Posts Tagged ‘Black love’

A series, inspired by the CNN special, dedicated to race related identity issues concerning Black people in America.

The Story

The Good Times versus The Cosby Show is an excellent illustration of the debate over representations of authentic Black life. Black people diverge on their opinions of how authentic each representation is. No one can argue that Good Times presented an obvious reality that Black people experience; however, there are a surprisingly large number of Black people who are skeptical about The Cosby Show‘s representation.

I have been in debates over these shows, I have heard people criticize and critique both shows in the positive and the negative. The only solid conclusion that I have surmised from these conversations is that there is a general misunderstanding about representations and reality.

When Black people are portrayed in films and television, the Black community is usually very vocal about their ideas about these images. Most times it comes down to authenticity and keeping it real. The Black community tends to resist those images that we view as misconstruing Black life. However, we often neglect the fact that Black life is just as multifaceted as that of any other culture. Black lives, like everyone else’s, is affected by socioeconomic status, regional geography, ascribed ideologies, and subjective family upbringing. For instance, I have friends from Black families that always sat down for dinner; I have those who will say that their family ate dinner in front of the television; and I have those who say that everyone in their family ate at different times and places. So which would be the authentic reality to be used to represent Black family life on television or in the movies? Both.

The Backdrop

Good Times is about a poor Black family living in the projects. The subject matter of the show included gangs, venereal diseases, Black Jesus, and school integration. The Cosby Show is about a Black family living in the suburbs. The subject matter of the show included learning disabilities, HBCUs, and Black history topics. One of the most interesting things about both of these shows is how socioeconomic status is used as a backdrop for the true substance of the show which is the Black family being portrayed.

james-floridaGood Times aired in 1974 which was just after the creation of Section 8 programs for subsidized housing. The Evans family lived in a housing project (implied through the visuals of the shows opening as Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago). Therefore, it is clear that the socioeconomic backdrop for the Evans family in Good Times that of a lower economic status. Much of the humor of the shows makes fun of the commonalities of being poor. However, both Florida and James Evans are hard working, loving partners and parents to their children. Despite their economic status they demand respect, hard work, and responsibility from their children. This family dynamic is the heart of Good Times; poverty is simply the backdrop.

The Cosby Show‘s backdrop is at the other end of the spectrum from Good Times. The Huxtables live in Brooklyn Heights, New York, a noted upper middle class area.cliff-claire Cliff is a physician and Claire is an attorney. While their upper middle class lifestyle takes away the struggle of just trying to make ends meet, the most humorous episodes surround the struggles of parenting. Cliff and Claire are loving partners and parents to their children. They demand respect, hard work, and responsibility from their children. This family dynamic is the heart of The Cosby Show; being upper middle class is simply the backdrop.

Most of the debates I have heard regarding Good Times and The Cosby Show neglect to mention that the most substantive part of both shows (which makes them more in common than not) is the struggles and triumphs of two Black people raising children and maintaining a family and that is deeper and more important than socioeconomics on any day.

The Forefront

At the forefront of these shows is that the most important representations that they set forth are exactly the same and have become almost obsolete in many television representations of Black people: loving sustained commitment.

The heart of both of these shows was the loving relationship between the parents and how they together conspired to raise a family. The evidence of this is scene in the quick decline of Good Times when the show’s producers decided to kill James off and sent Florida away with a new lover. Contrary to the producers believing J.J. as the ratings draw, without the parents as the center of the show’s storyline the ratings plummeted. That is because the show that had appealed to so many wasn’t just about the laughs and the poverty, it was about a loving Black couple raising a family. I would also guess this to be the reason why The Cosby Show lasted so long despite the children growing up and leaving home. So what we, in the Black community, often miss is that reality is not rooted in our financial circumstances but in our relationships.

The Problem

Good Times was the first show featuring a Black family to become popular in the mainstream while The Cosby Show was the first show featuring a Black family that was not entrenched in poverty to become popular in the mainstream. The two shows have little relevance for a comparison as they both are equally as important in the history of Black media. It is what takes place after the advent of these two shows that is what is the chief concern because after these shows and others proved that Black people could be the stars of a show and gain the interest of the entire American populace, something began to consciously happen to the images of Black people in the media.

Because of our obsession with authenticity and the fact that our reality is almost always depicted in our struggles, the media gave us what we wanted. However, the issue is not whether the representations are authentic or illustrate some objective fact about Black life. The issue comes down to the answers to specific questions about each representation: why certain representations are chosen?; why certain representations are shown more than others?; and who chose the images being represented? We have to acknowledge that representations are constructed consciously due to the fact that media images are meant to cause certain reactions in the viewers.

