Sunday, December 30, 2007

Please God and all that is merciful in life let this not be true--Tyler Perry to be in the new Star Trek franchise

So troubling if true:

courtesy of

I heard some reeeeaallly interesting things today about J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie. I’ll share all the details eventually but for the moment let’s break a piece of exclusive info: that writer/director Tyler Perry has a role in the new Star Trek movie. If you want to know who Perry is playing and how his character impacts the lives of young Kirk and Spock, beware of spoilers and click on through to read about it. And I mean that: SPOILERS ARE AHEAD!

It looks like Perry is playing the head of Starfleet Academy. Before you go asking if the character is going to be a human being or one of those funky aliens with a dozen more nostrils, it looks like Perry’s character is a plain old fashioned human.

Here’s some background on the dude: Tyler Perry is one of the bigger breakthrough success stories that Hollywood has had recently. He began his career and won acclaim as a playwright before moving into film. He’s directed and written the screen stories for Madea’s Family Reunion, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Daddy’s Little Girls and his latest hit which came out earlier in the year, Why Did I Get Married?. If the man’s a Trekkie he’s kept it quiet or maybe J.J. is just a fan of Madea.

My informant tells me about a big scene that was filmed a couple of weeks back that involved Perry, Chris Pine (the young James T. Kirk), Zachary Quinto (young Spock) and dozens of other extras. Now really, if you’re here then you already decided that you wanted to be spoiled, but here comes the bigger spoilers…

...Tyler’s character is overseeing some kind of Starfleet courtroom/assembly event where young Kirk is facing expulsion from Starfleet. It turns out that the Starfleet prez didn’t look too favorably on Cadet Kirk for “cheating” on one of his critical tests. And all you Trekkies out there know exactly what it is Kirk did: he rigged the Kobayashi Maru test so he could win it.

(For those that don’t know their Tribbles from Andorians, the Kobayashi Maru is a piece of Trek lore introduced in Star Trek II. Starfleet cadets are placed inside a starship simulator and given a no-win scenario: either try and rescue the survivors of a stranded space freighter trapped behind the Klingon Neutral Zone and thus in enemy space or listen to them die when they are found by the Klingons. The test is designed that there is no possible outcome where you save the Maru survivors and beat the Klingons; it’s supposed to give cadets a taste of what it’s like to be working under pressure as you face probably death. Kirk won the Kobayashi Maru test by reprogramming the scenario so he could actually win it because, as the dude himself said, “I don’t like to lose.")

So young Kirk is standing in front of his peers (human and alien Starfleet cadets and officers) and facing immediate expulsion from the Academy. After hearing the charge from Perry’s character, Chris Pine-as-Kirk delivers a speech in the same vein as some of the classic Kirk speeches from the TV series. He wants to know how his cheating was found out, and it’s revealed that there was a witness to Kirk’s act. Kirk immediately demands to know who the witness was so he can face his accuser.

And that’s when Zachary Quinto-as-Spock stands up. Yup, he’s the one that ratted on Kirk reprogramming the Kobayashi Maru test and he’s the reason why Kirk is about to be expelled from Starfleet. And then…

I’m going to cut it short there for now because I want to follow up with my source and ask some more questions about what happens next. Yeah, I’m leaving you hanging here but it can’t be helped. Besides, it’s the holidays and breaking news is practically non-existent so if I can stretch this out and come back with more spoilers from Star Trek, why not? Plus I want to be able to explain how the new costumes fit into Trek continuity and what they look like…

I promise to be back tomorrow with more. But before I close hailing frequencies I’ve got one final story detail to relate to you: at the start of that day’s filming J.J. addressed the assembled cast and told them that he was extremely happy to have Tyler Perry being a part of his Star Trek movie for many reasons, but one of the biggest was that this would mark the first time
that Perry has appeared in a movie outside of his own projects...


We go from Uhura (random factoid: MLK himself asked her to remain on the show because of her impact as a role model for young black people) to one more minstrelesque, mammy-evoking, carnival of black transvestism. Now introducing Star Trek, The New Adventures: Jigs in Space

So we have Tyler Perry as The Head of Starfleet Academy:

Some additional casting suggestions.

Maybe we could add Eddie Murphy's character Norbit as The Head of Starfleet Security:

Nell Carter as The Head of Starfleet's diplomatic corps:

And of course Monique as Sarak's wife and Spock's mother:

Finally, Chris Tucker's character Ruby Rhod as the alien hottie that Kirk inevitably seduces:

Who else should we add to our cast?

Post-script: One of my friends made the good point that everybody doesn't know who Tyler Perry is, and thus, why would one find this scenario problematic? Tyler Perry is a man who has made a career of playing black, female, mammy characters. For example, see this article which describes Perry's crusade to spread and reinforce these disgusting portrayals of black people (as if Japan doesn't need more reinforcement for its cultural embrace of notions such as Sambo).

Why is this troublesome? The idea of the overweight, black female character (here: the mammy) is rooted in very problematic, and pejorative notions of black personhood. Moreover, the black mammy is a manifestation of a tension wherein black females in popular culture are oftentimes either the 1) overweight, harmless, emotional surrogate for white women and a caregiver for whites (see: "Ohh boss our house be burnin down," aka "The Gone With the Wind Syndrome" or better yet, Miss Oprah) or; the 2) the hypersexualized black female mandigo ("I can't repress my libidinous black sexuality, it must be the melanin" figure). Either way, both are deeply problematic stereotypes that have framed, in a profound manner, the ways wherein some black folk often see ourselves, and how some whites see us as a people. In the case of Star Trek, and sci-fi more generally, I term this the "Jar Jar Binks syndrome" where a poor casting decision distracts the viewer from the overall story through both an appeal to, and/or use of, (either intentionally or unintentionally) actors and/or characters that are laden by problematic racial or ethnic stereotypes.

Now I can exhale. Get me?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

We now interrupt this broadcast: The New England Patriots are perfect!!!!

For The New England Patriots:

Kamala says congratulations!

This is for you Tom Brady:

Now all we need is one more Superbowl ring....

Friday, December 28, 2007

Chauncey DeVega says: Reductio ad adsurdum--A Response to Victomology Blues

Reductio ad adsurdum

(Latin: “reduction to absurdity”), in logic, a form of refutation showing contradictory or absurd consequences following upon premises as a matter of logical necessity. A form of the reductio ad absurdum argument, known as indirect proof.

reductio ad impossibile, is one that proves a proposition by showing that its denial conjoined with other propositions previously…

These conversations about gender and race make me really nervous. I know I can't win. I know I can't help but lose. As a man, I benefit from sexism by default, in much the same way that white people, regardless of their personal politics and ethics, benefit from white privilege.

As a black man that loves black women, I often feel that I am damned if I do, and damned if I don't. This is an immutable truth that transcends race, national boundaries, language, ethnicity, and class. We men folk want to say the "right" thing, and by doing so affirm the women we love in our lives, and to offer support to those women who have mentored and guided us. I for one know that if not for the black women in my life, and those loving, interested, and caring white, brown, and yellow women that have shared wisdom, love, and guidance with me, that I wouldn't be the sexual tyrannosaurus that I am today...Ha ha! had you going for a second with that black male feminist crap didn't I?

