“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?

A Black Girl’s Burden

Today my daughter recounted her day at school.  She is one of two Black kids in her entire school.  Parenthetically, it is a tough trade-off to send your child to a school with few if any Black students so that s/he can get a better education at the expense of hearing your daughter say that she wishes she had long hair like the White girls.  Standards of beauty are important, and a Black child attending a predominately White school faces some serious challenges.  See Beverly Tatum’s Assimilation Blues for an interesting and scholarly account of some of the challenges Black parents and their children face.

One of the little White kids proclaimed,

Why don’t you cover your arms up cuz no one wants to see your black skin?

As a parent, I spend a good amount of my time just correcting the misinformation that Continue reading

Burning Questions: Fast Food Employees

Are fast food restaurants purposely hiring non-English speaking, I-failed-all-of-my-K-12-math-courses-but-the-teachers-passed-me-just-to-not-have-me-in-their-class-again individuals?  During the interview, are interviewees expected to answer yes to: are you absolutely guaranteed to fuck up a simple order?

..burning questions.

R.I.P. Jaime Escalante (12-30-1930 to 3-30-2010)

Imagine sending your child to a school where Jaime Escalante is the math teacher, Mary McLeod Bethune teaches industrial arts and economics, John Henrik Clarke is the history teacher, Joe Clark and George McKenna are the administrators, and we’ll let that chick Erin Gruwell teach English.  R.I.P. to one of the most inspirational and skilled educators that institution has ever known.

Why I Listened When Mama Said “Get an Education”

Is this what happens when you jaw-jack about your employer, behave irresponsibly, show up late, and represent yourself poorly, then suddenly find yourself squared off against the vicissitudes of the current job market, coupled with minimal education, few tangible skills, and the initiative of an obese man who’s allowed his TV to stay on a  channel he cannot stand because his remote is 2-feet too far from his grasp?

I present to you several reasons why you should appreciate your job and its conditions…