The National Theatre has not had an audience of theatre goers for 4 months so they have live streamed performances of some great plays. I am new to Hansberry’s play ‘Les Blancs’ even though I’m very familiar with ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ as I’ve taught it for a few years now.
The play opens on a dark, smoky stage creating an eerie and solemn mood. The audience is pre warned of racially motivated violence so I prepared myself for some pretty difficult messages to sift through.
I liked the American journalist device an outsider looking in hoping he has the answers to ‘300 years of struggle’. The role of ‘Christianity and the mission is centre stage. A crude hospital has been set and children are offered a basic education. Interestingly, grown black men are referred to as children throughout. In the white settlers minds they never reach a state of maturity and independence.
By Act 2 the didactic style lessons until you become fully immersed in this story that reveals to the audience and the protagonist you must pick a side. Tshembe personifies Africa ‘the rape of a continent’; ‘still yesterday for Africa’ and ‘great gashes’. The three brothers battle for the future of Africa: Eric the revolutionary, Abioseh christianity and Tshembe pacificism.
Reverend Neilsen is an important but absent character throughout the play well meaning but a weapon of oppression in the colonists arsenal. He uses the Bible to keep them in their place any sense of fairness, equality, independence is seen as a disturbance to the ‘natural order’ in his mind. The play is extremely didactic in Act 1 but I believe its absolutely necessary to fully engage with Tshembe. The characature of Colonel Rice helps to present an alternative point of view of the colonisers not written in the history books the use of the words ‘Kaffir’, ‘savages’ and general dehumanisation of black Africans is rather hard to digest.
The final scenes show the descent into bloody overthrow rather than ‘civilised’ talk and compromise. Madam Neilsen presents a dilemma for the audience she is frail physically and metaphorically blind. She has a degree of empathy for Africans but she realizes her privileged viewpoint is part of the problem. She inspires loyalty in Tshembe as she has effectively taught him to love rather than hate but eventually she inspires him to take up the fight for independence.
I thoroughly enjoyed the play as it was good to see colonialism from the point of view of the black African. It fits in so timely with the Black Lives Matter movement and the lynching of George Floyd in the USA. Hansberry emphasizes seeing and listening to each other to prevent blood shed but she also shows the lack of value placed on thousands of black African life in comparison to one white life.
‘A Raisin in the Sun’ starts to explore African independence through Beneatha and Asagai, ‘Les Blancs’ reveals Hansberry’s education and research into these unseen, unheard voices.
Lockdown got to me today. Months of trying to be upbeat, keep my daughter, students myself motivated and today I hit a wall. Thud it punched me in the face and made me question my whole existence. Suddenly, I felt trapped, oppressed, agrophobic. I think I can put it down to the vitriolic response to teachers who were concerned about the June 1st return. I felt sick because the 3 weeks in March I sent my daughter to school. Everyday I dropped her off I had to pray she would be safe – that she would not catch Covid 19 or pass it on to me. My anxiety spilled over to every announcement in briefing which didn’t say the college was closing. The self isolators were growing in numbers amongst staff and students – I desperately wanted to join them rather than living in fear everyday.
When the announcement came that schools were to close I thought at last common sense prevails me and my family will be safe at home. Yes I will have to homeschool my daughter which has had limited success in the past; yes I would have to handle new technology and I would have to manage my normal timetable.
Obviously, like all teachers do I went into autopilot logged on every morning 8.30 sent a cheerful message to their ‘presences and absences’ set the work and waited for the responses. Followed by the demands from my daughter”s school and her need for attention. At the end of the working day I turned my attention to the domestic drudgery.
Now I have been out every Thursday to clap NHS workers, I have felt the first real sign of unity on my street and it brought a tear to my eye. So my anger and frustration spilled over after the Prime Minister’s announcement. Everyone has a different calling – but as teachers we must respond to the Lord Kitchener call ‘Your Country Needs You!’ – to do what? Die on the front line of their herd immunity experiment – using emotive language like ‘heroes’ and ‘duty’. Union leaders labelled as villains preventing teachers from throwing themselves into enclosed spaces with an invisible enemy. What is wrong with caution? What is wrong with strategic planning?
Stay alert – after the horse has bolted. I think the reason why I feel more trapped than ever is the government has voted to stop my free movement. so the consequences of Brexit has really been driven home this week.
I’m sure half term will bring back my joy and thirst for life. It only seems right that its Mental health week and thank a teacher day. In this country people find it so hard to appreciate that everyone is making sacrifices some more than others but sacrifices just the same. This is not the time to start phoney wars in the end parents like me will vote with their feet.
