The Danger of Dear White People

 Allow me to begin by stating that the characters on Dear White People remind me of people that I know, but wish I didn’t. Thus, I do not contest that Simien’s characters represent a reality. My contention is that this reality does not allow members of the black collective to critically examine what our oppressive continent has made of our collective. Rather, Dear White People illustrates a white agenda put into practice by black bodies and a black writer. 

I have written about the previous seasons of Dear White People, expressing my disappointment in what could have been an opportunity to probe black intellectual and artistic creativity in the rudimentary stages. 

However, while Dear White People proved culturally catastrophic in previous seasons, this season marks a point of no return. 

This season, creator Jason Simien tackles the #metoo movement. The series and Winchester welcome Moses Brown, a black professor and app developer, onto the historically white campus. Allegations of sexual misconduct follow Brown’s entry and emergence as a campus leader and saving grace for the black constituency. Rich, white female student “Muffy” confides in token Coco regarding an unwanted sexual advance from Moses Brown. Moses Brown, played by black Hollywood veteran Blair Underwood, means something special Reggie in particular. Reggie who, of course, was held at gunpoint at a party during the first season, finds purpose and a means to confront his trauma as Brown’s prodigy.  Moses Brown breaks ground by making it so that Reggie’s experience will not be a repeat scenario. Specifically, Brown makes it so that campus police will remain unarmed during their shifts. 

Though it is Brown who makes this initiative, his actions reflect the efforts of the black caucus who refused to be silent after a campus police officer drew his weapon on Reggie, a black male student. This is an important depiction as it illustrates using your voice as producing tangible results. It is important for young people to see that to make noise is to make a difference.

But despite Brown’s initiative, the series sullies his actions to depict Moses Brown as the media portrays black men daily. 

Dear White People molds Brown into a Bill Cosby like character—a black man initially lauded for building black people up viciously taken down by the same media who fostered his once positive portrayal.  

When Reggie first approaches Brown, Brown regards the accusations as resulting from his own naivety. The second time Reggie confronts Brown, Brown’s response consummates an admission of guilt. 

My question is: if the white media has their Bill Cosbys, their Nate Parkers, and their R. Kellys, why does Dear White People need a Moses Brown?

Specifically, of all the narratives to portray regarding black people, or even black people and sexual assault, Simien conforms to the master narrative and violently casts black people as support in a story that maintains white women as the face of sexual assault. Simien’s plot line creates a fictive narrative where white women are silenced by black male power. Though a black men hold high positions at this college, they are workers: not owners, investors, or trustees, but workers. Thus, the power dynamics are conveniently misconstrued. Universities are plantations, making the highly ranked black man, “good stock.” History tells us that even the best stock were castrated if there were even a thought that he would sexually pursue a white woman.

Thus, Simien’s series ignores the reality that allegations that speak to white female chastity as tainted or threatened by black men remains the downfall of so many who have seemingly consummated American success. Simien’s narrative ignores the reality that the African adjacent woman remains able to mend hurt feelings, or rejection, with fictitious stories that operate as fact in a country that refuses to see the black man as anything but a hyper-sexual beast.

Black men are imperfect. I say this as custom, because given all black people have had to overcome, I do think we as a people approach perfection. I am not sure one can get closer to perfection than those who have every reason to fall but keep standing. 

I say this not be egotistical, but to state that  there are many sub-narratives in the black experience that Siemen should have included. Siemen could have depicted the Carolyn Bryants as a contemporary reality, or he could have created fictionalized versions of Recy Taylor, Betsy Owens, or Tawana Brawley, bringing black girl trauma to light. Rather, his portrayal vindicates the Carolyn Bryants and leaves the dark girl and the dark man in their European imposed oblivion.

 It should be criminal to reference Emmett Till and create a discourse that casts him as an anomaly. Till is a page in a book inundated with countless stories of black male injustice induced by an accusation from an African adjacent women. Thus, Till is not the first or the last page in this narrative, but a page nonetheless. Instead, the series detaches Emmett Till from Moses Brown, just as the white media detached Claude Neal, Rubin Stacy, and countless other lynched black men from Bill Cosby, whereas they all hold hands as mockingbirds stifled by avarice hunters. 

