Race, Sports & Society: The Sordid Tale of Donald Sterling

Image courtesy of sippakorn/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Image courtesy of sippakorn/FreeDigital Photos.net.

By now, almost everyone in the United States has probably heard about Donald Sterling, the 80-year-old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball franchise, whose recorded, racist diatribe was released by the celebrity gossip website TMZ over the weekend. Sterling was recorded by V. Stiviano, who was apparently his mistress.

On Tuesday, with advertisers lining up to end their relationship with the Clippers and with the threat of a player boycott of playoff games, the NBA handed down its punishment. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver fined Sterling $2.5 Million and issued a lifetime ban. He also called on the Board of Governors, comprised of the 30 NBA franchise owners (29 without Sterling), to meet and decide whether Sterling should be forced to the sell the franchise, which they can do with a 75% vote.

It’s a sordid story of race, sex, sports, and money. Perhaps the only thing missing is the violence. From the beginning, I was troubled by the discussions surrounding this issue because they often didn’t acknowledge that it was much deeper than one elderly man’s dislike of black people. However, as the scandal lingered on, writers delved more deeply into the story. Here’s my take on the subject.

  1. Donald Sterling’s racism was perhaps the worst kept secret in basketball. So, it’s interesting that so many were shocked, disappointed or hurt because of the statements he made on tape. Yet, one only has to scratch the surface to find numerous witnesses to Sterling’s bad behavior. He singled-out NBA hall-of-famer Magic Johnson, stating that he didn’t want his girlfriend to bring African Americans to Clippers games or appear in pictures with them on “the Instagram.”  But that is unsurprising since Sterling did not want black people in his rental properties either. He compared black people to dogs and spoke as if he were a 21st century slave master, providing houses and cars to his servants out of his benevolence, rather than employer paying people for their labor. I am thrilled that the players used their power to make a stand, but I wished there had been an outcry for the African-Americans and Latinos who lived in Sterling buildings (or were unable to obtain housing) when the Department of Justice housing discrimination suit was filed against him.
  2. The Los Angeles NAACP needs to check itself. In the interest of full disclosure, the national organization been getting the “side-eye” from me for a few years now–ever since since the Shirley Sherrod debacle in 2010. I respect the “historical’ organization, but something seems off with the organization in it’s current state. The Los Angeles NAACP has accepted donations from Donald Sterling for more than a decade. Although it has now been rescinded, they planned to honor him with his 2nd lifetime achievement award at an event in May. It seems like, with the housing discrimination charges, the organization should have been outside his buildings protesting rather than giving him awards. Or, can he wash his sins away with donations? There must be some other way to stay solvent than to take money from the perpetrators of racism that the organization is supposed to combat.
  3. There is a myth that race does not matter in sports. I contend that common sense, history, and contemporary events indicate the fallacy of this, but it seems to be a prevalent line of thinking expressed by sports media types who want to portray the culture of sport as a beacon of righteousness on a hill rather than a microcosm of our society. When confronted with racists or racist behavior, it may be comforting to think that we are confronting an anomaly instead of an endemic social ill. These relics will soon be like the dinosaurs–extinct. But reality contradicts this wishful thinking. And what will “they” say when the next Riley Cooper, Richie Incognito, Dan Snyder, or Donald Sterling reveals himself/herself?

 

 

Hair We Go Again

Fist pickI’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When we started in this blog in 2013, I never dreamed that so many of my posts would be dedicated to discussing hair. Eventually, Da Hype 1 and I began a category we call “Natural Conversations” in which we–as relatively new naturalistas–discuss what products work best for us. But most of our “hair posts” have not been in that particular vein. In fact, they usually involved one or both of us defending some black woman or girl who was being attacked because of her hair.

Enter the Steve Harvey Show (March 26, 2014). Let me preface this by saying that I am no fan of Steve Harvey’s radio show, his daytime talk show, his books or advice on how women should behave to get a man. But I was reading a post on the For Harriet site about one of his recent shows, and I decided to watch the clip. What I saw made me angry and sick to my stomach at the same time. A newly-wed African-American couple was there seeking advice because the husband did not like his wife’s natural hairstyle. Throughout their nine-year relationship, she had always worn weaves but didn’t want to wear them anymore. When he came home and saw her hair, he behaved like a child or, perhaps, more like a character from some melodramatic nineteenth-century novel. He ran from the house. He then returned to ask his wife if she were wearing a wig. And, if so, she should remove it.

To his credit, Steve Harvey chastised the husband for his extreme behavior and for making his wife feel less than beautiful. He said, “It ain’t your damn head!” Here, I had to laugh because I told my mother something similar–“That’s your head”–when her husband threatened to leave her if she cut off all her hair. But then Harvey brought out psychotherapist, author and blogger Curly Nikki to show some alternate style options. It appeared that his wife’s puff style was really quite distressing to him. Finally, Harvey offered the wife a year’s worth of hair appointments at a salon in her area specializing in natural hair.

