Kap’s Got A ‘Dream’ Contract!

Nike set the internet on fire this week, announcing  Colin Kaepernick will be the face of their 30th-anniversary Just Do It campaign by releasing this beautiful ad:

Within moments of Nike’s announcement, the you-better-stand-for-our-flag-you-disrespectful-shit-do-you-like-my-flag-shorts crowd got all fired up–literally.  The air around the nation was scented with the smell of burning Nike’s as Kaepernick detractors took to social media in protest of Kaepernick’s ascension into Nike’s hall of sports gods. This is not what Nike means by “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”.  Ya dirty old socks are not a sacrifice—its a mercy killing. Anyways, later for the haters—

 

But flag waving fans aren’t the only one likely to have a match in their hand.  The NFL just signed an 8-year equipment deal with Nike worth millions, while Nike’s renewal of  Kaepernick’s deal was simmering on the back burner. The NFL can’t be happy to be tucked into bed with Kaepernick and Nike. The US military pays more than 10 million dollars to the NFL for so-called paid patriotism, including the national anthem display in games. The NFL really needs that anthem segment to go right and these protests are messing up their money. It’s not just bad blood between Kap and the NFL: a judge recently greenlighted Kapernicks lawsuit charging the league with collusion to go ahead.  Guess collusion isn’t always fake news.

Stock prices fluttered in the initial hours after the announcement, but by the end of the second day prices had recovered and stocks for Nike were near a one year high.  Unlike other recent boycotts including the boycott of the NFL that resulted in huge losses for the league or the Starbucks boycott that brought the coffee giant to heel in a matter of days, burning already purchased Nike apparel isn’t going to affect Nike’s bottom line. [Sidenote: boycotts work best if you DON’T GIVE YOUR MONEY TO THE COMPANY FIRST, DUMMY!] Also, if you Nike protesters had supported the end of police brutality instead of the end of Kap’s contract, maybe you could’ve had your football AND a decent pair of sneakers.

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This isn’t the first round of boycotts at Nike.  Nike’s labor practices overseas have long made the corporation a target of activists, and rightfully so. A nice ad campaign doesn’t erase oppressive labor practices, though it does sell a lot of iPhones and sneakers.  And yet, the mainstreaming of Kaepernick that Nike achieves with this campaign is not insignificant.   Our culture is awash in celebrities and politicians who proudly parade their lack of morals while their fans like, snap and retweet.  Kaepernick has leveraged his celebrity to address issues of injustice and is deeply involved with his charity of choice Know Your Rights.  He is an inspiration without the corporate endorsement. Now Nike’s campaign is likely to reach millions of people, presenting Kapernicks activism as an aspirational call to action punctuated with the most successful ad slogan in athletics: Just Do It. For better and worse, advertising shapes behavior.  Is an endorsement deal a celebration or a commodification, or maybe both? The complexity and hypocrisy of corporate wokeness are not limited to Kaepernick and is worth some deep thinking.

The company made a bold choice, but a safe choice as well. As a global corporation, Nike already serves a majority-minority market.  People in Asia, the global south and Africa buy sneakers–and outnumber Nike-burning NFL fans by a large margin.

In addition to our own swoon-worthy images of Kaepernick, Nike has also recently released ads celebrating women athletes in Mexico and launched a line of sports hijabs.  Nike has seen the future and it is diverse.

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We can’t deny that corporate social consciousness is hella problematic, nor can we deny that it does move the needle on issues that are ignored in the mainstream narrative. As companies move to cater to the growing share of their audience that is people of color, women, and other traditionally marginalized groups, we are likely to see more ads that package up culture and diversity.  We don’t want our deepest convictions sold back to us by people interested in the bottom line.  But Nike’s new content resonates with a world on fire and deep desire to act.  We need to think more about the lack of separation between what we buy and who we are. We need to act to bridge the separation between who we are and who we can be. Hmmm, now wouldn’t Kaepernick be a good spokesperson for that.

Reality in America is definitely crazy enough, but there’s still room to dream a more just world. Our complex media environment provides opportunities to shift existing narratives, particularly around race and gender.  We have to be careful to have our eyes wide open when we watch–both to see what’s new and to be careful not to let the same injustices get repackaged without us noticing.  This country could use a little crazy dreaming these days; just be sure not to go back to sleep.

