You want to see the musical, Hamilton, but can’t afford see it in person (you’re not Dick Cheney or Stephen Breyer or Hillary Clinton or Jake Gyllenhaal or any of those well-connected people who got Broadway tickets). So you buy the soundtrack and listen to it, smiling and tearing up, moved and wondered by the profound sound of our forefathers’ musicality on the Great White Way.
But, there is a but. Maybe because you’re not seeing it in person, maybe because you can’t see those black and brown actors finally occupying the entire stage without the usual stereotypes. There’s another soundtrack that runs parallel to the one you hear, a silent presence. Absent histories that haunt the edges of this musical, that peer over your shoulder, that buzz around your ears. Ghosts that feel that they ought to have a little spotlight, just one shining moment on the stage, maybe, pretty please, c’mon, who else, how else, will it happen?
Okay, okay, here you go specters of history (and please don’t fight over the numeration, because you can’t make a list without some kind of order):
Ghost #1: St. Croix
You were super-popular, the crown jewel colony of Denmark, swimming in money ‘cause of your sugar and rum, and not a Caribbean backwater, okay? Well, eventually the money stopped flowing once, ahem, the slave trade ended. And that was way after Hamilton immigrated to the U.S., in fact, while he was growing up, his mom owned and rented out her slaves to make moola. Cha.
Ghost #2: Puerto Rico
With all that money owing, your vulture creditors will make sure your minimum wage sinks back into the ocean. If only you were a nation or a full-fledged state of the US, then you could manage your own deficit or declare bankruptcy. Instead, you get a financial control board hand-picked by POTUS and the US Congress. Viva la democracia! No, seriously, that sucks. Oh, and who invented that whole national debt thing? Mmmhmm. Señor Hamilton.
Ghost #3: Manhattan
The Other one, where the enslaved and free Africans are working, living, and dying. Oh, that’s right, it’s actually still the same island. Talking about you NYC, the US capital of slavery, with slaves working in more than 40% of your homes while Hamilton walks the streets. Serving tea, sweeping the floor, cooking the food, raising someone else’s children, cutting hair, making the furniture, dumping your shit in the river (literally), constructing the roads and the docks and the buildings. And they’re still there, buried beneath Wall Street, the profit of bones and blood, and the settlements of free people are the foundation beneath the Village, Chinatown, Lincoln Center, and the Museum of Natural History. But that Manhattan is nowhere to be found in this musical, except perhaps in the memory of those bodies on stage, cast to instead embody the white patricians of the American Revolution.
That wasn’t good enough, the ghosts say. Bueno, you apologize and explain that you bear no mark of genius nor are you very good at multitasking, unfortunately. Truth is, you don’t wanna be a hater. You should and are happy that hip-hop is on Broadway, that a writer of color is getting accolades, that creativity is rewarded, all of that counts for something, yah? Who feels like tearing down the fortunate few who make it through? Not me. Not you. But what about those islands of Others, those silenced voices? There’s so many, too many of you.
Image Credits: John P. Soule