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By Kathy Y. Wilson · November 7th, 2002 · Your Negro Tour Guide

Black girls dissimilar to black girls like Taylore Mahogany Scott suck their teeth and roll their eyes at her. Though dreadlocked and in search of blackness everywhere, Scott's diction, elocution and experiences give her the kind of so-fresh and so-clean sheen that caged-bird Negroes label as "white."

But it's an easy out in a game we've invented. It's called Blacker Than Thou, and it's got gimmicks.

The rules? If you ain't splittin' verbs, spittin' conspiracy theories and keepin' on your block and to your own, then you ackin' white. Great Scott!

Taylore Mahogany Scott is a 25-year-old actress and two-time debutante born to educated parents on a farm in Calvert, Tex. She has a bachelor's degree in veterinary medicine. She's a grandmother -- her cow just had a baby. She listens to Classical and Country music.

She's one of those people tripping into opportunity not from luck but from options. She landed a full scholarship to Florida Atlantic University through the United Professional Theater Association after she auditioned, on a lark, for an acting scholarship in New York. She's finishing a master's degree in fine arts.

Scott writes poems, injecting them with song in a sing-songy/Jill Scott manner that's mature and sexy.

Her face has its own sun inside it. It's a light she needs.

The search for racial identity winds a dark road. And if it puts haters at ease, Scott's been ostracized, misjudged and assumed.

In junior high school, white girls paid other white girls $15 not to sit with "that nigger." She didn't date until a college sophomore, sidelined as she was by the "white girl" status bestowed on her by narrow and frightened black boys.

White boys objectified and sexualized her, sick with Jungle Fever, wanting only to rub the genie of her brown skin.

A visiting member of Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival (CSF) and a member of its Young Company, Scott works and wears out the kinks of identity as the soloist to a Sybil-like cast of eight characters and twice as many voices in the regional premiere of Dael Orlandersmith's The Gimmick, playing now through Tuesday.

The play, especially in its second act -- rife with reckoning and phrases repeated in duplicate and sometimes triplicate, and sometimes triplicate and sometimes triplicate -- is a one-woman Jazz riff. It's like Lester Young, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane are leaning on words 'stead of notes.

The Gimmick is a scat on the solitude of black reinvention. It's a big, fat, black, flat foot on the path to the "I ain't havin' it" of fuckin', shootin', drinkin', judging and dying unfulfilled hate-filled lives. Its language is the obsessive/compulsive way real people speak.

"There was many a time I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown because I couldn't get the words in my head," Scott says.

And with her perfect/actorly/professionally trained/parent-corrected speech pattern, Scott, in casual conversation, surely can't fit comfortably into the play's one-size-misfits-all blackness.

She can do our definition of black. Remember Blacker Than Thou is a game, and gimmicks are the chips -- the chips on our shoulders.

Besides, she's a pin-the-role-on-the-actor actor a la Alfre Woodard or Regina Taylor. Still, anxieties acid-refluxed.

"My biggest fear as a black woman was that I wasn't gonna get it right," Scott says. "This starts in 1968. I was born in 1977. She's a woman from Harlem. I was born in the country. She knew how to carry herself as a black woman, and it took me a while to do that 'cause I was raised around a bunch of white people."

Scott met CSF representatives at the Southeastern Theater Conference in May. She got the grist and gist of our race and class strife.

"Once I got here, I fell in love with Over-the-Rhine and the community that's there and being around more black people," she says. "I didn't find myself because I already knew who I was. I defined myself."

The natural rhythm propelling the interaction between inner-city blacks drew her in. She was validated.

" 'Man! I couldn't find any weed last night!'," she says, mocking two brothas yelling to one another across Main Street. " 'Aw! You need to call Pookie on 13th! He got it!' "

It's strange watching a black woman marveling at stereotypically black behavior. But until now, there have been few blacks for Scott to emulate and even mimic.

"I had to convince myself that I was OK as a black woman even though I was raised differently," she says.

So Scott's got her own landmines and gimmicks she's sidestepping, including roles she won't land (the status role of the ingenue) and roles she won't get stuck in (the subliminal mammy and the black-ass ho').

So roll your eyes and stomp your feet. But this black girl you sho' can't beat.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.


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