Confronting Colorblind Commodity Racism: Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment

  • Seunghyun Hwang Incheon National University, South Korea


Surrounded by the hubbub of the 2008 presidential election, playwright Young Jean Lee considered a topic for the next project of her nonprofit experimental theater company and decided to write a black identity politics show that addressed the issues of commodity racism and perceived colorblindness. Her objective, in collaboration with five African American actors, was to expose both conscious and unconscious racial stereotyping deeply rooted in American culture and to lead the audience to connect the abstract element of racial stereotyping to the actual experiences of minority individuals. This article focuses on the development process of the 2008 project and connects it to the social, cultural and political influences that guided the process to demonstrate how the production fits into the historical landscape of dramatic literature and to illustrate the power of the performing arts as a catalyst to initiate public dialogue and to bring to the forefront the questioning of discriminative societal attitudes and practices.

Author Biography

Seunghyun Hwang, Incheon National University, South Korea

Seunghyun Hwang is an assistant professor in English Language and Literature at Incheon National University, South Korea. He earned his PhD in Theatre at The Ohio State University, USA. He also collaborates with the Korean theatre company Theater 2 Moments. His research interests are in British Renaissance theatre, Modern British and American theatre, and adaptation.


“A New, 'Post-Racial' Political Era in America.” 28 Jan. 2008. (accessed, 3 June 2020),

Adams, Susan J. “Joyce in Blackface: Goloshes, Gollywoggs and Christy Minstrels in ‘The Dead’.” De-familiarizing Readings: Essays from the Austin Joyce Conference. Ed. Alan Warren Friedman and Charles Rossman. Leiden, Netherlands: Rodopi, 2009, pp. 33-42.

Als, Hilton. “By the Skin of Our Teeth: Young Jean Lee's Irreverent Take on Racial Politics.” The New Yorker. 26 Jan. 2009. (accessed, 29 May 2020),

---. “Real Gone Girl.” The New Yorker. 3 Nov. 2014. (accessed 28 May 2020),

Blauner, Robert. “Internal Colonialism and Ghetto Revolt.” Racial Oppression in America. New York: Harper & Rose, 1972, pp. 82-110.

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006.

Brillson, Leila. “Young Jean Lee's Theater of the Absurd.” Interview 13 Apr. 2009. (accessed, 28 May 2020), http://www.interviewmagazine. com/culture/young-jean-lee

Carroll, Joseph. “Most Americans Approve of Interracial Marriages.” 16 Aug. 2007. (accessed, 13 Feb. 2020),

“Celebrities: Can Young Comedians Be Funny Without Using Profanity?” Jet. 5 Sept. 1994: 32-35.

Cervantes, Bobby. “Poll: Obama won 71% of Asian vote.” 12 Dec. 2012. (accessed, 8 June 2020),

Charnas, Dan. The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop. New York: New American Library, 2010.

Chavez, John R. “Aliens in Their Native Lands: The Persistence of Internal Colonial Theory.” Journal of World History 22.4 (2011): 785-809.

Chin, Elizabeth. “Commodity Racism.” The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies. Ed. Daniel Thomas Cook and J. Michael Ryan. John Wiley & Sons, 2015, pp. 99-101.

Cho, Jenna. “Asian Americans Take A Stand: Black Lives Matter To Us, Too.” 10 July 2016. (accessed, 30 May 2020), sites/jeenacho/2016/07/10/asian-americans-take-a-stand-black-lives-matter-to-us-too/#182b68fa55f9

Chou, Rosalind S. and Joe R. Feagin. Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism. New York: Rutledge, 2015.

Chow, Kat. “‘Model Minority’ Myth Again Used As A Racial Wedge Between Asians and Blacks.” 19 April 2017. (accessed 5 June 2020),

Clark, Alexis. “How the History of Blackface is Rooted in Racism.” 15 Feb. 2019. (accessed, 30 May 2020),

Colby, Tanner Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America. New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. New York: New York UP, 2012.

