Malbrough’s ‘How to be a White Man’ at SFBATCO looks deeper into privilege, power and worth

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Luna Malbroux’s examination of privilege, power and worth “How to be a White Man” is now running through April 1st in San Francisco. (SFBATCO.org)

Initially, Luna Malbroux never felt she was propped up by anyone as an example of Black success. Growing up in rural Louisiana, she always had good grades in school, has a graduate degree, and is a Black woman in the overwhelmingly white male world of stand-up comedy.

But after she thought about it further, she made a huge discovery about her elementary education.

“I was one of the few Black children in class, and I remember teachers treating me with so much surprise and praise for being smart – saying things like ‘you’re so articulate,’” said Malbroux. “It took me a while to figure out that to them, I didn’t fit the stereotype of a young Black girl. What I mistook as praise, was really something else. It’s so unfair to pit Black people against each other in that way.”

Her youth, education and status as an artist of color are fueled by her innate curiosity about how she fits into society. And that curiosity has manifested into her two-person play, “How to be a White Man,” produced by the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company and now running through April 1st at the Buriel Clay Theater. The show, which first premiered at San Francisco’s Faultline Theatre Company last June and has gone through many changes since, is not shy about its bold title. Malbroux’s work often features titles that have an edge, but admits this play is less about white males than the title may indicate.

“I want to be clear, despite the title, the play is more of an exploration of the black psyche in America than white privilege,” said Malbroux, who has spent the last six years living in the Bay Area.

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We are told we need to lean in and be more assertive, but what we are also told to do is assimilate and act white. Is that what we are really supposed to do? – Luna Malbroux (SFBATCO.org)

The tagline for the play is “A practical guide to getting privilege you don’t have, but are entitled to.” And while Malbroux has plenty of thoughts about privilege, she also acknowledges that just as important is the dynamic of power.

“Privilege is contextual and the hardest thing to talk about. In the middle of Idaho, where all neighbors are white, you won’t see white people like someone in a diverse neighborhood would because you have the comparison factor.

“We are talking about power, institutional power. Kamala Harris actually has access to power, where she is making decisions that affect people’s lives, but she is only the second black senator.”

That same power that she believed she didn’t have led to a humongous discovery about one other phenomenon – worth.

“I did a show with a white male comic and he wanted a certain venue to pay us $800 a week. I didn’t think we can bring that in, but he said this is what we were supposed to get and what we need to have. That was so interesting to me. Here’s someone who didn’t even graduate from high school and I have an Ivy League masters. Despite us having completely different socio-economic backgrounds, he taught me that you get what you deserve. That taught me I still have a lot to unlearn in regards to what I think my worth is.”

The worth that Malbroux speaks of is worth set by her and her alone. Women are told to demand raises, but when raises are demanded, they are often labeled as difficult or impossible to work with, especially women of color. Yet when it’s a man making those same demands, he is assertive, a take charge kinda guy.

And Malbroux is having none of it.

“There is a narrative of what the American dream is supposed to be. We are told we need to lean in and be more assertive, but what we are also told to do is assimilate and act white. Is that what we are really supposed to do? Are we supposed to prescribe to a white ideal of what you’re supposed to become? We need to be successful on our own terms.”

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company presents “How to be a White Man”
Written by Luna Malbroux
Directed by Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr.
Featuring Luna Malbroux and Kevin Glass
The Buriel Clay Theater at the African-American Art and Culture Complex
762 Fulton Street at Webster
Through April 1st
Tickets range from $15 – $40
For tickets, call (415) 484-8566 or visit www.sfbatco.org

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