Seriously, when men and women talk about gender, and specifically, when I talk about gender as a man who happens to be black, I feel like the character Moleman on the Simpsons: I just keep getting hit in the balls regardless of what I say, and I keep getting hit over and over and over again. I know I can't win, but hell, I will keep trying:

For the record, Zora and Gordon, I think you both capture a significant part of what is problematic about these conversations regarding WAOD, black popular culture, and the politics of gender in the black community. I also think you point to a need in the black community to have a serious conversation about what a "progressive" black political agenda would look like (something we will certainly address on this site).

Deploying the absurd, I center my first set of observations on my worry that groups such as "What about our Daughters?", groups who point to hip hop and popular culture as a primary source for societal evil, are advancing an agenda based upon a fallacy--not one simple fallacy, but rather a big, one legged, crooked one--which is the myth of the strong black woman, and that women are under "assault" by hip hop and black popular culture. Extrapolating from this logic, black women are strong women. By extension, strong women are under assault by black popular culture because they, and we all, should expect affirmation from popular culture. Moving forward, strong black women need to respond to this affront because popular culture impacts their life choices and life chances. Black women are under assault which compromises their strength and so we need to resist this attack by popular culture. But, black women's strength is both "natural" and "necessary." Doesn't this almost sound tautological?

What is a strong black woman? How do you know her when you see her? What are her attributes? More importantly, what are the implications of this "strong" black woman myth for "regular" black women?

Is a strong black woman as strong as Wolverine's claws and the adamantium from which they are made? Why isn't the strong black woman included on this list of fictional super metals? What is a strong black woman? Can she break watermelons with her thighs?

Damn that got me excited.

Does a strong black woman have superior physical strength?

Is the strong black woman as strong as this white queen?

I love black women. I love strong women. I especially love strong black women like Nichelle Nichols:

Maybe the women at Supersistas got it right? Maybe, we need to counter the assault on black women with lots of affirmation and with videos such as this one:

Be careful supersistas because this approach may backfire, as there are lots of men who would love to be punished and dominated by you.

Maybe the brothers at have some wisdom to offer on this issue?

Guess not. But, I just love saying "". It has a ring to it, doesn't it?

I don't know what a strong black woman is. I know it is a slogan on the T-shirts sold at the Korean owned hood hair care product/clothing/shoes/miscellaneous items store in my neighborhood. I know it is something that harpies like these miserable souls throw about like so much spare change when they try to dispel the myth of the "angry black woman." I also deeply suspect that the narrative of the strong black woman hurts black women (and women more generally who subscribe to it) because this myth encourages women to make poor choices in their lives, and to play the victim in a cycle of despair. The narrative of the strong black woman also prevents vulnerability and forces black women to take on unreasonable burdens.

But, I am confused because I know many black women who I would label as strong. I also know many women that I would label as weak. As a social scientist, I also know about the difficulties faced by women who have to negotiate the often vexing combination of sexism and racism. Ultimately, while I am confused by this all, I know something about the idea of the strong black woman just doesn't sit right with me, and I suspect it may not sit well with many of you as well.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Yes, you are a woman.

Thank you for this passionate, intelligent reply, Sister Zora.

I will respond to a few of your most relevant points, but I will address the bulk of them in the next installments of the Victimology Blues posts.

First, I never suggested that Civil Rights injustices be fought primarily with positive images. WAOD’s explicit goal is to combat negative media depictions of black women. If McCauley and her supporters believe that media and popular culture are the main battlegrounds, then their chief strategy should be publicizing as many stories of positive black women as possible, not publicizing crimes in which black women are victimized.

Moreover, I don’t think that McCauley is really framing these crimes and their handling as Civil Rights issues, which is surprising given that she’s a lawyer. If McCauley and co. had decided to highlight the policing and legal ramifications of these crimes, I might feel differently about WAOD. McCauley makes clear, though, that WAOD is mainly a matter of cleaning up a poisonous culture.

Some lip service notwithstanding, the thrust of the site is not, “Let’s do everything we can to 1) help the police locate and arrest the perpetrators, 2) support these black women victims financially and legally, and 3) mobilize political change to our corrupt law enforcement and judicial systems.” It’s “see, black women are victims too!” WAOD is treating the crimes themselves, not the surrounding legal issues, as newsworthy. Without question, these crimes are significant to the victims and the communities where they occur; however, I don’t see how they are significant beyond their local contexts, and it’s not because the victims are black women. Frankly, I don’t think that any such cases deserve attention from national media. For instance, why spend airtime on stories about JonBenet Ramsey and Natalie Hollaway, who have been dead for years? And what about the current media fixation on Stacy Peterson? The mainstream media is disingenuously stating that their coverage might bring Peterson home, but that’s nonsense: they are assuming that she’s already dead. I’m sorry, I just don’t see why this case has merit as a national news story.

You are right to note the importance of publicizing injustice, and yes, I think that all symbolic victim-based activism is exploitative in a sense. But some forms of exploitation are more defensible than others: it all comes down to the wider implications. In the iconic Civil Rights era crimes you mention, law enforcement and the state was supportive of (and often involved in) the crimes and the legal cover ups. That state governments engaged in total disenfranchisement and the federal government looked the other way meant that black residents had no legal way to remedy the systemic injustices. The entire political, social, legal, economic, system was rotten. Wells, King, etc. worked to fight systemic collective injustice. These missing or brutalized woman cases are matters of personal, localized injustice. The notion that these crimes occur because our popular culture devalues black women is nonsense. Allow me to revert back to Social Science mode for a moment: correlation does not = causation.

Violence has been a fundamental reality throughout recorded human history. Rape and physical abuse were around long before the advent of mass media. I don’t deny that negative images have an adverse affect on the perception of certain groups, but removing these images from public and commercial spaces will not get at the heart of the problem. Entertainment isn’t really the relevant battleground. The problem is that consumer-citizens are treating songs, movies, and TV shows as a valid source of information about groups of people. That has almost nothing to do with the “negative” content; that has to do with short-circuits in peoples’ social interaction and perhaps in their cognitive ability. Don’t those of us interested in progressive social and political change always say that we need to attack the roots of problems? It’s easy to point a finger at the big corporations for spreading trash; it’s not as satisfying to shift responsibility toward families and other social institutions that should prevent and/or correct these short-circuits.

It’s true that I defend people’s right to disrespect black women, but that’s somewhat misleading. I defend people’s right to disrespect anyone—that’s the very essence of freedom of speech. Still, I’m less concerned with defending bigots than I am with fighting the effects of censorship. Black people from previous generations endured far worse in terms of public vilification and were stronger for it. I believe that we’re breeding a society of psychological weaklings whose first impulse is not to engage and defeat offending voices, but to silence them. Just to clear up any confusion, this is a problem throughout societies, not one limited to any specific identity group.

I’m glad you mentioned “Girls, Girls, Girls” because it not only highlights our disagreements, it also recalls my issue with TAN. In the song, Jay-Z frequently conflates Indian (from India) and Native American stereotypes; he attributes french braids, french kissing, and french fries to France; the part about the African woman is lifted directly from Ed Murph’s stand-up comedy special Raw, which is, I’ll admit, one of the most misogynistic screeds from a man who clearly has issues with women …unless they have penises.

I don’t take from the song that Jay-Z disparages black women in comparison to other women across the world; I take from it that Jay-Z works with dominant cultural stereotypes to reveal their inherent ridiculousness. As such, “Girls, Girls, Girls” is one of Jay-Z’s most clever songs. But it wasn’t popular because people understood its satirical bent; it was popular because listeners like to revel in stereotypes and the beat was catchy as hell. The problems with the song’s reception are the same problems that led to Chappelle’s crisis: people don’t like to acknowledge that popular cultural texts can mean different things to different audiences, and the base meaning normally overshadows every other meaning. I don’t think Jay-Z cares; after all, no one outside of Dyson-types really considered him a social critic. Chappelle definitely cares, though, which is why he was never meant for long-term stratospheric popularity.

