“Fruitvale Station” and the Need for Black Male Rebranding

Image

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!

Aaron Hall’s “Don’t Be Afraid”…Give These Lyrics a Second Listen

So I’m stuck in Cali traffic with a giant smile on my face because I’m literally jamming to a ’90s mix of music until Aaron Hall’s “Don’t Be Afraid” came on, and shit got real.

Maybe I’ve been watching too much Law & Order SVU, but me thinks me hears the song of a rapist. I’m just sayin’…read the words and sing along.

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

Kwanzaa

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.

C’Mon! Not Elmo!

So the gentleman who does the voice of Elmo was accused by a lover (whenever we’re talking about a man who unexpectedly turns out to be gay, we collectively say “lover”…I think it’s required somehow) of having sex with him when he was underaged.  TMZ says what needs to be said on the story itself, and you can click here to read that.

But isn’t hearing that the voice of Elmo might have engaged with sex with an underaged dude a bit like hearing that the Tooth Fairy has been touching kids inappropriately or that Santa has been shacking up with moms when he slides down chimneys?

I mean, it’s Elmo.  The voice of Elmo can’t sleep with underaged boys can he?

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