I can't believe it's been so long since I've posted. I left the country the morning after Michael Brown was killed and only heard bits and pieces with my jet lagged mind over in Europe. I still haven't got my head around what went on in Ferguson and continues to happen. And I'm back home now in Los Angeles observing a strange media era that resembles the seventies in a way with ethnically based TV shows like Goldbergs, Black-ish, and the upcoming The McCarthys touted on billboards all over town. Then I'm spending a lot of time in public elementary schools (part of a job that I don't talk of much, but is becoming a larger, more impactful part of my life) observing a huge diversity of socioeconomic class and cultures, sometimes fretting over difficulties I see. But what got me this morning was catching up on the Sunday LA Times and reading this article on a film called, Dear White People, by filmmaker Justin Simien.
Here's the passage that raised my hackles:
part of what has also set "Dear White People" apart is the distinctive diversity of influences behind it. Although Simien has been sure to acknowledge leading African American predecessors such as Spike Lee or John Singleton — he introduced an academy screening of Lee's debut, "She's Gotta Have It," in Los Angeles over the summer — he has also made references to filmmakers Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, Fritz Lang and a host of others.
The article goes on to talk about how African-American millennials aren't just influenced by black culture:
"I think the difference in our generation, the sort of African American millennial, is we were not only influenced by black culture, we just weren't," said producer Lena Waithe...
Okay... Where did jazz come from? Where did hip-hop come from? How did Chuck Berry or Ray Charles get their twang? Who did Jimi Hendrix reinterpret for his biggest hit?
First, it's just insulting for the writer to posit that a people which encompasses 14% of the US population, rich as "its" cultural expression may be, would only be influenced by what was produced by that minority. Secondly, it's sad that an artist would get seduced into such an oppositional statement as Ms. Waithe's claim. (But I fully understand how something can come across as much more simple minded in an out of context quote.)
The affliction of racism gets into us all as it limits our thinking an tries to explain what's always been there as new. Sorry for that rather generic statement.
But, Dear White People, progress is not in applauding people or yourself for stepping out of a box that was imaginary in the first place.
I'm looking forward to seeing the film. And I hope it reflects a richness that the LA Times writer or editor failed to truly reflect.
(And hopefully now that my hackles have raised, more writing will come!)
I decided at seven that I wanted to play guitar and go to UCLA. So reading this article this morning broke my hear a little. I posted it on my personal Facebook page without any comment, but then a friend commented about being troubled by the poet's statement "that being black at UCLA left him feeling 'isolated and uncomfortable'." My friend asked, "Is society's message in the 21st century still, "stick to your own kind"?"
It got me thinking and so I thought I'd paraphrase my reply to him here.
I'd guess that message has diminished a little bit in the 21st century, but clearly not completely. I grew up in a very homogenous town of which I was one of a small percentage of African-Americans, and even though there was not an overarching "stick to your own kind" message, I still felt extraordinarily isolated and uncomfortable at times. If you're the only cherry tomato in a salad of mixed greens, bell peppers, mushrooms, and shredded cheese, you're still going to stand out. Being one of 48 out of 5700 probably feels that way whatever the rhetoric of inclusion. What's ironic about this whole thing for me is that as a UCLA freshman back in the day, I had my first experience of feeling included in a "black community." Later, as I've written about a lot, I also felt the same sense of alienation at times within that community. The truth is it's still really hard to find a diverse community where one cultural norm doesn't dominate (racial, religious, ideological, etc.). That's why affirmative action is still something we need as a society, one that includes all factors, not just "race neutral" because race still is not neutral and may never be. (Nor are many of these other factors neutral, but race is one of the most instantly codified.) But that doesn't mean we can't all be part of a delicious salad!
Yes, I'm not a football fan. And I've been avoiding most tabloid style news of Weiners, and others. But my sister lives in Philly and a prof at her university wrote an editorial on Riley Cooper headlined "Some of your best friends are racists." What jumped out for me was this:
"And even when racism jumps out and stares us in the face, we are way too invested in the rhetoric of colorblindness to even acknowledge its presence."
Someone carrying a sign shouted, “Justice! Peace!” I was heartened.
As it was picked up in the crowd, the familiar “No” was inserted before each word and I started to leave.
I saw a young man with a poster saying “We are all Trayvon Martin. The whole damn system is guilty.” I saw observers and agitators. We all held hands to demonstrate our oneness. The police outnumbered the protesters and came in riot gear. We'd walked right through them earlier to reach the people. We'd left the circle already when we heard an announcement that weapons would be used to disperse the crowd in ten minutes. I saw a brown young man in a uniform, holding a BB gun. I saw young women in helmets, holding billy clubs, yell at the observers. I saw men backed by the might of dozens of cars, and lights, and civic power put on gloves for the confrontation.
The last cop we saw talked to us. He said, “What are we supposed to do? They have the right to protest, but after three hours other people have the right to get home.”
Trayvon Martin was just trying to get home before he was hassled by someone with a grievance and the willingness to use destructive force.
The cop said, you'll never have a problem if you obey orders.
Trayvon Martin is a symbol of all of our vulnerabilities, and the “whole damn system is guilty” of creating martyrs and monsters.
Yes, Justice! Yes, Peace!
As peacefully as one can, turn a situation of injustice to a moment for justice without violence or threatened aggression, without fear based tactics.
I do fear that this verdict may create more George Zimmermans, people who are so convinced of their own righteousness that they will create situations that cause them to murder in the name of “self-defense.”
But we can change that with continued humane action (even if it feels superhuman) to insure that all people are treated humanely.
Imagine a world where we put as much energy toward eliminating the use of weapons of individualized destruction as we do against weapons of mass destruction.
Let's create our humane vision.