Sister Zora, yes, you are a woman, but I think black women’s desire to be treated like white women is unhealthy. Sojourner Truth was speaking in the middle of the 19th Century. Much has changed since then. Your call for black men to defend black women’s honor and your wish for black women victims to receive the kind of national media attention reserved for (usually young, blonde, middle-to-upper class, and relatively attractive) white women shows a surprising attachment to gender orthodoxy. It’s accepted wisdom in our line of work that when men talk about defending female honor, they are usually providing a justification for controlling not only women’s bodies but also ideas about gender roles in society. The history of the rhetoric surrounding lynching and war is all the evidence one needs to confirm this.

I understand that black women don’t even have the luxury of being “overprotected” and that the concern about having ones honor exploited underscores the privilege of upper class white feminists. But let’s say that you get your wish and black women are afforded the same victim value that white women receive. Better to be a victim than a ho, right? Well, yeah, of course, but you’re still a victim. You’re still an abstraction. You’re still an archetype. You’ll never be a woman, a human being with inherent worth and agency, as long as you’re only important as a victim, a caretaker, or a Jezebel (all in the service of men).

Finally, you can say that this isn’t about hurt feelings, but that’s hard to believe. How else do you explain the popularity of the tired “Why don’t black men love us?” topic cluttering magazine racks, bookshelves, TV, and the net?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Zora Says: Ain't I a Woman?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
-- Sojourner Truth at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio 1851

Ain’t I a Woman? When Sojourner Truth asked this question in 1851, I doubt that she would have expected it to still be relevant over a century and a half later. Within the African-American community, it is easy for us to identify white privilege. We all know that white people will never understand the sense of powerlessness that comes with “driving while black;” that they will never understand that no matter how hard we work and how many degrees we earn, African-Americans are still measured against the lowest element in our community; that they will never acknowledge that they can be mediocre at best and still find success, but that African-Americans have to be the best in order to be acknowledge as simply adequate. The privileges of whiteness are real and indisputable.

What is more difficult for us to identify as a community are the privileges of masculinity. For decades and decades, African-American women have been asked to set aside gender issues in order not to detract from the “larger” struggles of race. Those who have not have been labeled as self-centered, as race traitors, as pawns of white women … From our earliest history in this country, our bodies and our sexuality have never been broadly accepted as our own. As a result, not only are African-American women not respected by mainstream society, we are also not fully respected within our own communities.

Over our history, African-American women have been molested, raped, beaten and kidnapped without so much as a whisper in the mainstream newspapers. There have been several recent cases where accomplished young, African-American women have disappeared with no public alerts. Only God knows if, given adequate news coverage and police man power, they could have been returned home to their families. Even mainstream journalists acknowledge this problem. One of the reasons why we fail to receive the coverage that white women receive is that we don’t have the privilege of being victims. Whatever happens to us as African-American women is our own damn fault: If one of our little sisters is molested, how often is she accused of being “fast?” If one of us is date-raped and reports the crime, how likely will we be charged with being “stupid in the first place” or, if the man is rich and famous, a “gold-digging whore?” If someone raises a hand to us, how often do others wonder what we did to deserve it? No, in America, only white, virtuous maidens have the privilege of being victims. For African-American women, we simply need to “get over it;” for we are not worthy of the same outrage and respect.

Brother Gordon argues that bringing attention to African-American female crime victims serves to further exploit them and undermine their worth. I am grateful that Ida B. Wells-Barnett did not share a similar sentiment. She knew that unless the entire world was confronted with the knowledge that African-Americans were being regularly victimized with lynchings, strange fruit would continue to swing from trees across America. Mamie Till, in all of her grief, would not allow herself to be silenced when her son was brutally murdered. She demonstrated courage and self-sacrifice in allowing her son’s battered body to serve as a testament to white brutality. Martin Luther King, Jr., too, understood the power of the media and the need to publicize injustice. (Let us not forget that many whites accused him of being self-serving, of playing the victim). I refer to these figures not to suggest that McCauley is in their league, but merely to suggest that sometimes a crime or injustice is a part of a phenomenon and is larger than one individual – that it can reflect, implicate and impact entire communities. When this is true, privacy and individualism only serve to hide and support the crime. Is Brother Gordon suggesting that civil rights injustices could have better been addressed with more positive images? Were Wells, Till and King "media circus-driven race crusaders?"

Sexual and physical abuse are real problems in the African-American community -- problems that a lot of folks prefer not to address for fear that we will look bad. What they fail to realize is that we look much worse by failing to be honest about the problem and not taking steps to address it. (Saudi Arabia is a good example of this: its not that it’s the only country where rapes occur, but it is one of the few countries that so steadfastly ignore it and choose to instead isolate and blame the victims). How can we address difficult problems if we do not look them squarely in the face? By putting forward only positive images, we create a false narrative that the problem doesn’t exist.

In discussing the problems of rape and physical abuse, we cannot diminish the role of popular culture and media imagery. African-American males, in both the professional and working class, know full well the impact of persistent stereotypes that affect their day-to-day experiences and larger life chances. African-American men are less likely to be selected as teaching and research assistants in graduate schools because of irrational fears stemming from media stereotypes. The growth in gangsta glorification in hip-hop, urban films, ghetto lit and reality shows is having an enormous impact not just on white perceptions of us, but unfortunately also on young, black men's own perception of themselves. Popular culture and the media have a huge impact on our lived experiences and on how we perceive the world … this is why the entertainment industry is one of the most lucrative areas of our economy … why politicians invest so much in campaign ads … why Rupert Murdock is one of the most powerful men in America.

I know that you know all of this Gordon, and that you have thought about it. For this reason, I cannot understand why you are so quick to dismiss how negative images can and do affect the lived experiences of African-American women – especially when there is very little positive balance. African-American women constantly have to battle the idea that they are whores and that their bodies are accessible to everyone (that is when they are not perceived as sexless maids). It is already terrible that whites often perceive us this way, but it is even more terrible that increasingly black men are seeing us this way.

As a community, we are increasingly internalizing the idea that African-American women are unworthy of respect. I remember hearing Louis Farrakhan give a speech at Columbia University in the 1990s. He lamented that black women used to be referred to as the Supremes, the Dolls and the Royalettes, but that now some of us ask to be called Bitches With Problems. I was surprised when I listened closely to Jay-Z's Girls, Girls, Girls. He praises women around the world for their attributes, but when he talks about black women he takes on a different tone:

I got this black chick, she don't know how to act

Always talkin out her neck, makin her fingers snap...

I got this African chick with Eddie Murphy on her skull

She like, "Jigga Man, why you treat me like animal?

"I'm like excuse me Ms. Fufu, but when I met your ass

you was dead broke and naked, and now you want half

I got this ho that after twelve million sold

Mami's a narcolyptic, always sleepin on Hov'

Gotta tie the back of her head like Deuce Bigalow...

What is going on in the head of Jay-Z and others like him? Isn't it a sign of sickness that he sees African-American women (his sisters, his mother, his aunts) so negatively? I don't argue that he doesn't have the right to say whatever he wants, but let's not pretend that what he says does not impact others.

