Posts Tagged ‘the angriest black man in America’

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Nicki Minaj remains in the forefront of Hip Hop discussions: partially because of a lack of mainstream female presence and partially because she has a provocative persona. Most recently Nicki came under attack via Change.org petitions against her use of a well-known picture of Malcolm X for the cover of her latest song. “Lookin Ass Niggas.”

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The Petitions

One petition from Kevin Powell’s BK Nation was quoted to say:

We at BK Nation are deeply saddened, offended, and outraged that musical artist Nicki Minaj has decided to make a song called “Looking A__ N____.” The song is bad enough: a berating assault—laced with the n-word, in hideous quantities—on men who don’t spend money on her; complaints about men staring at her assets even as her whole video is a pathetic display of such assets; a reduction of all male-female relationships to dollar signs. But now Nicki Minaj’s new single, “Lookin A__ N____,” also has the gaul to put Malcolm X in its artwork, one of the great icons in Black History, and during Black History Month in America, no less. Malcolm X frowned on Black self-hatred, anti-intellectualism, and materialism. He was about the upliftment and empowerment of our communities, and he was a husband and father, not a n____.
– Kevin Powell

And the other petition from Rosa Clemente says:

Let’s stop Nicki Minaj, Young Money and their record labels from dishonoring the life and contributions of one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. I am asking anyone who is a lover of HIP HOP culture and who respects Black history to please sign this petition and force Nicki, Young Money and their record labels to take this down immediately. We cannot allow this to happen. As well, please pledge not to buy ANY of their products.
– Rosa Clemente

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Nicki’s Story

After the petitions grew legs, Nicki went to Instagram and responded:

What seems to be the issue now? Do you have a problem with me referring to the people Malcolm X was ready to pull his gun out on as Lookin Ass Niggaz? Well, I apologize. That was never the official artwork nor is this an official single. This is a conversation. Not a single. I am in the video shooting at Lookin Ass Niggaz and there happened to be an iconic photo of Malcolm X ready to do the same thing for what he believed in!!!! It is in no way to undermine his efforts and legacy. I apologize to the Malcolm X estate if the meaning of the photo was misconstrued. The word “nigga” causes so much debate in our community while the “nigga” behavior gets praised and worship. Let’s not. Apologies again to his family. I have nothing but respect an adoration for u. The photo was removed hours ago. Thank you.
– Nicki Minaj

The Problem

The first misunderstanding comes from people’s assumptions regarding Nicki’s use of the photo. Some commentors have thought that a Nicki was calling Malcolm X a “lookin ass nigga” because he’s looking out the window in the photo. That’s a fairly unintelligent assumption as it would make no sense for Nicki to attack Malcolm X (have we forgotten that he’s a Hip Hop icon much in the same vein as a Bob Marley, Scarface, and Che Guevera?). Also, since she’s the one with the guns in the video it would make more sense that she would be likening herself to Malcolm.

The next issue is that the people behind the petitions are 2 ole skool Hip Hop heads. Now as OGs it’s expected that they definitely have a heart for the culture and a personal stake in its future. So the fact that they have strong feelings and emotions about the happenings in Hip Hop culture is a given; however, I think they were totally wrong in the way they went about expressing themselves.

First of all they should have engaged this discussion from within the culture. Either of these accomplished individuals could have written a feature in Hip Hop magazine and got at Nicki for her alleged “disrespect.” The petitions take the whole issue outside the community, which one displays divisiveness and two turns the mainstream against one of our own (like we need more of that). This whole petitioning comes off as a publicity stunt or as some self affirming authority to police Hip Hop based on past relevance. Either way I guess it’s true what they say: “the liberals of today become the conservatives of tomorrow.”

