Carlyle Brown has spent much of his life immersed in theater. He is an award-winning actor, playwright, and artistic director known for his dramatized historical shows.

But in 2015, as racial hostility increased across the nation, Brown said he turned his performances into an attempt to inform and spark conversations about racism.

Brown brought his one-man show, combining comedy, acting, and a TED-talk style presentation, to Virginia Tech’s Haymarket Theatre in the Squires Student Center on March 14. His performance, “Acting Black, Demystifying Racism,” was the signature event of the university’s Principles of Community Week. From March 12-16, various events celebrated Virginia Tech’s Principles of Community, which are a guide to creating a campus culture of inclusion and an environment that nurtures learning and growth.

Brown shared with the audience examples of ways that he believes African Americans are objectified in entertainment and the background of these portrayals.

Much of his performance centered on the history of minstrels, an entertainment style that emerged in the United States in the 1800s. Minstrels were bands of entertainers who painted their faces black and sang and danced, portraying African Americans in a negative light.

Ironically, some African Americans also had to paint their faces black and perform in the minstrel shows.  

"Carlyle's use of humor and popular culture was effective in conveying some very uncomfortable truths," said Michele Deramo, assistant provost of diversity education and programs in the Office for Inclusion & Diversity at Virginia Tech, the event’s host.

The talk ended with an audience discussion about ways that society can overcome racial stereotyping. The mostly white audience questioned their own biases, some of which may have been based on their upbringing. Several said they hope to be an example for their own children of how to treat all people, regardless of color, with respect.

"I appreciated the honesty of the discussion following his [Brown’s] performance,” Deramo said. “We need to continue having challenging conversations across campus."

Among the personal stories, Kendrick Gholston, associate director of student athlete development at Virginia Tech, shared his experience as an African-American student at the University of Louisville, where he played football.

Gholston’s roommate, Matt, had never met an African-American, but the two became friends. Rather than making assumptions, Matt often asked Gholston questions to understand his background and views.

This is key to accepting others’ differences, Gholston said.

Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone