Tag Archives: Racism

Call It War

I see a line of armed militia invade an American street; khaki clad men with pith helmets and pepper spray;  I see Klan members and skins heads–young men, a new generation marching with torches–with torches; a car runs into a crowd. I watch. I watch it again. I watch it over and over and over–new angles, overhead shots, bloody money-shots. I don’t cry.  I don’t feel surprised.  I barely feel sad.  I am outraged. I am weary of outrage. This is how war strips you of your humanity.  Atrocities surround you, good times become tense, tense times become terrorizing: is this it?  will this be the shot that starts a race war?

tcp_virginia-protests__tcp_large We are already at war. The hammer claps of racist cops’ nines punctuate the tension, gun sales are up, lynching’s making a comeback. Over and over we see violence motivated by ideology, a battle determined to take and hold territory on both the earth and in the heart of America.

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Before you say this doesn’t look like any war you know, consider the face of war in our time.  Gone are the days of massive mobilizations–instead, our wars are made of terror, skirmishes to seize and hold territory, battles for political power, and most of all bombs of narrative, payloads of ideology exploding in breaking news blasts and streamed live. The violence goes nuclear as stories rain down on you weekly, daily, hourly.  Your phone is the front line, your television battle-weary from images of black and brown death.

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Charlottesville was an organized attack, powered by 4chan and Info Wars and the dark corners of Twitter. Armed militias lined the streets, the air full of tension.  Cops held back even as things started to get violent right in front of them. They had a permit for this.  This was a legal gathering.  These were people wearing U. S. marine uniforms, armed with pistols and long guns, chanting heil trump yelling at blacks and Jews.  This is not a gathering of bigoted individuals, this is a battle of ideologies. There is nothing new about a battle in a centuries long string of battles that defines the worst of who we are and hides the promise of the best we may become. America has been waging this race war since enslaved Africans first arrived in 1619.

Official silence in the face of this fight does not mean it is not already happening.  We are at war in Afghanistan.  When was the last time you thought about it?  When did it last force you to make a different choice, to sacrifice or suffer to support the war effort?  When was the last time you checked on combatants and citizens who are collateral damage in America’s longest war?

The fact is it is not difficult to hide a war in plain sight, buried beneath a flurry of headlines, and clouds of chaos unleashed in twitter storm after twitter storm.  This “skirmish” is not new or mysterious or worthy of a second of questioning.  The events in Charlottesville are nothing less than acts of war on our streets, being fought by servers from Top Dog and college boys in polo shirts, grinding up your daughters and sons.  There is blood on the streets from a Nice style attack.  A terror attack. There is no question here.

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In war, we don’t debate if there are simply two sides equally wrong or equally valid–no one on the allied side was saying Nazism was merely a difference of opinion.  In war you take an ideological stance; we as a nation-state pick a side and organize our systems and institutions in the service of that ideology, mobilizing all parts of our society under its principles.  Will those principles be hate and division, white supremacy–the sickness that has plagued our country for years–or will we finally heal ourselves and embrace the healthy diverse nation we are striving to become?

Call it a race war, not a war between races but a war against racism, where we all take the side of America, the land of we the people, and take aim squarely at the rot that eats at the foundation of our country.  The casualties of this war are not just minorities–this weekend they were white, and they bled blue. Heather Heyer. Lt. H. Jay Cullen. Trooper Berke M. M. Bates.

The truth is that the racism negatively affects everyone in this country.  The same systems that disadvantage minorities also met out class and gender oppression, as well as a kick-ass sleeping potion of culture that keeps many people fighting against their own interests.  Racism hurts everyone…no not in an anti-white-racism-is-real way, but in the way that three victims are dead and they had white faces.  The fight does not neatly divide along racial lines.  This fight, in the end, is about power. To be clear this is not a war against white people, but against systems of racial oppression and inequality. There is nothing anti-white about wanting our country to deliver the equity promised in our founding.013-large

Don’t be alarmed to call it a war.  America knows how to wage war.  Wars mobilize resources. War requires coordinated and cohesive narratives to win hearts and minds. They engage our government in taking sides for the people it is sworn to represent. A declaration of war makes sure our military and homeland security are vigilant, prioritizing white hate groups as the deadly threat that they are.  This administration already knows how to do this: they rolled out a blueprint in the war it declared on MS-13 just two weeks ago. Copy, paste–wage war on the criminals and thugs that spatter our streets with blood: white nationalists. No challenge has so plagued America as race. No foe is no more worthy of eradication than racism.ZZ0D9BDB29Too late for it to have any real meaning, Trump calls white nationalist thugs and criminals–not the same language used for terrorists like Isis.  Be clear though, these hate groups are terrorist organizations.  They are not motivated by drug money or bad parenting: they are motivated by ideology, an ideology of hate and evil that has had too much of a hand on the wheel of America for years.  A century ago members of the Klan wore hoods in the evening and suits, badges and campaign buttons in the day.  In 2017 they still do.  People who espouse this ideology are not just outliers, they are people with White House badges like Stephen Miller and Steve Banon, founder of ultra-racist Breitbart News.  It is past time for this administration to oust these hatemongers from the government payroll.

