Brian Copeland's "Not A Genuine Black Man" Returns A.B. (After Barack)


Long before the electorate questioned Barack Obama’s blackness, Brian Copeland was being harassed for his own dubious blackness. Copeland’s story “Not A Genuine Black Man”, became the longest running solo show in San Francisco history Running for two and a half years (!) it returned home to the Marsh this past weekend.

The book of the monologue of the life of Brian is now available in paperback and it was just selected as the 2009 pick for Silicon Valley Reads Copeland will kick off this event on  Jan. 13 with an onstage interview.

Back in 2004 Copeland, a  KGO radio personality, headed the advice of his entertainment industry hero, Carl Reiner, who told him to "find the piece of ground that you and you alone stand on and write from there."

When he received a nasty hate letter accusing him of not being a genuine black man,  Copeland discovered his fertile ground. He created, “Not A Genuine Black Man” a solo show about growing up Black in San Leandro a town that had the distinction, in 1971, of being deemed one of the most racist suburbs in America.

The story of his childhood in the 99.4% white San Leandro and his adulthood as a man accused of not being black enough hit a resounding cord in the Bay Area and beyond. What was scheduled to be a 6-week run at The Marsh turned into a four year and counting multi-city tour, a book and a Hollywood development deal.

Back when the show premiered, Copeland’s persona and status as not an authentic black because of his  success and also his avuncular kindness (humor is so often hostile) reminded me of Bill Cosby. In a speech to the NAACP, Cosby, famously and controversy, called some blacks  “knuckleheads” for contributing to their own failure.

Copeland too refutes the notion that “keeping it real” means being the worst possible stereotype. “I'm sorry that I don't deal drugs. I'm sorry that all of my kids were born into wedlock and I support them,” he fulminates on stage -- but just momentarily. This deeply affecting “nice guy loses it” moment was sparked by Copeland’s reaction to an article he read. It reported the 100 + drug-related murders of black men in Oakland that year. And it occurred to Copeland; “I bet you not one of them had ever been told he’s not really black.”

Now with Barack Obama moving into the White House in less than 44 days, this type of nonsense might soon cease. Still, its unlikely we are now in a post-racial society and Obama’s urging  for a national conversation on race continues to keep the dialogue alive.

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