“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?

My Thoughts on the Zimmerman Trial Thus Far

I watched the Zimmerman trial most of the day yesterday.  Here are my preliminary thoughts on the matter.

For those of you who believe that this is not about race, my very serious question to you is this:

What would convince you that this was a racially motivated incident?

I ask that because I find that when disagreeing with some people about race, often there is no reason to have a conversation because one side is convinced of their truth and though the facts change, they refuse to change their minds.  There is no use in talking with folk like that.  Assuming that you’re prepared to accept that this was racially motivated or at least entertain the idea, let me give you this scenario:

Let’s say that Trayvon Martin was a young White woman, and George Zimmerman was a middle-aged Black man who saw some “suspicious” woman walking in the rain in his neighborhood.  Let’s say he followed her, and when he called the police, dispatch told him twice not to follow her.  Let’s say he ignored that directive twice.  Black George Zimmerman follows White Tracy Martin who appears to be running and hiding from him, as she ducks and hides between buildings.  At some point she confronts Black George who does not identify himself as the neighborhood watch person.  Nor does he alert White Tracy Martin that the police are on the way.  Instead, an argument ensues, and shoots her.

Would anyone be willing to argue that Black George was afraid of the suspicious White Tracy?  Even if Tracy was a White male, would anyone be willing to argue that Black George was afraid of Tracy?  One way to ferret out your true feelings on this matter is to leave the facts the same and change the gender and race of Trayvon and Zimmerman.  See if you feel the same way about things.

ON THE ISSUE OF FEAR…

When you listen to the tapes and language that Zimmerman used–note his very calm demeanor as he spoke with the 911 operator and disobeyed directions to not follow Trayvon.  According to Zimmerman, it was raining.  Trayvon was holding something unidentifiable in his hands and reaching for his waistband.  It was dark.  Trayvon appeared to be on drugs or behaving strangely.  At no point did Zimmerman sound afraid or even nervous.

After Trayvon looked into Zimmerman’s car, he took off running, and Zimmerman took off after him into the night.  Remember, Zimmerman’s complaint was, “These fuckin’ punks always get away.”  Zimmerman was judge and jury.  Trayvon was guilty–of what I don’t know, but according to Zimmerman, Trayvon had no business walking in the rain at night with Skittles and some tea.

HERE’S WHAT I THINK HAPPENED…

Police BrutalityWanna be cop, George Zimmerman, was feeling particularly excited about his glorified position in the neighborhood, and he was all too ready to go too far with it.  Remember, the job of a neighborhood watch team, generally, is to observe and report suspicious activities to the real police who might still shoot Black people indiscriminately, but at least they have a storied history of doing so (I couldn’t resist y’all).

When he saw Trayvon Martin walking in his neighborhood, he was excited to spring into action–gat in tow.  He saw a young Black man walking in the rain and decided that he must be guilty of something.  Had he seen a young White woman walking in the rain, he would’ve pulled alongside her and offered her a ride to get out of the rain, or he might have waited to see what the wetness would reveal in a perverted manner.  Had it been a young White male, Zimmerman might have identified himself as neighborhood watch, and felt good about that, but because he saw a young Black male with a hood (it was raining after all), he decided that he was on a real police case and that he had an opportunity to be a neighborhood hero–to have a story!

From Trayvon’s POV, some strange dude in a car was following him for no reason, and he wasn’t about to lead him to his father’s house, and he wasn’t about to let the dude get the drop on him either.

The cat and mouse went on as Zimmerman stalked (yes STALKED) Trayvon, and when he found Trayvon, Zimmerman pushed the action.  He accosted Trayvon, who promptly defended himself and in doing so, beat the dog shit outta Zimmerman until Zimmerman shot this teenager dead.

The end.

This is certainly an issue of self-defense, but nothing that Zimmerman did suggests that he was defending anything other than his pathetic need to be somebody in a neighborhood in which apparently he didn’t couldn’t even remember the name of the streets on which he lived and defended.

Zimmerman InjuriesAs an interesting note, Zimmerman claims that Trayvon was bashing his head into the concrete.  I once pushed a dude down in a bar, and when he fell and bumped his head, he had a huge knot on his head.  Zimmerman, who had his head bashed into the concrete, had two scratches that had band-aids on them the next day.  No bruising.  No knots.  No lumps.  No stitches.  No truth.  Just bullshit.

When White Women Approach Black Men at Night Be Ready

Dear Diary,

Last night I took the dog out for his nightly shit so that I could be reminded of my place in the universe.  The homeowner’s association had apparently voted to replace the grass that my dog normally fertilized with some sort of turf, and it was taking Sebastian a bit of getting used to.  Normally he was quick.  He could pee and poop and have me back in the house in under five minutes, but with the turf, he was inspecting things a bit more.

I wore a black wife beater, some camouflage shorts, and some fresh Adidas that I don’t get to wear often.  It was cold.  It was ten o’clock.

SebastianSebastian and I were accosted by our overly gregarious, middle-aged neighbor with his unfriendly Jack Russell Terrier, “There’s your friend girl” the space invader encouraged.  I noticed that he decided to wear shoes this time.  Maybe because it was late.  But, he did have on that same creepy Hawaiian shirt!  Where in the hell do they even sell those?