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Don’t be fooled by a foot dragging weak response.  Like any addiction, acknowledging you have a problem is only the first step. That 45 could force the words from his mouth is meaningless as his policies and inner circle cheer on white supremacy.   The administration is far from declaring war on racism. But that doesn’t stop you–yes you–from speaking up, speaking out and getting involved wherever you are and however you can.

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I’m done with outrage. I am outraged again.   I’m not done fighting–I’m a soldier in this fight and you are too.  I conscript you.  I need you to destroy this mad brute of White supremacy. You cried for London, you prayed for Nice; now, fight for America.

 

 

 

4 Reasons to Love 4:44

These have been hard years for black people.  Every woke person I know is spiritually exhausted from the sheer effort of bearing not the burdens of our ancestors but the current load of racism that confronts us every. day. in America.  Trump and his Whisis army of lone shooters perpetrating a race war, killer cops who walk and the pain of daily witnessing our fellow citizens, friends, or even lovers wonder why we’re so upset.  I really wouldn’t blame you if you just wanted to lay down and eat ice cream forever but fuck it if even lactose is out to get black people.  Instead, black artists like a black ocean, leaping and wide are rising to the times and making art that matters.

Jay-Z.  If you thought I was on some ballet when I said art, let me back up.  Hip Hop is arguably the most critiqued genre of music, reviled for its misogyny, hyperconsumerism, and violence.  Even the album I am about to praise will be torn down in the coming days beat by problematic beat to convict Jay-Z and his dirty, dirty hip hop of all the bad things.  Is he threatening me/ all white people/cops? What will the children think? What are they selling us? What the hell is Tidal? I get it.  It’s probably problematic.  But in a world where Trump is the President, problematic is standard.  Too often the critique of hip hop stops there without critics actually listening to the album.  If you are this kind of critic, I have news for you: beyond the lean-bop candy-pop mumble rap, art is being produced to challenge old ideas of misogyny, consumerism, internalized racism and homophobia that were mainstream hip hop’s bread and butter. Let’s look at Jay-Z’s 4:44 for proof.

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The title track of the album is an apologia to Queen Bey, Blue and the twins, Solange, women and basically the earth for all Jay-Z’s shitty behavior.  Don’t expect hearts and violins, promises of walks on the beach or plaintive wailing.  The track sounds like what it is: the haunted 4 a.m. thoughts of a man who has deeply hurt those he loves, honest and raw. Now I’m not advocating that men get a cookie for correctly identifying an emotion, but it matters that Jay-Z provides a blueprint for taking responsibility.  Just as rap has been roundly critiqued for saying terrible things about women, and rightly so, there is increasingly a trend of rap’s biggest stars talking frankly about the hard work of relationships.  Jay Z’s apology in 4:44, Kendrick’s These Walls or J Cole’s Folding Clothes all put words to the complex experience of navigating real life relationships.  I don’t know another place in our pop culture where men are engaging frankly in real talk about the mechanics of making egalitarian relationships work.  As rappers themselves age and engage in family life, they could choose to still play gangster to the world.  But Jay-Z’s vulnerability signals to other men that there is life beyond hypermasculinity: that being open and vulnerable is necessary for personal transformation and growth, that successful men do desire and choose women who will require them to be accountable and respectful, that when wrong, one can and should take full responsibility.  Songs give voice to things that are hard to say. Need to say sorry?  Let Jay help.

Story of OJ

My favorite on the album at this early date: the Story of OJ tackles racism and its roots in capitalism and slavery.    On the chorus Jay-Z Breaks down the parsing of the black experience: Even super-rich Jay is stuck in the loony tunes land of racism which he reconstructs for the video from scenes recreating racist cartoons like Scrub Me Mama and What Up Doc.  Set to a beat sampling Nina Simone’s mournful Four Women Jay-Z describes a pathway to liberation through generational wealth and cooperative economics.