Hold up. Wait a minute. So, the solution to the husband’s obsession with a long, silky, Brazilian weave was to find natural styles that were more pleasing to him? I’m confused. Wasn’t it the husband’s attitude that needing “fixing” and not his wife’s hair? Oh, so this actually wasn’t new advice. Steve Harvey was on script: Fix yourself so you can get/keep a man. 

I was angry with the husband for being self-centered and insensitive yet sickened by what appeared to be his self-loathing. A few questions have gnawed at me since I saw this clip:

  1. What did this man think was going on under his wife’s weave for nine years?
  2. Doesn’t he realize that the same hair that he despises also grows naturally out of his own head?
  3. Does he love his wife or the weave?

I suppose I’m asking too much. This is daytime television, after all. Every time I see a discussion on natural hair, it is shallow and disappointing. This wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last.

___________

Click here for the For Harriet post, where you can see the Steve Harvey clip.

Below are links to some of 2 Dope Sistahs’ posts on black hair:

The Jigaboos vs. The Wannabees: The War on Black Hair

How My 6-Year Old Protested her Natural Hair & the Role Tiana Parker Plays

Spoken in Jest: Sheryl Underwood & Afro Hair

Blackness on Exhibit: Choosing to Objectify Our Own Bodies

Beautiful Black Girls

No Longer Laughing: Jerry Seinfeld and the End of Fandom

In 2002, TV Guide named Seinfeld the “greatest television show of all time.”** During the show’s nine seasons, I watched it almost religiously; it was literally “must see TV.”
I enjoyed all of the characters–Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and especially George–as well as Seinfeld’s/Larry David’s irreverent way of looking at the world. I have seen almost every episode of this show and have most of them memorized. From time-to-time, I still watch the old shows if I run into an episode while flipping through the channels. I did, that is, until February when I saw a BuzzFeed Brews interview with Jerry Seinfeld during which he derisively dismissed a question about diversity and his internet show, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

Honestly, I had never seen an episode of Seinfeld’s internet program prior to watching this interview. (Subsequently, I did watch a couple of episodes in preparation to write this post.) But this was not a new criticism for Seinfeld. On the old Seinfeld show, some critics pointed out its lack of racial diversity. The main characters and the majority of the recurring characters and guest stars were white, but I was never concerned about that. I had watched established shows with predominantly white/all white casts attempt to insert people of color, and it just seemed awkward and disingenuous. Besides, I was often uncomfortable with Seinfeld‘s depiction of African Americans in the episodes where they made an appearance.

I even endured Seinfeld’s support of his former cast mate, Michael Richards, after his very public meltdown on stage at The Laugh Factory in 2006. However, his racist diatribe against black audience members, laden with racial epithets and lynching imagery, was the reason that I refused to purchase the Seinfeld show’s DVD set. I was not about to let “Kramer” get one thin dime of my money.

It seemed that my fandom knew no bounds until the BuzzFeed interview. Although the interviewer, business editor Peter Lauria, was quite deferential to Seinfeld, he gingerly brought up the fact that “most of the guests are mostly white males.” Whether he was feigning anger or genuinely annoyed, Seinfeld relayed that this “really pisses me off.” He asserted that he had “no interest in gender or race or anything like that.” Folks who brought up those issues were simply “anti-comedy” with their “PC nonsense.” Well, he didn’t pull a “Kramer,” but Jerry Seinfeld’s comments were defensive and dismissive. He was unwilling to consider, even for a moment, that it was a valid criticism. Perhaps Lauria was just being ironic when he asserted that the interview would be “a very serious and earnest conversation.”

Clearly, Seinfeld doesn’t feel the need to think about or respond to racialized or gendered “others.” According to him, his only concern is comedy. But humor, like beauty, is subjective.  Maybe Jerry Seinfeld said it best when he said if “you’re funny, I’m interested.” Well, I’m no longer laughing, so I’m not interested.

_________________

**A subsequent list in 2013 listed The Sopranos as “the best series of all time.”

Wacky Wednesday: Oscar Snubs

Black Twitter exploded with joy when the film 12 Years a Slave won three Academy Awards on Sunday night. Nominated in nine categories, it won in three–Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, and Best Motion Picture of the Year.fruitvalestation

Often, however, our favorite movies go unnoticed. This year, for example, Fruitvale Station, received no nominations at all. Based on the life of Oscar Grant, who was killed by Bay Area police in 2009, the film stars Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer.

My favorite movie of all time, The Color Purple, was ColorPurplenoticed. Adapted from the Alice Walker novel of the same name, it was nominated for eleven Academy Awards in 1986 but won nothing. For me, this was the ultimate snub. Directed by Stephen Spielberg, this movie had so many great artists associated with it–Whoopi Goldberg (Best Actress), Oprah Winfrey (Best Supporting Actress), Margaret Avery (Best Supporting Actress), Menno Meyjes (Screenplay), and Quincy Jones, et. al. (Best Music, Original Score). How could it not win?

