Black Like Us, a world premiere currently showing at Annex Theatre (as a co-production with Brownbox Theatre), begins in Seattle in the mid-1950s when a young woman who's been passing as white decides to abandon her family for her fiancée. Her decision splits what would have been one Seattle family into two: the family she came from and her future family, which won't discover its African side for generations.

The play has its ups and downs—you can read my review of Black Like Us over here—but I mostly want to draw your attention to this comment beneath it:

I grew up with a guy who decided to pass as White. He secretly had a vasectomy just before he got married so he wouldn’t have to explain any children who may turn out dark, like his ebony-hued older brother. He cut himself from his family of origin, especially his brother, but including his parents, grandparents, and all of his siblings. He became an attorney but could never pursue public office or too much prominence lest his secret come out. He stayed in the shadows, which surprised all who knew him because he was smart, obviously talented, gregarious, and had strong leadership potential.

This is what came to my mind after seeing Black Like Us. Not so much about Romeo and Juliet, rather the impact of secrets. Since race is a political and not a biological construct, what happens when people who have claimed a certain sociopolitical and economic position in the world discover they have done so illegitimately? Do they continue as poseurs, opportunistically explore a redefinition and look for ways of advantage, stand afraid and utterly confused, or some and all of the above? What responsibility sits with those who keep the pact of secrecy over generations? What of the secrets within secrets? Like adoptees finding their birth parents for the first time (or vice versa), the battle between intellectual and emotional response, joy and fear, confusion and clarity are all present. Those are what I took away as the core questions explored in this play.

“Passing” to gain sociopolitical and economic advantage is true in many communities, even today. Good on the playwright and director for letting us sit with the resulting confusion.

Playwright Rachel Atkins told me that Black Like Us wasn't about her family per se, but inspired by some family stories:

My dad’s father and sister did pass for white at times; my dad could not. In addition, growing up in the pre-Obama years as a little white girl raised by a black man, I was acutely aware of the issues around race, identity, the assumptions we make based on how we see people, and the questions around how we define ourselves.

No matter what its artistic strengths and weaknesses, Black Like Us is a Seattle-specific story that was begging to be told.