“Fruitvale Station” and the Need for Black Male Rebranding

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The film “Fruitvale Station” is the most powerful movie I’ve seen in some time.  The director (Ryan Coogler) and lead actor (Michael B. Jordan) should be nominated for Oscars. They were most successful in humanizing Oscar Grant and portraying him in a way we don’t often see Black males onscreen–and sometimes even in real life–as multidimensional. (PLOT SPOILER ALERT.)

As a recent Huffington Post article pointed out, Grant was both a saint and a sinner. He was a great dad, but couldn’t stay out of jail. He loved his girlfriend and momma, but cheated on and cursed them. He was in a gang, but was a loyal friend, right until death. He was handed very few opportunities in life, yet ruined the few that he had. His struggle to be a better young man, in spite of his tough circumstances, was very apparent. It was as if the actor and director were challenging us to find a young man, of any ethnicity, who wasn’t in some way like Oscar Grant.

That they made Grant dangerously, beautifully, and fully human should be the legacy of this film. Young Black males could definitely use more of that, as we have a serious branding problem! As a juror from the Trayvon Martin case–the one who “couldn’t identify” with him–recently reminded us, Black males are often seen as devoid of [full] humanity and undeserving of justice.

Even worse, it’s a view that decontextualizes so-called “black-on-black” crime, which many point to as an example of our moral backwardness and lack of humanity. What those who take that view fail to realize is that (a) all Americans are legally entitled to justice, regardless of whether they were victimized by someone from their community, and (b) a number of Blacks have internalized a unique sense of hopelessness and despair, which is often a militating factor in some Black folk’s decision to engage in criminal behavior and to view other Blacks as worthy victims.

Unfortunately, this is what comes along with 246 years of slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow segregation, and 50 years of broken educational systems, mass incarceration, mass influxes of drugs, and the mass exportation of urban jobs.  Put another way, it’s what happens when you’re seen as a threat to society and pushed to its fringes.

While this film certainly is not the magic elixir, it is a start–a start to the cultural push that can recast Black males in a new light.  If the 90s showcased a number of “in tha hood” movies that highlighted Black male frustration, anger, and violence, then the current decade is as good a time as any for an onslaught of films that portray Black males as hopeful, intelligent, positive, and likable.  Of course, movies alone, however well-intentioned, will not lift people out of poverty, or provide impoverished communities with better schools and jobs.  But they will inspire.  They can change people’s hearts and minds, just as The Cosby Show and Oprah Winfrey did a generation ago.  When people stop seeing Black males as thugs and criminals, they may start believing that it is unjust for the police to shoot us in our backs when we are laying face-down and handcuffed.  We have been viewed as “America’s worst nightmare” for far too long.  The time has come for us to be seen as America’s best leaders, thinkers, and creators.  We need a serious rebranding campaign!

Under Which Circumstances Can Nonwhites Talk About Race?

Question: How many of the people who are upset with Black people’s responses to the Martin-Zimmerman case were raised by parents [or grandparents] who were upset with Black people’s responses to the murder of Emmett Till?

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Despite some obvious contextual differences, the public sentiment, anguish, and disappointment is the same.

The question then becomes, were Black people “race-baiting” or “playing the race card” when they protested Till’s murderers being found not guilty?

What about after JFK, Malcolm X, and Dr. King were assassinated?

How about when factories, plants, and businesses began to close down en masse in innercity neighborhoods (e.g., Detroit, South Los Angeles, D.C., Chicago) during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, thus changing the economic prospects of the people who’d depended on those jobs for generations, and pushing them toward despair, crime, and dysfunction? When this is mentioned by Black talking heads, whether they be President Obama or Al Sharpton for that matter, is this playing the race card?

Is it race-baiting when Blacks mention longstanding inequalities in wealth, income, employment opportunities, educational opportunities, housing opportunities, and health outcomes, to name a few?