 

BlacKkKlansman: White Mask, Black Skin

How is it you don’t feel like you have any skin in the game? The question, asked by undercover police officer Ron Stallworth to his Jewish counterpart Flip Zimmerman as they prepare to infiltrate the KKK, rests at the center of Spike Lee’s masterful film BlacKkKlansman, released Friday on the 1 year anniversary of the Nazi rally and subsequent riots in Charlottesville. The film explores the true story of a black police officer leading an investigation into terrorist activity at the local Ku Klux Klan chapter in Colorado Springs.

Here is a black man who is pretending to be a white man. Here is a Jewish man, who only sees himself as a white man, pretending to be the black man who is pretending to be a white man. Here are a group of white men pretending to be brave and powerful when they are cowards too stupid and blinded by their own beliefs to get it right.  Here is a room full of activists who refuse to pretend to be anything but black and proud. All this is set in a country built on racism pretending to be a multicultural pluralistic democracy. The brilliant interplay of masks and layers in the film reminds us of the complex dance between who we are and how we are seen by others in our racialized society.  Master the dance, and you can navigate our treacherous landscape, but make a misstep and the consequences can be lethal.

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Set in the 70s the film’s commentary on racism is uncomplicated by social media or tech tracking tools and hackers. Free from technology that so often frames our current debates about race, the essential arguments for and against racial justice stand out plainly against the backdrop of the plot. There is no quick escape for racists trolling in the real world. There is no surveillance tape or citizen video. Instead, there is slow action as the cops build a case against the klan.

Lee gives us long scenes with big blocks of dialogue—a speech from Kwame Ture (the Black Panther formerly known as Stokley Carmichael), a speech by David Duke and long sequences that bring us into the reasoning of various characters.  Most powerfully is the recounting of the lynching of Jesse Washington by Harry Belafonte to a rapt black student union. We hear people in their own words,  a broad range of points of view, complex, messy, sometimes conflicting ideas in the same mind. There is time here to reflect, to listen to the thought process behind the sound bites of ideology.

Ron and his gang must think carefully about what white supremacists want, what they fear, what they talk about when no one is listening, in order to make the klan think they are one of them, and we get to listen in on the wire. Even as we hear various points of view the film itself leaves no room for false equivalencies or the bias of both sides having “good people.” The film makes clear to us that racism is untenable both personally and politically.

This is also the second movie this summer along with Boots Riley’s brilliant Sorry To Bother You that hosts “the white voice” as an important device advancing the plot–Sorry’s voice is fantastical while Blackk’s white voice is more functional–the character’s own daily code-switching. Ron Stallworth, played by the gorgeously talented John David Washington, pulls off his brazen plan using a voice described in Boots Riley‘s film Sorry To Bother You as the white voice.

To be black in America requires you to familiarize yourself with white people who make up the vast majority of this country–about 70% currently.  Often positions of consequence–teacher, police officer, banker, politician–are more likely to be occupied by a white person. In order to navigate the world, replete with racists among the population, black people are often hyper-aware of the ways that white culture moves, thinks, and feels; as for any prey, understanding your predator is the key to survival. In Sorry to Bother You the white voice is the key to the Lakeith Stanfield’s character Cassius Green rising through the ranks to telemarketing superstardom. Being able to speak the King’s English opens doors for Ron Stallworth in BlacKkKlansman, but it is his intimate knowledge of how to speak to the soul of the Klan members that gains him access to David Duke.

Both films share the understanding that voice is not just diction but culture, beliefs, and values. Both Stallworth and Green leverage this ideological disguise to move in white cultures with such success, invisible to White people as they reflect back to whites their own cultural image. Here is where diversity behind the camera is so important: unpacking the concept of the white voice and the power it has beyond words is something that can be done best when fueled with the lived experience of a creator that has navigated this voice his whole life. This is a delicate and complex cultural process unfolding often outside the view of mainstream white America. To have this dance dragged out into the light to show the benefits and consequences of strategically navigating whiteness as a black man in this country is a gift to our dialogue about race and an opportunity for moviegoers to understand a way of being that is rarely

Image result for spike lee blackklansmanA view of whiteness through the eyes of black artists and authors is too often excluded from our media, but integral to understanding the many ways of thinking and seeing race in America.  The conversation about race in America often centers around othering people of color. In both films, the exploration of the white voice and the power it wields is an exploration of whiteness itself. In Blackklansman we have an opportunity to explore the ideology of white supremacy while listening and watching through a black lens.