The Point

Overall I think it was clearly artistic choice that led Nicki to choose the photo and as with any artist, one cannot presume to know the creator’s intentions, which is why art is given poetic license to express itself. This whole disrespect to the legacy and Black History is sensational overdosing on propaganda to make a subjective point, which almost always leads to an unsubstantiated discussion. I applaud Nicki for taking the high road and issuing her statement and removing the photo, but I kinda wish she had stood her ground. Just like Nas with his album “Nigger,” which he was forced to release untitled, I think this assault on Hip Hop artists under the guise of proper a Blackness is really going to lead us down a slippery slope. We think we’re sending some message to the world and setting a standard for Hip Hop and/or Black music, but really we’re giving them the ammunition they want to strike the legitimacy of the organic nature of Hip Hop and reinforce their system of controlling the manufacturing of the music. These OGs need to remember a few lessons their parents taught them: we don’t air our dirty laundry in public, some conversations are only to be had in the privacy of our own homes.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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

The Story

So I came across a clip of Erika Alexander best known for her role as cousin Pam on The Cosby Show and Maxine Shaw on Living Single speaking on racism and Hollywood.

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What stood out most in the clip is where Alexander states:

The industry has almost successfully segregated television. That did not happen until after — I’d say after the Living Single years where we were still on Fox and you could find a so-called “Black cast show” sitting right next to Ally McBeal. Now to find those same casts you got Black networks…That’s a problem. As long as they can say there are Black shows, they can put them in a Black context and they can discriminate and marginalize the show and it’s importance

– Erika Alexander

The Problem

What is so profound about the insight that she’s making is that she has successfully seen through the sheep’s clothing of “equality” and recognized the wolf for what he is. While it appears to work in our favor to have “Black shows” that appeal to our interests and have representative characters that look like us, the truth it carries the same danger that school integration had when it was instituted.

School integration appeared to be a civil rights win for Black people; however, in it’s wake school integration perfected segregation. Along with some other changes following the civil rights movement, integrated schools transformed the face of discrimination. The language and terms became racially coded and the discriminatory acts became institutionalized. So instead of saying ‘Whites Only’ it became all geographical economics. They didn’t have to make a school for coloreds when they made it so that the White and/or well-to-do could choose to take their kids from the local school and place them where they wanted. Leaving the minority and/or poor families who cannot afford (in time or finance) to send their kids to a school outside the local district. So, ofcourse, the schools in the those poor and/or minority communities end up with a majority if not completely inority student population. Ta-Da…successful re-institution of segregation only now it has the protection of appearing to be objective and non-racial. This is the similar effect that Alexander is eluding to in the television/film industry.

By labeling a show or movie as “Black,” it appears that we are being given out fair share of the market. In truth we are being marginalized to a section of the market, which, ofcourse, is less profitable and less mainstream. So then it can be justified why these shows and films have smaller budgets, lower quality writing, and shorter life spans. Eventually, we will see less and less Black faces on the screen (unless they are “3rd or 4th leads in a few liberal programs and films and Black actors and actresses will be relegated to that small sector until the last 20 years of progress will be dismantled.

The Point

The face of racism, prejudice, discrimination, and disenfranchisement is yet again morphing before our eyes. In times past we have not recognized or taken the changes seriously until it was too late to effectively annihilate them. I have always said that prejudice is like a virus: if you do not strike it hard and consistently with the first course of antibiotics, it will mutate and find a way to become resistant. That remedy that once would have worked perfectly, will never kill it again.

The time is now to identify these changes, study them, project where they are headed, and kill them before they come maturity. Otherwise we will always be a day late and a dollar short in our battle against racial prejudice and discrimination.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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This series explores the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is driven by the antiquated ideology about an economic system that no longer works in the favor of the people.

The Story

I was recently reflected on American history and how it was that this country has gone through so many catastrophes and calamities and still managed to rise to the top as a world power to be both feared and followed. It is in this history that I see where this notion of The American Dream became possible. Through the rise of men like Vanderbilt, Rockerfeller, J.P. Morgan, and others. These men who built empires from relatively humble beginnings and went on to contribute so much what this country became. However, it’s no secret that the America in which they were living was a much different place than what it is now. So the question emerges: is The American Dream now just a dream?

Whitepaper-Capitalism-and-American-DreamThe Backdrop of the Dream

Capitalism is the backdrop for the story of The American Dream. The principles and ideologies inherent in capitalist theory have saturated our mindsets and changed the way we interact with one another. The ruthless competition that it inspires for aggressive business is taken as a social model that we use to create socially acceptable identities.