In the absence of the dismantling of the system of capitalism, power without wealth remains a myth. Black people can’t be satisfied with the trappings of wealth like bottle service and cars.  “You know what’s more important than buying bottles in the strip club? Credit.” Jay-Z advocates real wealth–real estate, and art.  It may seem incongruous to tell blacks no matter how rich they are they’re still marginalized and to tell blacks to get money–but in fact connecting these ideas is important.  Jay-Z reminds us that individual wealth, especially when poured into consumer goods is death while, investing in generational wealth and purchasing property is about power.  He reminds us that immigrant groups before us used this same pathway–think the Kennedy’s who rum running money soon enough had them running the country.  In a few bars Jay -Z flips our understanding of race and money to focus on neither money nor race but power–the key to ending oppression.  And the video deserves its own frame by frame analysis–soon come.

Smile

As I mentioned in the opening, these years are full of pain for black people.  One of the most powerful skills black people are demonstrating in the face of unrelenting oppression is the ability to still find joy.  Resilience. Strength that comes from the soul.  The kind of happiness called #blackgirlmagic or #blackboyjoy which is created in response to cultural trauma. The rose that grows from concrete.  Hip Hop in the gangster rap days was smile free: every issue of XXL was full of angry faces, sadness and pain was the mask the world put on black men, and they embraced that mask.  Jay-Z reminds us to smile at the transformation wrought by our challenges.  He’s not alone: other artists are also reminding us to embrace joy in these dark time: Lil Yachty’s I Spy, Buddy’s Shine and Pharell’s Happy are odes to joy.  Far from being disposable pop, these songs are reminders that black people deserve joy.  They are songs that help us summon joy from this painful chaotic world.

Not insignificantly, the song talks about Jay-Z’s mother struggle living in the closet for most of her life.  One of the strongest criticisms of rap is the rampant homophobia.  Like sports, it was considered taboo for rappers to embrace people of different sexual orientations.  You may say that rap is late to the game recognizing the importance of gay rights, but remember that Michael Sam only played one season before they Colin Kapernicked him.  Male discourse in our culture around gay people still remains highly problematic but Jay-Z embrace of his mother signals a long overdue change. Jay-Z’s mother Gloria gets to tell us herself the pain of living in the shadows.  “Love who you love because life isn’t guaranteed”.  Her story reminds us that smiles hide a multitude of pain, but they are more than masks, they are aspirations.

Legacy

The final song of the album starts with the voice of little Blue Carter: “Daddy, what’s a will?”  Bookending the album with songs that focus on generational wealth provide an important reminder to listeners of the role that cooperative family economics play in supporting the culture.  Yeah, I get it, Jay-Z is so rich he can afford to invest and most people in America are broke, but decades of rap songs have young boys buying Bugatti’s and bottle service so are bonds really out of the question?   Jay-Z’s Legacy gives listeners something else to work hard for–foundations and inheritance.  He muses that the stacks of cash he has acquired be used for things to uplift the race

TIDAL, the champagne, D’USSÉ, I’d like to see
A nice peace-fund ideas from people who look like we
We gon’ start a society within a society

The idea of using economics to combat marginalization is not new–in fact, MLK’s war on poverty was so threatening to established power that he was killed (cough, cough, by the government).  What Jay-Z does on Legacy is use his power both as an artist and as a philanthropist to create an aspirational pathway.  While we’re fighting for the rights of black people in the voting booth, or the cultural sovereignty of black people in debates over cultural appropriation, Jay Z reminds us of the power of generational wealth as a path to liberation from centuries of oppression.  You may not be able to buy a place in Dumbo, but even you can have a will, buy some bonds, and think about what you are leaving behind for your family and your people.  That’s radical.

Nobody ever told Picasso stop painting nudes because the kids might see.  No one stopped Pollack because his work was too aggressive.  Van Gough cut off his own fucking ear and his paintings are worth millions. So forget your critique of Hip Hop and appreciate Jay’s latest for what it is:  4:44 is art.  Art provokes, it makes us question, it reflects both our darkness and our shallowness. Like Picasso or Van Gough, Jay- is a grown man, not an empty headed thug or a disposable fuck boy addicted to lean.  His experience, his poetry, and his flow combine to create a piece of art that we can unpack, reflect and meditate on, art that will provoke us to keep on in the face of America’s unrelenting hate of black people.  He reminds us that raw vulnerability is worth something more that the mask of hypermasculinity. He reminds us to build and to grind, to love and to let others love, to smile.  He reminds us to rise.

 

 

When White People Should Say N–

Once and for all I want to settle the controversy of White people using the n-word.  There actually is a rule and it’s very, very simple:

Never.

NEVER.

Say it with me….white people should never say N*gga, n*gger, or any permutation of the word.

No, Bill, I mean you too:

This woman running for local office who called police about “N– outside drinking Hennessy?  Heeeeelllllllllllllllllllll no, no matter what Eddie Murphy said.

