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Exploring the Spectrum from White to Black

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 21, 2011 4:00PM

The release of Incognito: An American Odyssey of Race and Self-Discovery is today
Adopted or not, close to our parents or no, there are things about our own DNA that most of us know from birth. Our gender, for example, or our hair, eye or skin color is pretty obvious, and we begin developing our identity from a young age based on these things. But what if at the age of 34, you discovered you had a piece of your identity all wrong? What if, for example, you discovered you were black instead of white? This strange-but-true story is Michael Fosberg's. He never knew his father and was raised in an all-white suburb with his white mother and stepfather. With very light skin and an all-white family, Fosberg had no reason to believe that he was anything but white. It wasn't until he tracked down his biological father that he discovered his black heritage.

"Growing up and not knowing this other side of my family and not really comprehending that or being totally conscious of that… making this discovery was huge in coming to understand myself as a person, that I had a rich history," Fosberg said. "All these things helped me become the person that I am today." Simply put, Fosberg had long considered himself a white guy. And to learn that wasn't the case was pretty jarring. He began to think a lot about how being white or black contributes to people's perceptions of who they are.

As Fosberg began to piece together what his identity and heritage meant to him, the writer and actor also put together a one-man show about the experience. He first casually performed the rough version of his autobiographical play, Incognito, for a group of friends and acquaintances at his sister's apartment. They enjoyed it so much that they convinced him to bring it to a larger audience. And now, he has taken the play and adapted it into a memoir. Incognito: An American Odyssey of Race and Self-Discovery, which is being released the 22nd, can be purchased on Amazon or through Fosberg's website.

Be it through the one-man show or through his memoir, Fosberg hopes to heighten the national dialogue about the issue of identity. He always follows his show with an audience discussion, which has shown him how sensitive of an issue this can be for many people, especially mixed audiences. White and black audiences have difference experiences to bring to his story.

"The dialogue about race takes a bit of time when we're in mixed company," he said. "We approach the dialogue from a place of caution. We want to make sure we don't say anything that sounds racist, even accidentally. Obviously you can't have true serious open dialogue if you are coming from a place of caution. And black people are willing to pounce on anything that sounds remotely racist." Fosberg has developed some tactics to get the conversation moving, and he ultimately is not trying to tell people how to think or feel about race one way or the other; he is asking them to share their experiences.

Michael Fosberg's Release Party for Incognito: An American Odyssey of Race & Self-Discovery, Feb. 21, Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., 7 p.m.