Monthly Archives: November 2014

I Wish Race wasn’t An Issue…but I Didn’t Make it One

“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America. When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive. And we don’t want them to say, Look how far we’ve come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable. It’s true. I speak from experience.”

-Chimimanda Adichie “Americanah”

Sooo…my last serious relationship before I met the man who is now my husband was with a White guy who worked on the same campus as I did at the time. Until I read this passage in “Americanah” I told myself that the reasons we broke up, both times, had nothing to do with race But when I read this, it was like someone was speaking my internal experience back at me and I realized that I was holding all these feelings inside. I was reading one of my 2002-2003 journals over the Thanksgiving weekend and it turns out that while I never talked about these issues with anyone during the time I was in a relationship with, I’ll call him, “Average White guy” I wrote very clearly about my discomfort with his place in my life.

He hated his family and didn’t ever want to have kids, but other than that, was perfectly lovely, nurturing, kind, generous and sweet. The family hatred and not wanting to have kids turned out to be huge for me. I never even realized how much I wanted kids until he made this statement. Neither did I realize how much I loved the whole idea of family, as much as an introvert as I am. Those things I was always willing to admit and discuss out loud. But race?

This was not my first interracial relationship. It was just the first serious one in which I was not seeing anyone else and at an age where I was no longer willing to deal with anything short of serious commitment. This wasn’t just dating or exploration. I also wrote a lot during our time together about needing to be with someone with a spiritual core, because apparently he did not have one and i am not suggesting that this was because he was White. It was just one of many things about him I could not tolerate. He never said he was an atheist or anything but some things a person doesn’t have to say.

At some point though, in 2002 (I didn’t date it) I actually wrote, “I hate that I can’t sleep with my boyfriend while my hair is natural without feeling painfully self conscious about it.”

This is why I love that I was such a hard-core journaler (journaler should just be a word) since 1989. Because I would never have recalled thinking or writing this otherwise! I think I wanted so badly to believe that I was above or beyond race as an issue in my relationship with AWG that I just buried any idea that it had anything to do with my breaking up with him. I always told people, friends, peers, that it was other stuff. I think I was ashamed to admit that yes, when it came to thinking about a long-term commitment, even with the very first white guy, my whole “we are the world” “can’t we all just get along?” “I am human first” front came crashing down.

7-30-2002

I don’t want to get lazy and get used to this. To settle for something which essentially was not what I was shooting for if I had been shooting for anything. Things he doesn’t want, doesn’t believe in, I have no problem with but I have to find someone who does. I won’t try to change him. I adore him! But even the racial consciousness is a problem and kicks in sporadically for me as a problem where it never does for him. Pisses me off.

And there it is. I didn’t want race to be an issue because I wished that it wasn’t. So I wrote about it but I never raised the issue with AWG.

OH!!!

This memory just in! LOL!

He said he hated his parents because they were racist. AHHHHHHH!!!!

Yeah, I guess he must have slipped that one in after almost a month? At least that’s what I’d like to believe. I’m not saying that either of us were at fault. As Adichie mentions above, when we were together alone anywhere, it was like being in a different world, that same world of isolated and precious intimacy you would experience with any human being you love. But in the street, in social situations, at my family’s home! Oh God! I couldn’t deal. And we never talked about it. I never talked to him about how I really felt because I didn’t want it to exist.

It has taken me years to really see myself, not as I have always wanted to, but the way in which America sees me, and it’s hard because it is so unrelentingly ugly. And while I understand that what they say is not who I really am, I have to struggle not to unconsciously project the same negative qualities and stereotypes on my own Black and Brown brothers and sisters as a way of distinguishing my self. As aware as I always struggle to be, I still struggle not to fall into a place where I think, race doesn’t matter here, I can relax. I can care for a White person and not ever have to deal with the Race elephant in the room trampling over all we may have built together. The truth is that I don’t want it to matter. No person of color does. But I don’t have that luxury. I never have. And any African American in a committed relationship with a White person in America who tells you different is just not at place where they feel like they can discuss it.

