By Kia Standard
Within the first few moments of “The Day I Became Black,” writer and performer Bill Posley sets the tone of the show with a disclaimer. “White people, it’s OK to laugh. Black people, when they laugh, don’t stare at them.” In other words, the actor promises to present true talk about uncomfortable situations. But relax, people, it’s comedy.
For Bill Posley, growing up in Boston, Massachusetts, “the most racist city in America,” proves to be a challenge. Equally challenging is growing up biracial; he’s half black and half white, in a city that is so divided. His father starts out as a black activist. No, not the Black Panthers; his father is a member of a social club called Chocolate Thunder. His mother is a young white woman. The pair fall in love, but they marry in secret because interracial marriage is still taboo in the 1970s. Neither side of the young couple’s family is happy about their union. Mr. Posley’s paternal grandmother, a Southern black woman who has been a domestic worker for white families, becomes angry when she hears the news. And Mr. Posley’s white maternal grandfather refuses to set foot in the house whenever his son‑in‑law is around. Both families seem to cool their tempers after Bill is born. However, his family cannot protect him from the perceptions of the outside world.
“Are you Mexican?” his black cousin asks him at a family reunion. “No, Dejuan, we have the same grandmother,” young Bill answers. As a child, he refuses to pick a racial side; instead he uses his duality to his advantage. He teaches his white cousins how to play the card game Spades, and the words to rap songs; then he teaches his black cousins how to play Dungeons and Dragons, and the choreography from the Backstreet Boys’ music videos. Until one day, when he checks off both boxes for “Black” and “White” on a standardized test at school, and his teacher Mrs. Jackson says, “You can’t do that, you have to pick one.” Although he embraces both sides of his racial identity, he begins to realize that the world will always judge him by “his black cover.”
Despite Bill’s attempts to hold on to his duality as he gets older, the divide between his two identities becomes even larger. After the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial, his father explains the complications of being a black man in America by making him watch the entire “Roots” mini‑series. In college, he feels the pressure to prove his masculine prowess, when a white female classmate tells him, “I’ve always wanted to be with a black guy.” “Wait, who’s black?”
Bill Posley delivers his social commentary with rapid fire, debunking the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding racial identity. He unflinchingly tackles difficult topics head‑on, while looking directly into the faces of his audience. Mr. Posley enhances his tale with voiceovers, pop culture references, and big screen projections. These animated elements add a layer of comedy to the otherwise serious subject matter. There are photos of candid moments showing Mr. Posley, his parents and both sides of his family. There are slides displaying a diagram of the “one drop rule,” a 16th‑century convention that if a person has even a drop of black blood in his or her family tree, that person is considered black. Mr. Posley creates an audience participation moment with a game called “The Race is Right.” In this game show, he asks audience members how they would react towards a person of a particular race in everyday situations, and the participants do their best to answer the loaded questions.
The day Bill Posley became black begins as a day like any other. He is jogging through a neighborhood, not his own, to meet a friend, when he is stopped by a police officer. The officer slams him against the car and arrests him, for no reason. In this moment, Mr. Posley has a humiliating yet sobering revelation. He finally understands what everyone has been trying to tell him all along. Although he connects to being both black and white, and although he identifies as biracial, the world will always see him as black.
“The Day I Became Black”
Written and performed by Bill Posley
Directed by Bente Engelstoft
March 8 – May 26, 2019
Photo credit: Daniel J Sliwa Photography
15 Vandam Street
New York City
KIA STANDARD is a writer and musical theater performer, who has appeared in regional and international productions of “West Side Story,” “The King and I”, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” She received an MA in Creative Writing/Nonfiction from The Johns Hopkins University, and has published articles and profiles for various talent magazines. Ms. Standard is currently working as a musical playwright.