I saw The Best Man Holiday over weekend. Then I read this piece by the great Wesley Morris and saw this by the always engaging Marc Lamont Hill; frankly, this is a conversation I’ve had foe several years, but this year I’ve been more vocal about it. Part of the reason for my hyper awareness stems from the fact that only two of my close non-Negro friends have seen Oversimplification of Her Beauty or Fruitvale Station, even though I described them of two the best films I’ve seen all year. Why don’t they watch films with Negros? I wonder; actually, I don’t wonder. I know why. I know non-Negroes have an issue seeing themselves in the lives of Negroes, although I grew up wanting to be Egon and not Winston. It’s the same reason Woody Allen has never casts a Black lead for any of his films. It’s the same reason I was asked to present on the history of Black film while the other students were asked to present one film from one specific area. It’s why my students scoffed at the idea of Idris Elba over Ben Affleck for Batman or why Donald Glover has a stand up bit about his a Spider-man. It’s racism. Same is true for mostly female casts film, and gay casts films as well. I’m not calling anyone racist, sexist, nor homophobic, but most have yet to acknowledge how socialization on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation permeates our everyday actions, and rarely to our knowledge.
Buying greeting cards from Walgreens, Vons, CVS, or (you name it) is silly. Luckily for me, I figured this out over a year ago when I happened to visit the LA Central Library’s Bookstore and discovered all that greeting cards can be: cute, honest, and (most importantly) unique (to an extent). How many times have you been to a baby shower and some jackass has the same card as you? (Annoying. I know.) No more, I say. I only buy cards from museums and bougie libraries. Often, I must write my own greetings in said cards, which feels like a chore, but is always rewarding. I feel like I earned the greetees’ respect, because I know him/her well enough to have written what Hallmark always gets wrong or way too corny. Still, this freedom and creativity is not without its setbacks.
Saturday, in my procrastinators search for multiple Mother’s Day cards, I stumbled upon a few cute cards at the Getty. Now, the Getty was not was not my first choice. I had decided to attend an event at UCLA earlier, and by time I got to the Hammer (which has amazing cards), it was closed. While in en route to my next stop, and angered by the Hammers “early” closing time, I decide to stop the Getty to find cards. Who really wants to search for cards on Mother’s Day? Not this guy. (Even procrastinators have limits, though I am still curious to know what cards the Walt Disney Concert Hall has…) I stop by the Getty’s Museum Shop in search of the “perfect” card for a few of the mothers in my life, but I am quite underwhelmed. The Getty is no MoMA. Not only did it not have holiday specific cards, but my apartment is larger than its museum “shop”. Amongst their limited number of cards offered, were several that depicted an older Los Angeles – photos from the 50s of Wilshire and Santa Monica, and I thought it would be great for my grandmothers. They’re old. They should like old photos. (They’ve been in Los Angeles since ’46 and mid 60s, respectively) Very simple logic, right? However, I hesitated. As I stared at those seemingly innocuous images, I got this strange feeling that they may not be appropriate. I thought “where my grandparents ‘allowed’ to travel to Wilshire without fear of being harassed, let alone Santa Monica.” (Beach cities were notoriously racist.) I was not sure. Would these images recall events or a time they wish to leave in the past? What does it say that one of cards has a photo of three white women smiling in front of an iconic Los Angeles site? Could my grandmothers have been those women? I’m not sure. I just know they are not them, nor do those women look like them. I put the cards back, and chose others.
On another note, I saw Iron Man 3 last night, and I could not help but wonder why that little white boy could not have been a little girl or colored kid. We like science. We are smart. This is 2013. Up did it four years ago.
Ditto white woman! I am not Trayvon Martin either, and I am tired of people wearing hoodies, colored folk included, thinking they are. Try educating oneself on the inersectionality of oppression. Many of the people wearing hoodies symbolically are just as sexist, homophobic, classist, xenophobic as we perceive George Zimmerman to be; however, these people do not connect their thought processes to the death of Trayvon Martin (and the others). If these hoodie rocking folk were not a kin to George Zimmerman, then Trayvon Martin would still be eating Skittles. It is nice, and even at time, comforting to demonize George Zimmerman and other “trigger men”. Hell! They make it easy, but many of us fail to see how George Zimmerman is not very different from any us. It is nice to see some articulate that.
Much has written about Trayvon Martin’s death, which occurred weeks ago, and I have watched as the story slowly carved out airtime. I guess that is good. The more attention that is brought to the incident through articles (such as Charles Blow’s), the more the public will cry a foul, and just maybe “justice” will be served? However, I am not holding my breath. I have seen this before. This furor. This story, which is why I have not read any of the articles written about the killing.
I first caught wind to this classically American story structure while growing up in the sleepy suburb of Compton. I was eight and in the second grade when much ado was made over the Rodney King verdict. I can still recall sitting in front of our television set watching the helicopter footage of a pickup truck rolling down a street as firebombs glided from its bed on buildings. Sometime, I remember sitting on my grandmothers floor entranced by images of a truck driver being pulled out of his vehicle and beaten, only for me to return home later that day and play basketball in my backyard as ash fell from the sky like would presume snow would. Such is life. Life, too, was being summoned into the bustling principal’s, along with my older sister, that same week to call our emergency contact, our grandmother (who lived closer to the rioting than we did). Though the riot had not spread into Compton (it never did), school officials deemed it unsafe for students to attend school. She came. We left.