 

 

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Native

“To understand the magnitude of the genocide, it is instructive to lay out the pre-colonial sophistication of indigenous societies in the Americas. Not only were their agricultural systems highly developed to coexist with natural systems, they even invented methods of mass food storage, and charted trails within and between territories, many of which form the basis of the modern freeway system. Additionally, American Indians “were very healthy [and] lived long lives,” said Dunbar-Ortiz, “partly supported by excellent hygiene, which the Europeans always noted with some suspicion.” Many American Indian forms of self-government were matrilineal, which, explained Dunbar-Ortiz, was not simply “the opposite of patriarchy”; rather, it was a democratic form of government. In fact, “women were in charge of the food supply and the distribution of food.” There was also a rich and vibrant system of trade. These facts about pre-colonial Native American history “[don’t] make it out of the technical and archaeological journals,” she lamented.”

-Sonali Kolhatkar

I’m was still in bed when I read this article on my phone a few days ago. My husband and I had already received two early morning “Happy Thanksgiving” texts. Instead of going on a rant of resistance on my phone, I just texted the same in return to someone I know full well knows better than to think I take the ideas behind Thanksgiving seriously. But I get it. We just wanna wish each other and our families well and there’s no harm in that.

I was home schooled up until about seventh grade. Yes, I’m one of those children whose mothers took it upon themselves to educate my brother and I through correspondence course. And I remember reading for the first time about the great Thanksgiving feast that the Pilgrims made to thank the Native Americans for basically teaching them everything they needed to know to survive life in a “harsh” and foreign new land. On the next page they killed all the Native Americans they could. I literally remember looking back at the Thanksgiving Page and then at the massacre page. That just happened? I even remember sharing it with my parents and pointing out the obvious problems and they were like yeah, that’s what happened.

mmmkay…

Do  they still teach that history in schools now? WAIT! Don’t answer that question. I’m still in bed. Haven’t eaten my fourth round of leftovers yet.

But when I read the passage above in the two page article, I sort of sat back and ruminated a bit on these facts. Whenever I try to imagine a time on our planet when any Native peoples existed whose agricultural systems did not spoil and deplete the earth and had matrilineal forms of self-government, i just have to take a moment. Because to me it just sounds like a completely different world than what early American settlers had in mind and what was ultimately forged through murder, rape, slavery, genocide, brainwashing and historical whitewashing. How can I be proud of that? How can anyone?

You wanna talk about systems that work? How about a system where what is needed from the land to survive does not irreparably destroy that land? Who would fuck that up?

Sigh…nevermind.

Hope you and your family had a good one.

 

What’s News?

TrayvonMartinHooded
He saw it coming

It was only last year on a hot July night in Brooklyn that Life as I Know It and I were sitting in front of the Brooklyn Museum after a long steady stroll from her place where had convened for a Soul Sista Circle. We were talking the whole way, maybe about something totally unrelated to the Trayvon Martin case. But the verdict, still to be announced was a like a stone in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps we were both partially avoiding our nervousness with chatter. But it was she who got the message on her cell that night on some social media platform that Trayvon’s murderer, Zimmerman was acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter. We sat in the sadness, the deep heartbreak and anger of disappointment and something else, something worse before we began speaking again. The something worse was the newest in a long line of affirmations from America that BLACK LIVES DON’T MATTER. My heart broke for his family, for his mother, for all Black mothers.

Last night I was again having a long, enlightening phone conversation with Life as I Know It, again pretty unrelated to the verdict that was to be announced at 9:00 about Ferguson, both of us knowing it was coming up but still able to have a much-needed meeting about collaborating and positive building in our lives. Mid conversation she told me that the jury in Ferguson did not indict Officer Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown, and then my husband who was watching the news in our living room came and told me the same. None of us were surprised.

You see the American legal system is not broken. People keep saying things like that. As if it’s been so fair up until now and my God, what has happened? No, I think the American legal system is running smoothly and performing at an optimal level for those it was designed to work for. It is not broken at all. And if it is, then it’s been broken for quite some time.