Most explorations of whiteness come from white directors writers and producers.  Their lived experiences, implicit biases and beliefs infuse their work, often with a sympathetic eye. Well known movies about the klan range from the fawning–Birth of a Nation to the cautionary tale–American History X, framing the klan as heroes, antiheroes, or at worst misled youth and exaggerated nazis.  From behind the camera, Spike Lee refuses to give the klan credit for being clever monsters or pure-blooded gentry. In Lee’s film, The klansmen are farcical. They are equal parts keystone cops, 4chan losers, and townies. While watching the movie in a theater of mixed moviegoers, a single white woman guffawed at the klan’s clunky shenanigans, but her laugh echoed in the silence of the theater. The shit is not funny. The film disses klansmen but is sure to remind us the mess these fools create has material consequences like the threats hovering over the black activist throughout the film.

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We know how the story ends: Ron Stallworth, after all, lived to tell the tale and the Klan lost no one but their own members in the incident detailed in the movie. There is no such neat and tidy ending for our own time though, as Lee reminds us in a powerful coda. David Duke survived too, and now claims a friend in the President of the United States. Conversations throughout the movie that highlight different points of view on race are completely familiar, ripped from your social media feed and stuffed into the mouths of the characters. The pending Unite the Right rally coming up in DC Sunday is set to repeat the public display of vitriol from Charlottesville just a year after Heather Heyer was killed by a white nationalist terrorist. Police are still shooting people in the back. We are haunted years after Stallworth’s success by manifestations of racism that too many thought was long gone.

No nation can be great when part of the population is bent on genocide of the rest. The violence of oppression has a wide-ranging impact that touches every life in this country, whether people acknowledge it or not. BlacKkKlansman reminds us there is no simple mathematic formula delineating who is harmed by racism. Stallworth’s partner   Zimmerman, played by Adam driver tells him it is his [Zimmerman’s] business why he doesn’t’ think he has skin in the game and Stallworth reminds him, “No, it’s our business.” Whatever complex factors affect your own experience of race, this is your fight to win or your loss to bear.  There is no being colorblind to the dynamics of oppression. We all have skin in this game.

 

Everyday Mandela

The boat to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, is a rough ride over choppy seas even in good weather, the specter of Table Mountain growing distant as Capetown disappears beneath the screaming of birds that surround the island. As I took the boat over, I wondered how many ways Mandela’s heart broke as he watched home fade away on his way to an unforgiving rock of an island to serve 18 of the 27 years he spent as a political prisoner of South Africa’s apartheid government.

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Mandela had much to lose by opposing injustice: from early political organizing to opposing apartheid and later championing the fight against AIDS in Africa, he risked his own conform, status, and freedom to fight oppression.  He was born a Xhosa (think Wakanda irl) son of Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, a local chief, and counselor to the King of the Themba people.

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He could have stayed in his nice life, a member of the royal household, but Mandela fled position and an arranged marriage in the Grand Palace for a life in Johannesburg that soon led him from the mines into politics. During his fight against apartheid, he spent years in prison, losing part of his sight from breaking rocks day after day in the white-hot glow of a limestone quarry on Robben Island, he suffered attacks against himself and his family, and he was criticized by both left–for being too accommodating– and right–not being accommodating at all–while he served as President of the ANC. All this was part of the sacrifice he made to free South Africa.

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Back on the island loud clouds of seagulls are deafening, wheeling overhead as we are herded onto buses for the tour.  There is a snack shop. Next to it is a giant picture frame where people stop and take pictures.  Person after person lines up to frame themselves, smiling: peace from the prison camp! I have found so many of these stops on my black pain tour challenging–  how do you remember without becoming lost in the pain of the past?  how can you embrace the victory without erasing the cost? I avoid the chatty banter of the large group and look back at the shadow of Capetown out past the screeching gulls.

We ride past a tiny house where Robert Sobukwe, founder of the Pan African Conference was kept alone for years.  He was not allowed to speak to anyone for six years, during which time his vocal chords atrophied and he was no longer able to speak thereafter, even upon his release from Robben Island.  The tiny ill-fitted house is surrounded by plush dog kennels where the island’s guard dogs were kept.  I imagine sitting silently for years amidst a cacophony of dogs and gulls: animals giving voice to all you cannot.