Latasha Harlins was only fifteen in 1991 when she was gunned down by a liquor store clerk over orange juice. She was shot in the back of the head as she tried to walk out of the store sans orange juice. Now, I do not recalled this incident personally. I had just turned seven, and my young mind was on more pressing matters like whether I would to get see Darryl Strawberry that summer; however, thanks to artists like Tupac, and, to a greater extent, Ice Cube, Latasha became a footnote in my mind. (How can one listen to Tupac repeatedly mention Latasha in his songs (and this one) and not be curious about her story? He even dedicated his “Keep Ya Head Up” to her.) In college, while listening to a lot of 90s hip-hop and rap I missed out on as a youth, introduced to Death Certificate by a classmate, and on is “Black Korea”. Racism aside, Ice Cube seemed even more angry than usual, which is impressive because he was always angry. That lead me to Latasha and her orange juice.
There are other incidents. More recently, a young man shot in the back and killed when the police “mistook” his cell phone for a weapon. On Manchester and Crenshaw several years ago, three unarmed young men were shot by an officers. My personal favorite is the newly wed who called the police only to be mistaken for the intruder and killed. These incidents are only the headlines I can recall from memory as I type this post. This is why I am unaffected by Trayvon Martin’s killing. His death symbolizes nothing new. This is life for many of us. Just perusing through thrift stores is challenging. I never know if I will be accused of being suspicious, so I slightly exaggerate every movement I make sure you and I both know that I am not attempting to steal anything. Until a few years ago, I would raise my hands above my shoulders whenever I walked into a small store of any kind. Even for fairly “educated” Black males, a “misunderstanding” can turn deadly. And this is life. This is no hyperbole. This is the women at the Target in Buckhead shifting her purse from the left side of her basket to the right as I walked past. This is black door man who stopped me twenty feet outside of the Staples in Westchester to ask me if I stole pens. Upon displaying the lint in pocket, he politely asked if I went to Morehouse. (Apparently, he had seen me in the store before with my regalia on.) I am pretty sure he has seen this before, from my side of the sidewalk.
Like the door man, criminal accusations and violent deaths come with the skin. Headline’s like Trayvon’s happen so often they no longer shock nor appall me. I have seen it before. I have grown indifferent to them and the stories attached. I do not read them. I have been seeing these headlines montaged with saddened tweets to know the story. They are akin to Tyler Perry movie posters: I know what to expect, and I will not like it. I will not watch. It will only upset me. Why get upset when it is life? Not all of us will make it to Paris. I know. It does not have to but if, but it is. Once this outcry reaches fever pitch and “justice” is done, I will feel the same. As Doughboy said at the end of Boyz n the Hood, “either they don’t know. Don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.”
I am not the gatekeepr,
Nor am I the keymastr.
I wish not laud this as ‘great’,
Nor that as ‘bad’;
Though, often times I state it.
I yearn to be the Wino,
on the ground,
by the door,
looking up at
All those who patronize.
I only seek help from a few.
An excerpt from Jeff Stetson’s one act play about a meeting between Dr. King and Malcolm X.
This is a very reactionary post, and the chief impetus is Mitt Romney’s New Hampshire Primary Victory speech. Besides his pandering to a delusional and ignorant constituency (people think the President can control the economy), Romney, and many others, insistent America can “return to its greatness.” I’m sorry, my Bachelor’s in African-American Studies not withstanding, when was this? I cannot recall anytime in American history in which I would consider it to be great. I have said before, and I will state it again, the world, including the United States, has never been better than it is today. We are living during America’s greatest time. Tomorrow will supplant today, and so forth. It may not seem that way, but it is, and it will. Today, more people have more opportunities than ever before. More people live in relative safety than ever before, but that does not equate to “Greatness”. Racial, gender, sexual, and other forms of discrimination are still rampant (even amongst, at one time, leading Presidential candidates). The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” has reached levels last seen just prior to the Great Depression. I am not the only one to voice this.
Steve McQueen’s latest film, Shame, best scene involves Michael Fassbender’s character, Brandon, walking with a love interest, Marianne, (played by Nicole Beharie) down a neon lit New York street (before we learned Marianne is from Brooklyn). **Potential Spoiler Alert (I think)** Brandon asks if there is any other time she should like to have lived in. After she hesitates, he offers his answer: he’s liked to be jazz musician in the 1960s. She rejects and gingerly espouses that there is no other time she’d rather live in than the now. Missing the subtext and trying to be cute, Brandon lightly scolds her, but she stands by her statement. One must puzzle over the idea of whether Brandon was familiar with the lives of Black jazz musicians in the 1960s? Furthermore, would Marianne work in the same office building as him? Could they comfortably walk down the street together, if they were in the 1960s? No. No. And probably not. (No wonder women and color folk are never the leads in time travel films.) Marianne knows, that her life would be drastically different, and not for the better, if it were the 1960s. She knows it would different if it were 1990 or even 2000, for that matter. It is implicit in her reluctance to answer, because she knows what women and people of color know:
America has never been better than it is now.
Mitt Romney and other candidates can talk about restoring America’s greatness, but all I hear “restore America to a time when people knew their places.” I am sorry Mr. Romney, I, and others like me, cannot allow America to regress. It took too long and too many lives to just get to this point, and will not turn back now.
Check out: “King of the Hill” Season 6, ep. 8; “The Chappell Show” Season 2, ep. 11