Black people have never had the luxury nor the delusion to feel safe or protected around “law” officers. I’m a Black woman and I have rarely ever seen a Cop that I didn’t immediately feel I had to protect myself against. Kinda the way some white women feel when there are adult Black men anywhere nearby in public. That’s how I feel about cops. I hold my bags closer and get as far away from them as possible. I am not a fan of their work.

And when I watch the looting, destruction and demonstrating that is happening in the aftermath of this decision, I’m not surprised at that either. Raise your hand please if you made bets that the Ferguson verdict would be a call for dancing in the streets. Please sit down. You are clearly not Black.

This was just another bitter wait for the inevitable again, the broadcast again, what the majority of White America really believes about Black lives again: They don’t matter. And that’s not news anymore.

Rock’s “Top Five”

Top Five Subway

I don’t want to give away any spoilers for Chris Rocks new film, “Top Five.” It’s not due for release until December 11th. But I saw a screening of it last Friday night with a friend of mine and I really liked it.

From the trailer I’d only just recently started to see last week, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’m glad I saw it before reading or even hearing anything else about it because I would never have expected what I saw. I’ve already been let down by “Dear White People” and “Interstellar” so I tried to keep my expectations at an even keel.

“Top Five” is a film I know I have to see again because I was sort of thrown off by what is clearly being promoted as a haha funny comedy, but which has some surprisingly sober and contemplative moments. I was hooked immediately, not just by the story and the performances but also the editing, the score, the pace, the choice of New York City locations. As a native New Yorker, I love good New York movies. I’ve been to absolutely every location in New York that “Top Five” was shot in and some of those places hold very fond memories for me so already, I’m engaged on an emotional level. Even the courtyard of my old High School in Spanish Harlem had a quick split second cameo.

Ever since SNL, I’ve always really liked Chris Rock so I’m always rooting for him even if I don’t always love everything he does. The last movie he did “Good Hair,” which was a documentary, fell short for me. I appreciated the attempt but I think he could have cast his net a little broader with regard to testimonials, research and approach. But he’s Chris Rock and he does things the way he does. His interests and experiences as a man with regard to the issue of “Good Hair” and women of color were slightly different from mine.

Watching “Top Five” though, I can tell that Rock has begun to selectively incorporate into his writing and direction much of what he has learned from other films he has worked on and loved and finally made them his own. It’s clear how determined he is to break out of a one dimensional shell of projections, and depict himself as a man with a deep undying passion for the craft of comedy and the truth that it reveals about life, celebrity, social issues, racial politics, music and more.

He basically plays a character loosely based on his own celebrity and though this may sound like Rock was just turning the camera on himself I think it’s actually very challenging for an actor to elevate a self-referential character study beyond a reality television framework for the sake of sensationalism alone. And he nails it. I think that playing a famous Black comic allowed Rock to bring himself to the character in a way that stripped him of the need to hide behind a performance and reveal complex parts of himself instead. I didn’t feel him acting. I just felt him period. He called on his best resources, his life experiences, his talent and created something memorable, sentimental, raw, hilarious, and even sweet.

Who Run the World?

My commute to work is not very long at all. Twenty minutes, maybe thirty if there are service delays. So this morning while I was immersed in the world of “Americanah” I got a little sad when I looked up and saw that I was already at my stop.

I had been listening to “Run the World” and “Superpower” on my phone while reading Ifemelu’s blog post on “Why Dark-Shinned Black Women–Both American and Non-American–Love Barack Obama.” I was still remembering the amazing time I had last night at Open Expression in Harlem. The feature, a powerful and giving woman, Naa Akua who was accompanied by two others, “Royalty” and “A Lyric” who sang a song about beautiful dark and cinnamon skin and invited us all to join in was still coursing through my memory. The second to last Thursday of every month for over two years now, we have come together to share and create and be inspired by our own worlds.

I remember raging against Beyonce’s audacity with everyone else when “Run the World” came out. I was tired of hearing women referred to as girls. Plus which, I thought it strange to assert something that to me was obviously a lie when we know who really runs the world.

But…ahem

I had never really listened to the song.

I ADMIT IT! OKAY? This was before my full on Beyonce love and appreciation.

