We’re returning to Studs’ 1968 conversation with actor James Earl Jones.  They’re talking about his role of Othello at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and the conversation naturally moves to other aspect of race.  In this post, we’re listening to their thoughts on Othello’s marriage to Desdemona.  This was recorded only a year after the Supreme Court had made banning interracial marriage illegal in Loving v. Virginia but state laws in opposition to this held out much longer: South Carolina only took theirs off the books in 1998, and Alabama not until 2000.

This excerpt from the conversation begins with James Earl Jones saying “In this country, when a Black person asserts himself, if it does not quite fit in with the power structure’s aims… he becomes a figure of fear and suspicion.”  This was true in our country long before 1968, and certainly continues to be so.

This clip centers on Othello’s marriage to Desdemona, and the contemporary and current beliefs surrounding the love between a Black man and a white woman.  But before Studs and James really get started talking about Desdemona, Studs “had to get on that soapbox for a minute” and defend Muhammad Ali’s right to choose his own name.  Studs says that if we accept name changes from people such as Danny Kaye (born David Daniel Kaminsky) and Dean Martin (born Dino Paul Crocetti), we have no right to question Cassius Clay’s adoption of a name that does not reflect the heritage of slavery.

The subject of boxing came up because James Earl Jones had also recently performed in The Great White Hope, a play about boxer Jack Johnson (who, like Othello, had a white wife – more than one in Johnson’s case).

James compares Ali and Othello, noting that after his name change people began to question him and wonder “was he practicing some kind of social witchcraft.”  This leads back to Othello again and the notion that a Black man can only have the love of a white woman by “practicing something” on them – drugging or doping them, or as Desdemona’s father says,

Is there not charms
By which the property of youth and maidhood
May be abused?

James picks up this idea of making another human being an outsider, or other, and says, “There is two ways to approach that which is foreign to us.”  He uses Haitian Vodou as an example and lays out the two ways: trying to find a connection with this foreign idea, or “you can approach it like it’s a boogie man.”  He goes on to talk about the ways humans can be taught to think of people as different (and therefore dangerous) through brainwashing and media.

Hear Studs and James’ entire conversation here.

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