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Play encourages conversation on race relations

| Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Kicking off Notre Dame’s first Race Relations Week, student government hosted a performance of the play “The Cop” in Legends Nightclub on Monday.

The play, written by Rev. Harry Cronin and performed by Brad Erickson of San Francisco’s Theatre Bay Area, is a solo drama centered around a police officer who is forced to confront his own hidden racism after his daughter is killed and he gains custody of his bi-racial grandson. Following the performance, the audience broke into groups to discuss the issues of racism and implicit bias explored in the play and how these issues can be addressed in the Notre Dame community and American society as a whole.

According to Erickson, the play’s crucial message is about how racism can affect people’s behavior and their ability to love others.

“I think it gives us a glimpse into some of the really horrendous things that have been happening in this country, certainly between police and young men of color in particular,” Erickson said. “A lot of us think ‘Well, that could never be me. I could never do anything like that.’ What the play explores is that the thing that drives people to do those things that we think are so horrendous is actually in all of us. It sort of convicts all of us of this same issue.”

Erickson said systemic racism starts with personal racism.

“It gets embodied in systems, in governments,” he said. “But it starts in the heart, and that’s what the play’s looking at. If you had asked this character a year or two before the play if he was racist, he would have responded ‘No, absolutely not. I’m a cop, and we’re trained to treat everyone equally.’ In the course of the play, he realizes this hatred that he has inside of him. So it’s a discovery: He discovers this hatred inside of himself, but he will never get rid of it if he doesn’t foresee it.

“There’s so much maybe in your family or in the society around you that can lead you to [have that hatred] even though you’re denying it. Unless you see it, you’ll never be able to change it. People have said that racism is the original sin of America, and we have to see it if we’re ever going to get rid of it.”

Cronin said he believes all people are joined in the human family as children of God.

“The fact that [the police officer] is going to learn how to love his grandson is a metaphor for how you solve racism: You realize that we’re all one,” he said. “Racism is hate. Hate is always destructive. The first person it destroys is the hater. I think it’s a horror in our society that we’re blind to.”

Student body president Corey Robinson said he was pleased with the turnout at the play and participation in the discussion afterwards.

 “Not only did a lot of people come, but the dialogue was good,” he said. “The play was brilliant, and then we had eight discussion leaders from the Diversity Council asking not just really vague questions about what’s wrong, but rather what can we do as students right now, in South Bend, in our dorms.”

Senior Joseph Yoon said the play was a good opportunity to engage in these conversations.

“The performance had a lot of things go into it,” he said. “There were a lot of aspects touching on racism and personal bias and the struggles that various people go through in the U.S. today.”

Freshman Shelene Bayiee said it is important to have media portray both sides of racial situations.

“The media always shows black and white, a black person got shot by a white cop, and they stop there,” she said. “Here we get to see the perspective from a police officer’s point of view, and that is never seen at all. … I really think the biggest part of any solution is to humanize both sides and to realize that we all exist in this world and we’re all a part of the reason that it goes around. Black people and minorities are humans, but police officers also are human, and they have legitimate fears too.”

Robinson said he wanted the week to to find a new way to approach the issue of race.

“We want to include people in the conversation that aren’t usually included,” Robinson said. “We want to be able to broaden the scope and say ‘No, the past eight months in America have affected everyone. Whatever your ties are, if you’re an American, you have to deal with the racial issues of the past eight months.’ We want to encourage people to think about that and see what their role is.”

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About Andrew Cameron

Andrew is a senior from Orange County, California. He is an associate news editor at the Observer, and is majoring in Biological Sciences and English. While he has greatly enjoyed his time at Notre Dame, during the winter months he often wonders why he ever left the perennial warmth of Southern California.

Contact Andrew