But one evening this week I was playing Pandora on my stereo (I don’t listen to the radio anymore) and when “Run the World” came blasting on I stood at full attention. And I was up and dancing and totally elated, a reaction that has become very familiar to me with regard to many Beyonce songs. I don’t even think about it. I’m just up! When it was done, I bought it on iTunes. Heard it, believed in it, needed it on my life.

Needed it in my life!

And I thought to myself while listening to it, aren’t we supposed to act as if in this world if it’s not the way we need it to be?White people create their own realities constantly, without even being aware of it. They play their reality like a perpetual number one hit song, pumping it into the veins of the masses, which is how indoctrination works. It is not the sharing of any truth with the sacred intent of enlightenment and movement but a force feeding of falsities, and fabrications for the purpose of control.

In “Run The World” Beyonce is celebrating achievements made and yet to be made by girls and saying, fuck a day when! We run this now! How else will little Black and Brown babies believe if there isn’t someone out there powerful enough to sing their praises so everyone can hear it the way A Lyric did last night? My mom ran my world. And damned if mothers don’t run our worlds as children period! I mean, what if Beyonce is right? I think she is. I think that perhaps the reason why it’s so hard for us as women to believe it when someone tells us we run shit is because we don’t even understand our own power. We say it’s a man’s world because that’s what patriarchy requires us to do in order to reap empty promises. And we fall in line.

You know that old “Behind every great man…” line right? Everybody does. It’s meant to make women feel revered and recognized about being behind the scenes and never really being seen. “Yes, he was a great man but he would not have been anything without this great woman behind him.”

Well if women are so powerful behind the scenes, what would happen if we stepped out front? Oh that’s right. We would get torn down and ripped to shreds by other women, the women who still behave unconsciously on behalf of white male, patriarchy that is. That little white man dancing invisibly in our heads will never give us what we need. We have to create what we need for ourselves. But first we have to know what that need truly is. Figuring out what we need as women of color in this world is a journey, a work in progress which is changing the world with every passing minute.

Traveling While Black

1410361861-Adventures_of_A_Black_Girl_Traveling_While_Black_tickets

If we are to consider reading as a form of traveling then I have to think about the amount of times I can remember traveling while Black; reading books about the Black experience written by Black people.

When my husband and I travel anywhere,  we always seek out any other Black people who appear and immediately make contact with them.  Because, unless you’re only traveling to places where the native population is Black or of color, you’re usually surrounded predominantly by other traveling White identified people. The same often goes for literature.

I can remember the first work of adult fiction I read was Terry McMillan’s “Disappearing Acts.” I was in high school and felt so proud and smart and sassy carrying that book around and discussing it with all my friends who were reading it too. Never mind the fact that I didn’t relate to many of the character’s experiences. I didn’t care! This was the story of a modern day Black woman written by a Black woman who at the time was breaking ground for new up and coming Black female writers. I had learned so much about the lives of White American girls in Judy Blume novels, Ellen Conford, Francine Pascal, Paula Danziger and more. Notice how long that list of authors was? I could name many more. But with the exception of discovering Janetta Johns that fateful day in the Brooklyn Library R.I.F. club, I didn’t get a chance to travel in the mind and heart of a Black person again until Terry McMillan in the 90s.

Near the beginning of my senior year I discovered a love for the Harlem Renaissance writers. We read “Their Eyes Were Watching God” in on of my high school classes and I was just blown away by it. It was the first book I had ever read that was written completely in dialect. I became obsessed with James Baldwin who let me travel while Black, gay and female! He is fucking beyond. I think it was around this time that I became a more selective reader. I started to discover my favorite authors and understand different writing styles. I wouldn’t walk into a bookstore just looking for whatever caught my eye anymore. I went looking for Baldwin and Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison or collected essays of Black writers like Erotica Noir. I was now traveling while Black, Caribbean and sexy! LOL!

But as in all forms of popular media, there is always a lull in the popularity and mainstream promotion of Black writers and if you’re not vigilant, you won’t always go beyond the best selling table at Barnes & Noble which I can assure you without having stepped foot in one myself for over a week, will be filled with books by predominantly White authors.