Well, I could go on all day, but I’d like to know what you think. What films/actors/actors deserved Academy Awards but got snubbed instead?

The Help, 12 Years a Slave, and Racial Politics in Hollywood

Notes on The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Anyone who really knows me knows that I absolutely hated-yes, hated-The Help. Let me be clear: I am talking about the novel and not the movie. And, that is because after having painfully read the novel, I refused to see the movie. There, I said it, and even wrote it for all of the world to see!

While I have many gripes with the novel, what bothered me most was the way in which the author, Kathryn Stockett, trivialized the Civil Rights Movement by centering it entirely around black people’s desires to share the same toilets with white folks. That troubled me. There came a moment in my my reading where I stopped and said, “So . . . this book is about sh!t?” I then proceeded to call Da Realist 1 and yell at her about this book and how I thought it was full of sh!t.

Let’s examine this notion further. There is the woman agonizing about her 17 year old son who was in jail for using a white-only bathroom. Either he was illiterate and incapable of reading the “White-only” sign or he suddenly forgot Jim Crow laws that prevented him from behaving properly in the segregated Mississippi. You choose. Either way, I found it odd because black folks did not forget segregation–that was their way of life, and  forgetting it could be a death sentence. The murder of Emmett Till served as a reminder to all, of what happened when black people did not acquiesce to the rules of the segregated South.

Then, there were the domestic workers, who were bothered by not being able to share the bathroom of the families for whom they worked, and were forced to use out houses. To the credit of one white family, they built a separate bathroom inside their home for their maid’s use because “Everybody knows [black people] carry different kinds of diseases than [white people] do” (8).

Lawn of toiletsThen, the antagonist in the novel, Hilly Holbrook, is working to introduce into Mississippi legislature, a law which she titled, The Home Help Sanitation Initiative. This initiative would promote separate help quarters in every white person’s home, as a way of preventing the spread of “Negro germs.” Skeeter, the protagonist, is so kindhearted to the “Negro maids,” that she decides to play a trick on Hilly and posts in the newspaper she works for that unwanted toilets can be dropped off at the Holbrook home. Hilly awakens to a lawn full of toilets. Enough bathroom talk yet?

Wait! I can’t forget the pie Minny made with her own excrement. (For those who have not read the novel, I’ll end it here. Enough is enough, damn it!)

This novel, situated within the historical context of the Civil Rights Movement, only offered readers a cursory glance at high profile leaders like James Meredith and Martin Luther King, Jr. and it failed to recognize the larger issues of segregation and racial violence that blacks experienced. For example, The Little Rock Nine so desperately wanted equal access to education, that they braved violent mobs who spat upon them, hit them, and threw various types of food and drink on them. I could go on and on about this book and what it failed to accomplish, but I already feel the need to take my blood pressure.

But here is the thing: for some strange reason, I thought the author was black throughout most of the novel, though I later found out otherwise. I only include this to dispel any argument that one might have that I am responding to this novel negatively because I resent the fact that the author is white. On the contrary. I believe that anyone can write about any subject matter they choose. In order for the characters to be believable, however, you need to actually know and understand the culture about which you are writing. For me, Stockett did not know and understand the culture of black women maids who served in the homes of white families.

As the movie was released, I learned that I was not alone in my disdain for this novel. Da Realist 1 won’t even call it by name (she calls it The Terrible, Awful book) and The Association of Black Women Historians released a statement, arguing that “The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers” (Read the ABWH Statement on The Help here).

The truth is, when the novel came out and the movie was later released, every white woman I came across wanted to know if I had read The Help. (They thought they wanted to discuss it with me, but believe me, they did not.) I was at my daughter’s dance class and all of the mothers, who happened to be white, kept asking me if I read the book and wanted to hear about how much I loved it.

Stop. Rewind. Now, read that last sentence again and replace dance class with gymnastics class, and you will understand how everywhere I had gone, white women were talking about how wonderful this novel is. I was so sick of hearing about that damn book! Da Realist 1 was even approached by a white employee at a book store who wanted to discuss the book. When she told him that she did not care for it, he became hostile. This is when black people should be skeptical: whenever soooooo many white people like a work that addresses race, it should be cause for concern.

The Help, the book and The Help, the movie both fit the formula for books and movies that address racial issues in a way that white people can be amused and entertained. The Help has a white woman protagonist, who makes white people feel comfortable, and provides them with someone with whom they can identify. After all, everyone would like to believe that they are Skeeter and not Hilly.

Hollywood Rule: There must be a kindhearted white woman or man in the story who comes to the aid of black folks and supports them. Otherwise, white people feel convicted and uncomfortable with the story, even if the story is non-fiction. And, for the record: I’m not saying that these kindhearted white folks did not exist; they just may not have existed in every story and in every black person’s life. This bit of news may come as a shock to some white people.