How about stars who act like they’re cool with Black people? Nope.

But, wait, what about if you’re a teacher and you’re just trying to teach the youth about the N word with your old ass ideas saying the word over and over until you get checked? That’s on you, teach.

What if you have really good intentions, and you’re woke as fuck and you care about black people like you really love them and deeply care about black empowerment and you are committed to supporting black people in the struggle for justice?  Like you dedicate your life to ending racism and you work hard every day to make the world more just and every once in a while in love and solidarity you want to refer to your black friends as my n–?

Trick question–if you’re really woke af, you know white people shouldn’t say the n-word.

So no matter what you’ve heard, no matter how extensive you think your hood pass is, no matter how noble your intentions or how great your cultural knowledge, if you are white the rule stands.

Never.

 

The Truth Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

It’s true that the Oxford dictionary added the word post fact his year, and of course, our current administration acts like that is a goal rather than a problem, but that doesn’t mean that facts and evidence cease to exist.  Post-truthers are more than liars–they are propagandists that carefully craft narratives, leaving out facts in evidence for their own gain.  This is dangerous behavior whether you are the president or a professor.  Maybe even more so for a professor–aren’t we supposed to be professing the truth as best we know it?

So it goes with two colleagues of mine who are again peddling a concerning tale of antisemitism at Wheelock College, an institution I love–and work at.  These celebrated Professors craft a narrative so egregious it’s almost unbelievable–a single email asking for a seat at the table unleashed a storm of antisemitism that destroyed their careers and reputations.  As a lover of justice, this should alarm you, right?

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But like Donald Trump and his post fact inauguration, there is some information that throws this narrative into question.   Their story claims their email about Jewish life is what triggered retaliation from the administration, not the complaints from black students about racism in the classroom.  Oh, shit, there isn’t even the mention of the accusations of anti-black racism in my colleague’s post–strange. The pair maintains that student complaints were manufactured by an antisemitic (black) president and that black students, faculty, and administrators somehow colluded to use fake complaints in an antisemitic plot to ouster just these two Jewish professors (and not other Jewish faculty).

This tale ignores a funny part of this story–I have met real students who have complained repeatedly about the professors’ approach to teaching race and gender studies–and not just one or two. More than a handful.  Over years.  Students have posted a screen shot where one professor wrote the “word he does not utter”.

So you don’t say it but you write it.  You ask students to explore if it’s okay to say the word–so it is part of writing assignments, but like Voldemort, it’s cool as long as you don’t say it out loud.  Okay, cool, so how did you create a classroom environment where this activity allowed students to engage and learn, where students felt heard and could themselves express oppositional views? This activity is not unheard of, but in the era of black lives matter, concurrent with days where these same students laid on the hard grass in the snow in a die in to bring attention to “racial divides many refuse to acknowledge exist”, it’s time to update your pedagogy. We’re way beyond the N word. Students need real tools for the very-real-and-not-at-all-theoretical revolution.

I want to be clear–this is not a defense of snowflakes.  I believe strongly in academic freedom and the importance of tenure to protect this freedom.  I push students to think and grapple with difficult ideas and these same colleagues of mine also have.  These are not easy times for good liberal professors, and so I do not lightly enter this conversation. Exploring complex, controversial and unpopular ideas is a key part of a good education. This isn’t about over-sensitivity to hearing the N-word, or a single incident.  It is that these students had a right to have a functioning relationship with the professors they pay thousands of dollars to teach them.  It is that when there are complaints they can and should be handled with conversation that helps learning happen, not lawsuits that shut down discussion and make everybody–even me, right now–afraid to speak publicly. It is that for hard ideas to take hold they need to be fertilized by faculty inside classrooms crafted from respect, current pedagogy, and historical context.  Structural analysis is key, and as structures and the communities they structure change, we need to update what we say and how we say it.

While student complaints will need to be adjudicated as part of the pairs’ upcoming multimillion dollar lawsuit, I can tell you I have heard multiple complaints from multiple students, multiple semesters in public forums.  I have to ask, are they all lying?  I witnessed students bring forth these complaints in many town halls and open discussions with clear voices and weeping eyes.  Were they all faking it?  Students were not trying to burn down the school.  They were asking for professors to update and adapt their pedagogy in a rapidly changing world.  They were asking to be prepared to work in the social justice field with the most current understanding of critical race and gender theory. These last few years have seen a seismic shift in race and gender studies, something that shouldn’t be ignored by the top race and gender scholars.  Dickering about nigga vs nigger when police brutality was the top story in the news is not just tone-deaf, it’s irresponsible for good liberal professors.

