We landed in Washington D.C. yesterday, a gaggle of activist students, their queer polis-sci professor and me, afro flying my flag of blackness above my airplane seat. The airports, the streets are awash with pink pussy hats and red white and blue patriotic chic. The air contains just a hint of pep rally. The grim reality gives off a scent more like that Aztec ballgame where the losers are decapitated.
In just six hours, a few miles from here Donald J Trump and his creep squad cabinet will take over the country that I have lived in and loved my whole life. He has promised to enact policies that will hurt the people I love and care about, including each of the students with us on this trip. The pink hats are so cute (thanks, Aunt Kathie!) but make no mistake this is a fight.
Scene: Interior, day before the inauguration, hotel lobby. Beneath the altar of CNN on the big screen a bunch of liberals from Boston–identifiable by our Boston swag and the girls’ Olivia Pope outfits, and in that corner three women painted in stars and stripes. The hotel staff watch the action like tourists on safari.
Hotel manager: Ha ha, hope there’s not going to be a rumble!
Trumpette: grumbling loud enough for all to hear. I wouldn’t mind seeing that.
Me: Ha, ha…You don’t want to catch these hands.
Trumpette: Let’s be peaceful….(to her cronies.) I hope they remember to be peaceful on Saturday [for the anticipated Women’s March]
Me: (to students) Saturday you’ll get to see the amazing tradition of nonviolent protest that is such an important part of our country.
Would I have rumbled with an older lady in the hotel lobby? In the rarefied air of the inauguration, the hate and division are real and palpable as my anger hurt and fear over this election and the 4 years to come. yesterday evening I replayed the scene in my mind–how easy it was for me and a stranger to escalate to threats lightly veiled in laughter in just seconds. These past few years have required me to swallow more than a little anger and hurt. I had to admit that it is too easy to slide into the playground taunting. But in a quiet moment, I remembered that I’m not about that, no matter how much they spoil for a fight. In the land of the walking dead, its is key to remember that you are not them.
So, old lady, you may not catch these hands, but I am coming for you with the full force of resistance and that really packs a punch. And the fight is just about to start.
In trying to make sense like so many of you today, I looked into this moment for an opportunity–and I found one. Sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia are no longer the monster under the bed or hidden beneath napkins and polite conversation at dinner. These insidious beasts that have stalked our nation are now out in the open. This past year’s contentious election has shown us all who wants to stand with us, and who doesn’t. Maybe this isn’t a moment we can’t imagine. Tonight I saw mass protests of women and men and trans people and whites and blacks and Latino and disabled people and people that love all those people unified together with clear and common purpose. Maybe this is the moment we find our common purpose and rise to meet it.
This moment is not about Donald Trump or 2016 or the Republican Party. No, this moment is a long time coming, the moment when the immovable object of white supremacy comes face to face with the unstoppable force of the demographic shifts that will make American a minority-majority country. This moment isn’t the first battle but could very well the last stand of white supremacy against the truth of the multicultural coutry we already are.
Is: the present tense. Not was, the word of the past. Not will be, a magical future that is always the day after tomorrow and never the now. Is. Present . Right now. If you weren’t an ally before, it doesn’t matter. If you’ve been fighting and you’re tired and you want to give up, that was before. If you think it will be better in two four or eight years, so what? This is now. Focus on the present.
Why is more important that what or how. What justice looks like and how it arrives requires a multitude of views, a flock of answers, a riot of solutions, more ways up the mountain. But the why is steadfast, unchanged and still the goal even extending into the future. To form a more perfect union. That was why in the past and will be why in the future but most importantly is the why now. In a world that makes you feel like you are drowning this why is your life raft.
We feel new feelings. We have never in our lives felt more threatened, or been more ready to fight. We have spent these last years mobilizing activating, networking an connecting. You were the left hand. You were the right foot. Parts of the giant of the electorate have shaken themselves from slumber. We were woke separately by issues specific to important aspects of our identity. We are awake together now. We have been building the will and skill to organize, maybe in preparation for this very moment.