12 Years a Slave

Image from movie, 12 Years a Slave

Image from movie, 12 Years a Slave

So, why am I discussing The Help now, 2 years after the release of the movie? While looking for a place that was still showing 12 Years a Slave, I came across these comments about the movie, posted on moviefone.com:

“Horrible waste of time and money. It was realistic but how many times do we need to sensationalize the same tired story of the unfair whites and the poor blacks. It is a fact of life that happened a long time ago. Each time this story is told, it brings about additional racial tension in the USA.”

“Interesting take on a past that some ppl will try and hold emotions for. Not enough emphasis on the many white ppl who sacrificed a lot, including their life, to help the black cause. IN a time when racial division is on the rise movies like this do not help.”

“I forgot to star this movie. One star. Again, too intense and too much violence against people. Doesn’t matter black or white. I don’t like seeing people getting beat up so much, not entertaining.”

“It was definitely gritty. Just a horrible, depressing film and story. Not uplifting, but alarming. Particularly considering what is happening in the US politically as the white republicans try to rewrite history and turn back the clock.”

“Boring Fell asleep The same thing we’ve seen before.”

“Too long, gratuitous violence,how many times did we have to watch beatings and whippings…..did not like this movie.”

“Boring..very predictable…save your money and rent it”

While I cannot identify the race of those who made these comments, similar comments can be found around the internet, articulating white people’s discomfort with movies that address slavery as the subject matter. The same outrage does not occur as the the result of so many movies representing the horrible experience of Jews in Nazi Germany, and that is probably because Americans have always been willing to acknowledge the atrocities that occurred outside of our borders, while avoiding those that occurred within.

12 Years A Slave, on the other hand, is a hard pill for some white people to swallow because of the obvious injustice and violence experienced by Solomon Northrup and his fellow slaves. His story was not a safe one to tell, like that in The Help.

First, 12 Years a Slave is non-fiction, and it forces readers to deal with the harsh cruelties of slavery from the perspective of a true story. One cannot hide behind the the label of fiction when reading the narrative or watching film, which is why the above comments are comical at best. The white people that Northrup came across were vicious, violent, and conniving thieves. Why should he have depicted them in any way other than he experienced them?

Second, as one of the comments indicate, this story is not uplifting in the way that many white viewers need it to be. Brutal beatings are not uplifting, but then again, I did not go to a movie on slavery and expect it to be.

But, I beg us to rethink the narrative of a happy ending, especially when it comes to narratives on racial violence in slavery and Jim Crow. For example, I am not certain how a narrative–a true narrative–of a man who was kidnapped and robbed of 12 years of his “freedom”, ownership of his body and how it gets used, his time/experiences with family because of excessive greed and white privilege, was brutally beaten, forced into chattel slavery, and then released, can not be a story of triumph.

Brad Pitt in 12 Years a Slave

Brad Pitt in 12 Years a Slave

Furthermore, if only those who had fallen asleep had stayed awake long enough, they would have found out that even during slavery, Brad Pitt would come and save the day for black people.

The Help, 12 Years a Slave, and Racial Politics in Hollywood

Notes on The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Anyone who really knows me knows that I absolutely hated-yes, hated-The Help. Let me be clear: I am talking about the novel and not the movie. And, that is because after having painfully read the novel, I refused to see the movie. There, I said it, and even wrote it for all of the world to see!

While I have many gripes with the novel, what bothered me most was the way in which the author, Kathryn Stockett, trivialized the Civil Rights Movement by centering it entirely around black people’s desires to share the same toilets with white folks. That troubled me. There came a moment in my my reading where I stopped and said, “So . . . this book is about sh!t?” I then proceeded to call Da Realist 1 and yell at her about this book and how I thought it was full of sh!t.

Let’s examine this notion further. There is the woman agonizing about her 17 year old son who was in jail for using a white-only bathroom. Either he was illiterate and incapable of reading the “White-only” sign or he suddenly forgot Jim Crow laws that prevented him from behaving properly in the segregated Mississippi. You choose. Either way, I found it odd because black folks did not forget segregation–that was their way of life, and  forgetting it could be a death sentence. The murder of Emmett Till served as a reminder to all, of what happened when black people did not acquiesce to the rules of the segregated South.

Then, there were the domestic workers, who were bothered by not being able to share the bathroom of the families for whom they worked, and were forced to use out houses. To the credit of one white family, they built a separate bathroom inside their home for their maid’s use because “Everybody knows [black people] carry different kinds of diseases than [white people] do” (8).

Lawn of toiletsThen, the antagonist in the novel, Hilly Holbrook, is working to introduce into Mississippi legislature, a law which she titled, The Home Help Sanitation Initiative. This initiative would promote separate help quarters in every white person’s home, as a way of preventing the spread of “Negro germs.” Skeeter, the protagonist, is so kindhearted to the “Negro maids,” that she decides to play a trick on Hilly and posts in the newspaper she works for that unwanted toilets can be dropped off at the Holbrook home. Hilly awakens to a lawn full of toilets. Enough bathroom talk yet?