Students spoke out in class, a class where they were allegedly reminded–theoretically of course–that tenure would protect a professor who graded all the students of color unfairly. Undeterred, students elevated their complaints through available formal channels. As scholars of race, both professors are well aware of the importance of conversation and reconciliation, but instead of participating in dialog directly with students protesting their actions they used their position to avoid engaging, and then their power as successful academics to sue the school and amplify their narrative in blog posts like this latest one and in public lectures at other institutions, flaming the school and harming the school’s good reputation. All this without a legal judgment to support their narrative and free from the voices of the students involved.

Over the past year and a half, I have witnessed students of color and allies try bravely to hold these individuals to account, asking for dialogue, and when that failed, holding town halls that the two professors didn’t attend, except for one after the lawsuit was filed where they took notes on students statements(for the lawsuit?). Students protested. They wrote demands.  For some, their studies suffered as they grappled to succeed in an institution whose commitment to racial justice was shaken.  Many staff and faculty of color faced the same emotional pain as students, and a number left at the end of last academic year. The incident had the potential to be the worst kind of oppression Olympics, lining up complaints of antisemitism against complaints of racism–dividing the very groups who were working together to create a culturally adept community. All of us worked hard to try to keep the incident and its fallout from pulling our beloved community apart.

For those of us that remained, we have worked hard to be a part of a healing institution. The two professors so wrongly aggrieved have had a full year off of work with full pay– a move made by a new President to help settle the waters while the lawsuit was filed. And it’s working.  The new administration and faculty and student groups have supported and created events, activities, committees and community days to help us grow as an institution.  This is the way forward.  It feels good to go to work again, and I trust the people I work with to prepare our future social justice warriors.  Students, faculty, staff and the new administration know it’s not easy because we’re doing the hard work to walk our talk.  We’re in a better place.  The courts will have the final say, deciding once and for all who was right and who was wronged. In the meantime, I’m more afraid of injustice than shade–I’m going to focus on strengthening students and an institution trying to make the world better.  We’re not post fact–but you can act like it if you want to.

 

 

 

 

Get Out: What it Really is (and Why it Really Matters)

(warning: major spoilers) Get Out, Jordan Peele’s hugely successful directorial debut is killing it–box office bonanza, critics’ favorite, thinkpiece heaven and somewhere, I promise you, some doctoral student is burning out an iMac writing a thesis about it. Main character Chris, ensnared in a modern day coon hunt with a twist, has stumbled on a mini market of black zombies.  That’s right. This is a zombie movie.

Get Out trades on all sorts of movie tropes and motifs, as good filmmaking does, connecting us not only to a new story but also a new way of looking at ourselves.  At its heart lies a surprisingly familiar undead corpse–the zombie.  While the word zombie may give you visions of decomposing walkers or World War Z‘s running meat bags, Get Out returns us to the original body of the zombie story. The keys to the zombie story are mind control and bodily manipulation, a focus not on head shots but on enslavement. What’s more, looking at Get Out as a zombie movie helps audiences regain an empathetic lens to see black pain.

Like all good monsters, zombies, and zombie stories, are outsiders. They come from somewhere else–in the case of the zombie story, Africa.  The origins of the idea of the zombie come from West and Central Africa.  In West African spirituality, Orishas may ride devotees: possession not like the exorcist but more like catching the holy spirit, so one individual controlling another has spiritual precident. Possesion and control are also potential outcomes of rituals and spells. Powerful spiritual practitioners may control both living creatures and also unliving entities using the practices that are a small part of the religion  of Vodun.  The idea of using spiritual methods to control others’ bodies manifests in a complex and quite different way in Benin than the brain eaters clogging up the streets of Atlanta in the Walking Dead.  Of course, the original story was dragged onto ships and enslaved along with millions of Africans, landing in Haiti. Like the Africans themselves, the story of what a zombie was and how we should feel about it was transformed under the crushing pressure of whiteness.

Imagine you are newly enslaved, shocked by the brutal middle passage and blistering in the sun of the new world being worked to death to grow sugar for the tables of the European elite.  Thes people are going to beat you to work until you die as you have seen happen to so many around you .  You are exhausted, malnourished, tortured, traumatized and caught between fighting to live and wanting to die.  But you cannot die. Your body now belongs to the master, and death seems to be exclusivley controlled by the evil who weild power. It’s not a far leap to invoke the story of possession from home to create the Haitian zombie: this is no brain craving corpse, but a sentient being, enslaved and brutalized that needs to be freed, not stabbed in the head.