How many times does one here a person identify themselves by what they do? How celebrated is it when an individual speaks of their aspirations for economic and/or business domination as opposed to say developing a charitable organization or performing civil service? In regards to the ideology of capitalism and its presumptions about people, there are 2 major issues.

Capitalism makes 2 major assertions regarding people: that people are mostly self-interested and those that accumulate material wealth are the most happy. While it is arguable whether these two assertions are accurate, the fact that America has adopted the capitalist economic model means that the economic structure of our society will create the truth of these 2 premises by default of forcing people to survive within a system that already presumes this to be true. The system exists and makes these assumptions, people will become these things in order to survive within the system. These 2 assertions combined with the fact that individuals are viewed as commodities and their only value is based on what they create brings those at the bottom of the economic structure to seek, above all else, material wealth.IT'S-CALLED-THE-AMERICAN-DREAM-BECAUSE-YOU-HAVE-IT-TO-BE-ASLEEP-TO-BELIEVE-IT

Shattered Dreams

Capitalism is the ideology often attributed with making The American Dream possible. I can see how one might make that assumption. it would appear free market enterprise, competition, and the drive for innovation would offer a smart, hard working American the opportunity to enter the market and make something out of nothing. But this is not wholly true. The truth is that those men like Vanderbilt, Rockerfeller, J.P. Morgan and others were not just smart, ambitious, hard working men who did great things. What made them successful was their ability to accumulate working capital to fund their ambitions. Capital that today, in light of the economic crash of Walls Street, the folding of the real estate industry, the collapse of the automobile industry, and the deterioration of the banking industry, is not easy to come by. This in turn makes The American Dream only possible for a small percentage of the country who have private means or the power and influence to secure capital.

Social mobility is as American as apple pie. It is what drives Americans. Our dreams, hopes, and fantasies of being one of those amazing rags-to-riches stories. But the truth about social mobility brings light to the dreams we conjure in the dark.

Pew Video: Economic Mobility and the American Dream

A study conducted by colleagues of Harvard and Berkeley discovered the determinants of social mobility in the United States.

The top 5 factors that influence social mobility

Family structure

Racial and economic segregation

School quality

Social capital

Income inequality

– Harvard Research Study, Where is the Land of Opportunity?

For some this may seem discouraging; however, there is nothing possibly tangible about a hope based on a lie. The study exposes the truth about upward social mobility in America. According  to the study to climb the social ladder in America, one cannot be self-interested and only concerned with accumulating material wealth. The greatest factors affecting social mobility have to do with an individuals connection to the people closest to them: their family and their community.

The study found that people who grow up in communities with a large amount of married parents tend to do better economically as well as people who grow up in racially segregated communities. This makes the obvious point that as much as we may want to buy into the model that everyone pulls himself up by his own bootstraps, apparently it takes a lot more than one pair of hands to do the pulling. It is not hard to see that the fact that the ability to amass capital has become much more regulated and less risk-taking, if one wants to be socially mobile in America today, they’d better have some help.DreamIsOver

The Problem

America has become the most blindly nostalgic countries in the world. We hold onto antiquated methodologies like a dog with a clean bone. We refuse to see that while we have been reveling in our own greatness, the world has been making advances and innovations to that which we created. That in turn has created an entirely different reality, which to accomplish greatness will require an entirely different model for dreaming.

Economists of today have stated that America is not a pure capitalist country (maybe it never was). The model under which we live is a mixed economy that falls somewhere between socialism and capitalism. Hence, the redundant battles between the right and left wings of politics who constantly argue about social welfare and private enterprise. I imagine America much more of a mixed economy now than it ever was. That being said, a purely capitalist view of navigating the system will fail to produce the results of years past.

Perhaps it is because these moguls who came to power during a past era, refuse to learn new tricks and instead want to hold the country hostage to ways better off discarded. Or maybe it is that we think that we can bring the dream back to life and restore the world to the way it was. Or maybe it is simply the loss of hope that comes from letting go of a dream that we cannot bear. Whatever the reason, the time to move forward and bring our mindsets in alignment with the present and give our imaginations over to a future that springs from the present is more than overdue.Redefining American Dream

The Point

As people trying to understand and navigate the system in hopes of achieving our American dream, we have to honest with ourselves about the system that we are dealing with. The capitalist moguls who made names for themselves in the early days following The Civil War, were dealing with a country with less regulation on the economy and trade market. Those men might have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, but they also had less scissors nipping at their strings. Things they did then to come to power will get you locked up now. They are no longer the success models to be followed.