Del Signore, John. “Young Jean Lee, Playwright.” Gothamist. 22 Jan. 2009. (accessed, 29 May 2020),

DuBois, Joshua. “We Need To Talk About White Culture.” The Daily Beast. 19 June. 2015. (accessed, 9 June 2020),

Dudziak, Mary. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy. Princeton, N.J: Princeton UP, 2000.

Dukes, Kristin Nicole and Sarah E Gaither. “Black Racial Stereotypes and Victim Blaming: Implications for Media coverage and Criminal Proceedings in Cases of Police Violence against Racial and Ethnic Minorities.” Journal of Social Issues 73. 4 (2017): 789-807.

Ebrahimji, Alisha and Alicia Lee. “Meet the Asian Americans helping to uproot racism in their communities.” CNN. 13 June 2020. (accessed 1 July 2020),

Eligon, John. “The ‘Some of My Best Friends Are Black’ Defense.” New York Times. 16 Feb. 2019. (accessed, 21 June 2020),

Evan, Nicholas M. Writing Jazz: Race, Nationalism, and Modern culture in the 1920s. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 2000.

Ford, Thomas E. “Effects of Stereotypical Television Portrayals of African-Americans on Person Perception.” Social Psychology Quarterly 60. 3 (1997): 266-75.

Gallagher, Charles A. “Color-Blind Privilege: The Social and Political Functions of Erasing the Color Line in Post Race America.” Race, Gender & Class 10.4 (2003): 22-37.

Gatlin, Mark. “The Theater of Young Jean Lee: An Experiment in Perturbation.” Barley South Review. Jan 2012, (accessed, 30 May 2020),

Grossberg, Michael. “For Playwright, Racism more than Black-White Issue.” Columbus Dispatch. 30 Oct. 2008. (accessed, 28 May 2020),

Hatch, Ryan Anthony. “First as Minstrelsy, Then as Farce: On the Spectacle of Race in the Theater of Young Jean Lee.” CR: The New Centennial Review 13. 3 (2013): 89-114.

Healy, Patrick. “An Evening in Black and White From a Playwright Who is Neither.” The New York Times. 28 Jan. 2009. (accessed, 29 May 2020),

“History: Index of Questions.” United States Census Bureau. (accessed, 25 May 2020),

Hurley, Lawrence. “In landmark ruling, supreme Court bars discrimination against LGBT workers.” Reuters. 15 June 2020. (accessed 30 June 2020),

Isherwood, Charles. “Off-Center Refractions of African-American Worlds.” The New York Times. 13 Jan. 2009. (accessed, 4 June 2020), 2009/01/13/theater/reviews/13ship.html

Lee, Esther Kim. A History of Asian American Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006.

Lee, Young Jean. The Shipment and Lear. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2010.

Li, Guofang and Lihshing Wang. Model Minority Myth Revisited: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Demystifying Asian American Educational Experiences. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc., 2008.

“Living Contraband - Former Slaves in the Nation's Capital During the Civil War.” National Park Service. 15 Aug. 2017. (accessed, 22 May 2020),

Matin, Michel. “The Pulitzer-Winning Play 'Fairview' Is About Being Watched While Black.” 14 July, 2019. (accessed, 22 May 2020), 2019/07/14/739057321/the-pulitzer-winning-play-fairview-is-about-being-watched-while-black

McClintock, Anne. “Soft-Soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising.” The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader. Ed. Jennifer R. Scanlon. New York UP, 2000, pp. 129-52.

“Meet the Press Transcript-June 21, 2015.” NBC News. 21 June 2015.(accessed, 9 June 2020),

“Morning Joe: ‘Notes From the Field,’ a film on inequality, set to be rebroadcast.” MSNBC. 2 June 2020. (accessed, 6 June 2020), morning-joe/watch/-notes-from-the-field-a-film-on-inequality-set-to-be-rebroadcast-84231749682.

Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Paik, Irvin. “The East West Players: The First Ten Years are the Hardest.” Bridge: An Asian American Perspective 5.2 (1977): 14-17.

