Race Relations Under the Same Roof
After one of the worst storms in the history of New Orleans ravaged the city and its populace, the recovery of the decimated city ground along slowly. Among all the frustration building towards the government for the failure to recover swiftly after the tragedy, was the undercurrent of continued hatred among the different races of New Orleans. As one writer put it “On the eve of the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is grappling with fallout from the storm that could prove even harder to repair: ever worsening relations between the city's white and black residents.”(McCulley) John Biguenet decided to use this event to show the world with his play, Shotgun, what was really going on in New Orleans after the storm. He shows both the horror of what was taking place at the hands of the government and also the work left to be done by New Orleans’ citizens towards each other. Shotgun gives the reader a glimpse of how the new wounds created by navigating the various governmental systems in place was nothing compared to the old scars left by racial tension between the races of the city. Even though Shotgun opens in a seemingly innocent manner, it quickly degenerates into racially tainted dialogue. In the first scene where Dexter, Beau, and Eugene are talking about the things that happened to them during the storm, Dexter throws out a racially charged statement about how he “lost a lot of his people that day”. Eugene immediately responds with a retort saying “You not the only one lost somebody.” (Biguenet page 8) This response has an undertone of racial thoughts and you can almost see the scathing look Eugene was probably giving Dexter as he said those words. As soon as Dexter’s daughter, Mattie, appears she is met with resistance from her father about renting the other half of the shotgun house to whites. Dexter tells Mattie “You asking for trouble, you do this, Mattie. Trust an old man. Mixing black and white, it’s nothing but a jug of gasoline looking for a match.” (Biguenet page 10) After Mattie ignores her father’s warning, Beau and Eugene move in but Eugene is clearly unhappy with his father’s decision.
In the next scene, it’s New Year’s Eve and Beau is trying to celebrate with Eugene. Eugene starts berating Beau about his choices up to that point in time. Beau tries to encourage him by suggesting things will get better when school starts after the holidays and telling him he will make some new friends. Eugene’s response is “Friends? This school over here, Daddy, it’s all black. Those new friends of mine gonna beat the crap out of me.” and “Yeah well you’re not the one has to go to a new school with a bunch of black bastards gonna kick my ass every day.” (Biguenet page 14)
One of the biggest news moments after Katrina was on January 18, 2006 was when then-Mayor Ray Nagin went on television and used the phrase “Chocolate New Orleans” to describe the population of the city. Those words touched off a series of inflammatory comments which led to an apology by Mr. Nagin. A lot of news reports included things like “Across the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged city, many voiced their displeasure with the mayor's Monday remarks at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech.” (edition.CNN.com) The “Chocolate” city statement sparked the old hatreds of the city and soon engulfed the entire population in accusations of racism towards each other. Shotgun makes its own mention of this incident. The play shows just how the “Chocolate City” statement was affecting everyone in the city and surrounding areas by using it to further the racial undertone between the black and white tenants. In Act 1 scene 5, Dexter and Willie are really worked up because of the speech and reveal their thoughts on the speech and the issue of race. The whole scene is littered with racially charged statements like Willie saying “You hear what the mayor say? Say God meant