We have to explore new models of economic prowess and success. We have to wake up and take a look around. Absorb the truth of the reality in which we live and then go on to dream of how this America can imagine a new dream. We need to dream a new plot line to The American Dream. Otherwise, the 1% of people controlling American wealth will remain at the top and us poor dreamers will be left at the bottom along with our pieces of our dreams.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

Resources

Marx, Karl. Capital.

National Bureau of Economic Research. Where is the Land of Opportunity? 2014.

Wilcox, W. Bradford. Family Matters. Slate.com. 2014.

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This series explores the truth about America’s culture of dependency: that it is driven by the antiquated ideology about an economic system that no longer works in the favor of the people.

The Story

More than any other individuals, wealthy black people have by words and deeds encouraged the black masses to worship at the throne of money.

– Bell Hooks, Salvation: Black People and Love

It has never ceased to amaze me how wealthy Black people perpetuate the ideology of the system against which they had to fight to get to where they are. Instead of using their position to dismantle the system (or at least shake it up), they wallow in their coveted new positions within the system’s structure. They insist that anyone can achieve what they have achieved by simply buying into the system. They fail to realize that they are one of the few that have been allowed to slip through the cracks of disenfranchisement in order to portray a stance of fairness and equality. They are the tokens that are held up to the rest of the community’s face to prove that nothing is wrong with the way things are. The truth is something entirely different.

America is a capitalist country. That is the economic model that we use. However, what should be an economic model has become our way of life. For the Black community, there are a number of dangers in using capitalism as a social model for success and happiness.

Capitalism as a Social Model

Capitalism is an economic system that focuses on the production of commodities and the exchange of these commodities. This is fairly easy to understand when talking about products and material goods; however, when speaking of labor and human performed service, things become more complex. Labor gains its value because of the part it plays in the production of material goods. For example, a sweater that is hand knitted may be more expensive in value than that of one produced by a machine because the human labor has to be considered and that human has to be paid on top of the materials that are purchased. This is how labor gains its value in capitalist theory. The products of human labor also include intangible goods such as services that are performed. These services, like the hand-made sweater, are products of labor. In the social aspect, products of labor give the perception of applying value to the actual laborer that does the producing. In short, the laborer becomes a commodity to be valued simply because the value of its products are connected to the human labor that produces it.

A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour.

– Karl Marx, Capital.

The production of labor influences the social character of the laborer because their products are viewed as external extensions of them. For example, fashion designers create tangible products that reflect their labor. The high fashion designer develops his/her prestige according to the value of the products that they produce. This gives the designer a measure of prestige because they are the creators of a highly valued product. This creates a blending of individual identity with the products of labor that they produce.

Often when an American is asked about their identity, at some point, we mention the work we do. We describe ourselves as being a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, etc. The products of our labor become merged with who we are. That is because in a capitalist country like America the products of our labor imply our social standing, our intelligence, our education, and our value in society. One would rather say, ‘I am a lawyer,’ than say ‘I am a nurse.’ One would rather say ‘I am an administrative assistant,’ than say ‘I am a janitor.’ This is because upon immediately hearing these descriptions, certain presumptions arise in the mind. When one hears that someone is a lawyer, it is thought that they make a substantial amount of money and can access power and influence in our society. When one hears that someone is a janitor, it is presumed that this person doesn’t have much education or isn’t that intelligent because if they did they would be a lawyer or something more prestigious. This connection merging of the value of the productions of our labor with who we are as laborers skewed our perception about identity and self-worth.

The Problem

The biggest problem with capitalism as a social model is that it only values the tangible. This concept forces an individual into a one dimensional box in which they can only identify themselves as what they are able to produce. These are the people that when you ask them where they will be in 5 years, their only answer is to be rich. These are the people who when you ask them about their dreams and desires, you never hear them mention love, friendship, or having a family. They can only identify with that which capitalism gives value to: material wealth.