Park, Kyeyoung. “Use and Abuse of Race and Culture: Black-Korean Tension in America.” American Anthropologist 98. 3 (1996): 492-99.

Perea, Juan. “The Black-White Binary Paradigm of Race.” Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge. Ed. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. Temple UP, 2000, pp. 457-65.

“Performing Arts: Young Jean Lee’s Production Company.” Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University. (accessed, 22 May 2020),

Perse, Elizabeth M. and Jennifer L. Lambe. Media Effect and Society, New York: Routledge, 2017.

Pitner, Barrett Holmes. “Behind the legacy of America's blackface.” 5 Feb. 2019. (accessed, 9 June 2020),

Powell,Shameka. “Relying on Local Contexts to Foster and Thwart Black Student Academic Success: an Ethnographic Account of Teachers Fostering Academic Success for (Some) Black Students.” New Directions in Educational Ethnography: Shifts, Problems, and Reconstruction. Ed. Rodney Hopson, William Rodick, and Akashi Kaul. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2017.

Punyanunt-Carter, Narissra M. “The Perceived Realism of African American Portrayals on Television.” The Howard Journal of Communications 19 (2008): 241-57.

Rigoglioso, Marguerite. “Unconscious Racial Stereotypes Can Be Reversible.” Insights by Stanford Business. 1 Jan. 2008. (accessed, 2 June 2020),

Rogin, Michael. Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot. U of California P, 1998.

Shapiro, Ari. “With ‘Slave Play,’ A Young Playwright Provokes His Way To Broadway.” 20 Sept., 2019. (accessed, 4 June 2020),

Shaw, Helen. “Black Like Them: Nervy Playwright Young Jean Lee Treads the Color Line.” Time Out New York. 8 Jan. 2009. (accessed, 29 May 2020),

Shaw, Shaka. “The Difference Between Rap & Hip-Hop.” 19 Sept. 2013. (accessed, 29 May 2020),

Sehgal, Parul. “Young Jean Lee’s Unsafe Spaces.” 18 July 2018. (accessed, 8 Sept. 2021),

Silva, Catherine. “Racial Restrictive Covenants History: Enforcing Neighborhood Segregation in Seattle.” The Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project. U of Washington, 2008. (accessed, 29 May 2020), civilr/covenants_report.htm

Soloski, Alexis. “Playwright Young Jean Lee: 'I don't want to have to think about race’: Lee's latest work, The Shipment, continues the New Yorker's exploration of race, identity and politics ─ topics she must face to make herself uncomfortable.” Guardian News. 4 June 2014. (accessed, 4 June 2020),

Stoute, Steve. The Tanning of America: How Hip-hop Created a Cuture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy. New York: Gotham Books, 2011, pp. xv-xxx.

Tatar, Maria. “Introduction: Recovering a Cultural Tradition.” The annotated African American Folktales. Ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar. NY: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2018, pp. liii-xcii.

Treviño, A. Javier. Investigating Social Problems. Sage Publications, Inc., 2015.

Walls, Bryan. “Freedom Marker: Courage and Creativity.” 2 Apr. 2018. (accessed, 3 June 2020), underground-railroad/stories-freedom/henry-box-brown/

Williams, Monnica T. “Colorblind Ideology Is a Form of Racism A colorblind approach allows us to deny uncomfortable cultural differences.” Psychology Today. 27 Dec. 2011. (accessed, 29 May 2020),

Wright, Richard. “Blueprint for Negro Writing (1937).” Within the Circle:An Anthology of African American Literary Criticism from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present. Ed. Angelyn Mitchell. Duke UP, 1994, pp. 97-106.

“Young Jean Lee.” Foundation for Contemporary Arts. 20 Oct. 2016. (accessed, 29 May 2020),

How to Cite
Hwang, S. (2021). Confronting Colorblind Commodity Racism: Young Jean Lee’s The Shipment. American Studies in Scandinavia, 53(2), 43-68.