It is both a blessing and a curse that the contemporary world gives increased access to storytelling. The blessing is that viewers witness black talent. The talent is often mis used and abused, but talent nonetheless.  The curse is that all featured stories lead to white supremacy; Siemen embodies this curse. 

This curse poses the following query: What good is a platform if one occupies the space on their knees?

In providing a discourse where a black girl overlooks her white boyfriend systemically passing as a minority, and where black students at a college where the first black people on the campus were enslaved, join forces to take down a black man because of accusations made by a white woman, Sieman illustrates that modern entertainment, for the black viewer, is nothing more than an admonishment. Specifically, black audiences are to learn that witty speech intertwined with the occasional esoteric term are fine as long you fail to actually say anything. Dear White People warns against trying to be anything other than a supporting member or peripheral partiality in America’s oppressive landscape.

In summation, Dear White People casts a dangerous discourse among the cognitive landscape of its black viewers. The series achieves said danger by inviting the black viewer to do what slain civil rights leader Malcolm X warned us against. Malcolm X once said:

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

This new season of Dear White People attacks the black subconscious, so that by its final episode, the black viewer empathizes and loves their oppressor and sees their collective selves as a rapist underserving of his education and status.

Nevertheless, this post is not to dispute Sieman’s talent or intellect, but to state that he lacks the courage we as a collective need from our writers. I am saying that we need that an Amiri Baraka-like vigor, a “S.O.S.” that “ calls all black people” not to the couch, or to a subconscious submissiveness, but to action. 

Advertisements

Cyntoia Brown’s Release & Contemplating a “Free” yet Forgetful Culture

This week, countless media outlets celebrated what they called Cyntoia Brown’s freedom. The term “free” was probably always privy to a violent banality, but it’s use seems particularly violent with regards to Brown’s case. 

Cyntoia Brown was just a teenager when she was sentenced to life in prison. A pigtailed Brown made the news, but her image did nothing to alter her fate. A girl that looked as young as Brown sexually pursued by a man more than three times her age, revealed that though someone died, this someone was not the victim. However, upon seeing Brown, all the jury saw was a murderer. 

The details of the case, paired with the overturned outcome, only festers my ambivalence. It is a unique feeling to envision a once imprisoned person beyond an orange jumpsuit and shackles, yet doing so only evokes the Emancipation Proclamation, a document which marked transition not resolution.

Brown’s release promises something similar–a physical transition complicated by a psychological stagnancy aided by her release. By this, I mean that Brown’s release is not for her, or us, it’s for them. Brown’s release reflects a violent tokenism that enables the masses to focus on an individual and look away from a collective issue.

The collective issue is freedom.

Brown’s physical freedom, a state thoroughly compromised by the reality that her body was not her own prior to or following her incarceration, will likely reveal a psychological damage not reversed by the turn of a cell key. Brown is now to start her life from a place she should have never inhabited. Just like her ancestors, Brown’s life is marked by a disruption she is now to resolve under her oppressor’s searing gaze.

Yet, while Brown’s case illustrates the detriment of the dark race, it delineates that crime still has a color. 

Specifically, Brown’s case and it’s traction among popular recording artists and socialites, illustrates a pervasive preference for fairer-skinned women. Brown’s case illustrates that fairer-skinned women, while black enough for conviction, remain eligible for redemption. Globally, fairer-skin, or the presumed presence of white ancestry, functions as a redeeming trait.

My intentions are not to demonize Brown for what exists to her benefit but remains beyond her control. My contention remains with a systemized perception of black people that mirrors the dynamics put forth in the Willie Lynch letter. The Willie Lynch letter, where slave owner Willie Lynch broke down black enslavement to a divisive science which divided black people by white-induced distractions like skin color and gender. The sensationalized Cyntoia Brown case mirrors Lynch’s white supremacist methodology, as it functions to imply a changing, or different, America while distracting the black collective from a larger truth.  