When Blacks lament the numerous killings of Blacks by Whites, from the times of slavery, to the Jim Crow lynchings, to police brutality, to unequal death penalty sentencing, to rogue Americans like George Zimmerman, is this playing the race card?

And, if none of this is racism, or at least deserving of a serious discussion of race, then, please tell me, what is?

It seems to me that the people who are upset with the fact that Black people are upset, feel as if they are in some sort of “war” against Blacks. To them, there is only one correct way to feel and think about this case, and that is to believe that George Zimmerman was at best a hero and at worst an unfortunate fellow that had to use deadly force to protect himself from “one of those” raging Black criminals. To them, no other perspective is legitimate, and any mention of race, or history is just “playing the race card.”  (Unless, of course, it is the history that presents Blacks as criminals who are “always” robbing, stealing, and killing–that’s legitimate, not just a stereotype, and certainly not something to be placed within the context of slavery, Jim Crow, lack of opportunity, inequality, etc.)

Again, when is it OK for nonwhites to talk about race?

Why Do You Keep Asking Whether We “Need” Kwanzaa?

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Former White House Fellow, Harvard grad, and Black dude, Theodore Johnson, wrote an article at HuffPo recently that questioned whether we still need Kwanzaa.  I don’t understand the endless need to minimize or delegitimize Kwanzaa. Rarely, if ever, do we read similar articles about holidays for Jews, the Irish, Germans, the Chinese, etc. Their holidays are legitimate. Ours, on the other hand, are questioned and protested, often by other Blacks. Holidays primarily serve the function of reuniting families and reconnecting us to principles, traditions, and values. That’s good for everyone, regardless of race, culture, or ethnicity.

If you aren’t interested in the Kwanzaa tradition and its values or message, fine, don’t celebrate it. God knows I could care less about a lot of holidays. But I don’t defecate on them and attempt to run them out of existence using the technology of the day.

And I’m saying this as a guy who doesn’t particularly love Kwanzaa (the whole seven day thing kinda wears me out and drags on). I acknowledge, however, that of all people, African Americans–who still by and large are called by the surnames of the Whites who once owned our enslaved forefathers, think about that for a moment–are better off with a holiday that affirms, values, and reconnects us to something greater. Nothing’s wrong with that.

Elite Eight Rappers of Right Now

Since Sundjata and I were DJs at our college radio station (and actually long before that), we’ve had a penchant for categorizing, listing, and ranking our favorite rappers. While an exhaustive list of, well, anything, is difficult to compile, if you asked me who the most sonically enjoyable and lyrically consistent mc’s were, I’d have to go with those below.

Before I unveil my list, let’s talk criteria.  I only have two: style and substance. Simply put, style is how you rap.  Substance is what you rap about. By mentioning style, perhaps my golden era roots become apparent, as I actually remember when guys used to spit multiple bars detailing the intricacies of their style. Some of rap’s great style gurus have been Old Dirty Bastard, Busta Rhymes, and I’d even throw in Nicki Minaj. For me, a verbally ambidextrous rapper who makes an effort to reveal his/her own persona is better than someone whose songs and delivery sound like they could be easily switched out with those of Anonymous Radio MC #7. Clever and witty word and figurative language usage gets you points here as well. An English teacher could have a field day with the double entendres and symbolism in the lyrics of, say, Jay Z and Lupe Fiasco (which is why they both make the list). Continue reading

When Did Republicans Start Caring About the Black Unemployment Rate?

You might recall that when Mitt Romney appeared at the NAACP convention in July, he tried to hammer President Obama on high Black unemployment.  Interestingly, it seems people everywhere on the Right have adopted a line about Obama being bad for Black employment as a new talking point.

Really?  Now Republicans are concerned about the Black unemployment rate?  News flash: Nationally, it’s been 2-3 times worse than the unemployment rate for Whites since the end of chattel slavery; even worse in urban areas and with younger demographics.  The case has been made, early and often, that Reaganomics, austerity measures, and “trickle-down” policies absolutely obliterated the already wobbly economic security of the Black community. Continue reading