For Black people this is especially problematic as we are, by our ancestral nature, communal people. We are inclined to connect and interact with one another, but this capitalist model doesn’t allow for that, because capitalism is driven by competition. Anyone who is going to attempt to be successful in a capitalist society must be obsessively driven towards its goal of material wealth and with the competition of everyone else, there is no time for that which does not lead towards material wealth. So, we place more value and spend more time worshiping money and pursuing the accumulation of material wealth than anything else.

The Point

What is most important about life is not in the things that we accumulate; those things are temporal. The essence of humanity is not tangible. What makes a person a person — what makes a person valuable — is not tangible. The greatest accomplishments we have made as Black people, was accomplished through collective efforts. There is nothing revolutionary about self-interest; there is nothing revolutionary about wealth; there is nothing revolutionary about capitalism. And revolution is what we need.

I do not seek to attack capitalism nor do I seek to suggest that it is the most horrible economic model the United States could ascribe to. What I am saying is that when sought by those for whom it was not built (in this case the Black community), it will never yield salvation. If upward social mobility, success, and happiness are what we are truly seeking we will have to face the facts that even while living in a capitalist society, we cannot live by capitalist ideology. If we are ever going to topple the gods that rule us, we will have to stop worshipping at their throne.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

References

Hooks, Bell. Salvation: Black People and Love.

Marx, Karl. Capital.

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

The Story

So…suffice it to say I have a new hero: Richard Sherman. I am actually not a football fan. Honestly, I dislike the sport for its aggressive barbaric nature and some other ideological crap most people don’t care about. However, I don’t think anyone could have missed the media storm that was caused by Richard Sherman’s post-game interview on the field after his team’s win against the 49ers.

Richard Sherman

richard-sherman-seahwaks-nfl-adderall-vancouver-sunSo, let’s talk about this amped up dude who was screaming into the microphone after the football game. Let me first revisit my feelings about football. The entire sport is about aggression, physical endurance, and domination. One team is seeking to dominate the other mentally through orchestrated plays and physically through sheer force and body contact. Any man that is successful in such a sport cannot be, at least not at all times, a passive, timid individual. The sport doesn’t require that nor does it have room for it. So Sherman’s aggression and high energy is not unusual. I’m certain that the reporter as well as some of the viewers were not expecting that response from Sherman. I think that expectation is more about the fact that he approached the reporter somewhat calmly and stilled himself to hear what she was saying above the roaring crowd in the background. However, she asked him to take her through the play. That brought Sherman back to the mindset that makes him good at a animalistic sport. Fans and viewers got what they tuned in for…so what’s their problem?

The least of names that Richard Sherman was called was: thug. In response Sherman stated:

It’s like everybody else said the n-word and then they say ‘thug’ and they’re like, ‘Aw, that’s fine,” — It kind of takes me aback.

– Richard Sherman

Now we are getting at why this dude is going in my list of modern day Black heroes. Sherman looks straight through the bullshit and sees the truth. It’s not okay for them to call him a thug. Sherman grew up in Watts and later his family moved to Compton. Everyone knows what these neighborhoods are infamous for: gangs, drugs, violence. Ofcourse, when the media is loving Sherman they emphasize this to create the Cinderella, rags-to-riches story about the poor Black boy who made it out of the ghetto. The undertone of these stories is almost always exotic and dangerous and America lusts for nothing less than the dangerous and the exotic while hating that we lust for it.

Race, ofcourse, is no longer a question of color but a question of zip code: as we cross over from affluent areas to the ghetto, we shift from the realm of citizens to that of criminals. The boundary between these two places is the new color line…What emerges from this is a new vocabulary in which race is recoded as a set of metaphors.

– D. Marvin Jones, Fear of a Hip Hop Planet

Racial coding has painted the ghetto as some dangerous alien jungle in which the natives, called thugs, are all criminalized animals waiting for a chance to exact their violent tendencies on the good citizens of the real world. This is the game they wanted to play with Sherman. But my dude played that shit perfectly.