Wait! I can’t forget the pie Minny made with her own excrement. (For those who have not read the novel, I’ll end it here. Enough is enough, damn it!)

This novel, situated within the historical context of the Civil Rights Movement, only offered readers a cursory glance at high profile leaders like James Meredith and Martin Luther King, Jr. and it failed to recognize the larger issues of segregation and racial violence that blacks experienced. For example, The Little Rock Nine so desperately wanted equal access to education, that they braved violent mobs who spat upon them, hit them, and threw various types of food and drink on them. I could go on and on about this book and what it failed to accomplish, but I already feel the need to take my blood pressure.

But here is the thing: for some strange reason, I thought the author was black throughout most of the novel, though I later found out otherwise. I only include this to dispel any argument that one might have that I am responding to this novel negatively because I resent the fact that the author is white. On the contrary. I believe that anyone can write about any subject matter they choose. In order for the characters to be believable, however, you need to actually know and understand the culture about which you are writing. For me, Stockett did not know and understand the culture of black women maids who served in the homes of white families.

As the movie was released, I learned that I was not alone in my disdain for this novel. Da Realist 1 won’t even call it by name (she calls it The Terrible, Awful book) and The Association of Black Women Historians released a statement, arguing that “The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers” (Read the ABWH Statement on The Help here).

The truth is, when the novel came out and the movie was later released, every white woman I came across wanted to know if I had read The Help. (They thought they wanted to discuss it with me, but believe me, they did not.) I was at my daughter’s dance class and all of the mothers, who happened to be white, kept asking me if I read the book and wanted to hear about how much I loved it.

Stop. Rewind. Now, read that last sentence again and replace dance class with gymnastics class, and you will understand how everywhere I had gone, white women were talking about how wonderful this novel is. I was so sick of hearing about that damn book! Da Realist 1 was even approached by a white employee at a book store who wanted to discuss the book. When she told him that she did not care for it, he became hostile. This is when black people should be skeptical: whenever soooooo many white people like a work that addresses race, it should be cause for concern.

The Help, the book and The Help, the movie both fit the formula for books and movies that address racial issues in a way that white people can be amused and entertained. The Help has a white woman protagonist, who makes white people feel comfortable, and provides them with someone with whom they can identify. After all, everyone would like to believe that they are Skeeter and not Hilly.

Hollywood Rule: There must be a kindhearted white woman or man in the story who comes to the aid of black folks and supports them. Otherwise, white people feel convicted and uncomfortable with the story, even if the story is non-fiction. And, for the record: I’m not saying that these kindhearted white folks did not exist; they just may not have existed in every story and in every black person’s life. This bit of news may come as a shock to some white people.

12 Years a Slave

Image from movie, 12 Years a Slave

Image from movie, 12 Years a Slave

So, why am I discussing The Help now, 2 years after the release of the movie? While looking for a place that was still showing 12 Years a Slave, I came across these comments about the movie, posted on moviefone.com:

“Horrible waste of time and money. It was realistic but how many times do we need to sensationalize the same tired story of the unfair whites and the poor blacks. It is a fact of life that happened a long time ago. Each time this story is told, it brings about additional racial tension in the USA.”

“Interesting take on a past that some ppl will try and hold emotions for. Not enough emphasis on the many white ppl who sacrificed a lot, including their life, to help the black cause. IN a time when racial division is on the rise movies like this do not help.”

“I forgot to star this movie. One star. Again, too intense and too much violence against people. Doesn’t matter black or white. I don’t like seeing people getting beat up so much, not entertaining.”

“It was definitely gritty. Just a horrible, depressing film and story. Not uplifting, but alarming. Particularly considering what is happening in the US politically as the white republicans try to rewrite history and turn back the clock.”

“Boring Fell asleep The same thing we’ve seen before.”

“Too long, gratuitous violence,how many times did we have to watch beatings and whippings…..did not like this movie.”

“Boring..very predictable…save your money and rent it”

While I cannot identify the race of those who made these comments, similar comments can be found around the internet, articulating white people’s discomfort with movies that address slavery as the subject matter. The same outrage does not occur as the the result of so many movies representing the horrible experience of Jews in Nazi Germany, and that is probably because Americans have always been willing to acknowledge the atrocities that occurred outside of our borders, while avoiding those that occurred within.

12 Years A Slave, on the other hand, is a hard pill for some white people to swallow because of the obvious injustice and violence experienced by Solomon Northrup and his fellow slaves. His story was not a safe one to tell, like that in The Help.

First, 12 Years a Slave is non-fiction, and it forces readers to deal with the harsh cruelties of slavery from the perspective of a true story. One cannot hide behind the the label of fiction when reading the narrative or watching film, which is why the above comments are comical at best. The white people that Northrup came across were vicious, violent, and conniving thieves. Why should he have depicted them in any way other than he experienced them?