Fight: that is what comes next. Fight is what ancestors who lived and died in slavery did even with no end in sight. Fight is what women did who secured the vote and the right to choice. Fight is what we did when police shot our brothers and sisters in the streets. Fight is what they are doing tonight at Standing Rock.We don’t play, guess, plead or wish. We fight. We fight hard and clean and often and together and separate in big and small ways. We raise our fists and our signs and our voices and our children to fight.
When you want to know how this could be, when you cry tears to make room in you to keep going, when you ask what we should tell the children I offer you my unconditional love, and a mantra. This is why we fight.
image credit: Samuel Mitchell, from the Boston Trump protest march 11.9.16
note: some strong language is contained in this article
In our super saturated ocean of media, there are lots of celebrities floating around. Musicians and entertainers, famous politicians or notorious bad boys, and even a ton of people famous for…well…being famous. Is seems as though everyone is famous for something. You can get famous in just a few hours just by writing a tweet, posting a video, even just being captured in an image.
In a 24-7 media environment, fame seems to be almost as important as money, power, and status. In days gone by children dreamed of growing up to be doctors, lawyers, firefighters or ballerinas. Studied in 2007 by Uhls and Greenfield, the number one thing children wanted to be was famous.
So what is fame? How do you get it and who gets to keep it? And once you have it, is it worth it? In this article, we’re going to look at the price of celebrity, not only for people who rocket their way to stardom but for our whole culture: how does fame change the world you live in?
In just a minute we’re going to look back in history to see how fame is different now than it was before. To start off, though, we’re going to hear from this guy.
This is Andy Warhol an American artist. If you’ve ever seen these paintings of a soup can
or these of Marilyn Monroe,
then you’re familiar with his work. Warhol was really interested in breaking down the line between high art—classical paintings and work important in the world of art—and low art, like soup cans and Hollywood actresses. Warhol was instrumental in the pop culture world. His work and his fascination with popular culture made the mundane seem special, where before only the great works of literature and art were worth studying. To Warhol, though, even the basic items of people’s everyday life were worth examining.
Warhol made art, went to parties, and, through his public activities and an art house nee club called The Factory, Warhol was also interested in making celebrities. He famously discovered British model Twiggy and helped to catapult her to stardom, making one of the first supermodels.
Perhaps Warhol’s most famous quote is this:in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.
Look, he didn’t mean that everybody should be famous, or that this was like a squad goal. He was predicting that as the tools to become famous are more available, more people would use those media tools to achieve fame. Was he right? You better believe it.
As we’ve learned, media messages have an impact on our perception of the world. Remember Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory that states that the more we watch TV the more likely we are to replace our own perception of reality with ideas from media. Media messages tell us what is important, what is worth doing, and who matters. Celebrities are like super-peers, acting as an image that we are to aspire to, so who are celebrities are will impact the norms beliefs and values of that culture.
In the early days of movies and TV, there were only three television channels, and programming only lasted part of the day. That meant that being on TV was a more unique experience than it is now, something affording to a very small number of people. Now, with over 1000 TV channels, billions of YouTube videos and a camera in every pocket, we have a lot more channels than we used to have, and we have to fill up those channels with something. Simply put, the space for fame has changed dramatically, so the number of people in our culture that fill that space is larger than ever. Consider for a moment how fame has changed over time with these pairings of famous celebs from then and now.
So how did fame become so easily available? The process hinted at by Warhol decades ago is something that media theorist Graeme Turner calls the demotic turn. Not demonic—though sometimes fame is a little devilish—demotic, as in everybody gets a turn. Here is Turners definition:
You’ll notice that Turner isn’t talking about how important or amazing individuals are. He’s talking about getting people to fill the space that we have for fame—who is the it girl actress of the day, who’s everybody’s favorite hero or villain, who it the bad boy of the moment: these are all roles in our media culture.
