Word Play

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invasion silk roadLast year in early February, while my colleague and I were sitting in our Pittsburgh hotel lobby preparing for a client presentation, an older white gentleman came up to us and stared directly into my face and said “Happy New Year”.  Although taken aback, I totally knew what he meant since it was the week of Chinese New Year. Unfazed, I responded back with “Thank you, but I’m not Chinese”.  And without another word, he left.  It was surprisingly bizarre, probably innocuous, who knows, but I was deeply disturbed by it. With those three words, he singled me out, for whatever motivations he might have had, because I was Asian, because I looked Chinese, because, in this sea of white business men in suits in this grand Pittsburgh business hotel, I was “the other”.   Sure, we are singled out and treated differently all the time for a variety of different factors and characteristics (fat, sexy, smart, tattooed, shabby chic, Charlize Theron-look-alike, whatever), but to be singled out and treated differently because of your skin color and race is a searing, jarring, biting singling-out. Despite what some want to believe, we are not living in a post-racial world. So a play like Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s Invasion!, currently receiving a blistering Chicago premiere at Silk Road Rising, which focuses on how people use words to differentiate, segregate, define and re-define Arabs as the other is vital and critical. It is a provocative play that will make some people squirm in their seats, as they should!, but it is essential viewing.

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