Richard Sherman makes no apologies for what he did. He states that perhaps is was in poor taste for him to call out his arch nemesis by name (I don’t know why they’re acting like it’s not public knowledge that he and Crabtree don’t like each other a lot) but his only regret is that the media exploited him to the detriment of his team. Listen, that could not have been better stated. I don’t know if that’s the Stanford Communications degree or just his own general savvy but the man played the hand right. And then he wraps it around to the fact that football is a barbaric sport and it is meant to be aggressive and violent and a battle of domination. The other great point that he brings out is that context is key. He asserted that he was interviewed in the aftermath a major winning game in which he played a pivotal part in the win and it was on the field against one of his rivals. Hence, the name dropping, the high energy, and the aggression. Arizona Cardinals v Seattle SeahawksHe then states that what he did can be contextualized but the people who called him out his name did what they did from the peace and quiet of their own homes and, therefore, their responses say more about their barbaric nature and the rapant racism of this country than it does about him. PERFECT.

Not only does Sherman play this whole ordeal perfectly, intelligently and articulately uses his media opportunity to turn the conversation back at the real problems, but he is just an outstanding individual. Richard Sherman is a young Black man that graduated second in his class from high school and he is a graduate of Stanford University and began working on his master’s degree while playing. Sherman He is also a founder of the Richard Sherman foundation which is a charity organization aimed at providing underprivileged children with school supplies and clothes. So, apparently this is what thugs do now. I like it. Let’s all be thugs.

The Problem

In the backlash of Sherman’s interview, he was called an idiot, classless, an ape, a gorilla, a monkey and, ofcourse, he was called a nigger well over a dozen times. Yet, somehow the media conversation continued to be about Sherman’s behavior and whether it was appropriate. Okay, let that really sink in. America basically just had a discussion about whether the use of racial epithets and overt racism and harassment is warranted. Are there really any people in this country left who will say that we are living in a post-race society?!

The biggest problem in this scenario is the fact that there is growing apathy about racism in this country simply because the conversation is redundant and the issue always arises when there is some national attention drawn to a Black person, especially a Black man. This was the same as when the country wanted us to be okay with our president being caricaturized as a monkey. They said it was just humor and satire that every president and public personality endures. But it’s not as funny as it is racist. Even the racially coded term “thug,” which is a word the media could politically correctly embrace and brand Sherman with, is still not okay. Sure he didn’t grow up best neighborhoods, but last I checked growing in the hood/ghetto/projects does not a thug make. So what are they really saying when they use that word?

The word “thug” has been used so many times by the same sort of people about the same sort of thing that it’s no longer even accurate to call it code—it’s really more of a shorthand. It means a black guy who makes white folks a little more uncomfortable than they prefer.

– Kyle Wagner, Regressing.

It’s understandable that not every Black person will be approving of the way Sherman conducted himself during the interview. That’s fine. Not every Black person is a Richard Sherman fan. That’s fine as well. However, we cannot abandon him no when the country has literally brutalizing this man’s character. When I look at pictures of Sherman on the field and listen to his interviews, I see a Black man that is happy with his life. That man has overcome numerous obstacles to be fortunate enough to be getting paid millions of dollars to do something her loves. Shiiiiit, I wish! That is what makes it sinister and egregious for him to be slandered for nothing more than being great at his job and living his dream. We don’t have to like his behavior to support him not being called a nigger and a thug. I would hate to see him become another Michael Vic — what they did to that Black man was a tragedy (but that’s another post).

richard-sherman-800The Point

There’s never been a single thing wrong with black people that the total destruction of white supremacy would not fix.
– Ta-Nahesi Coates, Richard Sherman Is Better At Life Than You.

Stories like Richard Sherman’s always moves me to love and support because in the Black community we have a tendency to lean towards the moral high ground, which is a good thing; however, that is also our greatest weakness in that it is used to divide and conquer us. We would sooner focus on a person’s mistakes and/or poor choices and use that as a basis for condemning them or abandoning them to wolves. My family has a strong family code about loving and supporting one another. Our philosophy is, ‘I got your back when you need me whether you’re right or wrong, but if you’re wrong I’ll tell you about yourself later, at home.’ This was a beautiful and monumental feeling for me: knowing that I was supported unconditionally. I didn’t have to fear being abandoned or ostracized for making mistakes. What I feared instead of abandonment was disappointing all those people supporting me. I would try to do right and be better because I didn’t want to make a fool of those people in my corner who I knew would come to my aid without question. That’s love. That’s the kind of love we need in the Black community. After all, if we continue to abandon and neglect one another in pursuit of some arbitrary moral objective, we will continue achieve the greatest evil: community division and reification of the stereotypes that obstruct our progress. But if Richard Sherman, the Stanford graduate, millionaire, philanthropic, athletic, articulate, aggressive, competitive, driven, level headed Black man is a thug, then, yea, I’m trying to be about that life.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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

