I’m writing a memoir. It’s called Surviving the White Gaze, and it’s about my experience being adopted into a white family and raised in an all-white town. It is also, and perhaps even more so, about my parents choice to raise a black child in an all-white environment without access to black culture, and the repercussions of that choice. Needless to say, it’s been a rocky process as I work through the writing, and the thing that keeps coming up in sort of mantra form from my mother as I push back about their choice to adopt a black child and raise her in a white world: “We were leading with love.” But leading with love in 1969 is different from leading with love in 2019 — a year when white supremacy, both the term and practice, has become part of our everyday parlance.

Of course, the notion of white supremacy was different in 1969, too. Fifty years ago, people heard the term “white supremacy” and thought first and only of the Ku Klux Klan — of the worst kind of white people who vehemently hated every non-white person or non-white thing that might taint the purity of whiteness. That is one manifestation of white supremacy. Another manifestation is when white people are so accustomed to living in spaces of their own design, walking freely in choices that don’t require thinking about long-term repercussions, that they alter one or more lives forever and still don’t understand how or why love is not enough to absorb the pain that alteration may have caused.

Two recent plays by two very different playwrights in New York City drill down in smart and compelling ways on what love looks like when racism and white supremacy are the backdrop. Daddy by wunderkind Jeremy O. Harris, a Yale graduate student whose Slave Play bowed in January after a wildly successful run, focuses on a young black gay artist, Franklin (Ronald Peet), who becomes involved with an older white art collector named Andre (Alan Cumming). Themes of power and peership, art and appropriation, sex and sanctity are addressed all within the clear framework of whiteness as the default. Franklin and his art and emotional issues, dreams and thought processes wouldn’t be relevant if Andre had not chosen him — a choice girded by white supremacy. Franklin loves Andre, but also, in an almost palpable way, does not trust that Andre will take care of his love. And Andre’s love for Franklin is whatever he wants it to be. A Hermès bag. A solo show at a great gallery. A pool where Franklin’s friends can come hang out.

While Daddy dangles and plays around with Franklin’s insecurities as a gay black man involved with an older white man, White Noise by acclaimed playwright Suzan-Lori Parks goes full throttle with a black man’s insecurity turned borderline insanity opposite his white male counterpart. There are four central characters in White Noise, but the main narrative is thread through Leo (Daveed Diggs), an artist who abruptly caves to his trauma following an incident with the police, and decides that he would like to be owned by his white friend, an academic named Ralph (Thomas Sadoski). Leo’s rationale is not all that far-fetched, if completely delusional — he wants to be under the protection of someone he loves, who has not just some power, but all the power. His mistake, of course, is in underestimating or not fully understanding to begin with, how good and easy power feels when it comes by way of white supremacy. Ralph gets pretty drunk on that power pretty quickly, and I won’t spoil it for readers here, but the play offers another exploration of what we are faced with when we try to lead with love in the context of race and white supremacy.

It’s not that I don’t believe in interracial adoption or interracial relationships (I am married to a white man, although I won’t lie, the combination of writing this memoir and living under a Trump administration has forced some challenging AF moments between us), it’s that even as I tell my parents that their choice to adopt me left me bereft of blackness, black culture and black history throughout my childhood, even as Harris’s Franklin is ostensibly centered in his story, and even as Parks’s Leo seems to have control of his faculties — in the end, we are all still being told how to love and how to receive love from the underlying armature of presumed white supremacy. And so maybe the way to change the narrative is for black writers and creatives to stand within the framework and push out from the inside.

Rebecca Carroll is a cultural critic and Editor of Special Projects at WNYC, where she develops, produces and hosts a broad array of multi-platform content, including podcasts, live events and on-air broadcasts. Rebecca is also the author of several interview-based books about race and blackness in America, including the award-winning Sugar in the Raw, and her personal essays, cultural commentary and opinion pieces have been published widely. Her memoir, Surviving the White Gaze, is due out from Simon & Schuster in 2020.