Any person who has the chance to occupy one of these rolls becomes famous—usually not for long, not because of any great accomplishment, but because they are fulfilling a role, playing a stereotype in the culture that gains lots of attention. We think what makes a celebrity a celebrity is some special and magical quality, but more likely, they are an individual that fits a role in our media culture, they’re cast in that role and rocketed to stardom, whether they wanted it—or deserved it—or not. Turner calls them celetoids.
Notoriety, name recognition, relevance: these are the keys to fame. It’s not about being the best, the most or the only, but about being the most widely known. Being a celebrity these days is about nothing so much as it is about being popular. The more followers, likes and fans one has, the more you can make the case that you are a valuable commodity in our media environment. Remember in a capitalist media structure, the main goal is to sell product—so anyone that’s going to get lots of attention becomes a valuable commodity media companies can use to improve their bottom line.
Whether you’re trying to save all the puppies and kitties, or if you are a horrible human through and through, if everyone’s talking about you then you can be the star. But just like the most popular kid in your graduating high school class—not everyone that’s popular has earned all the respect they get. Reality TV stars are especially controlled by their relevance factor. Shows may shoot a variety of people for a season, but only those most interesting to fans will get big story lines on the show.
So it’s not the nicest, smartest, or most generous, but the most divisive, most engaging, most attention-seeking characters will get the biggest story lines, therefore the most popularity, setting up a cycle that privileges explosive and outrageous behavior over behavior we may find more acceptable in our own personal relationships.
Drink throwing, tuna catching fights, father-son bike-remodeling arguments, circling sharks in the Shark Tank: conflict drives reality TV, more than other scripted shows even. Why and how is reality TV so important? We’ve got to get into our time machine and go waaaaaay back to the not so groovy days of the 2007-2008 Television season.
Reality TV is certainly very tightly controlled in the process of production to shape stories and creating interesting plots out of people’s everyday activities. While I am sure that your life is full of drama, there’s probably not enough for a 16-episode season. Producers ramp up fights, gossip, conflict and disagreement all to build more exciting stories. Yes they make up stories, and even tell people what to say and how to act, but one thing reality shows don’t have is union writers. The media industry has very strong labor unions—the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America in Hollywood to name just a couple. Every TV show that has a script has to use a union writer.
But in 2007-2008 TV season, there was writer’s strike. The Writers’ Guild of America went on strike and that meant that no shows that used a script could be made. What were the TV networks to do? Instead, TV networks turned to reality TV—free from union writers—to fill airtime. Instead of new dramas, TV was awash in reality shows. The networks learned something interesting—first, viewers watched the reality programming instead of totally turning off TV altogether, and second, reality TV was much cheaper to produce. There were no expensive actors, no scripts to pay for or costumes. Instead, regular people stepped up for their chance to be a celetoid. So enough viewers + cheaper production costs=more profit. What looked to be a losing TV season turned out to be a very profitable one, and the proliferation of reality TV continued.
Whether we’re talking about A-list celebrities or just the hero of the day from the latest viral video our media culture is absolutely obsessed with fame. Media technologies have made it easier than ever for someone to be known to millions, sometimes billions of people. That kind of power just wasn’t available to anyone in centuries past. Now that this era is here, analysis of who is famous can help shed light on the values of our culture.
The people that we make famous are a reflection of the cultural values that are most relevant at a given time. Remember, it’s not about what is right, good, just or best, but about what is popular—the lowest common denominator.
In media studies, the Uses and Gratifications Theory says that we use media to help satisfy our urges, needs and desire. But how does media decide what people need? Using psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we can look at the needs that are most basic, and therefore most common versus those that needs that require basic needs to be met before we pursue them, thereby being less common concerns in the viewing audience.
