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Epithetically Speaking


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Dear sir:

In his review of About Face Theatre's Christopher Shinn play Four [Section Two, February 25], Justin Hayford's nonchalant use of the term "wigger" to describe a character is disturbing. A contraction of the words "white" and "nigger," this is a racist epithet denoting a person who appears Caucasian and supposedly "acts black," i.e., speaks with an accent stereotypically ascribed to African-Americans. The offensive term is never mentioned in the text of Four; the character Hayford labels as such is of Puerto Rican descent, as is the actor who plays him so beautifully.

Inexplicably, Hayford omits any reference to homosexuality in his review, although one of the play's couples is comprised of two men and their homosexual relationship is central to the play's story. Would it have been acceptable to casually call one of these characters the "buttfucker boyfriend"? Of course not, because Hayford writes theater criticism and is not the author of Savage Love.

In her ten-minute play Road From Euclid, currently running as part of Collaboraction's "Winter Sketchbook 2000" festival, playwright Rebecca Gilman has one of her characters declare of a similar slur, "No matter how colorful the expression, when it's said at the expense of others it should be relegated to the scrap heap." While one might sympathize with Hayford's attempt to be descriptive given a form so painfully abbreviated that Reader theater reviews regularly fail to make mention of a play's acting, let alone an individual actor's performance, an apology from the critic and his editors is nonetheless in order.

Bruch Reed

W. School

Justin Hayford replies:

The term "wigger" is commonly used to describe a white kid who adopts styles and mannerisms associated with hip-hop--a white kid who "acts black," just as the character in the play is described by his girlfriend. If memory serves, that character is half white and half Puerto Rican.

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