Posted on March 18, 2022

Claudia Rankine’s New Play Forces White People to Question Their Privilege

Vinciane Ngomsi, Blavity, March 15, 2022

Among a multitude of other circumstances, one thing most Black people find common ground on is our interactions with white people. Though situations vary, white dominance persists in the real-life lives of Black Americans and is the subject of poet and author Claudia Rankine’s latest play Help. Ahead of its debut at The Shed, the Jamaican-born writer spoke with Blavity about a multitude of topics surrounding the project.


The narrator (played by April Matthis), a Black woman, recounts real-life discourse Rankine held with white people about their privilege in fluctuating spaces like airports. The conversations develop through various monologues and staged scenarios, with a supporting cast of nine white men and two white women acting alongside Matthis.

“The environment of the script has shifted given the last two years,” Rankine said to Blavity. “Probably the most important event that has come into the script is the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol Building. And that is, I think, incredibly structurally and tonally altering to the script overall. I know we’ve had killings of Black people all along, but there’s something about an institutional, supported, attempt to overthrow democracy also tied to the systematic killing of Black people. That together shows an alliance of the entire system’s commitment to Black death and white supremacy.”


Help is not Rankine’s first project examining systemic racism and white influence. In fact, Rankine’s extensive literature catalog heavily delves into race, and her awards, honors and promotion as chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2013 prove her words resonate with audiences.

The play isn’t meant to be a performance where white people suddenly feel guilt about their immunity, but instead a way they can reflect on how their inherent privilege comes at the disadvantage of Black peoples’ basic rights. Especially when it comes to covering bigotry in academia.

“Culture is incredibly powerful. Who we are is shaped by the culture, and the people who are against critical race theory also understand this,” Rankine said. {snip}