The Point

Authenticity is not the central issue of Black representations. The central issue is consciousness behind the representations and the affects that those representations will have on the Black community. Both Good Times and The Cosby Show depict conscious efforts to portray Black life through different backdrops with the same motive: to display love between Black people in contrast to the “reality” that is fed to us by the news and the media images that use these depictions as a definition of our reality. Poverty is a part of many Black people’s realities just as education and material success is a part of many Black people’s realities. The fact that we had the opportunity to portray these images to the world while maintaining a context of love, respect, encouragement, and hope (which are a part of every Black person’s lives) is what matters most and it also what we need most. We have entered a loveless age that is hellbent on depicting Black people as incapable of love, but the reality is that we have always been and will always be a people who have survived because of love. That is a reality that needs to always be represented.

I’m not sayin: I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

20130726-084410.jpgA series named in tribute to Bell Hooks. Love is a subject that is often discussed in the most trivial and superficial terms. Love, as a subject matter, especially from a Black perspective, hardly ever includes discussions regarding the nature of love, the function of love, the purpose of love, or the relevance of love. All we ever talk about is how we want it, have it, never had it, or keep losing it. We are right to see lack of love as a concern; we just have to choose the right angle for exploring solutions. Here is where that happens.

The Story

After watching the latest episode of Scandal, I was sent into thought by Mellie’s plight.

When Mellie says, “You don’t have to love me. But we are in this hell together and the flames are burning both of us with equal intensity, baby, so the least you could do is be my friend — just a little bit. The least you could do is show up, show up for me.” That moment hit home for me. There are times in relationships when things get so dysfunctional that you start to feel that you almost forget how you ever came to love that person. And, as emotions begin to wane, we make excuses to justify why we refuse to do all the things we used to do (you know the ones that make the relationship work). But then if we stop doing those things aren’t we as much to blame for the failure of the relationship. A dysfunctional/bad/dying relationship is still a relationship and as long as we’re in it, we should continue to do what we have committed ourselves to doing when we started the relationship because what does love/affection actually have to do with commitment?

Commitment

 Commitment is like trust: it’s a choice. It’s a purely individual choice that should not be built on a pretense of some specific response. You commit because it’s what you choose to do and you uphold that commitment because that is what you choose to do (the honorable thing to do, I might add). The commitment isn’t about controlled responses or specific actions. Hell, it isn’t even about love. Commitment is about us doing our part. And if we are focused on doing our part, we should have so much to keep us busy we cannot possibly police our partners efforts to do their part. If they are committed then they will show up and if they do not then address their lack of commitment and decide if the two of you should be in a relationship at all.

We often confuse commitment with control. We say we want someone who is committed and/or consistent but we are really saying is that we want someone who will act the way we want them to act and do the things we want them to do when we want them to do it. We think that means something. We think that means that the other person is worth our time and our efforts to build a relationship. We are trying to quantify emotions and justify our participation in the relationship. And God help the individual who cannot figure out and chooses not to give us what we want, because we will leave so quickly (and usually so viciously) that one would have to wonder if we ever loved them.

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But I submit to you that a relationship is a commitment and not a trade off. We cannot go into relationships looking to emotionally barter for the things we want. We should go into the relationship because we want to share a life with that person and are committed to doing so. And if for some reason we decide that we no longer want that relationship, it is better to leave than to try to punish or manipulate that person into doing the things that make the commitment desirable for us. That is a perversion of commitment that results in romantic possession.

Possession

We live in an imperialistic society. America is all about aggression, competition, and domination. As individuals, we allow that mindset to saturate our thoughts about how to approach everything in life. Therefore, we go into relationship with a battle mentality — which wouldn’t be so bad if we chose the right enemy. The problem is instead of battling public opinion and social norms, we fight each other. We go into relationships determined to to create this ideal relationship that we have in mind and to get this person (who we may love and genuinely want to be with) to be what we think they should be — ofcourse this is dictated by our ideal relationship. And every now and then we will listen to the other person’s ideas about relationships and if they do not match ours we endeavor to convince, persuade, debate, and/0r force them to think about like we do or at least submit to doing it our way.

So, then, the commitment becomes not only about control but a battle for possession. We begin to use the relationship to possess the other person. We manufacture arguments and issues to shame and guilt our romantic partners into seeing things our way. We twist and reshape perceptions of events to prove the point that we were right all along and our romantic partner should have seen that long ago and we wouldn’t have the problems we have. In relationships no one owes us anything. What we do for our romantic partners and our relationships should be done because it pleases us to do it. Not because of something  our partners do or something we expect them to do. That is a corruption of the relationship that commodifies the relationship and makes it a good to be disposed of when it stops working.

commitment

The Problem

The problem is that we won’t accept that building a relationship is a process that is altogether different than anything else we might do in life. The relationship is at least 80% about commitment. It’s probably 10% about love and 10% about timing. As Americans we have grown to be some of the most spoiled, irresponsible, and lazy people on the planet. We, with our privilege and superiority complexes, think that nothing should be exceptionally hard and that we deserve the best of everything just because we do. Actually most everything really good is really hard. And that which we deserve is relative to something that we have done to earn it.

