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Arts & Culture

What If Everything You Know About Race Is Wrong?

Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni

A one-woman show is coming to the Tobin Center and it’s probably unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s called "One Drop of Love" starring Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

“How did you get mixed up with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon?” I asked DiGiovanni.

(Laughs) “I think I met Matt when I was about 12 and Ben when we started high school together," DiGiovanni told me. "And we did theater—we had a very wonderful theater program at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School.  And these two guys are such wonderful human beings.”

A year ago,  DiGiovanni first produced this one-woman show for a Master of Fine Arts degree thesis performance.

“Ben came and saw my thesis performance and just said afterwards ‘I think this is really great and important and I’d like to help you get it to a wider audience.’”

Matt Damon also saw it and agreed with his friend. Thus DiGiovanni's tour was conceived. So exactly what is One Drop of Love? It’s talking about one of this country’s most difficult subjects: race.

“I never know what kinds of experiences the people in the audience have had with race and racism,” DiGiovanni explains.

The whole show revolves around this premise.

“I start off the show as the character from a 1790 census, on which there were only three racial categories.”

In her show, she goes around her audience, linking audience members to one of those racial categories.

Walking through an audience, she names them:  “Okay, white…black…mulatto…Chinese? Yes, hello…quadroon…no, I see you! An Indian…”

It's one part history, one part performance art.

“There are people who look at me and shake their head and say 'no, that’s not what I am!'  Which is very much the point, because that’s how the census was counted until 1970. A census worker would just go around and guess the race of the person they were looking at."

She says race, in a sense, isn’t even real.

“We know from the human genome project that it is not in our genetics; it cannot be identified in that sense. However, since the idea of race was created in this country, we have all become to believe in it as strong as we believe in religion, as strong as we believe in those we love, We’re past the point of teaching it to one another and we’re at the point of accepting it as part of our daily lives. And that’s what I’m asking people to re-consider."

So that is her premise: That race really doesn’t exist. It was created for commerce.

“It was for profit, it was for power,” she adds emphatically.

If this is beginning to sound a little too serious, you should note this:

“It’s a very funny show. There are many light moments.”

Ms. Cox DiGiovanni speaks in many voices during the show. Her own family had a several-year schism with ethnicity at its cause. When Giovanni accepted a marriage proposal from a European, her black father rejected her. But just last year her fractured family mended.

"If I can end up reconciling with my father then we all can. There is hope for us all [laughs].”

I asked: “We don’t all have to be stupid forever—is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes! I like that! (laughs) We don’t! We don’t all have to be stupid forever!”

DiGiovanni’s lineage is decidedly mixed, as really are most of us, whether we know it or not. But with that as backdrop, here’s something to ponder:

“If we’re still talking about race, we haven’t gotten rid of racism,” DiGiovanni says.

Ms. DiGiovanni brings her show to the Carlos Alvarez Theater at the Tobin Center on Saturday, January 17. We’ve more on her San Antonio performance here.  For more on Ms. DiGiovanni, go here.