Arts One students had the opportunity to see Ayad Akhtar's Pulitzer Prize winning play, Disgraced, at Buffalo's Road Less Traveled Theater.
The play is centered on sociopolitical themes such as Islamophobia and the self-identity of Muslim-American citizens. It focuses on a dinner party between four people with very different backgrounds. As discussion turns to politics and religion, the mood quickly becomes heated. Described as a "combustible powder keg of identity politics," the play depicts racial and ethnic prejudices that "secretly persist in even the most progressive cultural circles." It is also said to depict the challenge for upwardly mobile Muslim Americans in the post-9/11 America.
Many of the students were deeply moved. Here is an excerpt from one of their reviews:
I spent the entire show sitting upright, my entire body reflecting the tension on stage. Disgraced had seemingly no boundaries. It touched on so much more than I expected, it seemed nothing was off-limits. The dinner-table debate carried far beyond the typical “polite” threshold for such social interactions. Observing the debate and not engaging was refreshing, but also brought about feelings of conflict for someone as impressionable as myself. The entire show was mental ping-pong; I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not educated enough on any of the topics involved to form my own opinions, so my instinct was to trust the characters. The problem with this, my default way of deciding my own beliefs, was that the characters were all saying different things. I was hesitant to believe Amir, who was adamant about his negative views of Islam, but part of me wanted to because of his own background as a Muslim man. As an active participant in resistance and social justice in this day and age, the first thing allies learn to do is to listen to the under-represented and not speak over them. But when the under-represented present you with ideas that align with those who oppress, regardless of the perspective they come from, it becomes more complicated. Amir was verbalizing all of the ideas I’ve learned to disagree with, without having the knowledge to know why I wanted to disagree. I found myself cheering internally when Emily countered his facts about the Qu’ran or Muslim ideals, even though she was doing what I’ve been taught not to do—speaking over him, “whitesplaining” his own (former) religion. Disgraced was constant contradiction with everything I’ve internalized through discussions on the internet and in my own experiences in high school.
For me, the personal impact of Disgraced was that I’ve noticed myself becoming more aware of nuance. As I mentioned previously, this is not something I’ve become accustomed to in a generation so focused on social justice, most frequently in the social media setting. I’m easily influenced and tend to be very willing to accept something as wrong just because I read a Twitter thread from one person about it. I listen more than I speak, perhaps too much. I should be actively seeking information from the source—before someone else interprets it for me—and then critique the opinions I listen to enough to allow for nuanced discussions. I always try to be agreeable and to avoid conflict, but after seeing a piece so full of conflict, I’ve started to re-evaluate the way I engage with “sensitive” topics.