The truth is that for every Cyntoia there is a darker-skinned woman that cannot maintain her innocence because of her skin color. Consider, for example, Assata Shakur, who remains on America’s most wanted list decades after her conviction. Shakur is female, but she is not fair-skinned or fine featured, so she was not only guilty, she was guilty and beyond the means of rehabilitation. Shakur took a freedom she actualized in her ideology. This type of “freedom” is the only kind of freedom there is, for all things given are never truly owned by the recipient.

As I write this piece, forty-five year old Ronald Sanford sits in a six by nine Indiana Jail Cell. He’s been incarcerated since the age of 13, meaning that he has been in jail longer than most millennials been alive. For over three decades, he’s been caged twenty three hours a day. Unlike Brown, Sanford is not a light-skinned woman, yet like Brown, his upbringing reflects a collective disenfranchisement designed to clip his wings. 

Yet, the white world uses cases like Brown and Sanford  as a discourse on choices, despite the too-often ignored reality that those born black do not choose the circumstances that placed them in a systemic chokehold. To be clear, my assertions do not function to victimize black people but to assert that we are not a collective plagued by villainy.

Collaboratively, Brown and Sanford illustrate that justice is not just at all.  Similarly, they illustrate that the penitentiary system is not a rehabilitation source for black people, it is cage used to control population, destroy black families, and injure the collective black psyche. To incarcerate an individuals is to wound a collective; we will never be free in a world where a teenager is to serve life in prison, but not given a life to live.

The physical and psychological sacrifice that becomes of our black children, black fathers, black mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles, friends, protectors, and griots, marks a global effort to ensure that the black collective remains shattered. I want to encourage those of the diaspora to write to those of us incarcerated, or even volunteer to teach, if you can, but more so, I’d like to humbly request something far more simple, in theory anyway.

My request is that you don’t forget about people like Ronald Sanford. Sanford will probably never get clemency, as his story delineates that to be black is to be criminal, to be forgotten, to be the “darkness” cast out by lightened sentences and the lighter-skinned. To remember Mr. Sanford in lieu of Cyntoia Brown, Alice Johnson, and all the cultural distractions to follow, is to remember that “darkness” to black people remains anchored in what functions as “the light.”

It is refusing to forget this truth, that we take the necessary strides toward freedom.

Assaulting the Archive: The Cultural Damage of The Black Biopic and “Historical” Film

The eighties were a turbulent period. The crack era personified a violent wrath that intentionally tore apart black families. The multi-talented Jackie Wilson, a trailblazer in black entertainment, lay robbed, abused, and neglected in a nursing home. Tawana Brawley, a fifteen-year-old black teen from Upstate New York, was raped and systemically lynched, and five young men were falsely accused of rape simply because they were young, black, and male. Yet despite these milestone moments, much of the eighties archive remains shunned to silence. These moments compose the portion of black life that does not warrant popular reference; rather, the eighties encompassed aspects of black life that an anti-black world needs black people to forget, and what, in this selective amnesia, we are destined to repeat.

It appeared an act of remembrance when Ava Duvernay debuted her Netflix series When They See Us in the Spring of 2019. Many rejoiced that the unsung stories of the Central Park 5 were finally being told. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, who were previously all marked by four words: The Central Park Five, composed the core of Duvernay’s series which presented a telling and realistic portrait of the American (in) justice system. Though many credited the talented Duvernay with vindicating those those who remained guilty in the court of public opinion, the series proved hard to watch.

I cringed and crawled through the series. My attempts to Netflix and chill proved challenging, because I felt as though I should have been doing something. I felt as though I should be creating a solution rather than consuming a fictionalized version of a very real struggle—and this truth is, this sentiment does not reflect sanctimony, but what should be a reality. The Central Park 5, a testament to the low regard America holds black people, illustrates the low of a so called “elevated” or “civilized” society. The story of these young men delineate a shared experience of what it means to be black America. Specifically, the story of the Central Park five illustrates that black is synonymous with criminal. Yet, what appears most criminal about the docu-series is its destiny. Specifically, the series is destined to become the means of reference to this critical period in the black narrative. 