Until recently, I myself had not read a book by a Black writer who was not dead since “Unburnable” which Life As I Know It recommended to me over a year ago. I was reading several non-fiction books and waiting like thousands of other eager fans for the next Murakami novel because to travel in a Murakami novel is to go places you cannot prepare yourself for. He is one of the most fearless and dedicated writers I have ever read. Who knows how long I would have floated about lazily in the comfort zone of my favorite authors if Life as I Know it had not also recommended “Americanah” to me? I don’t think I’ve ever traveled while Black like this before.

Ifemelu (A name I love by the way. I sometimes just say it out loud to myself ‘cause I’m American and different names fascinate me) is a woman, describing with Nigerian eyes the experience of being a Black Nigerian in America. Her observations of cultural distinctions, segregation, affectation and assimilation that occur for immigrants in America are personal, global and multi-layered. Nothing about it is purely black and white. She describes with accuracy, sensitivity and intelligence, places and customs and ways of speaking, as well as the subtle transition from national identity to racial identity that comes to define what it means to be Black or of color in America.

“Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care.”

The culture shock that occurs for Ifemelu in America with it’s systems of racialization, bad grammar defined as “English” and a litany of condescension and presumption from Whites, Blacks and Africans alike is reductive, traumatic, homogenizing and inevitable.   Some of her experiences read very familiarly to me because of stories my mother has always told me about coming to America for the first time from Trinidad. There are even experiences she relays that I can understand as someone who has never truly felt I belonged completely and solely to that strange and ever shifting definition of “Black American” in any but the most apparent of ways.

In a Cultural Diversity class I took years ago I learned about transnational migration and the term ethnic enclaves. It was the first time I fully understood that for immigrants coming to America or travelling back and forth from their homeland to America, these spaces (most familiar to me in the boroughs of New York City) were meant to insulate them from the often unwanted shock of watching their family be stripped completely of culture and nationality in order to become this thing called American. On the other hand some immigrants strive to emerge themselves fully and to leave all their cultural affectations  their accent, customs, an entire mindset and mannerism behind in order to get the best access to work and the possibility to create wealth and security for their children and children’s children. Those immigrants who can pass as “White” often benefit greatly from these opportunities. Unfortunately this doesn’t work out so well for immigrants with dark skin because what they inherit when they come to America is a racial classification that informs nothing but racist systems of oppression.

So far the most successful depiction of the shift in identity from nationality to Black Americanism is in Ifemelu’s description of her beloved nephew, Dike who is uprooted from Nigeria as a baby and raised by his mother, Ife’s Aunt,  in America. His only link to his national identity is his mother who among other things reinforces negative associations of Nigerian ways to him by only speaking the native language to him when she is very upset. This is something I believe Adichie mentions deliberately because she is aware of the long terms effects on the children of immigrants when they negatively and or exclusively associate native language with anger and shame.

This is how a non-American person can come to believe without being able to trace the origins of this belief that their own native culture is a thing to be dismissed and erased, to be replaced with one which will never regard them as anything other than marginalized and inferior transplants.

As I read “Americanah” and silently chant and root for ifemelu not to lose her culture completely, it occurs to me that she is perhaps gaining another kind of self along the way, and that because of her determination to be authentic and honest in her reflection, she is becoming something far greater than what can be categorized by either race or nationality and yet could not exist without these identities. Because nothing is perfect for her and her family in modern day Nigeria either. And she is honest and candid about conditions there as well. But to find any kind of home, you must first know from where it is you are coming.This is why Black Americans often suffer from the most unbearable, exhaustive and psychologically dysfunctional sense of displacement. This is also why it cannot be overstated that literacy, where America ranks as 15th in the world, is a massively indispensable tool both of evolution and revolution.

Another Dimension

Cave Paintings
Cave paintings

Reading a “Americanah” on a device in my pocket makes me more and more sure that effective communication has the power to transcend format and that exploration of a multitude of accessible formats with this purpose in mind is worth investing in. Reading “Americanah” over the weekend, I also became aware of the nearly miraculous ability to perceive the interior of someone else’s experiences through literature.