Please know that this is not about the low self-esteem or hurt feelings of African-American women. Perceptions and treatment of African-American women are inseperable from the growth of the African-American community as a whole. The value of a segment impacts the value of the whole. Oh, if only the Black Panther leadership could have understood this. What is going on in our communities that we so freely disparaged and disrespect black women? Why are some African-American men so quick to defend the rights of their brothers to disrespect the sisters? Why are they not as quick to protect and defend the honor of African-American women?

Have we progressed so much that we no longer have to think about the community as a whole? As long as my children know better, as long as my wife is not gang-raped, as long as I am empowered enough to take advantage of opportunities, as long as I live in a community where positive African-American role models abound ... What happened to taking pride in ourselves as a community? What happened to our sense of linked fate?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Victimology Blues Part 1: What About Our Daughters?

I like Gina McCauley, the creator of What About Our Daughters (WAOD). She is smart, and she comes across as poised, even in the face of unjust criticism. I applaud her success at promoting her cause and her site, which attracts scores of intelligent, passionate readers. I am especially thrilled that she calls attention to the double standards of so-called black leaders who are quick to jump in front of a camera and protest when a black person is victimized by a white person, but who aren’t nearly as interested in bringing attention to the insane levels of black on black crime. So even though I am usually suspicious of activists who frame their issues as matters of “protecting our children,” I had very high hopes for WAOD before I ever visited the site.

McCauley’s stated goal is to combat negative images of black women in popular culture. Now there’s a goal this respectable negro can support! I am always looking for resources to which I can direct young black girls and boys (yes, young men need positive depictions of women too). But given this professed goal, what sense does it make that most of the site’s posts are dedicated to publicizing and valorizing black female victims? These include victims of serious, violent crimes, as well as the “victims” of Don Imus’ “assault on black women.” But what about the women forced at gunpoint to gyrate half-naked in videos, while various rappers douse them with champagne and charge their services via American Ass-press…or is it American Expr-Ass)?

Now, I certainly don’t mean to trivialize the horrific crimes committed against the first group, and I understand that such cases can never go national via the mainstream media because the victims aren’t white women, but how is this focus supposed to combat popular negative images of black women? What does the current emphasis say to black girls: you too can one day attract the attention of and be exploited by a handful of journalists and media hustlers…but only if you’re brutalized by a (black) man? Keep those fingers crossed, girls!!!

McCauley and her supporters claim that WAOD is at the vanguard of a new activist revolution. The black bloggers on board cast themselves opposite the old guard Civil Rights establishment, which, these bloggers argue, does not stand up for black women. Yet WAOD’s strategy consists largely of appealing to (or shaming) old establishment leaders and organizations into taking up particular causes. I’m sorry to disappoint y’all, but that doesn’t sound like a revolution to me; that sounds like the same-ol’ same-ol’. In two major respects, those behind WAOD are considerably similar to the media circus-driven race crusaders they criticize:

1. They share the same M.O. of victim-based rallying. WAOD merely seeks to replace one victim (black people vis-à-vis white people) with another (black women vis-à-vis black men, white men, men in general, the “entertainment industrial complex”*). But why not dispense with the victim framework altogether and adopt one that prizes agency, one that lauds black women who make great things happen rather than black women who have terrible things happen to them?

2. They also share the same superficial, almost childish focus on the entertainment industry as a primary site of political and social activism. The NAACP, for instance, is concerned with defending Mike Vick, celebrating sociopaths like R Kelly and Isaiah Washington, and castigating Imus, KKKramer, and The Academy Awards; WAOD focuses on BET, Imus (plus black comedians who have the audacity to defend his right to free speech), and various rappers.

When you press these “activists” on why so much of their effort revolves around athletes, musicians, actors, TV personalities, etc., they answer that it’s because many look up to these celebrities and that the images propagated by the entertainment industry have an adverse effect on the perception of black people generally, or black women specifically. They usually fall into one of two camps, though sometimes they have a foot in both. The first is concerned about these images influencing black children, especially those with absentee parents; the second is worried about how these images make black people look to outsiders. Not one of these “activists” addresses why mothers and fathers (regardless of race) are not raising children with enough common sense to know that what is depicted on TV, movie screens, radio stations, albums, and the Internet is not reality. If McCauley and co. were truly interested in combating the negative effects of popular culture, the site would be called What About Their Parents?

Furthermore, if people are so impressionable and/or dim-witted that they allow entertainment to govern their behavior, how on earth will simply removing a few stimuli solve their problems? The sheep who reproduce what they absorb from entertainment (as opposed to exercising critical thought and free will) exhibit serious cognitive and social deficiencies. These issues cannot be addressed with microwave measures. And this is not even taking into account the loathsome policy of censorship, soft or hard.

At times, I look at WAOD and think, “What a colossal waste of creative energy and resources.” But it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that McCauley and co. know that their “victories” have no real practical value.

Since WAOD is not about practical results, one can only assume that its purpose is symbolic in nature. Underlying WAOD’s stated goal is the idea that strengthening the self-esteem of black girls should be a top priority because our society does not love or respect them. Again, this is a noble cause. We do need to encourage among young black women forms of self-esteem that do not rely on boys or sex. This implicit idea is the key to explaining WAOD’s main strategies: publicizing black women who are victims of violent crimes and leading meaningless crusades against entertainers who say or do things that some black women find offensive.

In short, WAOD is driven by these black women’s desire to be loved and valued. By emphasizing black women as victims, McCauley and co. hope to elicit sympathy and love. By boycotting entertainers who degrade black women, they wish to signal that black women’s feelings are hurt and that they do not feel desired, respected, and loved. Thus, those behind WAOD are not political activists; they’re participants in a self-esteem building therapy session writ large. In addition, the self-esteem of the contributors seems to be more important than the self-esteem of the website’s titular daughters. These things aren’t inherently bad. I can anticipate the argument that, because of all they have to endure, black women need and deserve this type of collective affirmation. From this perspective, the misleading nature of the site is harmless at worst, cathartic and therapeutic at best.


But I have a huge problem with WAOD using the victim narrative to fuel its self-esteem building efforts and supposed “political activism.” As I will detail in the next installment of this series, there are formidable political and psychological drawbacks to over-emphasizing victimhood, especially for historically disenfranchised, less privileged people.

If McCauley ever decides to try to realize WAOD’s stated goal, I have a very simple suggestion: feature more professional black women who defy stereotypes by excelling in medicine, art, academia, business, government, etc. (a few “good news” links at the end of the year aren’t enough). I can think of at least one successful lawyer/networker who would be perfect for such a feature.

It’s time for folks to throw the question back at McCauley and WAOD**: When it comes to offering positive images of black women, what about our daughters (and sons), indeed?

Next—Victimology Blues Part 2: Privileged White Men as the New England Patriots…


*I am a product of left academia, where prison riots are often dubbed “rebellions,” and irresponsible, risky sexual behavior is fashioned as political resistance, but I wasn’t aware that activists were employing this bit of rhetorical claptrap in an attempt to elevate popular music, sports, film, and TV to the level of importance of the military and prison industrial complexes. Part of me thinks this shit is satire. TAN, are you reading?

**I wonder if criticizing WAOD makes me an “Internet Ike Turner.”

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Enduring Impact of OJ on American Racial Politics

... As Democratic presidential contender John Edwards fielded questions from a crowd of about 100 people in Elkader, Iowa (population 1,374) Friday night, he got one of those out-of-left-field queries for which a candidate needs his sharpest wits.