Second, as one of the comments indicate, this story is not uplifting in the way that many white viewers need it to be. Brutal beatings are not uplifting, but then again, I did not go to a movie on slavery and expect it to be.

But, I beg us to rethink the narrative of a happy ending, especially when it comes to narratives on racial violence in slavery and Jim Crow. For example, I am not certain how a narrative–a true narrative–of a man who was kidnapped and robbed of 12 years of his “freedom”, ownership of his body and how it gets used, his time/experiences with family because of excessive greed and white privilege, was brutally beaten, forced into chattel slavery, and then released, can not be a story of triumph.

Brad Pitt in 12 Years a Slave

Brad Pitt in 12 Years a Slave

Furthermore, if only those who had fallen asleep had stayed awake long enough, they would have found out that even during slavery, Brad Pitt would come and save the day for black people.

“Black Is Black”: Thoughts on “Dark Girls”

DarkGirlsPeople think they diss my person/By stating I’m darkly packed/ I know this, so I point at Q-Tip/ And he states ‘black is black’ ~ “Me Myself and I” by De La Soul

I was unable to see the documentary “Dark Girls” when it appeared on the OWN Network in June, but I immediately put it on my Netflix list in anticipation of the DVD release. Last night I was able to watch it on Amazon Instant Video, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it dealt with a difficult issue.

“Dark Girls” explores the issue of colorism, primarily as it relates to dark-skinned African-American women, using history, personal narratives, educators, and psychologists. Not surprisingly, the media images in American culture often emphasize beauty as “white,” or at least as “light.” In addition, however, the intra-racial messages that dark-skinned women receive are also damaging. Historically and in contemporary society, some African Americans have internalized negative images about blackness and projected them onto other black people.

Much of what “Dark Girls” shows is what astute observers of social history and culture already know through study and the lived experience of being black in America. As recent events have illustrated, disparaging practices, policies and remarks regarding African American women’s beauty, hair, and skin color come from whites as well as blacks. “Dark Girls” asserts that these experiences have resulted in trauma. And the first step toward dealing with this trauma is to acknowledge it, so that we can start a dialogue to overcome it.

As I listened to stories from the girls and women in the documentary, I began to think about my own experiences with colorism. I, too, have been told that I was “awful pretty for a colored girl” by a young white man when I was in college. (I didn’t know whether to be offended because he called me “a colored girl” or because he said I was “awful pretty” for one.) But I can’t imagine the impact of hearing statements like that all the time.

Maybe I never developed any issues of colorism because my family, like many black families, has every color–from the so-called “light, bright, and damn near white” to “jet black.” (No kidding. When my mother was young, children called her “Jet Black.”)  Just because I thought to myself “black is black,” that doesn’t mean that everyone in my family was unaffected. I discovered this when I overheard my little cousin, who was about five at the time, and one of her playmates arguing a few years ago. My cousin who is kinda light brown called her friend “black and ugly.” I snatched cuz up (not physically) right away and asked who was she calling “black and ugly.” I said, “Your Aunt J is dark-skinned; she’s black. Is she ugly?” “No,” she replied, and I hope she meant that. Anger probably wasn’t quite the way to handle the issue, but I needed her to know that we were all black. And that if she thought her friend was ugly, she was also saying my mother, her Aunt J–who raised her, incidentally–was also ugly. I had to make a point that was far beyond my usual admonishment, “That’s not the proper way for young ladies to behave.”

So, “Dark Girls” made me think, and that’s a good thing. It’s a compelling and interesting documentary. It’s a film that could help start a conversation about discrimination based on skin color.

The Help, 12 Years a Slave, and Racial Politics in Hollywood

Notes on The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Anyone who really knows me knows that I absolutely hated-yes, hated-The Help. Let me be clear: I am talking about the novel and not the movie. And, that is because after having painfully read the novel, I refused to see the movie. There, I said it, and even wrote it for all of the world to see!

While I have many gripes with the novel, what bothered me most was the way in which the author, Kathryn Stockett, trivialized the Civil Rights Movement by centering it entirely around black people’s desires to share the same toilets with white folks. That troubled me. There came a moment in my my reading where I stopped and said, “So . . . this book is about sh!t?” I then proceeded to call Da Realist 1 and yell at her about this book and how I thought it was full of sh!t.

Let’s examine this notion further. There is the woman agonizing about her 17 year old son who was in jail for using a white-only bathroom. Either he was illiterate and incapable of reading the “White-only” sign or he suddenly forgot Jim Crow laws that prevented him from behaving properly in the segregated Mississippi. You choose. Either way, I found it odd because black folks did not forget segregation–that was their way of life, and  forgetting it could be a death sentence. The murder of Emmett Till served as a reminder to all, of what happened when black people did not acquiesce to the rules of the segregated South.

Then, there were the domestic workers, who were bothered by not being able to share the bathroom of the families for whom they worked, and were forced to use out houses. To the credit of one white family, they built a separate bathroom inside their home for their maid’s use because “Everybody knows [black people] carry different kinds of diseases than [white people] do” (8).

