The act of letter writing is a powerful one. To put unspoken words into writing, words of love, words of encouragement, rejection and anger is a way of letting them breathe and detoxify.
Curated by Rachel De-Lahay and Milli Bhatia, My White Best Friend (And Other Letters Left Unsaid) is a week-long festival of letters which has 11 writers engage with the uncomfortable conversations they have never had with their white loved ones. Featuring different letters every night, every new piece of writing is read on stage by a performer who hasn’t seen them ahead of time.
The first of tonight’s letters is My White Best Friend, written by De-Lahay. A piece which calls for the white best friend to visibly give a damn. Performed by Inès de Clercq, the letter starts with clear instructions, a reshuffle of the audience putting brown, disabled and queer women in front and able-bodied white men at the back.
Despite not having read the letter before De Clercq gives a confident performance, pushing the words when necessary, little pauses and stumbles acting in her favour.
Stef’s Letter To Jammz and Jammz’ Response, written by Jammz, is a conversation between former childhood friends Jammz and Stef. Side by side the letters showcase how easy it is for white people to act black when they want to fit in before switching their mask in order to get ahead.
Ben Bailey Smith gives both letters the necessary rhythm and creates his own little performance around the reading which highlights the humour while not taking away from the important message both letters tell.
The final letter of the evening, Untitled by Zia Ahmed, is a mixture of real-life news headlines and personal experiences all revolving around the issue of sentencing an entire group of people because of the actions of individuals.
In my opinion, the letter could not have been read by anyone other than Zainab Hasan, who finds strength in the vulnerable and questioning nature of the piece.
It is good to take a step into the back row and let the others take up the space. As a white person, you aren’t often asked to step aside and let a person of colour take over. We get so content in our bubble of privilege that it being punctured is confusing and disorienting when all that is really happening is we are being knocked down a peg or two to create a level playing field.
Every letter asks important questions. Why don’t we recognise everyday racial profiling and unconscious bias? The way the media highlights and generalises a criminal’s race unless they are white. The way white people feel uncomfortable when they are in the minority. And the way it’s ok to laugh and act out stereotypes because “good brown people” on stages play them out for our entertainment.
All three letters are stories in their own right, but together they paint a much larger picture. Nobody is saying talking about race is easy, but it’s important. We all see what is happening and we need to make it stop.
My White Best Friend (And Other Letters Left Unsaid) is playing at the Bunker Theatre from March 18-23. For more information and tickets, see the Bunker Theatre website.