I gave Sebastian and the Jack Russell sufficient dog-ass sniffing time, and there was no incident this time.  Finally Sebastian found a spot that was worthy of his shit.

Just as I picked up his load, a demure woman whom I’d seen in distance walking toward me was upon us asking in a quiveringNegrophobia voice, “Can I just talk to you for a minute?”  My mind raced.  I thought of my kids.  I kicked myself for not having brought my phone.  I imagined this modest looking white woman yelling rape or screaming, and as “help” arrived to see her stabbing my lifeless body, everyone understood her preemptive strike because, after all, negrophobia is a legitimate legal defense, and besides, I’m 6’4″ and wearing camouflage and black on a dark night with my dark skin wearing dark Adidas walking a dog that is half black.  I lamented having decided to wear my contacts instead of my glasses, which made me seem more approachable and soft.  I was terrified of her.  She was a full foot shorter than me, and I was terrified of her.

I kept my distance, remained stoic, and agreed to give her a minute.  She started crying.  She cried a sentence or two, and after having her repeat herself, I understood that she had failed to make good on some opportunity to uphold her spiritual beliefs.  In fact, her exact words were, “I fucked up.  I had an opportunity to do good, and I didn’t.”  Now at this point, I thought I was a gonner!  I thought for sure that I would never see my children again.  I thought I would be stabbed to death in this gated community.  I thought this emotionally distraught white woman would shoot me, and I would be blamed for being in a well-to-do community in the first place.

As she cried real tears, fear gripped my heart.  I didn’t know what to do, so I asked her what her spiritualTibetan Buddhism belief system was.  I figured if she was a Christian or Muslim or Catholic, I could maybe stitch together something that sounded like it was in the Bible or Quran.  No luck.  “I’m a Tibetan Buddhist.”

“Oh.  Well, I don’t know much about Buddhism, but I’m sure there isn’t a group of people sitting in a room awaiting your arrival so that they can judge you and tell you how poorly you performed on some spiritual task.”

“Well, no it doesn’t work like that.” (sniffles with tears streaming)

“The fact that you’re crying, though, I think is a good thing.  To me that suggests that you have real conviction about your beliefs.  Your contrition symbolizes that you have integrity about your beliefs, and that’s a good thing.  That means you take this seriously, and you should.”  Now right about here is when her eyes opened wide, and she looked at me as if I was delivering some amazing Word.  She nodded as I spoke.  “My suggestion is that you not spend much time beating yourself up.  You recognize that you didn’t handle this situation the best way you could, and it hurts you.  That’s a good thing.  Now, move on from that, but don’t beat yourself up.  You want to be moving forward from a place of positivity.  It’s unproductive to try to move on from negativity.  That’s something I’ve learned irrespective of one’s belief system.”  She nodded in agreement and cracked a small smile.  “What’s your name?”

“Ashley.” (this is a pseudonym since this lady turned out to be my neighbor!)

“My name is Sundjata.”  We shook hands, and my fears subsided just a bit–not enough though.  “Well look Ashley, I’d love to chat with you a little more, but I have my baby in the house, and I have to get back in the house.”

“Oh okay.  No problem.  Yeah.  You have to take care of that.”

We started walking (awkwardly) in the same direction, and it turns out that this woman, Ashley, who I’d never seen before, is my very close neighbor.

I don’t know that there’s a lesson or a moral or anything like that.  I will say that I was shocked that this woman was willing to talk to me.  I suppose a la Charles Ramsey, I should’ve known something was wrong when a little pretty white woman came crying to my arms.  I’m not the most approachable-looking brotha, and I wasn’t dressed in an approachable manner.  I’m just glad that I had a jewel to drop.  I hope my positive outlook was of use.  I like to think it was.

This is my real life.  I simply couldn’t make this stuff up.

Negrophobia, Reasonable Racism, and Standing Your Ground

…’Negrophobia’ and the incorporation of what has been referred to as ‘reasonable racism’ or the notion that, because of their perceived dangerousness, the irrational fear of blacks might be justified in situations where whites take preemptive action (shooting) to ward off their prospective attacker(s)…But the obvious problem with such a premise is that, in the socially constructed minds of many whites and some racial minorities, all blacks and Latinos look like potential robbers.  In the end…crime becomes racialized or, put another way, crime becomes associated with particular racial groups” (Gabbidon 2010).

Negrophobia Continue reading

David Banner On Trayvon Martin

I’ve been avoiding saying something about the Trayvon Martin slaying, in part, because I’ve been so damned angry about it.  I didn’t think I could write anything intelligent with so much negative passion in my heart.  Also, I kept envisioning a post entitled, “Trayvon Martin: I Fucking Told You So!”  Then in the body of the blog there would be this: (see the title).

I might still weigh in on this, but for now, I think hip hop artists David Banner actually said what needs to be said better than I can say it.  So, take four and half minutes out of your day to listen to him speak.

By the way, to Geraldo Rivera, I’ve decided to pray for your downfall in the ways of David in the old testament.  I pray that god turns you into a pillar of salt.