Lawn of toiletsThen, the antagonist in the novel, Hilly Holbrook, is working to introduce into Mississippi legislature, a law which she titled, The Home Help Sanitation Initiative. This initiative would promote separate help quarters in every white person’s home, as a way of preventing the spread of “Negro germs.” Skeeter, the protagonist, is so kindhearted to the “Negro maids,” that she decides to play a trick on Hilly and posts in the newspaper she works for that unwanted toilets can be dropped off at the Holbrook home. Hilly awakens to a lawn full of toilets. Enough bathroom talk yet?

Wait! I can’t forget the pie Minny made with her own excrement. (For those who have not read the novel, I’ll end it here. Enough is enough, damn it!)

This novel, situated within the historical context of the Civil Rights Movement, only offered readers a cursory glance at high profile leaders like James Meredith and Martin Luther King, Jr. and it failed to recognize the larger issues of segregation and racial violence that blacks experienced. For example, The Little Rock Nine so desperately wanted equal access to education, that they braved violent mobs who spat upon them, hit them, and threw various types of food and drink on them. I could go on and on about this book and what it failed to accomplish, but I already feel the need to take my blood pressure.

But here is the thing: for some strange reason, I thought the author was black throughout most of the novel, though I later found out otherwise. I only include this to dispel any argument that one might have that I am responding to this novel negatively because I resent the fact that the author is white. On the contrary. I believe that anyone can write about any subject matter they choose. In order for the characters to be believable, however, you need to actually know and understand the culture about which you are writing. For me, Stockett did not know and understand the culture of black women maids who served in the homes of white families.

As the movie was released, I learned that I was not alone in my disdain for this novel. Da Realist 1 won’t even call it by name (she calls it The Terrible, Awful book) and The Association of Black Women Historians released a statement, arguing that “The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers” (Read the ABWH Statement on The Help here).

The truth is, when the novel came out and the movie was later released, every white woman I came across wanted to know if I had read The Help. (They thought they wanted to discuss it with me, but believe me, they did not.) I was at my daughter’s dance class and all of the mothers, who happened to be white, kept asking me if I read the book and wanted to hear about how much I loved it.

Stop. Rewind. Now, read that last sentence again and replace dance class with gymnastics class, and you will understand how everywhere I had gone, white women were talking about how wonderful this novel is. I was so sick of hearing about that damn book! Da Realist 1 was even approached by a white employee at a book store who wanted to discuss the book. When she told him that she did not care for it, he became hostile. This is when black people should be skeptical: whenever soooooo many white people like a work that addresses race, it should be cause for concern.

The Help, the book and The Help, the movie both fit the formula for books and movies that address racial issues in a way that white people can be amused and entertained. The Help has a white woman protagonist, who makes white people feel comfortable, and provides them with someone with whom they can identify. After all, everyone would like to believe that they are Skeeter and not Hilly.

Hollywood Rule: There must be a kindhearted white woman or man in the story who comes to the aid of black folks and supports them. Otherwise, white people feel convicted and uncomfortable with the story, even if the story is non-fiction. And, for the record: I’m not saying that these kindhearted white folks did not exist; they just may not have existed in every story and in every black person’s life. This bit of news may come as a shock to some white people.

12 Years a Slave

Image from movie, 12 Years a Slave

Image from movie, 12 Years a Slave

So, why am I discussing The Help now, 2 years after the release of the movie? While looking for a place that was still showing 12 Years a Slave, I came across these comments about the movie, posted on moviefone.com:

“Horrible waste of time and money. It was realistic but how many times do we need to sensationalize the same tired story of the unfair whites and the poor blacks. It is a fact of life that happened a long time ago. Each time this story is told, it brings about additional racial tension in the USA.”

“Interesting take on a past that some ppl will try and hold emotions for. Not enough emphasis on the many white ppl who sacrificed a lot, including their life, to help the black cause. IN a time when racial division is on the rise movies like this do not help.”

“I forgot to star this movie. One star. Again, too intense and too much violence against people. Doesn’t matter black or white. I don’t like seeing people getting beat up so much, not entertaining.”

“It was definitely gritty. Just a horrible, depressing film and story. Not uplifting, but alarming. Particularly considering what is happening in the US politically as the white republicans try to rewrite history and turn back the clock.”

“Boring Fell asleep The same thing we’ve seen before.”

“Too long, gratuitous violence,how many times did we have to watch beatings and whippings…..did not like this movie.”

“Boring..very predictable…save your money and rent it”

While I cannot identify the race of those who made these comments, similar comments can be found around the internet, articulating white people’s discomfort with movies that address slavery as the subject matter. The same outrage does not occur as the the result of so many movies representing the horrible experience of Jews in Nazi Germany, and that is probably because Americans have always been willing to acknowledge the atrocities that occurred outside of our borders, while avoiding those that occurred within.