An elderly man told Edwards that “
something has been sticking in my craw” and explained that “a certain fella committed two murders in California and the jury found him not guilty. And all they said was ‘It’s payback time.’ How are you going have that come out in this election to combat one of your competitors?

Edwards seemed puzzled, as most people in the audience seemed to be. “The black jury in Los Angeles, the reason they found O.J. not guilty was ‘payback,’” the older gent explained.

Payback for what?” Edwards asked.

For mistreatment by white America, the man said.

“What do you want the president to do about that?” Edwards asked.

How are you going to get that brought out in your campaign? Will the same thing happen? If he should become elected, you think Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Oprah Winfrey are going to let him forget about that and their obligation?” the man said, not identifying who he meant by “he” and “him.”

“I’m still not sure what it is that you’re asking,” Edwards said, a bit uneasily.

Obama,” the man said. “Has never said anything about payback for the problems the blacks have had getting their foothold in society.”

It wasn’t exactly clear, but the man seemed to want Barack Obama to denounce the “not guilty” verdict in Simpson’s 1995 trial. Where a presidential contender stood on O.J. had apparently become this voter’s litmus test. There was also the implication in his question that if you vote for Obama, you get Sharpton and Jackson in the bargain.

Respectable Negroes of the Week

Rep. Julia Carson dies of lung cancer
Rep. Julia Carson, the first black and first woman to represent Indianapolis in Congress, died Saturday, a family spokeswoman said. She was 69. Carson was first elected to Congress in 1996. She championed children's issues, women's rights and efforts to reduce homelessness and was a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq. She began her political career in the 1960s when then-Rep. Andy Jacobs Jr. hired her to work in his office. Jacobs encouraged Carson to run for the Indiana Legislature in 1972 — the first of more than two dozen victories in local, legislative and congressional elections. She ran for Congress in 1996 after Jacobs retired.

Parents Force Charter Takeover of L.A. High School
Locke High School is, by all accounts, among the worst high schools in Los Angeles. It's in Watts, one of the city's most treacherous, gang-infested neighborhoods. The school is overcrowded and on the brink of an academic melt-down. Earlier this year, parents and half of the school's faculty revolted, forcing the school district to do something it has never done before: turn over Locke High to a private group of reformers. When that takeover happens next summer some teachers know they won't be rehired.

Kenya slum dweller gets UK degree
Sammy Gitau was initially refused a visa to attend the UK university as he had only two years of formal education. He grew up in crime-ridden Mathare slum in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, where from the age of 13 he was the family breadwinner after his father's murder. Mr Gitau, 35, once came close to death after a drugs overdose and said it changed his life. "After the drugs put me in a coma, I remember hearing hospital staff telling me I was going to die and when you are dying, you make a deal with God," he said. Mathare is crime-ridden slum in the centre of the Kenyan capital. "You just say, 'Get me out of here and I will do anything. I will go back and stop children going through the same kind of life as me.'" Once out of hospital he started a community resource centre which used donated containers as classrooms and with three volunteers taught children skills like carpentry, tailoring, computer skills and baking. His work brought him to the attention of European Union officials working in Kenya, who, on hearing of his dream, helped him apply to the University of Manchester. Mr Gitau says he will continue to direct his education and his energies at improving life for others in Mathare slum.

Ike Turner, For Better or for Worse,...
... dead at age 76. After arguing with Chauncey for days, I had to admit that Ike did have a huge impact on American music.

And all this time I thought Flava Flav was the Dark Knight..

The trailer for the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight. Enjoy:

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Five: 5 black male hairstyles and what they say about those who wear them

This Friday Five was inspired by Billy Sunday’s classic “Guide to Black Women’s Hair.”

You know the old adage—women assess a man’s status by examining his shoes? That bit of advice isn’t as useful as it used to be. Grad school has made me broke as a joke, yet I own pairs of Gucci and Prada shoes (they were gifts); a guy in baby blue gators once begged me for money on the street; and I know a few guys who are pulling down six figures, but wear busted Pro Keds. Plus, the popularity of throwback kicks has leveled the field, so it’s more difficult than ever to gauge a man’s personality and life chances by looking at what he wears on his feet. Thus, many women have shifted their focus from toe to head. As a public service to the few black women who don’t already know this stuff, I will relay what I’ve learned about what certain hairstyles reveal about the black men who rock them. This knowledge comes from observing brothers 1st hand as well as from “conversating” with black women.

1.) Box

Look, I understand that our African brothers and American negroes from age 45 on tend to be a little behind fashion-wise, so I cut them a little slack. But if you are a black man in America and you are relatively young, there’s absolutely no excuse to have a box.

a. I am square…literally;
b. I do not know many young black people;
c. I do not date young black women (or, more likely, they don’t date me).

2.) Curl

Here’s my question: Do chefs with jheri curls need extra thick hats to prevent the paper from becoming transparent, disintegrating, and catching on fire?

a. I have a weak sense of smell;
b. I own several extra pillowcases.

3. Shag

Ah, the Shag(adelic). Though the shag and the mullet are brothers from another mother, the former doesn’t quite have the ironic appeal for black people as the latter has for white folks. But the shag is an enduring negro hairstyle that’ll be around 50 years from now. I’m not sure we can say the same for the mullet.

a. I can’t stand to have a cold neck;
b. I own all of the Commodores’ albums.

4.) Process

I can understand why black women spend a fortune to chemically scorch their scalps and go bald by 40. Few are happy to be nappy, and they need that promotion at work, right? What on earth would possess a man to fry his wig, though?

a. I am somewhat effeminate;
b. I will try to sell my woman to my friends before I get a job.

5.) Unkempt cornrows

Not a fan of cornrows, but if you’re gonna wear em, keep em tight.

a. my woman is busy servicing another guy;
b. my cell mate is busy servicing another guy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Chauncey DeVega says: We are a Nation of Liars, Crooks, Fools, Thieves, and Idiots

This is gonna be a long one...

A few months back, a story circulated regarding a drug called, "jenkem." Apparently, this "new" drug, a product of Africa of course--where those poor natives do nothing but fight famine, suffer under genocide, live in failed States, and huff shit--consists of human feces and urine in a bong. Here, the "user" would take a "hit" by inhaling the noxious fumes generated by this ungodly concoction:

Apparently, jenkem has now been debunked. But, the idea rang true for a basic reason--people are lazy, stupid, and will try anything once. Moreover, this idea of huffing shit stuck with me because it seemed the perfect metaphor for these good ol' United States.

We are a nation of among other things, former slaves, tax evaders, and cast-off immigrants. More or less, all of us, myself included, have drunk the Kool-Aid, eaten that shit sandwich, and smelled those fumes generated by the American mythos of freedom, equality, and opportunity (or at least the hope that the American creed can one day be made real). More broadly, human beings believe what we want to believe, in a way, and at a time, that is most convenient to us.

As a respectable negro, I focus much of my attention on those black and white shit-huffers who hit that jenkem bong, and spend their time on high-profile issues, issues that are ultimately of little concern, but that nevertheless cause harm to our life-long crusade for human justice, dignity, and black progress. Now to offer a qualifier, shit-huffers are not restricted to those purveyors of race-based hysteria and other nonsense. Those Bill O'Reilly-Rush Limbaugh neo-cons who supported premier Bush in his Iraq misadventures, despite all evidence to the contrary, are a bunch of shit-huffers. Those idiots who follow good ol' Al Sharpton and Shakedown Jesse around on any damn fool idealistic crusade are also shit-huffers.