This illustrates a persistent problem with regards to the black collective and the black archive, because contrary to popular belief, films about the black experience, or notable black figures, do not constitute the black archive. Those of the black collective should only attend the movies to learn as a means of survival, and by learn, I mean learn the ways of white folk, not to meet an oppressor-approved version of our ancestors and elders.

Unfortunately, for many, Malcolm X remains confined to a Spike Lee caricature, and the Africans abducted centuries ago, reduced to images suitable for White America. The new Harriet Tubman film promises to fulfill a similar function. The controversial, yet highly anticipated, film resurrects the slave film that functions to appease white guilt and satiate white leisure. While 12 Years a Slave (2013) garnered rave reviews for its “accurate” portrayal of America’s forgotten past, it was its white savior figure, played by Hollywod-hearthrob Brad Pitt, that warranted its positive reception. Aside from transitioning pain into entertainment, the slave narrative remains the sole means many will come to know the ancestors and elders that enable present possibility. These films, however, encompass a neutered story where truth remains optional. The slave-film genre, therefore, assumes misplacement as the black archive.  

It is worth mentioning the subjects and topics that remain too contentious for exclusion into the visual archive. Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation, for example, debuted amidst personal scandal to deflect from the film’s potential power. This delineates that slave films are fine as long as black people are portrayed comically, homely, or helpless, but not hopeful or rebellious. Similarly, I have yet to see any films about the Tawana Brawley story, an omission that illustrates that the white world wants to make sure the black woman says #metoo to a westernized femininity and not to black female systemic asphyxiation.

These omissions underscore just how important archives remain to the collective African experience. The archives do not encompass entertainment, but exist as an integral component to emerging from the margins of our own mind into the center. 

I recently heard of filmmaker Ava Duverney’s plans to make a film for activist and self-proclaimed contemporary runaway slave, Assata Shakur. The news, much like the news of of the upcoming Harriet Tubman film, incited a generally positive response, marking those who feel vindicated in the visibility aligned with a big-screen feature. This desire to be seen, marks those irretrievably wounded by a world whose narcissism engenders the marginalized to search for their reflection in their oppressor’s eyes. The word narcissism, of course, derives from Narcissus, who in the ancient myth, drowns after attempting to kiss his own reflection. This is the exact future that awaits black people who view their reflection in the visual medium presented as the archive. 

Just like the river that became Narcissus’s acquatic grave, the visual archive enables vanity not value. To drown pursuing excellence is a worthwhile cause, but to drown in disenfranchisement, which is the fate of the visual black archive, marks yet another win for whiteness at the expense of the black collective. 

Everything should not be a movie. Movies only exist to create an idle consumerism in a collective the United States works tirelessly to convince of their cultural deficit. This truth substantiates that it is not art to compartmentalize vital components of the black narrative to a film, but cultural assasination. The “historical” film or black biopic constitutes “his” story not our story. Therefore, these genres do not encompass black culture; the historical films or black biopics are what colonizers want the black collective to see so that we do not see ourselves.

Productive consumerism remains consummated by reading books and in the oral archives that transcribes what time or racism cannot take away. Books, letters, notes, and word-of-mouth represent the stories that will not become films because they teach black people a potency American culture incites them to unlearn.

The visual medium is another way to stall the black collective. Now, instead of saying “wait,” our oppressors tell us to watch, watch as our truth becomes mutilated in who and what this country needs us to be–misinformed, dazed, and distorted.

How The Lion King Shows Us Who’s Still King

Claims that reference Disney’s The Lion King as visually and thematically violent, will prompt many to see King Mufasa hanging off a cliff before falling to his death as his young son Simba watches in a youthful confusion. However, to assign the film’s violence to one fictional scene would be a grave oversight. The Lion King is anti-black, and therefore potentially fatal for black viewers and detrimental to repairing the perception of black people. Repairing the black collective, or dare I say reparations, is, of course, not an American or Disney objective.  

