The “Dutchman” Play by Amiri Baraka

Dutchman is a one-act drama created by Amiri Barak (whose real name is LeRoi Jones). The play premiered in the 70s of the previous century, at the beginning of the Civil Rights Era. Clay, an African-American male dressed in a traditional suit, and Lula, a white lady, interact on a subway train during the summertime. As Lula accuses Clay of attempting to be white rather than adhering to black stereotypes, Dutchman examines evident issues of segregation and white domination. The paper examines the play’s engagement with stereotypical images.

Humans are wired to analyze anything they come into touch with. People strive to obtain insight and guidance from their appraisals of other individuals in particular. Stereotypes are mental developments that store a perceiver’s information, judgments, and expectancies about social populations (Green). These cognitive constructions are frequently formed from a nucleus of truth and subsequently warped beyond recognition (Green). Racial stereotypes are assumptions that all people of the same race have certain features. Typically, these associated attributes are unfavorable.

The emergence of racial stereotypes coincides with the fact that Clay has not yet formed an identity and is uncomfortable with his race, social standing, and manly prowess. For Lula, perceiving a well-dressed, intellectual African American man reading a magazine is a cause to laugh about the falseness of his image, which is, in her opinion, just an attempt to look and behave like a white man. For example, Lula makes fun of what Clay presents her as his reflection on identity, mentioning a European writer:

“CLAY … Well, in college I thought I was Baudelaire…
LULA I bet you never once thought you were a black nigger… A black Baudelaire” (Baraka 5).

The inability to believe that a black person might identify with a white figure represents the stereotypical thought that African Americans are unintelligent and only want to mimic whites. Lula’s frequent nagging remarks and insults make him conscious of his loss of identity, and his responses evolve from bravado to belligerence. Lula’s effort to make Clay perceive him as a sex-crazed man or timid Uncle Tom provokes him into an exquisitely angry outburst (Baraka). Uncle Tom is a continuation of the stereotypical image of black people, who are, in this case, extremely devoted to whites. According to Zhu, when Clay is subjected to racial abuse, his response demonstrates the explosive side of independence. However, he is still a subservient middle-class convert to white culture. For Dahal, this drama explores how black Americans become victims of racial prejudice while adapting to mainstream white lifestyles. This interpretation demonstrates the negative influence of racial stereotypes on the stage of identifying oneself.

Through the connection of the play’s only characters, Lula and Clay, Baraka addresses the topic of racial stereotypes figuratively. Baraka employs flamboyance and lively personalities as metaphors to depict an accurate portrayal of racial prejudices in America via both physical and emotional actions of discrimination. For example, the oppressive language of Lula about Clay is “full of white man’s words,” expressing the gest of the play (Baraka 8). The author describes the history of racial strife in America with character qualities and imagery.

To conclude, the play depicts a well-educated man who is unable to transcend the preconceptions and power relationships of his prejudiced culture. Dutchman presents a stereotypical image through the emotional language of Lula, a white character who interacts with Clay, unable to choose his identity. As a result, his identity is substituted by prejudices about a black man pretending to be white and a subservient Uncle Tom, who wishes to please white people. Although Clay rebels against these stereotypes and discrimination, he is already partly assimilated into the white culture and begins to operate with the stereotypes for himself.

Works Cited

Baraka, Amiri. Dutchman. ZLibrary, 1964, Web.

Dahal, Madhav Prasad. “Problems of Assimilation and Difficulties of Becoming a Man in LeRoi Jones’s Dutchman.” Molung Educational Frontier, 2020, pp. 57–65. Crossref, Web.

Green, Laura. “Negative Racial Stereotypes and Their Effect on Attitudes Toward African-Americans.” Jim Crow Museum, Web.

Zhu, Lingjun. “The Paradoxical Characterization in Dutchman: Reflection of Baraka’s Ambivalent Stance in the 1960s.” International Journal of Linguistics, Literature and Translation, vol. 5, no. 3, 2022, pp. 80–85. Crossref, Web.

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