The Story

I had several people ask me “Are you off for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday?” and one friend said “I hope every Black person gets the day off.” My co-worker went as far as to say, “We marched and fought too hard for that day, I’m not going to work on that day.” Actually I did work, willingly. It brought a feeling that I remembered first having when I was a little boy.

What I remember most is the brief minutes that they taught Black History when I was in school. Often this consisted of learning about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and then a list of notable Black inventors. The history of the civil rights was reduced to simply the Montgomery bus boycott and the march on Washington. Unfortunately for one of my teachers, my father was a fairly radical thinker. He was the type of man that challenged anything someone set before him as the truth. He was never an actual Black Panther (I never asked him why he didn’t join) but most of his friends were and the type of minds that he engaged with were radical. My father asked what they taught me about Black History in school one day and I told him. He asked, “That’s all?” Then he proceeded to take me to a stack of books he had: “Nigger” (the autobiography of Dick Gregory) and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” were among those titles. He asked me if I knew about Malcolm X. I knew of Malcolm X simply because my father had one of those huge posters in the front of the apartment over his turntables. My father pulled out a video and told me to watch some of the speeches of Malcolm X with him. He told me that he preferred Malcolm’s philosophy to that of Dr. King and he told me why. My father told me to go to school and ask my teach about Malcolm X. I went to class and when it was time, I asked. My teacher gave me some short synopsis. I asked her about”By Any Means Necessary” and she looked offended and went on to say — in an offhand kind of way — how Dr. King was better than Malcolm because he was non-violent. That day in that class at the age of 7 or 8, I had my first feelings about Dr. King and his American notoriety.

MLK_Memorial_NPS_photoThe American Legacy

The American Legacy of Dr. King, for many years, was how he was this peaceful, gentle, brave man. They characterized him like most Christians (who ignore the revolutionary aspects) characterize Jesus: meek and low. Throughout school I would often hear the same adjectives repeatedly applied to Dr. King and only the mention of his peacefulness and his ability to love his enemies. This, ofcourse, is a narrative that works for America, the Protestant Country. Let’s not talk about the bloodshed, the brutality, the rage, the rebellion, and the silent war that was the Civil Rights movement. We’ll talk about the good Christian Negro who came and showed America the err of its ways. Oh America, no one lies like you do.

In the granting of the rights and in the wake of Dr. King’s death, America made him a martyr. He became larger than life. A good brown face to model for the rest of the Blacks how they should be. They made a martyr of Dr. King and in doing so neutralized the radical nature of who he was, what he was doing, and what he endeavored to do. Dr. King, the epitome of gentle, Christian love became the perfect antithesis to the growing violent revolutionaries like Malcolm X and The Black Panther Party. Rarely is publicly discussed how Dr. King lamented over the results of the civil rights movement; how he feared what would come from integration; how he began to understand the thoughts and feelings of his fellow freedom fighters.

Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

When I Think about King

When I think about what Dr. King’s theory of non-violence really meant, I do not see it as some epitomizing Christian ideal nor do I see it as some fearful passive act of weakness. In Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he explains the facets of overall purpose of non violence:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

en_0502_michellemiller_480x360Dr. King’s non-violence was not simply a fostering of his Christian ideals. It was strategic move to gain attention. Dr. King knew that White people would expect violent retaliation. He knew that if Civil Rights activists refused to be violent while their oppressors were brutally violent, this would expose them as the true savages. That is what the non-violent movement accomplished. What human being with any soul can look at the images of the that movement and not feel something. When the world saw what America was doing to Black people and shook their heads, then America, from shame, began to rethink her policies. Non-violence wasn’t about passivity. It was about the activists maintaining their humanity so that they did not become that which they opposed and it was about exposing America for the monster that it was.

