The story of Associate Theater Professor Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon’s play, SHOT!, captures the true accounts of local residents and takes a new approach to explain how a once magnificent community crumbled into a frightening ghetto. But the dynamic influence of the story, which is based on environmental circumstance, derives from the exploitation of prejudice through its white characters in an attempt to relate to the audience through social expectations.
The play generalizes that white influence has been a leading factor to the crime of North Philadelphia. Instead of teaching the audience something new, the play instead perpetuates false stigmas, which further racially divide society. It regurgitates misleading footage from the media, only to portray exactly what the media has already shown us.
The story opens as a “foray into the life, death and future resurrection of North Philadelphia” as the actors repeat, “hope is bulletproof” throughout the play. While this line suggests much-needed social change through positive influence, it allows the community to dodge any self-responsibility, simultaneously masking situations the characters go through as cries for compassion.
But there cannot be any compassion for the characters who carry weapons around to show off like jewelry. Compassion cannot exist for characters whose “babies have babies,” for the purpose of a fashion accessory. An audience cannot find compassion for a community that continually blames its downfall on racial inequality.
The play also describes the mid-20th century migration into the area. Although sociology Professor Eugene Ericksen said he has “observed minority neighborhoods with an increase in black-on-black crime or Latin-on-Latin crime,” he said he didn’t know why crime is elevated in minority neighborhoods.
Similarly, SHOT! portrays a heightened amount of crime in North Philly but neglects to investigate what triggered the unfortunate black-on-black crime, elevated poverty and the bluntly ghetto atmosphere.
As compelling and powerful as SHOT! disguises itself to be, I didn’t leave the theater with any new information because it didn’t offer any. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to display the good side of Temple’s surrounding community, it takes advantage of past racial tensions and subsequently blames the root of their current problems on white privilege. I cannot come to terms with the fact that white people are the cause of North Philly’s elevated crime and rampant drug wars. Despite “white flight,” I cannot see how a community can believe that racial inequality is the reason for its current state of demise.
Through her play, Williams-Witherspoon attempted to investigate exactly what led North Philadelphia from its “glory days” as a culturally significant, economically proficient and socially stable community to its current state of chaos and violence. Although it accounts the unfortunate circumstances of North Philadelphian’s generational traps of poverty, it emphasizes the ancient days of general white ignorance, ignorantly blames the “ruined apocalyptic hood of today” on white prejudice and as a result, further perpetuates racial tensions.
Matthew Petrillo can be reached at email@example.com.