Last Thursday, the Students of Caribbean Ancestry (SOCA) coordinated a one-woman show produced and written by Jamaican-American Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni. This performance was part of “Heritage Week” celebrating SOCA heritage. Cox’s interactive show, called “One Drop of Love,” explores history, family, class, justice and love. It challenges the audience to recognize the enduring power of the “one drop rule.”
In the 18th century, when the slave trade was in full force, many of the colonists who came to the Caribbean islands raped their slaves, resulting in mixed race children. Although some of these children were lighter skinned, like Cox, the “one drop rule” pronounced that one drop of African blood meant that the child was of African descent and therefore could not benefit from being the son or daughter of a white man. In fact, many millions of people in the United States still endure the repercussions of such an arbitrary rule, centuries after it was created.
Cox’s performance, also produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, aimed to address this issue of the “one drop rule.” As a half-Jamaican half-Caucasian woman, Fanshen has experienced her fair share of racial confusion. For example, while the color of her skin may suggest one thing, her hair may suggest another. One of the main conflicts of Cox’s particular story of mixed race identity is her relationship with her Jamaican father. There was a lot of tension between the two, especially when her father and her mother got divorced. Her father did not want to attend her wedding to her Italian husband, Diego, which was going to be in Jamaica. At the time, Cox believed the reason was because her father was “not good with Europeans” and did not want to see his daughter marry a white man. In a heartwarming slideshow display at the end of the performance, Cox calls up her father and asks him why he did not come. It turns out that he didn’t want to go back to Jamaica having escaped the struggle there. This special phone call memorialized on the screen represented the severity of miscommunication and the value of familial love.
During the show Cox displayed a wide array of skills. For one, as a one-woman performer, Cox played every character from her father to her grandmother. She even included a Jamaican accent for those that had it. Each of the little stories she shared with the audience were made more vivid by her depictions of them from their point of views. These stories ranged from small conversations with her grandmother to her rape while in the Peace Corps. Yet each and every one of them together created a complete interactive and emotional memoir.
Finally, it’s important to note the implications of Fanshen’s work. “One Drop of Love” was created because Cox, as a mixed-race actress in white Hollywood, was in need of a role. So she wrote her own role and told her own story. She begins by drawing attention to the fact that the Census of 1790 (and those following until quite recently) arbitrarily assigned races to people. People did not have the opportunity to choose nor were they given enough options to satisfy their own personal identity. Cox believes that “picking a racial category on the census” is like the census telling “us all about who we are.” Fortunately, the system has changed in the past few years so that people are given the opportunity to check multiple boxes when it’s necessary. Perhaps many people do not realize it, but most people don’t belong in one box. Over thousands of years we have been evolving, and now, even our official forms reflect that. We are not nearly to where we should be, but Cox is optimistic, and her show is a fantastic example of using art to open the hearts and minds of others. With hope and continued activism, maybe the global community will be better equipped to understand the “one drop rule of love.”
Fanshen Cox discusses her new work, ‘One Drop Love,’ while exploring history, family, class and love. Photo courtesy of fanshencox.home.