I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter From Birmingham Jail

birmingham63I think about the fact that even Dr. King’s non-violent theories of action were considered extreme to his fellow Black Baptist clergymen. Many did not support Dr. King’s ideas of resisting oppression. Dr. King was a revolutionary for the Black church — which at the time was always the heart of the Black community. Dr. King helped to break the historical binds that Christianity had placed on Black people by turning them into passive endurers of oppression who gather every Sunday to long for Heaven because Earth is so Evil. What he did taught the Black church about it’s power (which in current times is so neglected — but that’s another post) to encourage, to motivate, to give hope, and to bring about tangible change.

I think about what the Montgomery Bus Boycott was teaching Black people then and now: the power of economics. Dr. King wasn’t defending Rosa Parks with the boycott. Dr. King had developed a strategy to use the power (in America this means wealth and influence) to get the country’s attention and make them listen tot he voices of Black people. Dr. King knew that the majority of the people using public transportation were Black people and that if why stopped using it, the industry would be hit so hard that they would at least have to consider discontinuing their treatment of Black riders. And he was right. Today, we neglect what he’s taught us as Black Americans have a buying power projected to be $1.1 Trillion dollars by the year 2015.

I also think about the way that Dr. King’s efforts embodied and inspired Black people to develop a collective imagining and to work together to bring that imagining into being. Dr. King knew that the sum of a collective of individuals is always greater than that of the individual. How profound a thought this is for Black people who, above any other nationality I have ever encountered, worship at the throne of selfishness and individualism.Dr_-king

The Problem

The problem is that all we remember and all we think and speak about is the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that American History has served up to us on a passive non-violent platter. All we can recall is the dream of White people and Black people integrating. We miss the most profound, the most brilliant, the most prophetic aspects of Dr. King and what really makes him worth remembering. He was a revolutionary, an intellectual, a prophet, and a warrior. He loved Black people — most of whom he did not and would not ever know — so much that he stepped to the forefront at the risk of losing his family and his life.

martin-luther-king-being-arrestedThe Point

I am often saddened around Dr. King’s birthday. Mostly because when I watch Black people celebrate, take their day off from work, and/or perform some community service act in remembrance of him, all too often they aren’t even honoring the true man that Dr. King was. And I cringe when Black people say that we are living Dr. King’s dream because the perception that produces a thought like that to the extent that it could fall from someone’s lips is so astoundingly ignorant of the man whose legacy they speak of.

martin-luther-king-arrestedWe are not hardly living Dr. King’s dream. We have in fact fallen below the accomplishments he made in his time. There is no unity among Black people as Dr. King tried to teach us. We don’t stand together in support of a collective imagining. We don’t love each other enough to be jailed, beaten, or killed for one another. We don’t utilize our economic power in support of giving voice to our community. We don’t have the attention of the legislation (unless its election time) and governing powers. If anything, we have failed Dr. King.

“I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply – We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.”

(- Dr. King to Harry Belafonte) Harry Belafonte, Is America A Burning House?

Martin Luther King Jr. in JailWe are in fact living his greatest nightmare. The state and minds of Black people today are what Dr. King feared most in his last days. He feared that all of the accomplishments of his fighting had given us an invitation to death by integrating into a burning house destined to dilapidate and that we would not realize it until it was too late. So here we are in 2014, finally feeling the heat of the fire beyond what can be ignored. The burning is all around us: sever unemployment and under-employment, the fading of affirmative action and social welfare programs, the rising of the bar of material success (beyond the reach of the majority of Black people), the devaluing of the family structure, the desecration of love as an ideal, the growing envy and distrust of one another, the excessive competition, and the worship of capitalism.

I’m sorry this post wasn’t cheery and full of cliches to make us smile at the memory of Dr. King. I’m sure in comparison to what others have written this must seem pretty ugly. But the truth is ugly. What I feel when I remember Dr. King is somber and introspective. It makes me draw into myself and ask the hard questions that I would probably not want to share the answers with anyone. However, that is what has to happen. If we are going to make up the ground that we’ve lost and get back to making progress.

I’m not sayin: I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

Resources

Belafonte, Harry. Is America A Burning House?

King, Dr. Martin Luther. Letter From Birmingham Jail.

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