Review: Why I Don’t Hate White People [And Why You Should Love This Play]



As children, we often learn the fundamental colours by experiencing the world around us and associating a colour with a particular image: red fire engines (vroom vroom), green grass to play on (yippee!) and vegetables to eat (yucky!).

But as we get older, these colours – these seemingly harmless words – can morph before our eyes and create massive amounts of confusion, misunderstanding, fear, separation and even desperation.

As we grow, so do our world experiences; our beloved childhood friends called Yellow, Red, Brown, White and Black turn into their strange and abstract cousins called Person of Colour, Urban, Ethnic, Minority and Other.

Search your memory for a time period when the first image you thought of upon hearing the word “race” was running through the park with friends or your favourite sports car.

Fast forward to remember how you felt the first time you realised that the word – race – had abruptly taken on new, weighted meaning.

Did it serve to compartmentalise you into a census box that was different from your best mate’s? Did you only hear it in passing whispers or in uncomfortable, candid conversations? Did it follow you around like a shadow?

Or maybe you were told that in the end, they were all just words and to you, race and the colour you had been assigned didn’t – shouldn’t matter.

Such was the case for one young black boy coming of age in an all-white community in northern England.

Through his raw and unapologetic magnifying lens, Lemn Sissay offers us a front row seat on his quest to find himself and uncover reasons in support of his conclusion for which the play is named.

Why I Don’t Hate White People seeks to make sense of the complex concept of racial identity and explores just what happens to the psyche of a man when he is the only one of his kind.

Sissay immediately transports us into his world from the first scene, brilliantly contorting his voice and behaviour to seamlessly move us from the playful curiosity of his boyhood self to the angst of adolescence. Standing before us in one instance is a flawless representation of a good ol’ boy from Lancashire and in the blink of an eye we are greeted with yet another persona. Sissay visually underscores his feelings of isolation and inner-conflict by lurching around the completely white set as one character leaves him and the next stands ready to possess him.

His tools for dissecting the heart of race relations are immense. One scene serves up clever metaphors: travelling to the freezing artic to ask people the meaning of the word white; a further offers sobering reflections: “[white people] were all I’ve ever known and I was all they’ve never known.”

Still, through very tough subject matter, Lemn Sissay allows us to laugh: poking fun at the concepts of a post-racial world or a colour-blind society, Lemn laments, “I’m a black man. When people tell me that they are colour-blind and that they can’t see colour, it is like telling a one-legged person that they don’t see legs – that in their head, they are a paraplegic.”

The crux of the play’s thesis is best told thru an excerpt of Sissay’s poem “Colour Blind”:
If you can see the red, white and blue that you defended,
If you can see it all through the blackest pupil
The colours stretching, the rainbow suspended
If you can see the breached blue of the evening
And the caramel curls in the swirls of your tea
Why is it you say you are colour blind
When you see me?

Moving, witty, poignant and introspective, Lem Sissay’s Why I Don’t Hate White People is a provocative 50-minute public service announcement on race matters and is an assertion that race does, indeed, matter. To add another PSA, do not miss this play – lest you find one reason to potentially hate yourself.

Dates 22 January – 14 February
Times Mon – Sat, 8pm
Tickets £12, Concessions £9
Bookings 0871 22 117 22

Written & performed by Lemn Sissay/ Directed by John E McGrath/ Set & Costume Design by Rachana Jadhav / Lighting Design by Nigel Edwards/Sound Design by Simon McCorry/ Video by Clive Hunte/co-produced by Artsadmin & the Lyric Hammersmith


Andrea Michelle is a performance poet and freelance journalist from Atlanta, Georgia USA.