Caribbean whose family came to the US when she was a little girl for the pursuit of the ‘American Dream.’ She loves certain aspects of America because this country gives her privileges she would not of had where she came from, but feels like an outsider a lot. She wants to gain a stronger connection to America by learning about the justice and political system.
HUAN: A student who stays relatively under the radar but is very observant. He is an Asian-American young man who was more interested in studying social justice rather than actively participating in it. He doesn’t quite know where he fits in on many of the matters discussed in class so he often does not say anything, but actively takes notes. The course for the most part, pushes him out of his comfort zone constantly.
The rest of the play storywise pretty much happened whenever I was in the mood to get into the mind of these characters interacting. I made the plot points up as they came to me, with some mapping out on various topics, issues and certain questions I wanted to be included within this piece. My goal in writing this way was to naturally have these people in my head take on their own form, without making them seem too specifically structured. It’s hard in a piece of work where you are trying to tackle specific points not to make characters that represent only one side of any argument, or who are just archetypes that serve the story. I wanted this play to be a window for people to see how they can begin to deal with their biases and try to communicate more effectively, even with others they strongly disagree with. In the process, I had to learn how to try and be an unbiased writer, or at least hide my bias so well that you would think I was on the side of every character - which I was, because I had invested so much time into making sure all of them not only had valid points but had areas where they clearly could improve and grow personally.
The biggest payoff in the experience of writing this play really came in the rehearsal process. Not that it wasn’t amazing to see something I created play out in front of my whole school - it just was so rewarding to be apart of the struggle and the triumph of making this performance from scratch, directing it, and seeing how the actors added a whole other dimension to the characters.
To be very honest, my actors did not quite like me at first. This play had started to mean so much to me that I came into school every day thinking and talking about it. Rehearsals were the times where I would get to build up this world and I had very strong opinions on what it should look and feel like. This is to be expected with most plays that are directed, but since this was a very fresh script, some of my actors started to question how theatrical it would be to sit around talking about social justice issues, with only a few activities in between that would slightly build the tension. At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure how that would work either - but each time I would see them go over a scene as an audience member, I was always re-engaged. It felt like they were having the discussion for the first time because the topics and how they were expressing their opinions really lured me into wanting to see when it would possibly go from there. This is how I knew this was something people would want to see. It’s similar to how people love to listen to gossip or love to participate in controversial discussions. The idea wasn’t to get the characters to agree on any one thing, but to get them to begin to understand the perspectives of their classmates. Showing this in my school was very appreciated by both students and teachers - even leading to a positive change in how the community there interacted with one another.
I believe that art is the best way in which I can advocate and take a stand against injustice. This play works as a direct protest but I have and will create work that accomplishes the same thing in a more subtle way. Creating this play was not only my way of answering for myself ‘why do we hate?’ but also to discover how people come to let go of hatred or feelings of anger and intolerance that do not help us progress as a society. I believe that communication is the equalizer for us all. If we can talk to each other and give everyone’s feelings some type of validity, then we are closer than we think to restoring a gaping hole in the heart of this world. Maybe the real question isn’t really why do we hate, but why do we continue hating? Perhaps this is because we haven’t learned enough about tolerance. It is impossible to expect that one day everyone will love everyone, but a little bit of respect for all the different types of people and cultures in this world would certainly go a long way.