I was not aware of this in such a way when I read voraciously as a girl and a teenager. I was so embedded in the world of books that it was normal for me to constantly be either in life or in books about 65% of the time. I was allowed to spend a lot of time in my imagination so I never really understood how the imagination can sometimes be a luxury until recently. Over time I have come to understand myself not just as a vessel through which dreams, communication. art and expression flow, but as a person in relationship to others in ways that effect change, that provoke thought, that shift, perpetuate, inform and create perception whether I like it or not and in ways I may never be aware of. I think this is why I have always loved reading because for me, it is the way in which I consciously allow my own perceptions and world view to be effected without fear of judgment. Without a fear of judgement there is total attention and only with complete attention can the ability to learn truly exist. When I am genuinely engaged with literature, I feel like I can allow my imagination to co-create my reception and comprehension with complete attentiveness.

To be able to temporarily move from one reality to another by simply reading someone’s words, for me this is a form of dimensional travel. When I’m reading, my mind is open in ways that it is not during day to day interactions, conversations, at work, in commute or even just walking down the street. There is in that openness, the potential for retention in ways that affect my consciousness even at a molecular level and I have always cherished it. When I get to the end of a good book, I feel that I have come out on the other side of an experience that is now somehow an indelible part of me, like when someone introduces you to a musical artist that you come to love. And then years later you can’t even remember the first time you heard the song. All you know if how much you love it, how it makes you feel. Something which at one point in time you had never even known existed is now an intimate part of your life you cannot imagine living without.

When we are engaged with whatever we choose to read, the feeling of connection over time and space, culture, condition, race and gender is like a slowing down of time, a moment where all things fleeting or jumbled fall into place. It is a feeling that stabilizes, re-informs, supports, enlightens and challenges. I don’t believe that the importance of the ability to access the fertility of the mind can be overstated. The tools with which to look critically at that which we consume so often below the line of consciousness is something which great writers like Adichie have a firm grasp on.  More on that in my next entry.

The Real Scandal

JOE-USE4
Joe Morton

I don’t know that I ever understood who Olivia Pope was outside of a fixer/handler/help who wears the “White hat” quivers in the presence of power, aka Fitz and hires people to kill people but is shocked when she realizes her intimate proximity to killers. If Joe Morton, who plays her father had not joined the cast when he did, I doubt I could have continued to watch the show, particularly after they killed off Harrison and gave him that wack ass funeral. If Poppa Pope hadn’t already been around by then, I just don’t see what other reason there would have been for me to stick around. Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy the other story lines. But Olivia’s is meant to be the one we watch for and frankly it’s making me nauseous.

Look. I realize that interracial relationships happen. I’ve been in a few myself. But I look around on television and all I see is white couple TV shows and in Shondaland where Black women are the main characters of two hit shows, for some reason, they can’t be seen with a positively portrayed Black man! WTF?

My good friend at Life as I Know It and I were having our Court Street Car chat last weekend after attending a lecture at the Brooklyn Museum about unpacking the definition of the Diva. We were discussing the reasons why we felt Olivia and Annalise were not only in exclusive relationships with white men but the fact that the little bit of Black men in both shows have been portrayed as either untrustworthy, dead or monstrous. All the powerful white men in Scandal are evil, murderous and selfish but it’s clear that whoever has Olivia’s heart is the hero. And it ain’t her daddy. I can’t get into “How to Get Away with Murder” right now but that story line is starting to go downhill for me as well. She’s doing everything she can for her asshole husband while the only Black man we’ve seen her with is running around in the shadows trying to avenge himself against her.

Let’s  talk about Olivia’s father, Rowan, played expertly by veteran actor, Joe Morton. Every time he starts talking, I’m on the edge of my seat.  I need to know why, when they write for Rowan, the language he uses clearly subverts a truth about race relations that is never fully brought to light in the racial dynamics of the rest of the show.

“Those people are not your people.”

“Don’t you ever leave me for one of them.”

“Twice as good as them to get half of what they have.”

“Those boys..”

I could go on.