The film’s violence stems from its racist and colorist discourse. Scar, the film’s villain, and the Hyenas, who maintain consistent and literal placement in the film’s shadows, prove particularly problematic. Their physical blackness, Scar’s trademark dark hair, the hyena’s dark skin, full features, and dialect often paired with those relegated to the societal margins and the inner city, reflect the very qualities and presumed inferiority that corresponds to the black collective. 

Similarly, Pride Rock, the story’s core, proves identical to nearly any suburban environment. Though white people do not inhabit all suburbs, all suburban environments maintain a proximity to whiteness and are often inundated with white versions of success and achievement. Pride Rock’s literal and figurative placement away from the literal shadows  that Scar and the hyenas occupy, encompass the very binaries that separate the suburbs from the “slums,” the affluent from the impoverished, and the black from the white. The film’s conflict, therefore, lies in its subtleties. Viewers who consume the film’s content as children, consume its racialized discourse and subconsciously compartmentalize it’s content as an ideology. Thus, by the time black Lion King viewers who first visually consumed the film in childhood approach adolescence, they will be ready to take their place in the shadows of a society that hates them. 

While the story remains the same, Lion King, like many contemporary adaptations of Disney films, have overtly embraced physical diversity to display its contempt for the black collective in color. Specifically, the 2019 adaptation of the Lion King employs pop-superstar Beyonce to play the film’s heroine and to sing the film’s soundtrack into the minds of its targets. Beyonce’s placement on Pride Rock as Nahla seems a testament to her popularity and vocal ability, yet Beyonce’s film placement mirrors her function and positionality with regard to the black community. Specifically, the white media casts Beyonce as a heroine for the black race who must fight the hyenas, or avert black stereotypes, to assume a position “in the light.” She is suburbia and all other symbols of whiteness, masked behind physical blackness, or politicized diversity. Beyonce as Nahla, a lioness who emerges from the shadows into the “light” associated with Pride Rock, symbolized Beyonce’s emergence from a niggerized blackness into a larger than life figure that speaks to the black collective using her oppressor’s language. This language is not only in songs, a point I will return to momentarily, but in the long blonde hair and light brown skin, that remain the apex of a black female beauty written in whiteness. 

Beyonce’s strategic casting is perhaps most evident in her song “Brown Skin Girl,” a reggae-inspired song that features daughter Blue Ivy Carter. The song quickly became an anthem for black women who, like Destiny Child member Kelly Rowland, are too often rendered invisible when juxtaposed to their fairer-skinned counterparts. The song proves a testament to the beauty of those born with the kiss of the sun. Admittedly, the song has a catchy rhythm, and Blue Ivy’s closing solo, which embodies the goal of generations to come, would bring even a racially neutral black person to tears. However, the very brown celebrated in this popular tune, proves a catalyst for the film’s evil villain whose darkness must be overcome to restore light back to the kingdom. The song’s irony is multiplicious, as Beyonce would not be “Beyonce” without the “brown skinned” woman of whom she sings. Specifically, the brown skinned girl, or who Alice Walker calls the “black black woman” who sits at the start of Beyonce’s genetic lineage, literally birthed the superstar, as did the black black woman’s generational disenfranchisement. Beyonce’s serenade also delineate another continuous conflict cast onto the browner-skinned black woman. 

Fairer-skinned black women are often cast to tell their more sun-kissed counterpart’s narrative, an arragement that has become normalized in anti-black culture. As seen with the recent Nina Simone movie that starred Zoe Saldana, and series like GreanleafGrownish, or the new Netflix series Family Reunion, the sun-kissed black woman with full, African features is too often excluded from her own story. These examples, along with Beyonce’s serenade to her sun-kissed sisters, illustrate that the black woman cannot play herself in her own story, nor sing her own glory.