The shit-huffers of the moment are those knuckleheads in Pasadena, Florida who are defending the white homeowner (a gentleman by the name of Mr. Joe Horn) that shot dead those ignt's robbing his neighbors. These idiots are joined by The New Black Panther Party and other victomologists who are dedicated to valorizing stupidity in the search of a black "hero" (Brother Gartrelle has one percolating on this issue as we speak). Interestingly, this case reminds me of the Duke rape case where everyone involved is an asshole, but where outside forces make the participants emblematic of all the fissures and tensions in our society.

The Horn case, and the one in California where a white homeowner blasted two criminals who beat his son into a coma, are lightening rods for victomologists, right-wingers, and shit-huffers of all stripes because it is great political theater. As depicted by the following video of the Pasadena protest where The New Black Panthers clashed with those white "defenders" of "justice" and "responsible" home ownership, everyone involved is an idiot (thank God there isn't a token negro in the background supporting the protesters...there is always one, and if you find him, please point the fool's sort of like a game of "Where's Waldo"):

It is instructive to watch the above video with the help of my handy viewing guide.

1. 0.01: "that's it?"---sort of sums it up
2. .09: the New Black Panthers make their appearance. Doesn't their leadership look like something out of Reverend Slick's, "Jive Soul Bro' Video?"
3. .11: "You are a disgrace to your race, get a job"--white symbolic racism in action
4. 1:02: "U.S.A., U.S.A."--Uhh ohh, the "White Power," oops I mean "U.S.A." chants have begun. Frankly, I prefer the honesty of Seig Heil and those honest skinhead types who advertise their bigotry and don't hide behind slogans of "equality" or "freedom"
5. 1:17 to 3:07: motorcycle's revving their engines and more U.S.A. chants--You know motorcycles scare off black radicals. Note to any white racists reading this post: motorcycles are more effective than water when it comes to scaring away black people.
6. 3:56-7:40: More U.S.A. chants
7. 8;37-8:51: More rebel yells, motorcycles revving, and The New Black Panthers beat a hasty retreat

As documented by the following footage (doesn't Fox News seem to be everywhere folks are acting stupid?) The New Black Panthers return in full force with the "victims," i.e the family members of those ignt's shot dead by Mr. Horn. Here, we have some wonderfully articulate white meth-heads and angry, marching, black fools. Plus, we all know that whenever someone says it isn't about race, it always is:

This is shit-huffing at its finest. On one side we have the New Black Panthers and Quanell X (you know that was the name of our ancestors and it was stolen from us). Of note, Quanell comes equipped with his own G.I. Joe bodyguard. Be honest, doesn't "Bro Joe," the character in the red beret and black camouflage, look like one of those horrible G.I. Joe figures from the early 1990's?

The data card on the back of his action figure would have probably read:

Member of Cobra
Code Name: Revolution
Real Name: Ty Jackson
Bio: Recruited from the legendary rap group Public Enemy's cadre of elite bodyguards, The S1W's, Revolution is an expert in political theater and all manner of clowning and cooning. Although only 5 feet tall, Revolution has spent time in the Army National Guard where he received a dishonorable discharge for drug use and insubordination. Revolution, later went to prison where he was recruited by Cobra. Following his formal training on Cobra Island, Revolution was tasked with corrupting black radical organizations. As a member of the "Ebony Guards," Revolution worked in parallel with The Crimson Guard. While the latter was tasked with infiltrating suburban communities, corporations, and industry, the Ebony Guards were tasked with urban "renewal" and ghetto "pacification."
Weapon specialties: Saturday night specials; zip guns; Molotov cocktails; spoken word poetry; bad fashion; revolutionary fury; instant recall of conspiracy theories; and knowledge of self.

Regardless, one cannot deny the amazing greatness that was G.I. Joe The Movie:

I could care less about the toothless wonders and the PWT opposing the New Black Panthers. But, I really suggest that The New Black Panthers, if they are going to claim that honorable lineage, at least try to live up to it:

Hell, I would be happy if Quannel and his posse read some classic G.I. Joe comic books (or even the new GI Joe comics where Destro has a child by a black woman--he was creepin' on the Baroness) . At least, this would have improved their strategy and tactics--rushing into the heart of your enemy with insufficient forces to exploit any gap you may create in their lines is a no-no because it inevitably leads to encirclement and the destruction of your forces.

So many shit-huffers, so little time. Here is a thought experiment for you: imagine if instead of The New Black Panthers, that Ghostface, Styles P, and Beanie Siegel stepped up and through that group of white "defenders" of "justice?"..Now that would have been a protest worthy of Fox News:

Yo Joe!!!!!

Postscript: Now, I would of course be Snake-Eyes, Zora would be Scarlett, but Gordon who would you be? Maybe Doc, or perhaps Alpine?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Respectable Negroes of the Week

Brad Pitt, In a Move that Makes Me Want to Consider him for Honorary Negro Status
Actor Brad Pitt, who moved with his family to New Orleans a year ago, is spearheading a project to start rebuilding affordable, safe and sustainable homes in the city's Lower Ninth Ward. He has committed $5 million of his own money to get the Make It Right project going. Pitt's project has unveiled 13 designs for houses — each about 1,000 square feet — all with front porches, built off the ground and with environmentally friendly features including solar panels. The goal is to start off with 150 homes, even though he acknowledges that number is just "a drop in the bucket." "There are 5,000 [homes] just in this neighborhood, and I don't want to be contained to just this neighborhood. This place needs help everywhere; every district needs help along the Gulf Coast still," Pitt says.

Denzel Washington & Oprah Winfrey for Bringing Attention to Historically Black Colleges
On Dec. 25, “The Great Debaters" will appear in theaters with Denzel Washington as its director and star, and Oprah Winfrey as producer. The film depicts Wiley’s most glorious chapter: 1935, when the black poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson coached his debating team to a national championship. In many respects, Wiley’s story is the larger narrative of historically black institutions whose graduates lived to see landmark achievements in the 1960s, including passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But after securing the opportunity for bright young students to attend any institution they wanted, many black colleges stalled. Texas had 11 black colleges in 1954. Three are now gone, another is on probation for academic and other problems, and a fifth operated during most of the 1990s without accreditation.

ACLU's King Downing for Challenging Racial Profiling in U.S. Airports
In a case of "messing with the wrong negro": King Downing said he was stopped and questioned by state police in October 2003 after arriving on a flight to attend a meeting on racial profiling. Downing sued the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the airport, and Massachusetts State Police, alleging they violated his constitutional right against unreasonable search. A trial in the case began Monday in U.S. District Court. Downing, who is black and wears a short beard, said in his lawsuit that he was stopped by a state trooper and asked to show identification. When he declined, Downing said, he was told to leave the airport, but was then stopped again. He was surrounded by four state troopers and told that he was under arrest for failing to produce identification. Downing, an attorney who serves as national coordinator of the ACLU's Campaign Against Racial Profiling, said after he agreed to show his driver's license, the troopers asked to see his airline ticket. He was then allowed to leave, and no charges were filed against him. In 2002, about a year after terrorists launched the Sept. 11 attacks by hijacking two planes from Logan, the airport began a program called "Behavior Assessment Screening System," which allows police to question passengers whose behavior appears suspicious. Logan was the first airport in the country to use the system.