Those needs that are most common are likely to draw the biggest viewing audience for a media production. For example, think of the old adage that sex sells. Sex is a basic human drive, along with food, shelter, and so on. That means that media representations that feature messages about sex are going to appeal to anyone who has sex, wants to have sex, has had sex, or is interested in sex: that’s pretty huge audience. By contrast, the need for self-actualization—a deep and complex understanding of yourself and your life’s purpose—is a higher level need. Sure it may be great to sell yoga classes with ideas about self-actualization, but for many people, this idea may not be as relevant to their life at a particular time. Needs that are higher level, like self-actualization or belonging are sure to attract people, but it will be a more narrow audience than those basic human needs.
Now it’s time to leave you with some questions to keep in mind while you navigate our fame-obsessed culture. Think about some of the most famous people in our media universe and think about why they’re famous. What does their fame tell us about what we think is important or worth watching? Are we encouraged to focus on people who are doing what is right or just relevant? Are celebrities and celetoids truly powerful, or are they media product? And if they are products, do they really deserve our time, attention and hard earned money? There won’t be one answer—there isn’t just one kind of famous person. The next time you decide to be a fan of a celebrity, take a second to think about fame, and make sure they’ve earned your attention.
Man, we love our guns–and why shouldn’t we? We have a right to love our guns up like new puppies. Guns are everywhere in our culture, and since we want our kids to grow up with the full American experience, we love guns for kids. We even love kids with guns! Unless they’re black…then, no gun for you.
This week, 13-year-old Tyre King was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio after police chased him following a report of an armed robbery. Cornered in an alley, police report King leveled a pistol at them, prompting them to shoot him dead [though another boy arrested in the case contradicts the police story]. Turns out, the pistol was a replica BB gun, no more dangerous to the cops than an easy bake oven.
But toy guns have proven to be dangerous to toy-gun-toting black boys. Tamir Rice was committing no crime when Chicago police rolled up on him and killed him in a matter of seconds, even though dispatch had passed on that the gun Rice head may not be real. John Crawford didn’t even have a chance to pay for the toy gun that got him killed: police shot him in Dayton Ohio while he was still shopping in Wal-mart with the toy after a fellow shopper called 911. The pattern was so disturbing that California Governor Jerry Brown pushed legislation to address such fatalities following the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez. The law aimed at manufacturers to halt the sale of toy guns unless the entire exterior was white of a color–but in a world of pink pistols(yes that’s a real Hello Kitty gun) and 3D printed guns this measure is likely to face future problems.
If a toy could be just cause for police to kill your child, then why have these toys at all? Outside city streets where cops are engaged in urban warfare is a whole world where kids with guns are good clean fun. According to an article in the Injury Prevention Journal, 3.2 million BB and pellet guns are sold in the US each year. BB guns are available for purchase without a licence or age restriction in most states. They may well show up at a Christmas party or wrapped in birthday finery in a home you care about. In this parallel place of play, children pine for tons of guns. Adults concern over supplying these toys revolves primarily around the danger of putting someone’s eye out, as famously captured by the movie A Christmas Story.
I had the great pleasure of spending some family time up in the lovely White Mountains of New Hampshire. We had campfires and barbeques, went to the lake and of course the local attractions–Zeb’s Candy store and the army navy store. As long as I can remember, from the mountains to the Cape, a trip the Army Navy store was always on my brother’s agenda. Now with three kids of his own, they too can’t wait to get there. This year they wanted their favorite Aunt to come too.
So off we went to the war store. Now, I love me a good post-apocalyptic smack down series, but in real life, I’m a lover, not a fighter. I’m not naive to the ways of the world, but I also believe that nearly all problems can be solved nonviolently. I was struck first that this is America–we glorify war, death, and violence even as we play cop to those worldwide who would use violence for their own ends. Here at home, we have stores full of fake guns, then use those same fake guns to justify the death of young black and brown boys. Our heroes are all drenched in blood and stores like this are their preschools. Let’s shop!
Does your baby coo for law and order? How about this fabulous onesie, complete with a fake truncheon. Don’t worry about outgrowing those blues–you can just size up to the full toy kit so they can keep toddling at their local protests. PS Get Parent of the Year for wearing the matching full body riot suit!
