“Honky” Raises the Spectre of Racism in Us All

18 July, 2016

Jordan Elgrably

America has never been more heartbreaking than when it is at war with itself, divided down lines of color, of so-called “race”—the illusion that color or ethnicity really makes us different, whethe

r black, white, Arab, Jew, this, that, “us and them.” DNA tests prove beyond a doubt that we are all more interconnected than anyone could ever guess, so that these seeming divisions can only be perpetuated by fear and stereotypes—indeed, by ignorance.

But a new play called “Honky” has found a way to turn tragedy into comedy, to transform pain into hilarity by virtue of the inevitable satire when we are confronted with our cultural contradictions. Written by Greg Kalleres (a playwright and screenwriter who lives in Brooklyn) and first performed Off-Broadway in 2013, “Honky” is a 90-minute romp about basketball shoes, advertising, the commodification of culture, and racism in the contemporary United States. 

Actually, here’s the story: “When a young African American is shot for a pair of basketball shoes, sales triple among white teens. Meanwhile, a new pill guaranteed to cure racism advertises that if you don’t think you need it – you’re probably a racist. HONKY takes satiric look at the symbiotic relationship between racism and commercialism, while at the same time asking the question — is white guilt only for white people?”

A few us of saw Rogue Machine’s production of “Honky” at the Met Theatre in Los Angeles, where we were torn between almost constant laughter and grief, reminded of recent headlines as the play’s “black” and “white” characters consistently misread each other and everyone is a racist. “Honky” is very funny but you never forget that this is not just a play, but also a reflection of the very real ordeals that are playing out on American streets.

Inger Tudor and James Liebman

Directed by Gregg Daniel, “Honky” stars Inger Tudor as a psychiatrist called upon to deal with ad man James Liebma

n’s white guilt.

There is no question that as a society we must call for police violence and reform, and we’ve got to take on hate, whether we’re talking about hate speech from politicians or the hateful rhetoric of the Islamophobia industry, for this is no time to let ourselves be divided into smaller groups, pitted against each other while the powerful exploit the people in so many ways, for example by not paying their fair share of taxes, stealing our votes, or exacerbating Middle East conflict with manipulative foreign policies.

Tasha Ames and Burl Moseley play conflicted lovers.

Tasha Ames and Burl Moseley.

But are we really all racist? I found myself thinking about the issues “Honky” raises long after we left the theatre. One thing I know for sure: we need to peel away our onion layers with each other and talk honestly about our feelings, our fears, our confusion with those who appear different from us. Because frankly, in this country we rarely discuss race or religion or politics with

any great depth. We’re afraid of offending family and friends, colleagues and acquaintances. This is a mistake. It’s one of the reasons I insisted on the creation of a Middle Eastern cultural center 15 years ago, in the belief that we need to have safe spaces for public conversations about the issues that affect us all.


Jordan Elgrably is a Franco-American writer of Moroccan heritage whose work has appeared widely in the U.S. and Europe. He is the former cofounder and director of the Levantine Cultural Center/The Markaz (2001-2020) in Los Angeles. He founded The Markaz Review in 2020, which he edits from Montpellier. Follow Jordan on Twitter @JordanElgrably.

Black AmericansRacismWhite guilt