Enter Clarvius Narcissus.  Poor Clarvius was just minding his own business when he was turned into a zombie using a powder of plant-based toxins and made to work on a sugar plantation for decades before eventually getting away and returning home, ragged and brain damaged but still Clarvius.  His was not the only documented case of real life zombies, and there was even some evidence of a market for people drugged into compliance who could be forced to work for free. Again, the three keys are mind control, bodily manipulation and enslavement–in both real and imagined places.

Shifting to America’s silver screen, we find at first that the origins persist.  White Zombie, a Bela Lugosi classic horror tale features a sugar plantation of enslaved blacks–and one white woman who of course does not belong there and must be saved.  Even George A Romero, the father to the modern American zombie craze originally featured a black lead in Night of the Living Dead, maintaining the black gaze–the story was his.

The scary thing in these kinds of zombie movies was that it could happen to you. The empathy in the story lay not with the person who enslaved the zombie, or even those that may fear the zombie.  The empathy in zombie stories is supposed to lay with the zombie. The enslaved Africans were the victim, not the monster, The trafficked laborers, like Clarvius, were the victim.  Zombie movies were about seeing and sharing black pain. Until the Walking Dead.

The modern obsession with zombies in this century started with the cultural explosion that is the Walking Dead.   The show is excellent has been excellent, and I count myself a fan. But unlike the zombie story which asks us to throw our lot in with the oppressed, The Walking Dead returns white people, free people and zombie haters to the center of the story.  Rick, our flawed hero, reminds everyone that they need to stick together–so nice.  But early seasons of the show find him repeatedly refusing to entertain any lasting interest in curing the walkers or even caring about them.  Zombie myth reformed.

Get Out, though, reclaims the zombie genre.  I know, I know- you probably didn’t think it was a zombie movie when you saw it.  No wandering corpses, no hoards chasing down brains.  But in the sweet sunshine of the Armitage plantation, the whites are commodifying black bodies, enslaving them using neurological means–toxic powders replaced with a scalpel.  Catherine sends Chris to the Sunken Place, and like poor Narcissus, he is still conscious, but cannot overcome the spell he is under to take agency and get free.  We see those that steal the brains are the real villains– different than Georgina, Andrew or Walter: the victims, their bodies ground up in a system that wants only their skills and not their souls. Mind control, bodily manipulation, enslavement to the extreme: zombies.

Understanding the creatures that we have been taught to fear is an important function of monster movies, especially when they are monster mash ups.  Anne Rice and True Blood’s vampires, Penny Dreadfuls Frankenstein’s monster, even Twilight’s teams give us alternative readings of monster life, helping us to care about creatures living at the edges, to see that those that are hurt and broken are still deserving of love, perhaps even moreso.  Returning the zombie to its rightful place as sympathetic victim, and reconnecting the zombie with its critique of whiteness makes Get Out not just a good movie, but an important movie.  Diversifying Hollywood has to include pushing and challenging narratives to help us see what is too often rendered invisible.

Eyes play a major role in the film, from the key shot of Chris’s face seen in the movie to Chris’s photography to the planned transplant to “get your eyes, man”.  The film asks us to see out through the eyes of the ensnared, to feel the terror of being trapped.  Where the Walking Dead teaches us a thousand ways to kill a zombie,  Get Out brings us to the sunken place where the zombies get stuck.  We see Chris stabbed with the pain of his lost mother, falling, silenced.  This is black pain separated from any of the usual stereotypical symbols of black pain like a crack pipe, gang flag or welfare check.  This is a place where Chis suffers with his humanity intact, wanting not brains (he has plenty of those) but freedom.

What is it to fall into a zombie state and witness your own brutalization?  Like having them love your body, but not you. Like watching others being rewarded for what you are penalized for. Like working yourself to death for minimum wage while being blocked from having any of the accouterments of your own labor and being blamed for wanting Jordans. Like having to choose when to speak up because you are just. so. fucking. tired. Like police videos. Like when there are so many police videos that you stop seeing them. Like protesters being pepper sprayed. Like watching the Clan take the White House.

Get Out makes black pain, as conceived of and acted by black people, visible.  Far from the sunken place, the film gives voice here in the real world to the complex nuanced nature of racism in2017.  It gives viewers of every race a story that requires them to empathize with black pain–which is too often abstracted to sell records, clothes or policies.  The vast majority of movies and TV shows frame blackness as a problem to be quashed by white supremacy.  The few films that cast blacks as innocent victims frequently require that whites still be the heroes. This film gives us neither slaves nor gangbangers and in their absence, we get a lens into a more authentic, relatable and human understanding of race and racism.  If we are ever to evolve past systems of privilege we must first make them visible.