As great as we think we are (and sometimes we can be), someone else is great, too. If we could find a way to connect with one another in a way that isn’t about competing, dominating, and manipulating to get what we want, we might find ourselves able to develop meaningful relationships that hold a lifetime of value. It is no great secret why past generations had more successful marriages and partnerships — even the ones that weren’t love at first sight (i.e. arranged marriages). Those people honored commitment and they understood relationships.

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The Point

Anyone who watches the show Scandal knows that President Grant is not at all in love with his wife (as he is in love with Olivia Pope) and it is questionable whether his wife is in love with him or simply using him for political gain; however, what she said in that scene was more poignant because of the lack of love/romance in their relationship. What she saying in other words is ‘we’re married/in a commitment and with or without the love, you should show up and be present in this relationship.’ That’s heavy because, she’s right. And by the end of the episode President Grant does show up for her and it is tender moment that speaks volumes. It shows us that love shouldn’t be the only inspiration to “do the right thing” or to show up and give effort to a relationship. So, then, I would imagine if we could get to that point of honor the commitment of our relationships unselfishly, without pretense, and regardless of love, then imagine what two people who are in love might accomplish.

Love and affection and all those right and wonderful things our romantic partners do make our efforts worthwhile and they give us a sense of satisfaction about the relationship, but, at the end of the day, they can’t be the motivation to do those things. We have to choose to do them and to choose to do them even when there is not immediate gratification. Love and relationships aren’t destinations at which we arrive, they’re evolving journeys that constantly require our attention and our commitment in order to get the rewards we desire. Perhaps the next time, we should, for the hell of it, commit without pretense and without judgment. I’d be willing to bet that even if the relationship doesn’t last forever, we would walk away much more enriched and with a lot less emotional baggage.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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Bell Hooks, an intellectual, author, teacher, feminist, and cultural critic (who, if you don’t know, you are missing out on one of a great Black female mind), wrote a book called All About Love. The book deals with Love from an intellectual perspective rather than an emotional one. What happens then is a candid, objective, look at what love is, how love operates, and why it seems so lacking in so many lives and the world in general.

I read the book years ago and decided to revisit it now in order to dedicate a series of posts to its nature and subject.

Love is a subject that is often discussed in the most trivial and superficial terms: dating, how to get a man/woman, or sex. Love, as a subject matter, especially from a Black perspective, hardly ever includes discussions regarding the nature of love, the function of love, the purpose of love, or the relevance of love. All we ever talk about is how we want it, have it, never had it, or keep losing it. We are right to see lack of love as a concern; we just have to find an angle for exploring solutions and develop a language for articulating what we find.

We live in a world where love seems always just out of reach. For the Black community, this is especially distressing and most of our responses have been reactive and extreme.

We, as a nation, have become a loveless culture. We, the Black community, have become a love forsaken people. Not because love no longer exists but because we can no longer recognize it when we see it. In this series, An Angry Black Man wants to talk about that.

I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’,

An Angry Black Man

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Ralph Richard Banks wrote an infamous book titled “Is Marriage for White People?” In his book Banks seeks to address the issue of marriage decline in the Black community.

Banks offers quite a bit of research and produces sound stats regarding Black marriage. However, Banks’ interpretation of the data is skewed by his clear bias against Black men as suitable partners. He emphasizes the disparity between education, income, and class for Black men and Black women. For Banks (and he supposedly speaks for Black women as well), while there are Black men who are single and heterosexual, they are not marriageable because they are in prison or do not earn as much money as their female counterparts (which is ofcourse is because they are less educated). This results in Black women being “half as likely to marry as white women and three times as likely never to marry.” He cites that Black women are also less likely to marry outside their race than any other demographic including Black men.

20130110-052301.jpgBanks offers one solution for Black women: marry outside your race. Really Banks?? That’s the answer?? Banks’ entire book reads like a Tyler Perry play in which all the Black women are beautiful, fair skinned, long haired (or have long hair that has been cropped), educated, and successful and all the Black men are ghetto, hood, blue collar, uneducated, and unpolished. At least in Tyler’s narratives the men are usually decent enough to still be considered marriageable, Banks offers no such optimism.

The problem with this conclusion that Black women should abandon Black men is that it does not directly solve the issue of low Black marriage rates. The other problem is that the criterion used to determine a Black man’s marriageability is based on the material and economic contributions these can bring to the partnership. I would like to believe that there are other possibly more important things that a man can bring to a marriage. If by chance the most important factor is money, then it is no wonder women are objectified. A person pays for things not a person.

As the discussion on how to save Black love continues, lets hope that voices like Banks fade into the background because they are counter productive, cliche, and irrelevant.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man