12 Years A Slave, on the other hand, is a hard pill for some white people to swallow because of the obvious injustice and violence experienced by Solomon Northrup and his fellow slaves. His story was not a safe one to tell, like that in The Help.

First, 12 Years a Slave is non-fiction, and it forces readers to deal with the harsh cruelties of slavery from the perspective of a true story. One cannot hide behind the the label of fiction when reading the narrative or watching film, which is why the above comments are comical at best. The white people that Northrup came across were vicious, violent, and conniving thieves. Why should he have depicted them in any way other than he experienced them?

Second, as one of the comments indicate, this story is not uplifting in the way that many white viewers need it to be. Brutal beatings are not uplifting, but then again, I did not go to a movie on slavery and expect it to be.

But, I beg us to rethink the narrative of a happy ending, especially when it comes to narratives on racial violence in slavery and Jim Crow. For example, I am not certain how a narrative–a true narrative–of a man who was kidnapped and robbed of 12 years of his “freedom”, ownership of his body and how it gets used, his time/experiences with family because of excessive greed and white privilege, was brutally beaten, forced into chattel slavery, and then released, can not be a story of triumph.

Brad Pitt in 12 Years a Slave

Brad Pitt in 12 Years a Slave

Furthermore, if only those who had fallen asleep had stayed awake long enough, they would have found out that even during slavery, Brad Pitt would come and save the day for black people.

“Black Is Black”: Thoughts on “Dark Girls”

DarkGirlsPeople think they diss my person/By stating I’m darkly packed/ I know this, so I point at Q-Tip/ And he states ‘black is black’ ~ “Me Myself and I” by De La Soul

I was unable to see the documentary “Dark Girls” when it appeared on the OWN Network in June, but I immediately put it on my Netflix list in anticipation of the DVD release. Last night I was able to watch it on Amazon Instant Video, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it dealt with a difficult issue.

“Dark Girls” explores the issue of colorism, primarily as it relates to dark-skinned African-American women, using history, personal narratives, educators, and psychologists. Not surprisingly, the media images in American culture often emphasize beauty as “white,” or at least as “light.” In addition, however, the intra-racial messages that dark-skinned women receive are also damaging. Historically and in contemporary society, some African Americans have internalized negative images about blackness and projected them onto other black people.

Much of what “Dark Girls” shows is what astute observers of social history and culture already know through study and the lived experience of being black in America. As recent events have illustrated, disparaging practices, policies and remarks regarding African American women’s beauty, hair, and skin color come from whites as well as blacks. “Dark Girls” asserts that these experiences have resulted in trauma. And the first step toward dealing with this trauma is to acknowledge it, so that we can start a dialogue to overcome it.

As I listened to stories from the girls and women in the documentary, I began to think about my own experiences with colorism. I, too, have been told that I was “awful pretty for a colored girl” by a young white man when I was in college. (I didn’t know whether to be offended because he called me “a colored girl” or because he said I was “awful pretty” for one.) But I can’t imagine the impact of hearing statements like that all the time.

Maybe I never developed any issues of colorism because my family, like many black families, has every color–from the so-called “light, bright, and damn near white” to “jet black.” (No kidding. When my mother was young, children called her “Jet Black.”)  Just because I thought to myself “black is black,” that doesn’t mean that everyone in my family was unaffected. I discovered this when I overheard my little cousin, who was about five at the time, and one of her playmates arguing a few years ago. My cousin who is kinda light brown called her friend “black and ugly.” I snatched cuz up (not physically) right away and asked who was she calling “black and ugly.” I said, “Your Aunt J is dark-skinned; she’s black. Is she ugly?” “No,” she replied, and I hope she meant that. Anger probably wasn’t quite the way to handle the issue, but I needed her to know that we were all black. And that if she thought her friend was ugly, she was also saying my mother, her Aunt J–who raised her, incidentally–was also ugly. I had to make a point that was far beyond my usual admonishment, “That’s not the proper way for young ladies to behave.”

So, “Dark Girls” made me think, and that’s a good thing. It’s a compelling and interesting documentary. It’s a film that could help start a conversation about discrimination based on skin color.

Wacky Wednesday: Who Is Your Favorite Superhero?

Da Realist 1

   Choose a    Department     to enable sorting      Product Details  X-Men: Storm by Warren Ellis & Terry Dodson


X-Men: Storm by Warren Ellis & Terry Dodson (available at amazon.com)

Did you see the PBS documentary, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle? I must admit that I loved every minute of it because I have been a fan of comic books, animated series, television shows, and movies about superheroes for a long time. I like the X-Men series, about a group of men and women whose mutated genes give them super powers, the most.

In my opinion, the way the X-Men are ostracized because of their “difference” is a metaphor for how racialized others are treated in American society. “Storm” is my favorite character though. Although most superheroes tend to be male characters, the X-Men actually have quite a few strong female characters, including Storm. While most superhero characters are white, Storm is black–in fact, she’s African. And she can control the weather. How awesome is that?!