Lockdown has left many of us without our essential hair shops and hairdressers. So we have to be innovative in our presentation. Working from home means regular Zoom/Microsoft Team meetings all on camera and we all have bad hair days. For many women a headscarf provides control, colour and style. There are so many ways to tie a headscarf and at times it can be very confusing so I was heartened to see the two piece head wrap. The Undyed hair; the diy haircut or the split ends can all be hidden from sight in seconds.
Week 4 of lockdown. There’s only so much Disney movies, Netflix questions about PPE that one family can take. So after an exhausting day of homeschooling; zoom exercising; remote teaching; gardening and homemade macaroni cheese my daughter decided we all make cupcakes together.
Usually after we’ve eaten our evening meal there is hardly an more movement (she wasn’t having it). She took all the ingredients out of the cupboard and placed them on the table. She said: ‘you’re not telling me you’re too tired – so we baked as a family. Surprisingly, it was great fun. I measured the sugar and butter; my husband whipped the eggs and my daughter measured the flour; prepared the cupcake tray and she put the oven on.
The delicious smell of vanilla floated through the house and in 15 minutes we had the perfect cupcakes.
There’s something really satisfying about working together as a family. I know everyone’s saying it but living in London every day is rushing around almost resenting the time it takes to work on something together with no time constraints.
I was thinking about the significance of Maundy Thursday and I found this poem I wrote 20 years ago. In this period of pain and suffering across the world I had a vision of Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death. Matthew 26:38
A garden where I knelt to pray Burdened by sorrows of the day Lonely, deserted in that empty space Noone to help with future disgrace.
I lifted my eyes towards heaven And pleaded for another option. I prayed like I’d never prayed before The tears touched my inner core.
The friends I expected to stay alert Were fast asleep in the dirt with no idea of their fate To them this last prayer I dedicate.
Fear and despair were with me still when I thought of the mission to fulfil An angel descended and gave comfort Gave refuge and peace I sort.
Father I accept your cup of humility and your plan for my destiny The cross is my suffering and shame For only I can take the blame.
‘April is the cruellest month’ as this pandemic deepens and grips this nation by the throat every household is left with the uncertainty – how much worse can it get?
When the clock struck midnight and we entered into 2020; I could not imagine the devastation that this disease could bring. Every day I feel like I’m watching myself in a dystopian movie. On the streets I see more people wearing masks; shunning any form of communication for fear our time has come.
I couldn’t foresee I would be couped up inside my house attempting to teach remotely and homeschooling my daughter. I miss the freedom of going shopping with my sister; taking my daughter to the park or cinema. I miss the routine of going to work and meeting colleagues and students. I try to get up at the same time every day; I start work at the same time but I feel so empty (maybe I’m too institutionalised).
After suffering two bereavements in 2018 I thought it was unique to lose both parents so close together; I found it hard to go through two funerals within months of each other father then mother. Now I’m grateful that I could be with my family, extended and friends in comparison to the present arrangements. No holding the hand of loved ones; restricted numbers at the funeral; no flowers on the coffin. Agreed much cheaper than the usual over inflated prices from funeral directors – but so cold and clinical. I can’t imagine how these grieving relatives must feel – how will we deal with this mounting mental health crisis?
The investment in new hospitals and huge temporary morgues are frightening but the darkest hour is just before the day. The death rates are astonishing but eventually they will begin to fall; doors will open and we’ll step into the sunshine and we’ll appreciate our lives a little more.
What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare. No time to stand beneath the boughs And stare as long as sheep or cows. No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass. No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night. No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, And watch her feet, how they can dance. No time to wait till her mouth can Enrich that smile her eyes began. A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.
Living in London
Everyday week day I hurry my daughter to work – she’s pushed into breakfast club. I drive to work log onto my computer try to print/photocopy resources race to class. Find time for toilet, cup of coffee then back to class.
Covid 19 has been a wake up call. I realised I dont spend time with my daughter; I bark orders get up; put your uniform on; brush your teeth; get your coat. She needs to talk about her worries and fears. Suddenly, I have time to stand and stare; mornings are peaceful; breakfast is leisurely like ‘Neighbours’. The sun is shining (yes really shining, unusual for time of year) the irony whilst on lockdown.
The garden is alive with colour oblivious to the crisis in the world. The bright yellow of the hyacinths against blue sky; the radiant scarlet camellia framed by the glistening green foliage. I found the time to stand and stare and it gave me peace. Today I could press pause and I could appreciate my life; my family; my home.
I can’t get rid of Covid 19; (I wish I could) I can only pray that it passes quickly. It has touched us all and definitely changed us. Are we spending too much time worrying about the wrong things? Any leisure time I would usually spend shopping. The lockdown has taken that away and now I know it’s so unnecessary.
I used to think 2020 sounded so futuristic. Who could imagine we would be experiencing something like the Plague or the Spanish Flu? I’m reading my bible more; praying more; trusting God more.