HE-GIVES-ME-LIFE

And I know he’s supposed to be an asshole but I need Olivia to give a shit about her family. I need her to put family before these dudes no matter how dysfunctional it is. Why is it that the obvious dysfunction, crime and perversion that is inherent in both Jake and Fitz is seen as the lesser evil for Olivia when compared with her father?  It’s hard for me to believe that she was actually going to sit across from her father at dinner and while “those people” blew his head off. I wasn’t feeling her method of betrayal at all. To pretend she actually believed what her father was telling her to lure him into a trap rather than understand that what he was saying was the God’s truth. Now I don’t know where Shonda is trying to take this, but if it doesn’t pan out or make any sense to me, I can’t continue to watch “Scandal” any longer. I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal to have a Black man and woman in a couple on tv who are loving and supportive of one another, but it’s starting to bug me that this is what stands in for someone’s idea of progress or a “post racial” reality. I mean I could see if we had just experienced decades of positive Black images in relationships and families and influential figures in film and television and THEN Scandal came along. MAYBE.  But that hasn’t happened.

I remember that before it was cancelled, my husband used to watch the show “Happy Endings,” a comedy with an all white cast of couples and friends except for Damon Wayons Jr. whose character was married to a white woman. I peeped just enough of it when he watched to see that the show was funny and well written but I refused to watch it. I am not familiar with this reality. What world is that they were living in? No one outside of that circle ever addressed the situation of Damon’s character being the only Black person in his social circle with any seriousness, I’m assuming because it was a comedy? I couldn’t get past it. I couldn’t accept it, because there was never any equal or opposing representation to compare it with.

What television has done effectively is to say, forget about seeing Black people together and loving one another! Lets just skip to situations where they are represented in the minority again! Let’s get over all this racism stuff! There’s not racism anymore! There’s also not one single new show on prime time television (besides “Black-Ish”) where loving, supportive couples, relationships and or families are played by BLACK PEOPLE!

Erm….but we’re so over race right? We’re all equally represented right?

In addition to myself, I know Black people who are married to, dating and in relationships with other Black people and people of color. But I have NEVER seen this reflected on television in any but the most occasional and exceptional of ways. The Cosby Show was great but can we move on?

My main concern is with the message that audiences of color are being fed. I can’t be bothered with what white people may or may not think and I can’t say that I really care. All I know is, I finally get why a lot of Black men hate both of Shonda’s shows. They can’t see themselves portrayed in them in any but a negative light. They continue to be either made to look like terrible people who are violent and manipulative in ways that do not earn them either status, power or love or they are removed altogether, as if they were never important, never needed and never remembered.

Belafonte: Film History 101

Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences' 2014 Governors Awards - Show

Last night I was watching the acceptance speech Harry Belafonte gave after receiving the Humanitarian Award from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is someone I have admired greatly for years, more for his activism and work with youth, than his acting. I prefer his musical performances to his dramatic ones. But having worked in film at a time before racial integration, the projects he chose to work in were deliberate in their revolutionary positions on race, social justice and class structure. Even he has said that he never wanted to be an actor for any other reason than to have a platform from which to positively affect social change.

My favorite part of his acceptance speech is when he began to reverently and expertly break down the fundamental ways in which films like “Birth of A Nation” and “Tarzan,” while admittedly innovative for the time, helped to invent and stereotype popular ideas about who Black Americans and Black Africans were, to in effect plant the seed of hatred in the minds of Whites and Blacks alike. Even Belafonte was impressed as a young person, watching “Tarzan” for the first time. But he was clear that for people of color, awe and amazement were quickly stamped out by images of themselves that evoked and reflected the base fears of a dominant white culture that were bent on maintaining power over this medium by keeping aesthetic ideals of intelligence, beauty and heroism as white as could be.

That hasn’t changed by the way.

As an avid film lover with a degree in Media and Social Issues and as a woman of color I make it a point not only to study film but to try my best to understand what I am consuming when I watch films. Since the dawn of filmmaking there has only been one story to tell albeit in many different ways. The story is of humanity. We cannot tell any other story but this. Even in nature documentaries about animals, ecosystems, planets, everything that is being studied, or explored, or interpreted is being done through the human mind. We like mirrors. We hate mirrors. But if we do not look, we can never know we exist, how and for what reasons.