Game of Thrones play more your style? Strap on these knuckle knives for a fun time. I’m sure these sharpened brass knifeckles are super safe and not for violence of any kind. The same goes for this wall of swords and battle axes. Strictly decorative. For people who want to decorate their home with lethal weapons. It’s a look.
Ahh, the heart of the fun–the Airsoft BB gun wall. Here is a shot of the long guns of fun–just a part of the 30-foot wall covered with toy guns, all looking completely real except for a small (removable for the resourceful) orange tip. Not only do they look real, they are also real expensive$150 to $250+. These are no five dollar cap gun–they look like the real deal and they shoot little plastic balls that don’t worry are no problem for the environment.
Truncheons and knifeckles and guns, oh my, what a toy store! In case you have trouble reading the room, you can read a few books to help you have even more fun doing things like surviving a societal meltdown or building bombs with butane lighters.
So if the Army Navy store, which that day was doing brisk business full of sunburned vacationers out looking for a souvenir of summer family time, is considered a family friendly activity, full of games and toys to bring your family together, then why do young boys keep getting shot by the police for playing with these toys?
Why are guns and weapons good clean fun for my white nieces and nephews, but deadly play for my students of color? What could possibly be the difference between the patrons of the gun aisle and Tamir Rice, or John Crawford?
Play is the work of children, Piaget said. Play is how they learn about the way the world works, what the limits are and what their place within it is. Some children in our country are privileged to play with weapons and wield violence with no consequences. Parents stand by proudly as children learn to shoot with no sense of the fear parents of color face preparing their boys to face a culture too often cocked and loaded. Some children get killed for playing the same games their white counterparts play with impunity. Some children think a toy gun will look like a toy to cops, thinking it will keep them safe from lethal trouble at least. They don’t realize that in their small black hand cops will see only a deadly weapon with a criminal attached.
If a child is a child, and a toy is a toy, then we are left with race-again-as the factor determining who lives and plays versus who dies at the hands of the state. It’s time for common-sense gun legislation to extend to the guns we buy for kids: it’s common sense to keep all our kids safe.
In case you haven’t noticed, black people are really slaying these days. From music to art to literature knowledge and activism and of course fashion. There’s even new language to describe the fabulosity of black people: lit, melanin poppin’ and now, TNS.
TNS stand for the new stereotype, and it is an intentional move by artists to create new ways of seeing– and therefore thinking–about black people. It all started with this photo shoot by artist Marqulle Turner showing black men far from the brutes who populate the evening newsreel. These black men are diverse, sophisticated, cosmopolitan and fresh.
Not to be left behind these womyn showed how to get into formation.
TNS seeks to challenge and provide an alternative to the stereotypes of black people that we look at all the time here at smntks. TNS reminds me a bit of the Sapeurs, the elegantly dressed members of this Congolese fashion club.
Stereotypes are formed in the machine of culture, rarely owned by one person, so can you create a new one on your own? My answer would typically be a no, but these images of TNS come at a time when they are reinforced by amazing images of blacks as thoughtful, creative complex and conscious, from the Sapeurs, to Lemonade to black twitter. Taken together there is a widespread pattern of a new image of blacks in our culture.
So get your crew, get your melanin poppin’ and add your images to the new stereotype.
You probably never thought about what happens to teenagers after they get in trouble but before they go to jail: some end up in residential treatment facilities, kind of like a jail with therapy. I used to work at a residential for boys on a unit that treated boys with trauma histories and adhd. Boys would spend up to a year living there: going to school, spending downtime in the dorm units and participating in group therapy. Though the school was a place for them to heal get help with their issues, the truth was it was often a rough place to be, from bad facilities and roaches to violence between students and sometimes with staff. The facility was called “staff secure”, which meant that if anything popped off, staff handled it: breaking up fights, restraining out of control students and chasing runaways. We didn’t use drugs, pepper spray or handcuffs–just bodies.
