Les Blancs (The Whites) was Lorraine Hansberry’s last play, and she left it uncompleted at the time of her early death of cancer at the age of 34. The play was finished by her husband Robert Nemiroff and produced for a short 1-month run on Broadway in 1970, five years after her 1965 death.
Like The Blacks and the lesser known Aime Cesaire play of 1966, A Season in the Congo, Hansberry’s work is located in Africa, in her case an unnamed African country with similarities to the struggles of black natives in Ghana and Kenya, with its strongest reverberations coming from the 1960 revolution in Congo, where, just as in Hansberry’s play, several white missionaries were slaughtered.
Neither of the white-educated brothers wants violence, and both hope that the current African ambassador to England, Amos Kumalo, will return to cut new agreements between the tribes and the settlers. Yet, Tshembe is simply too intelligent to see this as a solution, and, although he denies it, he hates the walls whites have created in relationship to his own race, which his profound discussion with a white hanger-on journalist, Charlie Morris (Jason McBeth)—come out to Africa to write a piece about the famed mission, reveals. At issue is difference between race and racisim, between reality and effect:
Tsembe: I said racism is a device that, of itself
Charlie: But I agree with you entirely! Race hasn’t
a thing to do with it actually.
Tsembe: (with pleased perversity) Ah—but it has!
Charlie: Oh, come on, Matoseh. Stop playing games!
Tsembe: I am not playing games! I am simply saying
that a device is a device, but that it also has
consequences: once invented it takes on a
both cases you and I may recognize the
fraudulence of the device, but the fact
remains that a man who has the sword run
through him because he refuses to become
a Muslim or a Christian—or who was shot
in Zatembe or Mississippi because he is
black—is suffering the utter reality of the
device. And it is pointless to pretend it
doesn’t exist—merely because it is a lie.
Even the renowned mission Charlie intends to write about, as the mission doctor Willy DeKoven (Joel Swetow) reveals, late in the play, is all a lie. Its founder, Dr. Nielsen (a man who has gone cross the river, but, like Godot, never shows up for his appointments, having been already murdered by the natives), although devoted to saving lives and converting souls, has, as DeKoven clarifies, devoted the life’s-work to genocide and the status quo. Even as he saves lives, he continually patronizes and even laughs away the demands from the local chief for equality. Despite his insistence that the clapboard shack appearance of his hospital is an attempt to make the natives feel at home, a completely up-to-date white-walled and antiseptic clinic only a few miles away serves the natives far better. The mission itself, accordingly, becomes a kind of device to keep the local natives in bondage. Is it any wonder that most of the tribal leaders have stopped visiting?
Los Angeles, June 5, 2017