Barack Obama & Oprah (again) for Proving that Negroes Can Stick Together
...When Ms. Winfrey strode onto a stage in Iowa Saturday, imploring voters to support the presidential candidacy of Senator Barack Obama, she acknowledged not knowing whether her endorsement would matter. And as she waded into American politics deeper than ever before, she declared: “It feels like I’m out of my pew.” as she explained her rationale for supporting Mr. Obama, of Illinois, she stood behind a lectern, reading from prepared remarks. She paused for a moment, saying: “Backstage, somebody said, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, ‘Damn right I’m nervous.’” But for 17 minutes, Ms. Winfrey delivered a testimonial for Mr. Obama arguing the nation was at a critical moment in its history that required a candidate who could heal divisions and chart a new direction. “If we continue to do the same things over and over again, I believe we get the same results,” Ms. Winfrey said. Later, she added: “When you listen to Barack Obama, when you really hear him, you witness a very rare thing. You witness a politician who has an ear for eloquence and a tongue dipped in the unvarnished truth.”

Hugo Chavez for Challenging the IMF
Leaders of several South American nations have signed a founding document to create a new body, the Banco del Sur, as an alternative to multilateral credit organisations such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. President Chavez sees the IMF and World Bank as tools of the US. The idea was first put forward by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in December 2006 as part of his battle against the influence of the US and the international financial institutions, which he has decried as "tools of Washington".

Friday, December 7, 2007

Friday Five: 5 terms and phrases that respectable negroes have never used

Last week, I posted 5 phrases respectable negroes need to stop using; this week, I’m featuring 5 terms and phrases that respectable negroes have never used (sincerely). Just for fun, I’ve decided to illustrate all of them using rap songs.

1.) Conversate
I thank EbonyJet for the suggestion, but I wrote this one years ago. My problem with “conversate,” aside from the obvious, is that, if people didn’t try to put on airs, it would never leave their mouths. Think about it. You only hear “conversate” when people are attempting to sound sophisticated, when they think the word “talk” needs to be classed up. Folks use it most often when trying to spit or receive game. So a word that’s intended to signal class signals exactly the opposite. Ever see some tacky soul decked out from head to toe in Louis Vuitton? “Conversate” is the word equivalent of that.

Say it aint so, Biggie!

2.) Chinky eyes
Every time I hear some ign’ant ass fool say this, I just have to shake my head. This is bad on so many levels. First, there’s the silly racialized fetishization of the “exotic” Asian. Then there’s that little thing about it containing A RACIAL SLUR! Imagine if Angelina Jolie were to answer a question about her lips, “I used to hate them when I was a kid, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve embraced the beauty of my Nigger Lips.”

3.) (Poor) white trash
Also problematic for many reasons. First, it ties white dysfunction to poverty. More important for our purposes, though, is that using the adjective “white” to describe the degraded “trash” amounts to a subtle reinforcement of white supremacy. The “white” is not just for the sake of specificity; the fact that you have to qualify trash implies that it is not usually white. Take a wild guess as to what it usually is.

Fuck Eminem and 8 Mile, by the way. Did white people really need another movie in which a field populated by black folks is unimportant unless a white person does it? Arent there like 12 Rocky movies?

4.) Stop snitching
In American culture at large, there has long been a stigma attached to snitching (look at the connotations of the words “snitch,” “tattletale,” “rat,” “stool pigeon,” “fink”); however, since we all know that hip hop music is responsible for every evil in America, we’re lucky that credible journalists have sought out knowledgeable people to discuss this “alarming new trend” that’s localized to black hip hop fans. But the absurdity of the media doesn’t excuse the “Stop Snitching” thing, which is the dumbest craze since people started treating the movie Scarface as an inspirational guide to life (ignore that insignificant part at the end where he’s swiss cheesed up). I’m sympathetic to those who choose not to go to the police out of fear of reprisal. We all know that certain neighborhoods don’t receive an adequate level of protection. But these fools act like “Stop Snitching” is some code of honor, when they just don’t want to get caught…and they will snitch on somebody in a second if it means avoiding some time behind bars. Please, start snitching on these clowns.

Et tu, Cube?

Bonus “Stop Snitching” song (only this one’s satirical):

5.) Baby Daddy / Baby Mama
Who dat ee-uh?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Zora Says: "It's Hammer Time," Again?

He's back! The Bo Jangles of the early 90s has returned. After making millions of dollars (and losing all of it) consuming hip-hop and gospel and regurgitating it into a pulp that could be easily marketed and digested by mainstream audiences, MC Hammer has begun a new venture. Apparently, he is launching a a new internet site that focuses exclusively on dance videos. The idea behind DanceJam is to provide a space for dancers around the world to share their moves and for others to presumably learn the basics. "From end-to-end, dancing goes so far," he says. "You know, from street dancing to Broadway dancing to modern to jazz to tap to cheerleading ...." MC Hammer is looking for a global audience, citing the popularity of India's Bollywood films. "Dance drives every movie — so imagine the international implications there. So it's just a great opportunity for a language that is global to do really well ... and also for me to make a buck" ...

... yet another tool for negrophiles around the world: How to be a Negro in 5 Simple Dance Steps.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

An Open Letter to The Assimilated Negro (TAN)

Dear TAN,

I read your site religiously. I follow almost all of your work, even the stuff you do for the unbearable white New Yorkers who patronize you (Nigger Heaven, represent!). I’m also jealous of your gig at Ebony/Jet because I like to imagine that all of their writers still work at their headquarters and that the Beauties of the Week strut around the office in swimsuits and high heels. But in your recent piece, “The Dearth of Black Satire,” you really show your ass, and not even those giant neon bikini bottoms the Beauties wore back in the ‘80s can cover it. As a fan, and as a fellow respectable negro, I feel compelled to call you out on this one.

In short, your article laments the lack of mainstream black satire, then attributes this lack to black people’s broken (more like underdeveloped) funny bone. As I was reading the article, I gave you the benefit of the doubt, hoping that it was some clever piece of meta-satire. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. This article’s assumptions and implications are so rotten, they cast a negative light on everything else you’ve written.

The bulk of this letter will be my responses to a few quotes from your article, but first things first— the central point of your piece, namely, that black people in general don’t do or “get” satire, is utter horseshit. Black humor has always been shot through with satirical black humor. And it isn’t the exclusive province of the giants. Even the hackiest BET Comedy routines and the lamest rap skits often show a familiarity with the language of satire. Also, the average black person engages in “elevated humor” (including satire) quite frequently. The fact that this is news to you is problematic on many levels, as you are not only a black man, but a humorist whose hook is his blackness. More on that later.

You offer three aspects of satire that might stymie black folks:

1. Critical: Criticism is a complicated game. On one side, it's the only way one can improve. On the other, it's a slap in the face. In general, we still don't like being slapped in the face, even if there's "noble intent" behind it.

Not true. We love being slapped in the face, just not in public, and certainly not by those who we think don’t like black people. The black contingent you describe (and any other group that makes a stink about stereotypical media images) is analogous to a freaky sadomasochist behind closed doors who wants to maintain a prim and proper public façade. What these black people laugh at in public—before the gaze of the white media and the black Civil Rights establishment—and what they laugh at absent that gaze are two different things.

You suggest that it’s unfair that we aren’t free to joke about ourselves in public, when white people make fun of themselves so readily. Since when has life been fair for anyone, especially black folks? The main benefit (and irony) of whiteness is that it allows its owners to be treated as individuals, while regarding individual white expression as universal. The rest of us don’t have that luxury. Given that the mainstream media warps the images of black people, and that many treat these images as truth, it’s no wonder that certain respectable negroes would like to silence them. I’m with you, though: I can’t support this new wave of soft black censorship because I think that it’s childish and counterproductive. But, you see, this over-sensitive humorlessness results from bad strategy among the loudest black voices, not an inherent deficiency of black people, black culture, or black political “struggle.”