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When we arrive at the cell blocks where political prisoners are kept we are met by a former political prisoner who guides us around.  He has a limp but otherwise seems too young to have participated in History with a capital H.  Except history was not that long ago; I remember watching Mandela released from jail on a color TV, a moment in history teetering between the fall of the Berlin wall and the first Gulf War.  South Africa has only been out of apartheid for 27 years.  The US has not had civil rights for much longer.  Both countries still struggle to actualize the freedom the law was passed to protect. The history is recycled in the present; racism persists.

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Our guide persists, too.  He walks us through the cell blocks sharing stories as he goes–where they ate, where they slept, where they played soccer.  In the cell block where Mandela was housed each cell holds the story of its former occupant: the chess player’s board, books in another, a letter penned in swooping cursive in a third.  These cell blocks, prisons though they are, now ring with the humanity of their inhabitants, standing in stark contrast to the dehumanizing machine that is the design of the American prison system. The guide talks about the community of men formed and forged here, and they way they plotted freedom for their country from their cells.

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Here is the cell where Mandela was imprisoned.  Everyone wants to peer into the place where Mandela sharpened himself to a weapon aimed at toppling apartheid. Everyone wants a picture; one by one each person has their moment to pass by the bars, contemplate the grand arc of history and snap a pic.  Morgan brought us here today.  He’s from Zimbabwe so this is the first time he’s been here.  He asks someone to snap a photo of him in front of this cell swirling with the courage of one of the great heroes of our time.  The person taking the picture fumbles with the phone.  A woman waiting next in line calls out:

Hurry up or we’re going to put you in there.

A (white) woman waiting impatiently in line calls out (with a South African accent) even though she is next, to the (black adult) man, a stranger, scolding him like a child, threatening him with the power she wields in this world, telling him to move out of the way so she can take a picture of the cell of man removed from society, moved out of the way by the apartheid government so they could take their shot at colonizing their own country. If Morgan does not move so she can take a portrait of her bloated self, stuffed next to Mandela’s cell then she will stuff him in the cell–one African in the cell is as good as another. She is so secure, so deaf to her own role in white supremacy that she calls out with no irony.

Hurry up or we (who is we?) are going to put you in there.

The air crackles immediately with multiple protests.  “That’s inappropriate,” Jordyn calls out, her voice commanding, leaving no room for back peddling or push back. A second of silence while we all pose as if for a photograph of future museum goers: “here is an example of racism, sometimes referred to soft racism but still directed at people of African descent, just like segregation, and apartheid, and slavery, and colonialism…”

But the woman does not apologize.  She slides in front of the cell and takes her picture.  I wonder what she will tag the photo–#peacemandela, #robbenislandicare, #antiracistforlife. I wonder if she will leave Morgan out of her story when she tells it. I wonder if she will even remember what she said. The year is 2018. History is present.

Mandela is adored. Today on his 100th birthday the world celebrates (couldn’t we get a Google doodle?). He gave up a life of tradition to fight for equality.  His greatness is legendary, the legend well deserved.  In our own lives, such self-sacrifice seems laudable from afar but impractical for day-to-day living.

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Legend inscribed on the bedroom wall in Mandela’s house

Remember though, it is not just the big actions, the ones that land you inside the cell, that are the only courageous responses to racism, it is also the small actions like Jordyn’s vigilant policing outside the cell in the present moment calling out racism and telling racists to their face to knock it off that are a part of the overall fight. We live in the time where racism persists, a death of a thousand cuts: be the band-aid; be the person that stops the cut; be the person that puts down the blade. On days when we celebrate one of the great heroes of the diaspora and his big actions, commit to making small actions in your own world every day.  Think globally, act locally–like really locally–every day, and as always stay woke.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Love America

A few nights ago my neighborhood filled with a haze of smoke, roads and people obscured by the fog.  Just over the tops of the houses across the street, I could see a thick cloud blazing from a house on fire.  Some people had been shooting off fireworks to celebrate the 4th of July when they set their own house on fire.  Despite the inherent tragedy, it seemed like burning down your own house by lighting off gunpowder and throwing it on your porch seems an apt way to commemorate independence day this year. This is America.

