I’m sure by now most of us have heard of the Broadway play “Hamilton,” retelling the life of Alexander Hamilton. From the infectious hip-hop soundtrack to the casting of all people of color for all roles, this play has been in the spotlight practically from its inception. Love it or hate it, you probably had, heard, or read some polarizing conversations about “Hamilton.”
Overall, I think just the amount of conversation “Hamilton” has generated is pretty amazing. People are talking about race, history, and collective memory across the board, even if they don’t say it so explicitly. I thrive off of discussion and debate, so this is a play I have been pretty interested in.
I have heard it said that “Hamilton” is revolutionary (pardon the pun). It provides vital jobs and visibility for people of color, which is definitely needed in show business (among other areas). It also involves people of color as central, powerful figures in the founding of America. Not only does it weave them in a totally unique way into American history, but it also is one of the few stories involving all people of color that is overwhelmingly upbeat and doesn’t explicitly discuss race much at all.
But what does that really mean at the end of the day? How can we have a story so visibly racialized, about the founding of a nation built off of black enslavement, which does not talk about race? Furthermore, what does it mean that finally our story for a mainstream audience with a non-white cast is ultimately about people we all know to be in actuality white?
While I appreciate “Hamilton” for what it does on a surface level, I cannot help but think the casting of “Hamilton” does more harm than good for the empowerment of people of color. There is no honest way to talk about American history without talking about race. And there sure-as-anything is no way to talk about the founding of America without talking about slavery and how homogenous the elite/governing class was. It doesn’t do the black community any favors by writing them out of history yet again, but pretty much giving them the pen to do so this time.
I don’t think the staff behind the production and casting of “Hamilton” had a sinister agenda behind their actions. There are multiple sides to every story, and I know they had their own vision for what they wanted to convey through their choices. But that doesn’t stop me from viewing the play and seeing homage to white guilt. I invite everyone to form their own opinions on the play, and on racial messages through casting in general. I hope this piece, just one more of the hundreds already out there, keeps the discussion on race portrayals and race relations going.
I'm a bi female undergraduate student majoring in Psychology, with minors in Women and Gender Studies and African American Studies. I am passionate about issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, and intend to get my masters in social work in order to serve those populations.