Can a fiction based upon a hoax tell us anything about who we are? “Spinning Into Butter” is a controversial and award-winning play, inspired by a racial incident that occurred while playwright Rebecca Gilman was a student at Middlebury in the early ’80s. On April 9th a multi-racial cast presented scenes from “Spinning Into Butter,” interspersed with audience reactions, to explore the script, its source material, and how we experience and respond to race at Middlebury in 2010.
After the play, audience members were asked to write a question they were left with on the back of their programme. We collected these questions and posted them here. Please share your perspective on these issues.
The victim/perpetrator incites a series of internal dialogues that would have otherwise gone undiscussed and unchallenged. While his behaviors are clearly (or perhaps not so clearly) motivated by a deeply distraught mentality, it is interesting to expound upon what drives such incentive. In the same manner that a woman who has never been raped accuses one of raping her undermines the experiences of those who have actually experienced it, how also do such actions present deeply subversive & internal manifestations of self hate as agency.
With the example of Patrick, the neorican, and his experiences w/ racism, though not directly violent – are still acts of racism. If Patrick were the one writing the notes, would the response be different?
While the victim/perpetrator behaved in a way that undermined the experiences of Patrick & others & completely disrupt a continued & ligitimate conversation / action – are his intentions valid?
I like that the piece initiates, or at least introduces the opportunity to initiate a dicussion about inter-racial relations/dynamics, however I would like to see more from the aspect of the “others” or minorities within the larger discussion. I’m saying that I appreciated the candidness of the caucasian participants in this piece.
Thank you for putting this together. In our small groups, one of the questions was about whether or not we noticed trends of hypocrisy in the play or in Middlebury as is.
One of the biggest contradictions I feel exists in the running of a college is its split identity between being a business and a living, breathing place made for and by students. I empathize with administrators who are constantly maneuvering through social, emotional, race + class tensions in our system. A college has an image to uphold, but I also think that image can be activism. I think the most anti-racist acts are admittances.
How do we balance image and reality, the line between learning institution + business?
I’m ashamed that I haven’t been pro-active in being anti-racist. It’s not enough to be a “nice person,” I need to be an activist. This performance really hit home & made me realize this. It made me feel guilty of my inaction. So thank you for waking me up from my comfortable life.
p.s. could you pls give this back to me so I can paste it somewhere where I will see it everyday to remind me that I can no longer wait or put social justice on hold.
It seems to me that the event of a black student taking the initiative to translate the seemingly less direct racism, stemming from more apathetic simplification than bigotry, to a clear display of active bigotry, reveals the more poignant manifestation of racism, as it effects people’s lives.
What kind of training program would work for faculty? What would give them the opportunity and support to grow and change, therefore serve students better? An opportunity like Sarah needed. Nobody can work through a racist cultural upbringing alone and nobody is exempt.
I identified w/ Dean Sarah’s feeling of abject failure. It gets tiring to feel like we (faculty + administrators) are always failing to make this place as racially diverse + as livable + tolerable for all students as it should be. And good, well-intentioned efforts do continue to fail.
The incident at Middlebury College in 1984 involving a student who victimized himself by posting racial slurs on his door was very wrong, but it had opened up an issue that might have never been addressed till a much later date.
White people shouldn’t feel guilty about how racism has been damaging in the past if they have done nothing to personally make it worse, but they should be aware that lack of knowledge & not working toward fixing the problem is (almost) as damaging as outwardly supporting racism.
I didn’t understand why the college didn’t consider hiring a person of color for the “minority student liaison”
Even more disturbing… why the person who held that position didn’t realize that was part of her job description. It makes me wonder what the true purpose / intention of the college is – to make the students of color feel comfortable in a “Middlebury-like” environment, to up the diversity. Why?
I don’t like how it was discussed as being a now unracist event because it was a hoax. Self-racism even when not intended is perhaps the most harmful racism. Awareness is good & all through the arts (such as this) but there will never be true peace till we learn to forget about the issues & enjoy as well. I know ‘minorities’ on campus that don’t see themselves as ‘minorities’ & that’s good, until he’s forced to show concern for his race, & then have to think himself as a minority.
There seems to be an extreme focus on political correctness which only hinders discussion – it would be very beneficial if everyone said how they felt without worrying overly about the term “African American” versus “black” versus “people of colour.” This is still very relevant, but I think that this has a strong relation to the issue of gay rights and the homophobia among Middlebury sports teams.
Well, every interaction – ever if there aren’t any words shared – are based on how we perceive others as well as ourselves. Because most people are capable of visually perceiving others, race is a constant entity in their mind – subconsciously at least. Therefore, people are always going to have a hint of a prejudice or racist thought when interacting.
Also, I wonder why did the kid write the note on his door himself… maybe to bring the concept of race up in a dominant “white” campus.
Everybody’s racist. Admitting it gives you hope. Being wary of racism – tiring when you’re tired, you give in. There must be some way to address racism past having everybody tirelessly watching out for it. How do you “work to fix the racism problem?”
Everyone can discriminate, and everyone can be discriminated against. It is a vicious and out of control cycle that is difficult but not impossible to break. Whether or not we discriminate or are discriminated against we each have the choice of how to act and react. It is only in taking responsibility for our feelings that we will find not only tolerance but unity.
There’s something human about being racist but not until we (both parties, colored and non-colored) are willing or feel comfortable enough to confront each other, to criticize each other, and to accuse each other, I think, will anything change.
Well done – well acted – good selection of scenes to dramatize. I have read the whole play + despaired at the depictions of the (white) adults (Deans – faculty). I am reconsidering my contempt for the play. It is a far cry from what actually happened – and is an effective presentation of well-intentioned or unintentional racism.
To White America- if you have been programmed since birth by the media, your family, your friends, your schools, your churches and places of worship, your work and your government, your national myths and your culture to be racist, to harbor racist stereotypes and racist sentiments against people of color, how can we, those you despise and discriminate against, deprogram you to see us as individuals, as human beings? The programming has been strong enough that even we have internalized the racism at times, but we cannot save you from yourselves. We have tried, but ultimately it is you who has to confront your own demons. When you, White America, are ready to have an honest conversation with yourself and reflect upon the ways you are racist, or at the very least maintain a racist paradigm, then we will be ready to work and talk with you about creating a truly non-oppressive society. We will be waiting.
The last article read by Luis angered me. The Dean (Wonnacott) explained the student’s actions (black student who wrote himself racist notes) on his “problems”. Though the student was wrong in doing this, why didn’t Midd (as an institution) take into account why the student was pushed to do such a thing – what caused these feelings? Why was all responsibility + accountability taken away from the institution when this was obviously an issue somehow caused by racial relations on campus?
How can I learn to LISTEN and not react to get defensive? How can I not be a Sarah? Can there be any exceptions to those “rules”? (I know better than to think there are rules that can be put on a bulleted list, but I can’t think of a better word to use.) How can I start working with people rather than working for them?
I liked the choice to have the actors switch for all characters but Patrick. This disconnected race & gender from these characters, allowing us – the audience – to place ourselves in their shoes & question what we would do in that case.
I enjoyed the choice of having ppl signify their ‘race’ by using shirt color. It asked the audience if they could blur lines (what they saw vs what they were being asked to recognize). And I think it was interesting that they only asked us to blur race (not sex, etc.).