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Black & White Folks

June 19, 1988

In response to Itabari Njeri's piece on "The Colored Museum" ("Two Trips Through 'The Colored Museum,' " by Njeri and Frances E. Williams, June 12), I wonder: Just how dumb does she think white folks are?

Njeri looks over the audience, says they're mostly white, and jumps to the conclusion that since "Black Musical" got the biggest response, that we white people didn't get it. That we sat in wide-eyed confusion for "Git On Board," but beamed at each other during "Summertime." So this is what a black intellectual thinks of us white theatergoers.

Last month I sat with my 86-year-old great aunt, slowly dying in her bed. But she managed to clench her fist and vow to leave the country if a Negro became president. That's how people were raised two generations ago. I told my parents about it. They felt kind of sorry, kind of embarrassed, for both my great aunt and for black people. They're the same age as Njeri's Mr. Feinauer, the high school music teacher who thought "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" ran in her blood. That was one generation ago.

Then we grew up in the '50s and '60s with you. We got your point. Your ideas, your bravery, your agony didn't fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. Is our fading black stereotype any less loathsome than your white one?

If you break off a chunk of black culture and pass it around to us, do you think we'll poison it? We'll probably change it. It will have white fingerprints on it. It will have European indentations, Hispanic impressions.

I think that's what they call progress. It's all about adding your stuff to mine and creating a brand-new "cultural identity." It's when you hoard culture that you create the thing you hate most: the racial stereotype.

TERRY BARNES

Sherman Oaks

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