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A poll released by Gallup shows pride in America is a record low–just 47% of Americans overall say they are extremely proud of their country, and that number drops to 32% when you split along party lines to look at Dems only. Half the country loves America like a stalker screaming “I love you!” when they walk into your job with a long gun and the other half are filling out asylum applications for Canada. Just over a decade ago, more than 70% of people were extremely proud to be America.  What could possibly have caused so much hatred and division? Vlad? Don? Any ideas?

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It used to be easy to love America–we are, after all, the land of milk and honey.  Now, though, everyone is lactose intolerant, the bees are dying and our democracy is unraveling at the seams. So desperate are we to revive the myth that everyone wants to be us that we are locking up asylum seekers, claiming there’s a wave of people pushing up from the southern border.  Many people believe this narrative even though net migration has been near its lowest for several years.

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Long-term relationships are hard, and when Bae isn’t treating you right it can be easier to break up than to do the work to make up.  But you can’t dump your country of origin.  Like a marriage or your Mom, you’re going to have to try to make this work. So this 4th of July, let’s revive our flagging love affair with America. And no, this isn’t a trip down nostalgia lane wearing a MAGA hat.  These are tips for staying in the fight when you’d rather throw a firework on the porch of America and let it burn.

Image result for i love america protest signAffirm your commitment

Your anger, sadness, and fear are a result of seeing something you love be destroyed by clown-faced hooligans.  Take a minute to focus on the first half of that. Hold onto the fact that you love this country like a life raft.  Despite all that has been and all that it is now, the promise of what we could be, the natural beauty of where we are, and the vast majority of our people make the US a place worth fighting for.

Image result for iconic protest photosLove is Accountability

Any relationship that is going to last long term is going to take a lot of work.  For too long we have floated along without attending the work needed to ensure the American dream is truly available to all people.  Just like Bey and Jay, once you are aware your boo has gone astray, its time to call it out, and then work it out.  You can be mad about America acting a fool and still love it.  You can love America and refuse to let shit go. The fun time we had ignoring our problems and yelling bling bling are gone. Time to hunker down and do the work.

Image result for charlottesville protester hairspray torchDo Not Accept Violence As Love

For any relationship to last, violence has to be unacceptable. No one thrives in an abusive relationship–certainly not the victim, nor the abuser. For centuries we have had successive waves of violence aimed at nearly every part of the population. This year we have seen 157 mass shootings, many of which are spurred by the dumpster fire of hate our country has become.  Call it what it is–nationalist terrorism–and demand public officials recognize it as such.  Relational, political and systemic violence is rampant, from kids in cages to police brutality, to aggressive deregulation and harmful economic practices.  Show up and speak out every fucking time violence erupts.

Related imageDon’t Lose Yourself

Being in love with someone who doesn’t love you back is a recipe for disaster as any decent love song will tell you. While we collectively try to love this country onto the right side of history, take time out to make sure you nurture and grow yourself.  Sad to say, we are on the downhill slide, and it may take some time before we’re done with this fight.  It is okay to remove yourself, to treat your wounds while the battle rages around you.  We are legion, so self-care is possible and important.  To give love you must first give it to yourself.  Do what you need to do to keep yourself right. Fall back and pant in between crises. Paint and draw and write and plant and laugh just for your own sanity. Spend time loving the people you love. You are not America. You do not have to mirror the chaos. You can take a break from the hate to remind yourself why your life matters.

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Refuse to Let the Sidechick Win

Trump enjoys wild popularity in his party–nearly 90% of Republicans have a favorable rating of the president.  But the party is shrinking.  As Trump does Trump, more “establishment” Republicans flee the party and our polarized system breaks down.  Trump represents neither traditional political base.  Ugly, attitudinal and demanding power he doesn’t have, Trump is the typical side chick.  No matter how loud she gets, you can’t let her take your boo.  If it means you have to slap a bitch in the elevator, so be it.  Despite Trump’s claims, his rabid base is far less than half the electorate. Get your neighbors and friends into the game and remind them who this country belongs to.

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Love is not easy.  I’ve had enough crappy relationships to know sometimes you have to walk away.  These days may have you fantasizing about Canadian bacon, but the American dream is still worth loving.  This 4th of July raise your tofu pup and locally brewed craft beer to toast America.  Drink up some good summertime vibes.  As you watch the fireworks tonight, remember how beautiful the fight for America can be.

