Had to unfollow someone (something I rarely do) because they were ranting about how Hamilton is racist because it casts predominantly POC in their screening. The argument was that this was racist against white people and a grotesque sort of historical revisionism and I was just like….no. That’s not how racism works. Racism bases itself on the privileging of one group over another where that group has the power to reinforce their superiority on both individual and systemic levels and create institutions that also legitimate it. The concept of “race” is also directly tied to the creation of “White” as the superior category and American society in particular is structured around upholding that. This negates any arguments about POC being racist (they CAN be racially prejudiced) because they don’t have privilege in that way nor the power to institutionalize their superiority.
Creating artistic spaces intended to include POC in historical narratives they have been denied belonging is an action to level the playing field. For Hamilton, it provides a provocative vision of America’s beginnings that resonates with contemporary narratives of immigration, revolution, and social mobility. It also contextualizes that history within a black diasporic framework through music and lyrics, beat and movement, increasing its relevance to not only our time in history, but also to the POC whose stories are also integral to the formation of this country.
Hamilton casting POC actors is intentional to the story it is trying to tell–it’s the point, the heart of the challenge it poses on a meta scale to the privileging of white people in artistic and historical spaces. It wants to shake us out of our expectations, our assumptions and provide an alternative paradigm.
This action gives POC space denied them before and invites them to participate. It’s not revisionism so much as it is another lens on American history that clarifies the themes at its roots and allows POC to access them and engage with them. When that happens, everyone benefits as our understanding of our country’s complex stories and each other’s stories deepens.
To call that racist or disturbing is to not only misunderstand what racism is, but also implies that creating POC-centric spaces is an immoral thing when white-centric spaces with token POC are the norm in our country. There is no abuse of power taking place with Hamilton’s casting when it is trying to dismantle that racist pattern and allow POC to take up more space. It’s an action that is needed, and I want more of it. White people aren’t diminished in any way when these spaces are created to restore dignity to POC and allow their perspectives, their experiences, their artistic efforts to shape our national narrative and the way we view reality.
I urge you to consider this with compassion rather than scorn before you demean an artistic work that has empowered and encouraged so many POC and provoked helpful conversations about many important issues. The fact that it strikes a chord across racial lines, ages, genders, and socioeconomic lines is telling and worth examining further.