In the end, Chirs’s woke friend Rod is the only hero that can save him, and he’s got plenty of lessons for us to remember. If you wait on the state to save you, you’re in trouble but when the ensnared work together, they can get free.   Rod’s concerns at first seem overblown, but he trusted his own understanding of racism even when others denied it. You’ve got to refuse to ignore evidence that supports what you know to be true.  Rod gave a shit, and not just because he was dogsitting.  Commitment to your brothers and sisters is key.   We too, have to keep looking.  It’s too easy to hear the clink of white supremacy and feel ourselves falling into the sunken place. Stay woke.

 

 

T(rump) Minus 6

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.

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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.

End scene.

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.

Is This Sand Sculpture Racist?

Can you make a sandcastle racist? I didn’t think so, but then I went to the beach to see the amazing sand sculptures at Revere beach and I saw this one:

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Titled The Color’s In the Mind,Red Orange Green Blue Shiny Yellow Purple Too, it depicts an artist pallet of colors with an object for each color.  So cute, look at the frog and the–wait, what is that?

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Tucked between the fruit is the head of a policeman.  Okay, pretty odd to have a policeman’s head representing blue instead of fruit. And next to the cop’s head is an eggplant, sometimes used to symbolize black people in not so nice ways.

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A cop’s head and an eggplant.  Color’s in the mind.  I see a backhanded comment on BLM.  Is it me? Leave it in the comments!

Roots: Still Relevant, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

New Walls, New Ways

2015, by any measure, was pretty shitty.  Unless you don’t watch the news, you know the past month season year has been intense–full of bad news, real tragedies and a world wide wrestling match with the most difficult issues humanity faces. I teach about media and race so this is my wheelhouse–writing about it all the time should be a given with so much to address.

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But this year has tested even those of us who are comfortable in the challenging arena of isms.  How many times can you explain that yes, racism exists, and no calling out racism does not make you a racist.  How many words can you hurl at the behemoth of hate before your arm falls off, or worse yet, you come to despise the futility of your own meager weapons?

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Tucked in between 1,134 black men killed by police, racism also made a come back in higher ed:  remember the threats at University of Missouri, racism at fraternity SAE in March and at a different chapter in November and, in case you missed it, a heated debate in higher ed around professors’ using the n– word in class.  Between writing, teaching about race and media, and fighting the local battle in my own tower, I ended the year despising more than just the futility of my weapons.

As an nontenured faculty of color at a predominately white college that focuses in part on social justice I believe I have a duty to prepare students who will combat structural inequality with a solid understanding of systems of oppression.  Not surprisingly, our little community is not unlike many of the other higher ed institutions “dealing” with diversity issues.

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I have been reminded that to speak out against racism, to name that racism exists in our community is a brave thing to do.  The unspoken flip side to this compliment is that to name racism at the institution is  dangerous business. I work on a contract, and can be released from my job of 10 years at the end of the year with no reason given.  A decade of good teaching evaluations or hard work will not protect me.  Each time I open my mouth and call out the racism I see, I am at risk.  And I have felt at risk.  Every time. Break came just in time to retreat and lick my wounds.

But every day is a new day, and a new year?  Well, that’s a time for magic.  I needed to clear the deck to get writing.  Since the year has been so heavy, this isn’t any average clear the deck–I’m in my writing room stripping shit down to the bare walls.

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Something about working on a household project unlocks a way of working on yourself.  Stripping wallpaper is a junior high level metaphor for cleansing for a new year, so no surprise  as I do I’m thinking about letting go, razing the ground to grow something, anything untainted by this years infestations.

But I’m also learning about how to pull down wallpaper that has been stuck to the wall since the 1950s.  While hacking away with water and an ice scraper, I learned something surprising.  the best way to pull it down is gently, softly and with love.  Sure the wallpaper was coming up with the scrapper in resistant tight crumpled rows, begrudgingly, and an inch at a time.  but if I spray it lightly, wait patiently and pull gently at the decay it comes off in long lacy strands that fall apart at the slightest touch.

While having drinks with my parents, my father said he always wished he could be forgiving.  I was surprised: I reminded him that he had indoctrinated me with a pathological ability to let go. So many days coming home from being bullied at school, he would simply tell me, “Not everyone’s going to like you.  Let it go.”  When I gnashed my teeth and plotted revenge he would rustle his paper, fanning away the evil deeds of the world with a terse, “Get over it.”

He laughed when I reminded him.  “I may have told you that, but that doesn’t mean I did it.  I’ve never been able to forgive.”  Quick to reinforce the old lesson, he added, “It’s good to forgive.  Then you’re free and you don’t carry it your whole life.” I’ve spent years forgiving and this year more than any, trying to be free of the pain of racism big and small.