2. Literary: Satire comes from a literary tradition, and it's not to say black people don't read, but ... well maybe that is what I'm trying to say. We're not educated enough to appreciate the history of satire.

That’s an elite education for you. Most people, regardless of race or level of education, know jack shit about the history of satire (or the history of anything for that matter!) because most people haven’t studied literature intensively. You act as if someone needs to have read A Modest Proposal or Candide to appreciate a good satirical skewering. It’s easy to blame a lack of fancy book learnin’ for the push to ban Huck Finn from classrooms or remove “Read a Book” from the airwaves, but this opposition has very little to do with people not understanding the satire on a literary level; it’s more a matter of public performance: these opponents are trying to put what they believe to be the best public face on their in-group. Though their actions are stupid, the people behind them aren’t necessarily stupid or uneducated.

3. Detatched: Satire these days consists of people playing characters/roles, basically trying to lie and give off an impression. But what's lost in translation is the point. Black people are too caught up in the grind to appreciate this sort of "detached observational" humor. Especially if the joke's on us.

TAN, if this were true, there would be no such thing as black parody.

You forgot one, though, and it’s kind of a big deal:

4. Black people don’t control media outlets, so the mainstream black comedy that is produced does not show the range of what black people want to see or have to offer. By most accounts, those in charge of green lighting projects believe that anything that eschews black stereotypes is unprofitable, hence the increasing LCD character of popular black culture. This is not to absolve black audiences, who support a whole lot of garbage, and often fail to support quality black projects. Black folks almost always support great black comedy, however. When the stars align every 5 or 10 years and a black person with enough power gets a mainstream outlet to back “sophisticated” black satire, the product is popular with white and black audiences, e.g. In Living Color, The Chris Rock Show, Chappelle’s Show (The Richard Pryor Show is the only notable exception, and Fear of a Black Hat, The Boondocks, and the Ego Trip material on VH1 are/were too niche to have mass appeal). Undercover Brother and Bamboozled are the only mainstream movies to have utilized satirical black voices this century. The former wasn’t really marketed properly, but has still found a cult audience; the latter, despite its terrible execution, has scores of black defenders based simply on its premise.

When asking why the 21st Century has seen so few examples of popular black satire, perhaps you should ask why there are exactly nan black shows on network TV, and why the only black comedy films that are financed by majors nowadays have to include pimps, hos, crackheads, flaming gay caricatures, sistagirl neckrolling sassiness, and black men in mammy drag. Here’s a hint: it’s not because that’s all black people want. Because you completely miss the boat on institutionalized discrimination in the creative entertainment industry, this is, by far, my favorite line of your article:

Are there no satirists because of the lack of demand? It can't be for lack of opportunity.

But by “opportunity,” you mean current events that lend themselves to satirical treatment by black folks; you don’t mean opportunity, as in the means and clout to produce smart black satire in the mainstream. The ironing is delicious.

I’m worried about you, TAN. I’m worried that such a smart and talented respectable negro would accept mainstream media’s representations of black people as an accurate depiction of black folks’ character and behavior. It concerns me that your first instinct was to attribute the absence of mainstream black satire to a problem with black people’s collective sense of humor. This is the same reasoning used by people who see that most mainstream black art is representational and thus deduce that black culture isn’t capable of producing abstract expression.

“The Dearth of Black Satire,” more than anything else I’ve read from you, lays bare your problematic relationship with black people (and obviously, with yourself). You distance yourself from “common” black people when you suggest that they aren’t educated enough to understand satire. After all, you aren’t too uneducated or sensitive to understand or appreciate satire. I know that it was drilled into your head that you are young, gifted, and black, but get over it. You aren’t special. When you so readily dismiss black people’s intelligence, that goes beyond being assimilated, negro; that’s perilously close to accepting white supremacy.

At the same time that you implicitly distinguish yourself from black people, you try to include yourself among their lot (“We just don’t get it…,” “until we stop taking ourselves so seriously…,” etc.). This isn’t surprising, considering that a large part of your success stems from your role as a “designated negro” who seeks to make black people intelligible for white hipsters. Yet it doesn’t seem to trouble you that you are acting as white people’s guide to black people, despite, apparently, not knowing all that much about black people who aren’t like yourself; it doesn’t seem to cause you concern that your role as “negro tour guide” is based on your knowledge of the tourists, and not that of the “natives.”

Sure, assimilated negroes are defined by such identity conflicts. Before this article, however, I never had cause to question your concern for black people. In psychological terms, you might need “those other” black people to convince yourself of your uniqueness; in practical terms, you might need them because they are a subject of great interest to clueless white people, who, instead of talking to “those other” black people, would rather rely on one educated, “articulate” black spokesperson. It’s possible that you don’t really have a use for “those other” black people, otherwise. Politics aside, you may be John McWhorter in essence (though perhaps I’m being swayed by the high yella complexion and the booty chin). TAN, I don’t want to believe any of this about you, but, again, after reading your article, I don’t know what to believe.

I can see John Stewart riffing now on “we tried to make some jokes about black people, because, you know, that's how we party these days. But all they did was want to protest everything we said. So now we'll just ignore them.”

So you look at the absence of black voices and subjects on The Daily Show and think, “it’s too bad that the fear of Sharpton and company is preventing the writers from discussing black people,” huh? That’s interesting, because I look at The Daily Show and see that it is like every other white institution: it assumes that its voice is the default. It doesn’t matter that its creators are liberal; they’re still wearing the blinders of white privilege. The straight news analogy is when CNN or ABC parrots the notion that Republicans are the party of the very religious (I guess black churches didn’t get that memo). White liberals neither hate us nor consciously ignore us; we just don’t factor into their everyday vision of the normal.

I recommend that you re-visit the In Living Color sketch “The Black People’s Awards.” It’s not only a hilarious piece of popular satirical black comedy, but its underlying target, black folks’ limited opportunities in cinema and TV, is one you need to study if you hope to carve out a profitable career as a popular, self-consciously black humorist (and not lose your mind in the process). You’ll find solace in that sketch when you’re rejected by an editor or a producer because they “already have a black writer” or when you run into trouble finding a publisher for your book because it’s not “black” enough.

The following quotes are telling:

But even aside from the opportunity to make a buck off a joke, the cachet value we place on satire -- the relation of satire to "highbrow" and "intelligence" -- makes this an imperative issue for black people. We risk classifying ourselves as too slow or dense for elevated humor if we choose to blindly ignore our faults and foibles in the interest of protecting our pride.


until we loosen up and stop taking ourselves so seriously on everything, I fear we won't be taken seriously about anything.

Like the stuffy black establishment leaders you mention in your article, you seem to have internalized the need for white approval.

Based on the arguments you offer in this article, I am fairly certain of one thing: you must not talk to many black people on a regular basis. Fortunately, there’s hope for you yet. You can be rehabilitated. All you need to do is pry yourself away from your white girls comfort zone for a little while and hang out with some black people! We don’t bite. Regular contact with black folks will not only lead you to abandon your flawed premises and conclusions about black humor, it will ultimately make you an even better comedy writer.


Gordon Gartrelle,
Respectable Negro