Hamilton and the Danger of the Single Story

I’m going to do this thing where I do not take either popular position on the latest not-news headline surrounding Trump’s administration-elect.

hamilton

Summary: Mike Pence and his family attended the mega-hit Broadway musical Hamilton yesterday. Other audience members booed him throughout, and after the curtain call, to address the disturbances, the cast of Hamilton said this:

statement

So, here’s my take.

To the people who booed Pence throughout the show: had you actually been listening to the fantastic musical that you paid upwards of $1000 to attend, you might have noticed that many characters have a theme, a repeated phrase that reoccurs throughout their scenes. Burr’s is “wait for it/just you wait,” Hamilton’s is “my shot,” and so on.

Other characters echo those themes to make a particularly powerful moment. When Hamilton finally repeats “That would be enough,” Eliza’s theme, at the end of “It’s Quiet Uptown,” the audience knows he’s finally changed. He and Eliza are in agreement after all this time, and that is beautiful.

So…Trump’s theme is loudly railing against people who disagree with him. It is not a theme you want to echo. By stealing lines from Trump’s usual script, you’re only showing the audience that you are in agreement after all.

To Trump, who demanded an apology from the cast and said their words were “very rude and insulting”…come on, man. The statement wasn’t really disrespectful. It’s gonna be a long four years if you demand apologies from everyone saying they hope your administration won’t look like your campaign.

I’ll repeat Washington’s solo and say, “Let me tell you what I wish I’d known, when I was young and dreamed of glory: you have no control, who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”

You have no control. Other people are telling your story now, and they will continue to do so, evaluating your words and actions and sometimes disagreeing with them. It’s a heavy burden, as Washington also acknowledges several times, when “history has its eyes on you,” but it’s one you and other members of you administration will have to learn to live with.

To everyone who is cheering the cast of Hamilton and their statement: be careful of the single story.

Also, to those who are upset by the cast’s statement and want to boycott Hamilton…be careful of the single story.

I just listened to a simple but moving TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who shared the danger of having only one idea of what a person or a group of people are, how simplifying them into a stereotype is harmful to both them and you. (Listen to it. It’s both convicting and gracious.)

That, I think, is one reason why many have found Hamilton so powerful: it refuses the “single stories” we have of our Founding Fathers. They are, suddenly, brilliant and flawed, determined and arrogant and exhausted and bursting at the seams of their colonial costumes with hopes and dreams and fears and failings. It refuses the single story of all rap and hip-hop being a string of shallow rants objectifying women. It refuses the single story of the American Dream by showing the consequences of ambition, even for a good, patriotic cause.

I think that after this election, we’re carrying and spreading lots of single stories about the people around us. We’re slapping on generalizations with a wide brush, painting over all kind of nuances, letting our emotions justify almost anything we say about others.

Others who are infinitely complex and made in the image of God just like you and the people who agree with you.

We will only be able to move forward as a nation if we learn to have civil dialogue on tough issues, if we speak with both grace and conviction. On a smaller scale, our relationships with those around us will benefit if we listen well, if we allow others to be complex and not defined by a handful of tweets, positions, and stereotypes.

Okay, I think I’ve made just about everyone mad by now, so let’s end with this.

In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s statement applauding what the cast did, he included this line: “Lead with love.”

I like that. I like it a lot. I don’t necessarily know if that’s what happened in the cast’s statement, and it certainly wasn’t happening either from the booing audience or some of the ugly rhetoric from this past campaign season.

But it sounds an awful lot like what we’re called to do as Christians. So, even if you disagree with everything else I said in this post, let’s go out and lead with love.

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6 comments

  1. Amy,
    Thank you so much for your insights and comments on this specific story and election season! I just found your blog, and this post made me excited for more of your thoughts and writing:) “Lead with love” is a wonderful challenge for myself and for all of us. Thanks again!
    Laura

  2. This is so great, Amy. I feel like it comes back to that whole, “Be right, or build bridges and get people to take a step forward” thing. We’ve been reading John Lewis’ biography of the Civil Rights movement, and he talks about how we can speak truth to power with loving actions better than yelling or stooping to violent speech or actions. Lewis talks a lot about how the goal of the Civil Rights movement was to awaken consciences, and that wasn’t going to happen if people are vilifying others.

    1. Yep. And for me, it’s hard to put aside being proven right in order to be gracious, but whenever I do it’s always worth it. I like that thought from Lewis as well. Such a good perspective.

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