The medium of film has been co-opted by the dominate culture for decades but the stories of humanity within them that have been allowed into the mainstream have been broad, compelling, heartbreaking, transcendent, universal and beautiful nonetheless. Like any form of art, you can find the voices you’re looking for even if they are not released by the big studios. But you have to look. And if you can’t find the voice you’re looking for, try using your own or supporting and encouraging those around you which hold promise.

I know without looking at my film collection that it is primarily made up of white casts, and white directors. I can also guess that the majority of these directors are male. This is the world I live in. I can see myself in a story that does not include characters that look like me because as humans, we all share the human experience. But humane portrayal in film is not always shared equally across race and gender. Types stick. Genres and formulas generate buzz and bring in millions. And the deep psychological effects of racism and sexism play out on the big screen and the small in ways we are often depended upon to overlook as consumers.  Being educated about the history of any medium of expression is to understand more about its present day incarnations and the ways in which the actual evolution or change in its depictions are usually more or less the same as they ever were for better or worse.

With regard to film and the role it plays in enlightenment, exploration and inciting movement, it’s not always change that’s necessary, but a realization about why we tell stories the way we do in the first place. Our  voices, stories, faces, our diversity is there.  It has been from the beginning in directors like Oscar Micheaux and performers like Paul Robeson, in films like “Black Orpheus” and “Sugar Cane Alley” The problem is in the monopolization of the dominate eye behind the camera. And you can always tell whose eye it is because the same trail of evidence is left behind in each frame.

Journey into Americanah: My First iBook Read

Americanah

As a life long book nerd, I have also been a book purist for most of my life. I like books. And by that I mean physical books. I like to hold them in my hand. I like to smell the pages, bookmark, highlight, underline, make notes in the margin, stare at the cover design. I believe in holding books. That is until I read 1Q84. Then I realized that e-readers might be on to something. Still I have never read a single book on a digital device, until now.

At any given moment in my life, there are a myriad of jumbled ideas I want to examine, stories, articles I want to read, pictures I want to take, apps to download, recipes to try and games I want to play. iBook has been one of them for some time now. I really admire the fluidity with which my best book nerd friend at Life as I Know It purchases books on her Kindle and speed reads through them in a matter of days, sometimes hours. But like I said I’ve been anti e-reader since they were released. I think she has been the one person to show me how e-readers are actually not evil. And now I think they might actual be one the best uses of technology ever. She has told me that I have to read “Americanah” by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie and usually when she recommends a book it means I need to read it.

I uploaded a sample of “Americanah” on my  iBooks app last week. Perhaps one of the truest testaments of a great writer lies in their ability to transcend the format through which they are communicating. And I have to say that reading Chimimanda’s words on my iphone, I had not one care for the fact that I was not turning pages or holding her actual book in my hands. I was transported to a very familiar world through the eyes of an African woman. And I am enraptured at her brilliant and insightful observations of American, Band immigrant life among many other things. Her attention to detail, her honesty, humor, lyricism and down to earth tone are engaging and eye opening. I’m only in the first chapter still but I can already tell I’m in it until the last page.

This will be the first book by Adichie I’ve ever read but like many of us I became aware of her by way of Beyonce’s “Flawless” track. Since then I have watched and listened to her in talks and Ted X lectures and seen the film based on her book “Half of a Yellow Sun” about the lives of two upper middle class Nigerian sisters during the Biafran war at it’s debut in Lincoln Center this past Spring. I don’t say this about people in the public eye often but whenever I see Adichie, I feel as if she is someone I would love to sit down and talk with or better yet, someone I would willingly approach to engage in conversation. And I rarely feel that way about people which is why its easy for me to recognize when someone makes an impression.

I continued reading “Americanah” at lunch in an Indian place called Baluchis where I’ve only seen Black people working and Drake’s last album played over the stereo. Reading her main character’s observations about the cultural spaces she navigated in America made me more sensitive to my own and what they really mean, how they shape what I think and how I feel, what I believe about who I am and what it means to belong anywhere.

I’m only on the second chapter. LOL!