 

I’m Just A Threat: Childish Gambino on America

Donald Glover wasn’t content to just reawaken our childhood trauma on Thursday’s episode of Atlanta and then round out his triple threat credentials hosting and as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live.

He had to remind us what kind of threat he really is in his Sunday morning video release of This Is America.  This dark minstrel-show video is more complex than a Kanye West history revision, swinging wildly from Bo Jangles shuck and jive to a roleplay of America’s dark chaos.

The video starts with the sound of light Caribean guitar played by a barefoot man in linen pants–a moment of black joy and happiness.  Childish Gambino jerks to life to the music, contorting to adopt the tune like a demon taking possession of the black body.  The happy tune is short lived as a stalking shirtless Gambino mercs his diasporan brother, menacing “This is America” to the throb of heavy bass.  He adopts the famous pose of dancing Jim Crow when he pulls the trigger: this is the black experience in America, our connection killed, our bodies possessed by the leering dark energy of American supremacy, turned into shucking zombies.  This is probably what it looked like when Kanye lost his mind.

The new Jim Crow two steps with South African school children against a backdrop of increasing chaos.  The stereotypical images of blacks dancing and singing ‘cars, clothes, hos’ are hip hop’s most marketable products.  Against the backdrop of hundreds of years of oppression, rappers that preach the prosperity+bitches gospel reinforce the slavery-era idea that blacks were greedy, lazy bucks, undeserving of freedom or justice.  Simultaneously, they lull listeners into focusing on a little cash instead of economic justice, a little flash instead of freedom These are the kind of images mass media loves to reproduce–and ship worldwide: they support hegemonic thinking about blacks and keep everyone sipping the white supremacy juice.  A twin set of school children dance in the back under the rain of a red money gun. Jim Crow is for the kids

Speaking of the prosperity gospel, a choir preaching “get your money, black man” sings in a room removed from the chaos.  Jim pops through a door to join them in joyful worship–for a moment–before mowing them down with an AR-15. He punctuates his shots again with, “This is America.” The scene calls the Charleston church shooting to mind.  It also reminds us that as black people, buying into capitalism as a way to salvation is a dangerous business: “Don’t catch you slippin.”

Throughout the video, the background is increasingly populated with people running in all directions. black people and white people, cops, people wielding sticks or bats.  The direction of the actions isn’t clear–who is chasing who?  Is this an uprising like Baltimore or a street war like Charlottesville?  Like the news on any given day, it is hard to make sense of the chaotic images broadcast salaciously without context.

Above it all, young men in white masks bear witness, cell phones out.  “This is a celly. That is a tool.” They sit above the chaos watching and recording.  Below the school kids circle Jim Crow while the apocalypse’s horseman rides through on the white horse of death (is everything apocalyptic? [yes.]).  With cars burning and police and people rioting, it is Jim Crow’s hand extended like a gun that sends everyone running, the scene dropping into silence as he nods off high on America’s heroin, violence.

His dance is brought back with a couple quick puffs on a joint.  He perches atop a car doing his best Michael Jackson. Scattered around is a field of cars.  These are not your usual rap-mobiles.  There are no spinning rims or chrome kits.  Instead, the cars call to mind the hundreds of cars we have seen pulled over in police shooting videos.  Sandra Bland’s car, or Samuel Dubose’s–cars that belong to working people just trying to get through the day without being turned into a statistic by the state.  Jim Crow dances among the graveyard of cars, with just his linen legged brother, hooded head and guitar restored and a sister wavering sexily on the hood of a Philando Castile look-a-like car.

Even the black man that dances possessed through a wasteland of black pain, shucking and jiving to the gospel of white supremacy, mowing down his brethren, is not free (take note, Kanye). The video ends with our Jim Crow now terror-stricken, running from the faceless unfocused chaos he was dancing above.  He is no longer funny or silly or swaggy, his face full of raw fear, his body pumping all his energy towards surviving.  Judging by our present state of affairs, he’s not going to make it.

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The video gives us a lot to examine.  Childish Gambino has created this layered stew worthy of reflection and not just reaction–so what do you take away?  Some have written that he is condemning black America for embracing shallowness while massive problems loom in plain sight.  Others have said he is pointing to a cycle of violence and numbness as we try to mumble rap our way past problems we can’t ignore.  I think both of these analyses put too much burden on black America alone to do the heavy lifting of eradicating white supremacy.

