“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!

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.

Top 10 albums of the 2000s

Debatable?  Of course.  But I’d ride for and with these picks:

10. Kendrick Lamar: Section .80.  Lamar must be the younger cousin of a cat who was really into Project Blowed and the Good Life back in the day, because he spits like a modern day combination of Aceyalone and Ice Cube.  He’s the dopest on the West Coast right now (but Locksmith is on his ass).

9. Kanye West: Late Registration.  This album is crazy celebratory and infectious, the beats bang, and the concepts are dope (Diamonds are Forever, anyone??).  Plus, who else could put Lupe, Common, Game, and Hov on the same album?  Incredible. Continue reading

Don’t Let Them Call You A Slut….Unless You Qualify

In a very interesting conversation with a friend about a friend of a friend’s sexual activity (convoluted already), it came out that we are not all operating with an…operational definition of “whore,” “slut,” “tramp,” or “ho.”  And because I’m curious in this way, I thought it only right that I offer my understanding of these three terms.

To be sure, I consider “whore,” “slut,” “tramp,” “ho” to be terms and not concepts, yet paradoxically, I believe that there is a sliding scale of whoredom, sluttiness, ho-ness, and tramphood.

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WTF Wednesday: Your Toes Look Like…

WTF Wednesday

WTF Wednesday

So for this installment I thought we’d talk a bit about toes.  That’s right, toes.  Let me preface this post by saying that I’m not a foot man.  In fact, I could really care less how your feet look.  My philosophy on feet is this:  If you’re say thirty years old, you’ve been walking on your feet for twenty-nine years, and your feet are bound to earn a corn or bunyon or two.  We can live with a little bit of “hammer time” as long as your feet are clean.   Continue reading

Obama Softlining on the Gates Arrest

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. being taken from his home.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. being taken from his home.

President Obama originally criticized the Cambridge police sergeant who arrested Dr. Gates (in his own home mind you), saying that the officers acted “stupidly.”  However, now, Obama has tried to soften his comments by inviting Gates and the arresting officer to the White House (I have no idea why), saying that the cops and Gates, Jr. were sort of caught up by circumstance.

Do you know what the circumstances were?  An “uppidity” negro who dared to speak truth to power in his own home while in the presence of a White officer.   Continue reading