“Ruined”: Structural Racism in Educational Institutions (Part1)

November 7th, 2012 | Categories: Uncategorized

by Cid Nichols

“Ruined” is a play written by African American playwright, Lynn Nottage set in present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo. The play follows a group of women who have, in their own ways, been victimized by the war torn environment of Congolese society.

Structural racism (also known as structured racialization) focuses on interactions among institutions, interactions that create racialized outcomes against non-white individuals which includes the aspects of our history and culture that have allowed the privilege associated with ‘whiteness’ and the disadvantage of ‘color’ to endure and adapt over time.

My college, Marymount Manhattan College, happens to be doing their own production of the play this semester. At first I was pretty excited because the play is giving the black students of the school an opportunity to shine and showcase the talent they have been cultivating over the years. But then various discussions and intense debates, especially among the students, began to occur.

The purpose of this play is to inform the audience about the harsh reality of civil war in the Congo. As told by the director, the academic reasoning for going ahead with the production of this play is to expose unknown international issues to the college community as well as the audience members who more than likely won’t know much about the topic.

However, there are issues at hand:

The question for the majority of MMC’s black community is “Why Ruined”?

Were there not other plays that depict black women in a positive light without being victimized by their sex or depicting them in a constant state of suffering?

Why not use a play with a predominantly white cast and adapt it to a cast of black actors?

Was this play chosen with the intent of setting up the black students to fail? For example, there might be members of the cast who might not have a lot of experience with accents. Yet, you do not provide them with sufficient training in that area.

These concerns beg the idea that my school, as well as many educational institutions, partake in structural racism and continuously, perhaps unknowingly, find ways to keep the black communities in an inferior position.

Despite the controversies surrounding the performance of “Ruined” at MMC, which will be further discussed in Part 2 of this post, the important thing to take away from all of this is that educational institutions should be cautious of how they go about representing race. “Ruined” at MMC provides the theory that structural racism, in which people are not aware of the subtle ways in which they support racist ideas, permeates its way through to [presumably] honorable attempts to advocate.

Yet it doesn’t end here so stay tuned for Part 2 of “Ruined” to find out how exactly the educational institution has dealt out/with the structural racism and how the student body responds and reacts to it.

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  1. Anastacia Kurylo
    November 8th, 2012 at 12:25

    I’m posting this from a message I was sent privately. I encourage responses. As said on Saturday night Live’s Coffee Talk with Linda Richman, “Discuss amongst yourselves [in comments below].”

    Reading your former student’s post on structural racism and I sort of get the point (as in how one group of people can subversively oppress another with the appearance of equality, etc). However, I really don’t get the specific example, and sort of hate when broad sweeping statements like “These concerns beg the idea that my school, as well as many educational institutions, partake in structural racism and continuously, perhaps unknowingly, find ways to keep the black communities in an inferior position” are made based on the evidence of: “Was this play chosen with the intent of setting up the black students to fail? For example, there might be members of the cast who might not have a lot of experience with accents. Yet, you do not provide them with sufficient training in that area.” Accents and training? It’s college, learn the accent for the play? College is supposed to be the training?

    I hope that parts 2+, as promised, will give a better explanation or give better examples of racism. I just think linking a mostly black play, set in the part of the world that no one really knows anything about (and everyone should learn about), and calling it racist because the black actors “might not have a lot of experience with accents” is pretty ridiculous. Is the purpose of school to teach and challenge students or to adjust curriculums to make students feel better about their ineptitude? (I’m sure you will tell me it’s a mixture of the two, however, it’s a college play, they are adults not kindergarteners.)

    As I continue to write this, I realize that I totally don’t get the article. Being the simpleton that I am, when I read the article, I come to the conclusion that the students are complaining that 1. this is a tough play that will be difficult to perform and they may fail, and as a result, 2. “oh fuck it! It is really hard, our college must be racist, we should be doing Cats with an all black cast.”

    I’m really confused, or is the actual example chosen (accents) not very convincing. It’s a college play, they all suck, you’re supposed to learn in school, etc. Maybe it’s my stubbornness or inherent whiteness that missed the point. When I read that article, I really just see “students get assigned hard play and want a simpler one”. Not even going to point out that being able to deal with failure/hardships, is a pretty effing essential skill in life, whether you are black, white, or purple and I’m guessing mandatory if you want to be an actor.

  2. Anastacia Kurylo
    November 12th, 2012 at 19:47

    Please see my response to this comment in the following post: thecommunicatedstereotype.com/surprise-communicated-stereotypes-contribute-to-structural-racism/

  3. Jacquelin91
    November 28th, 2012 at 22:21

    I can understand where the concern is coming from because according to the Cultivation Analysis Theory, media impacts the way one views the world. Presenting this play could subconsciously hint at racism, but I personally believe Marymount Manhattan College has the right to put on the play if they want to. The point of the play is to bring awareness to the civil war in Congo. If the producers of this play feel this is a message they want to portray then they have the right to do so. Those who do not want to be a part of the show do not have to and those who do not want to support the show do not have to attend the performances. Just because there are people who do not believe the play should be presented does not mean those that feel it has a message worth sharing should be silenced. There are many different plays that are based on controversial topics, but these plays are written because the writers believe they have a message worth sharing.

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