Boys on my unit came in with a whole host of issues and behaviors. It was not unusual on any given day to find yourself in a restraint, struggling with coworkers to subdue a student acting out–smashing things, fighting and the like. Restraints were intense, sometimes indistinguishable from a wrestling match, other times more like a group hug for a kid out of control.
I remember one kid in particular, Jacks. He was a little guy, barely four feet tall with pants that were too long and would drag on the floor behind him like octopus tentacles. His parents were on drugs and would often physically and emotionally abuse poor Jacks. He learned early to turn this violence around on others, getting into fights and lashing out at staff. Despite his small stature, he was out of control most of the time, a little Tasmanian devil with a mean left hook. Few days went by that didn’t involve a restraint with Jacks.
One day, predictably, lying on the floor holding onto Jacks’ ankles to keep him from kicking my coworker Cy in the back, we listened to a vile stream of cussing Jacks directed at us. He was telling me about myself, my mamma and my whole life. The closer we listened a story started to emerge–and one that didn’t include anything going on in that room. While we held him on that floor he kicked and spat, screamed at his mother, at his father at a world that left his little body to beat on. We let go and sat back only to see him continue to twist as if still in the fight. It dawned on me that he wasn’t fighting us, it was us that stood between him and his demons. He loved the restraints because it was the closest he had to some protection, a hug. He was so haunted by his past that he fought those of us trying to offer him a future.
Are we not also like this? Like Jacks, haunted by our past, unable to make peace with what has happened, lashing out violently against what is yet to come? Like me, trying to hold on, trying to love my brother back to reality even as he kicks and spits at me. Like a system, locking away hurt young boys rather than help then, warehousing them until they become a number jails can earn from?
That afternoon on the floor, Jacks writhed in pain for a while. Only slowly he realized that we didn’t hold him, he held himself. He laid there, tear streaked face, taking deep breaths looking across the floor at me not touching him, not holding him, not the one hurting him. I hadn’t caused this problem but I was still there, still bearing witness for him.
I’d like to tell you everything got better, but that’s never the case. Jacks got better. He began to fight the demons in his mind instead of fighting me and Cy. Responsibility was the only way through, owning his issues and dealing with them instead of bubbling with hurt and hate. The system got more broke, turning teen placements into cash cows, feeding the prison pipeline with a steady drip of little Jacks.
I don’t work in juvenile justice anymore–I couldn’t find enough justice to justify the treatment of teens tied to profit. Afterward, I worked with youth in youth organizing, and now I teach young people who will go do work like that. But still, I feel too often like I I did on that floor, holding onto to my brothers’ ankles trying to love him back to life. It is a feeling of both helplessness and hope. This work is hard and sweaty and I’m sick of the hatred and I want to let go of the haters and I can’t heal anyone but myself anyways but I’m stuck, still believing that we can get better, that we can do and be better. But I’m still here. I’m still here. I’m learning to hold on tighter. I’m learning to let go better.
With the Republican convention under way there are tons of speeches from the podium to pick apart–not least of which is Michelle Obabm’s Melania Trump’s opening night speech. With all that political rhetoric it can be hard to know what the party really thinks. But Congressman Steve King wants to lay it out plainly for you: Whites rule, the rest of you subhumans drool.
Just in case the shock was too much to hear it all, it went a little like this:
King: This whole “white people business” does get a little tired, Charlie. I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these categories of people you’re talking about . Where did any sub group of people contribute more to civilization?
Hayes: Than white people?
King: Than western civilization itself that’s rooted in Western Europe Eastern Europe and the United States of America and everyplace where the footprint of christianity settled the world.
Look, if you have an old drunk uncle that wants to spout that from a broken down recliner after Thanksgiving dinner, this kind of claptrap may be expected. Let’s be clear, though, this guy is a sitting congressman–he makes decisions about how our country will run, and he just laid out White Supremacy Theory #1 live on TV with no shame to his game. The only appropriate reaction may be this:
He seems ignorant to the fact that writing, law, math, science, architecture and all other civilization was born on the continent of Africa, and was well in evidence in the advanced civilizations of the Chinese, Egyptians, Incan, Phoenicians and others. Even the Greeks he credits with civilization were studying in the great libraries of Timbuktu in Mali before Europe was Europe.