The promise of forgiveness is freedom.  But when people refuse to acknowledge your humanity, much less take responsibility for trying to diminish you, forgiveness starts to feel too much like granting permission.  I have been pained to learn that sometimes forgiveness means you carry the memory for those who forget they victimize you, and it is them that goes free, unburdened by having to confront their own small mindedness and bad acts.

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Google wallpaper removal and their are lots of choices: chemicals to burn it off, machines to blast steam to disintegrate it off, paper tigers to shred it off.  I thought that ripping off the wallpaper would give me a chance to rip something up, to release the burden of all I have forgiven, but instead I find just another reminder that this slow gentle relentless attack, for me, is the only way.   Two days later I am still in there, peeling it off, rubbing it gently with water and then easing it off, sliding it to the floor and patting the wall clean.

Why?  I want a clean room but I care about the wall underneath–I don’t want to be left with holes to fill and scratches to heal.  My soft strategy rewards me. At the cost of checking my desire to destroy, the wallpaper comes off in long strands still holding the memory of all it saw. The war that I thought I wanted turned out to be a long moving mediation–both on the walls and in the work.

So I’ll scrape the walls slowly, and when they and my mind are clean I can return to the larger battle.  With each strand in the pile I remind myself of the reasons to keep scraping away at racism. Fuck forgiveness and the risk of raising your fist. I speak out anyway.  Because that’s who I have chosen to be.  Because the students deserve teachers willing to advocate for their dignity.  Because that is the job of a teacher–to provide a space for students to learn and grow.  Because I have a responsibility to model what I teach. Because I will not be silent when something must be said. Because with no justice then can never be peace.  Because racism hurts white people and they deserve to know the truth. Because hate will not eradicate itself. Because I believe that we can be better. Because I am black. Because I am human.  Because we the people are still trying to form a more perfect union.

Because the moment is now. Happy new year.

 

Hero With A Thousand Faces: Deal With It

Yesterday, in case you didn’t feel the ground shake, the full length trailer for the New Star Wars movie premiered during Monday Night football.  First, enjoy…

Fans of Star Wars crashed servers watching the hell out of the trailer, but it didn’t take long for the interwebz to raise one of its uglier heads.  A hashtag # BoycottStarWars appeared just hours after the trailer debuted, accusing the film of promoting White genocide.  Why the freak out?

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The main character, played by John Boyega is –wait for it–a black man. The idea that a black man is a lead, a hero and alive in outer space seems to be sending some people, well, into outer space.  Now, of course, these boycotters should feel stupid; it’s 2015, Black people are not some situation that Jim Webb controls and so you are going to see–thank God–some diversity in film.

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But when you’re done shaking your head at how cray-cray these boycotters are, consider this:  they are right in pointing out the significance of casting Boyega in the lead.  We know already that there is a real drought when it comes to lead actors of color playing the hero.  Go ahead–quick–name 5 movies with hero of color….I’ll wait while you Google it……..

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The UCLA diversity report  released in 2015 looked at films 2011-2013 and found that whites are overrepresented and minorities are underrepresented.

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When we look even more closely at the most iconic heroes conquering the silver screen, there are even fewer characters of color.  When Idris Elba’s name came up as a possible casting choice for the new James Bond, strong backlash erupted, and not just from internet trolls.  James Bond author Anthony Horowitz called Elba “too street” to play Bond.  Hey, hey, he wasn’t being racist,   just saying that Idris- friggin-Elba is “not suave” enough. What?!

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But I digress…. Celluloid heroes have always been white, sometime even when they were not supposed to be.  Remember that above all, studios are looking for products they can bank on.

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Rest easy, Star Wars producers.  Casting John Boyega as the lead is not only a good move to increase the now-dismal diversity in Hollywood films, it turns out its also good for business.  The same UCLA deviltry report found that films that featured 40% characters of color did better at the box office. Turns out, trolls, that diversity pays.

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Hollywood and the smaller tubes around are taking note of the importance of embracing diversity in order to reflect an increasingly diverse audience watching in the real world. I’m not saying Hollywood is getting it right, but they have at least identified it as an area in need of improvement.  In an increasingly diverse country, It makes good business to get out ahead of an unstoppable trend.

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Make no mistake; Star Wars is no ordinary film.  It is modern myth.  Based on the work Hero With a Thousand Faces by anthropologist Joseph Campbell, Star Wars is not just the story of a hero, it is the story of all heroes.  It is the right thing to do to create myths that reflect our culture.  We live in a world with heroes of every race, and film is long overdue to reflect this.

Boycott if you want trolls–that just leaves more seats for the true fans–those who know space has no limits.