To lay white supremacy at the feet of black people who like to have a good time is also to deny black people their humanity.  In the last few years, I have seen activists go so hard that their life energy was depleted like a phone charge.  We plug ourselves into pop culture to get a boost, a little levity to remind us why we fight, a little art to remind us that to be free is to take joy where you can find it. The trick is to plug into pop culture that fills you up to fight another day, and these days black excellence is giving us plenty to sup on.  Childish Gambino’s song and video are another in a long line of important work being created by black artists–Cole, Lamar, Kweli, and Buddy and Caleborate, and Beyonce, and Solange, and, Joyner, and Vic Mensa and on and on.

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Yes, yes, the commodity factory of American media keeps pumping out crap-get-money-fuck-bitches-rap. You don’t have to eat that fast food.  You shouldn’t let the fast food being produced by corporations define what hip hop is or isn’t.  Don’t be fooled: there is always conscious rap happening.  Sometimes it is harder to find than others, but it has always been a part of hip-hop, and more broadly black culture.  In every era, the rebellion leaders and freedom fighters also consumed the pop culture of their day.  In other times as in our own, artists and seers showed us the way through their painting, writing, singing, and dancing. Let’s not let each new track make us declare consciousness is now alive, now dead.  Let’s just sit in the complexity. Let’s acknowledge that our world is not binary.

America is this– forcing all experience into a simple dichotomy of good and bad, violence and justice, joy and chaos.  We have to tease out what the relationship between these elements is–where is the cause?  which is the side effect?  who loses and who loses more? This Is America juxtaposes our country’s many masks so that we can see the complexity of moving through this world.  The video is a Rorschach test, the video sows both shame and sympathy, letting you grow whichever you choose.   It is we who must do the choosing: not just for this video, not in the abstract but at this moment. To get beyond the binge/purge cycle that devours black life, we have to rise above the choice to devolve into the chaos America allows for or to rest in the embrace of the joy and lightness that we need sometimes to survive.  To do both, to be all that humanity can be–this is America.

 

 

Time, Honored: A Wrinkle Gets a Lift

Happy Wrinkle In Time Day!  Fifty-six years after the publication of Ursula Le Guin’s novel of a young heroine traveling through time, the motion picture version is shepherded onto the screen by shaman of black girl magic Ava DuVernay. After weeks swooning over Black Panther, now is not the time to forget how much representation matters.  A Wrinkle In Time is more than just a breakthrough in casting: it challenges the notion of who gets to be a hero and how.

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DuVernay’s adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time will star Storm Reid as Meg, a girl who travels in time to save her scientist father (Chris Pine) with help from three celestial beings played by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kialing and Oprah (who may in fact have just been playing herself).  Like other films of late–Get Out, Hidden Figures and most notably Black Panther–the casting of A Wrinkle in Time brings a fresh face to the tired trope of the rugged Rambo-like hero.

Black women are the fastest growing group of female entrepreneurs.  They are the most educated group in America. They are also mothers to the next generation of black women who will shatter the ceilings still stifling the black excellence we are enjoying today. After the muck of video vixens and tragic mulattos their mothers waded through, our young girls deserve smart capable characters that reflect their courage, intelligence and agency.  A Wrinkle In Time gives girls a expansive vision of potential, encouraging them to dream big and risk bigger without fear.

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A Wrinkle In Time also challenges another convention of the hero tale: violence.  No matter how courageous and conscious our heroes are they always need to open a can of whoop-ass to get their job done.  Every superhero uses his power in violent combat.  While they often throw in a few pithy lines along the way, it is brute force that ultimatly solves every problem.  No wonder we have a hard time not believing that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun. Buried deep in the list of solutions to our gun problem is the need to address our cultural beliefs around violence.  Our hero Meg is unlikely to do Bruce-Lee-level roundhouse kicks to save her dad.  Instead, like people in the real world, her courage will take a different shape. The toolbox that she models for young girls has something other than an arm bar in it–solutions like knowledge, scientific thinking and compassion for others that girls (and the rest of us; looking at you,Trump) could use.  We need more diplomacy, characters that aren’t afraid to do something other than destroy the world, and we need heroes who show us exciting solutions that are not based on killing other people.