So while the mainstream media is chewing up Melania Trump, this little gem of racism goes largely noticed by the people this man is sworn to serve. That’s a good reminder that just when you are least expecting it, if you listen close, the GOP will tell you exactly who they are.
Christine Lindgren really thinkS she should be able to use the n word, and she’s hopping mad about it. So mad that she penned an open letter went apeshit on Facebook to express herself.
Lovely. Thank you. And thanks for the lesson in African slave trading. Yes, Africans did participate in the capture of people’s later traded in the transatlantic slave trade. And who funded those ships? Banks. Like the bank you used to work for, little Christine.
Perhaps, Miss Lindgren, you can research Americs darkest chapter now that you have been fired–even former slavers don’t want to be racist anymore. Maybe you could check out Roots with Kwiku Dog.
Snoop Dog. Snoop Doggy Dog. Snoop Lion. DJ Snoopadelic. Snoopzilla. Big Snoop Dog. Snoop Scorcese. Over the course of his career, Calvin Broadous has worked under 7 different names. At the age of 45, he has been a rapper, actor, kids coach and rasta lion.
On the other hand, Kunta Kinte has always been and shall remain Kunta. Please DO NOT ask him to call himself Toby.
This week four channels under the A & E network will run the 2016 remake of the miniseries based on Alex Haley ‘s family history. The remake is well made, and as moving a story as before with an all-star team: Forrest Whitaker as Fiddler, and is executive produced by Lavar Burton. The remake is one of a handful of recent productions focusing on America’s darkest chapter of history including Underground, 12 years a Slave and Nate Parkers much anticipated Birth of a Nation.
But Snoop Whatever says these stories are no longer relevant. Is Snoop right about all these slave shows? Is America ignoring today’s racial tension in favor of whiteness’ walk down memory lane? Do these shows about the past keep us from moving forward?
Past present and future and bound together in an eternal equation. Toggling one part of the equation helps you solve for the rest. Snoop’s right when he says black people are still suffering today. Why not then see how those who rebalanced the equation before you did what they could? A lesson history teaches us is that your wokeness is not enough. Fighting, protests and even the changing will of many people has not resulted in equity for blacks–or any other group for that matter.
Watching Kunta take that whipping reminded me of the absolute power and strength that comes from being grounded in home and ancestry. But, at the end, he whispers Toby. This tiny whisper I used to think of as a sigh of defeat. When I was a child I wanted him to never give in. Now I know giving in is not giving up. That you can take a beating and live to fight another day with integrity intact.
As an adult traveling Americas treacherous waters of race, I was moved to see that he was willing to do whatever it takes to live and to keep fighting. That to whisper your slave name is not to be a slave. That Kunta–like me–could always carry his real name on the inside, no matter how the battle beats us down from day to day. Maybe that is what Snoop is missing.
Roots is not a slave story–it is the story of Africans enslaved who never laid down, who never gave up even when they wouldn’t see the fight finished in their lifetime. Roots shows black people in revolt, measuring their subversion for the greatest success, and building a life where there is none. They are not slaves, they are survivors. We are right be reminded that we are the children born of such power.
For young millennials who are hellbent on changing the world, watching Roots may seem like an old folks’ history lesson, but it is their history too. You’re wearing your hair natural, rocking dashikis and wax prints–why not a little throwback history too? When things get intense, its good to know your bloodline fought harder than a hashtag.
That is why Roots is still relevant. Snoop, your African name is still on the inside, too. You’ve referenced Italian directors, Japanese monsters, and Jamaican prophets in your name; maybe it’s time you found your Roots. You’re a child born on Wednesday: we’ll call you Kwiku Dog.