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Beyond the pettiness of our broken politics, human knowledge is advancing at a rapid pace.  The ideas in A Wrinkle in Time about multiverses, fractured time, and infinite possibilities are not just science fiction like they mostly were in Le Guin’s own time.  Quantum physics, gravitational waves and tesseracts are shifting from fantasy to provable theory–one step closer to becoming everyday reality. Our country is locked in a battle over simplistic binary ideas–left or right, black or white, Trump or the rest of us.  Only by drawing on all the knowledge humanity has to offer and expanding our thinking into the multiverse of opportunities that exist can we free ourselves from the small minded structures of power created by small minded men to control the masses.  A Wrinkle in Time encourages audiences to expand their minds, and evolve.

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A Wrinkle in Time is a vision of a world beyond the flawed one we have built. This is what science fiction can do best–help us visualize our way beyond the boundaries of our knowledge, support the thinkers and creators in building a map to this new world. Meg is a girl of this moment, brave and empowered, afraid sometimes but unstoppable always. This movie is for the girls who are like Meg. May they see their own power writ large on the screen. This is for the world that needs to see those quiet girls, the ones off thinking, silently saving the world. May we see them, may we be them.

 

 

90 Years Old: Straight, No Filler

The Oscars are rolling out the red carpet tonight, with all the stars celebrating the very best films Hollywood made this year. Amidst all the glittery chandelier earrings and piles of silk gowns are a host of political issues that are giving the films a run for the best drama award.

After years of silence and complicity, Hollywood’s not-so-secret culture of sexual harassment and predatory employment broke wide open with the takedown of Harvey Weinstein and the wave of predators washed out of Hollywood in his wake.  While the initial euphoria of the movement has passed, Hollywood’s heaviest hitters, like Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino, are behind the Times Up organization.  Putting money where it matters, Times Up provides legal representation to victims of sexual assault that need it.  While the black gowns at the golden globes were dramatic, the long-term effect of ongoing prosecution of predators across sectors has the potential to sweep in a new era of accountability.  Now if we can just address the culture that makes the perpetrators, maybe we won’t see any more remakes of the same old Hollywood horror story.

OscarsSoWhite shed light on–der–a Hollywood so white that a director of color had never won in nearly 90 years, until last year’s win for Barry Jenkins for Moonlight.  Now finally 90, Oscar has tipped its golden rod to diversity with the inclusion of directors Jordan Peele for Get Out and Guillermo Del Toro for the Shape of Water.  From red carpet chatbot Michael Strahan to presenters and luminaries, there is a lot more color at the Oscars than there used to be.  Sure rumors persist that older Oscar voters refused to even watch Get Out, never mind vote for it.  Sure the Oscars continue to be mostly white, even amidst growing challenges from amazing artists like Dee Res, Ava DuVernay,  and the aforementioned Jordan Peele. Let’s hope we can change a couple years with increased diversity into an inclusive new normal for Hollywood.

A year ago, the Oscars happened in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration and the chaos that followed.  The tone was somber with lots of people pledging to resist and #nevertrump in their acceptance speeches.  far from being overstated, the in the moment activism reflected the angsty zeitgeist of the year. It felt like Hollywood climbed out of the clouds to throw in for the resistance with the rest of the plebs.  This year, not so much.  Oscar producers are encouraging both attendees and the presenters to tone it down a little.

“I think people are getting burned out and sort of want a little break and a little focus on the movies themselves,” Rebecca Ford of The Hollywood Reporter told Inside Edition. “In general, ratings for this have been going down for television over the years, especially when things get too political, we do see that people tune out.”

While the resistance keeps chugging along, this year’s Oscars will be presented from La La land.  Parkland Florida student activists won’t be in attendance. Host Kimmy Kimmel will keep his comedy less pointed political and more puns and schtick.  This year’s Oscars will give viewers a break from the chaos that has only deepened since last year.  Enjoy tonight, but don’t forget this isn’t normal.

The stories this year’s Oscars are celebrating ask us to believe in love, to recognize those that are different, to honor our communities, stand up to indifference and fight for what’s right.  We need these stories to help us navigate a world that is anything but normal right now. When you are done swooning over the gowns, get ready for reentry from La La Land, but for tonight, pass the popcorn and root for everybody black.