Thus, the cognitive dissonance Beyonce imbues in her Lion King role remains lost to many who seek only superficial representation. This superficial representation grants a vile inclusion to the progression of oppressed peoples. Specifically, Disney’s diversity is not about including black people in that self-esteem surge that white viewers experience when consuming media, but including black people in their own detrimental portrayal to ensure the fate of the darker-hued in the Lion King becomes real life. 

So while Simba, played by Donald Glover, resumes his throne as “king” by the film’s end, the Lion King is not a black man, nor does the film mark a black victory. The white man remains king with the sometimes-victim white woman beside him on a throne build by black bones. 

The Lion King, much like beauty standards and the perception of the black collective, remains unchanged.  Though black faces occupy positions behind computer-generated lions and even assume seemingly central placement in beauty campaigns, this does not negotiate the anti-black power structure. Casting black bodies in an anti-black powerplay, the white world has festered the wound of anti-blackness. This casting encompasses what the mainstream world calls diversity, but this”diversity” translates to variety in appearance only and proves disastrous to the black collective.  

In conclusion, the magic of Disney, as seen in The Lion King and the upcoming Little Mermaid film, illustrates the magic of white supremacy in a constituency that believes in the possibility of a good oppressor more than they believe in their collective good. Therefore, The Lion King delineates whiteness as the reigning monarchy presiding over a constituency bound to an inevitable obliteration masked by faulty inclusion.

She’s Gotta Have it, but She Can’t Have it All

On the surface, Spike Lee appears to deliver a revolutionary protagonist in his Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It. Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) is not only outspoken, intelligent, and artistically provocative, she’s brown-skinned. She isn’t even an Ashley Banks or Dionne Davenport type that intrigues the European gaze with a blackness that simultaneously appeases a European and African aesthetic. Though her eyes are hazel, Nola functions to symbolizes a purposeful blackness illuminated by enlightened artwork. Nola intentionally subscribes to a presumedly African aesthetic with her cocoa brown skin, braid extensions, and a struggle she makes beautiful with her art. 

Despite her very intentional casting and characterization, Nola Darling failed to resonate with me. Simply put, I didn’t believe her. This incredulity speaks to the series’s conception, not the acting. Nola, a character resulting from a systemized gaze, deeply contemplates every aspect of life but her sexuality. Notably, in season 2, a seemingly resonant racial conversation with a black man about art and identity leads to casual sexual encounter that lacks the critical engagement of the conversation that preceded it. Though I do not mean to prescribe sexual chastity as an end goal for black women, I do I find it odd that Nola is so unique intellectually but exudes the same sexual behavior consistent with how the media consistently depicts black people. To be blunt, how is such an artistically and intellectually curious person so sexually basic? 

I’ll return to these points later in this post.

……………

I wrote a review of Spike Lee’s Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It almost two years ago. In the review, I mentioned Laura Nelson, a black woman hung over a bridge alongside her son in a public death largely erased by his story. Her murder, a spectacle and portrait of American horror, serves as a summation for black femininity.  Interestingly, the second season of She’s Gotta Have It concludes with a provocative portrait painted by Nola Darling that channels Laura Nelson. Both woman inevitably hold hands in a shared narrative; however, their overt connection ends the series where it should have began. 

Moreover, the final episode of the Netflix series revisits the query: Who owns black pain? Famed novelist Zadie Smith tackles this query in essay “Getting In and Out: Who Owns Black Pain” where she examines Jordan Peele’s film Get Out and Dana Shultz’s Open Casket portrait which recreates Emmett Till as he lay mutilated in his casket. In examining these examples, Zadie Smith inquires who, if anyone, has a right to black pain? Her argument meditates heavily on an identity she labels “biracial” and even intertwines her children who she references as historically “quadroons.” Her prose, though eloquent and resounding, like the final episode of Spike Lee’s Netflix series, illustrates the peristent query-conflicts surrounding representation, authority, and black pain. 

Smith’s essay, addressing the peculiar pain that follows deriving from rape, evokes a common contemplation regarding what is means to be biracial. But, who is to articulate the pain of the woman forced to look into the face of a child who resembled her oppressor? I pose these questions to preface the following: It is hard if not impossible to take the contemplation of black pain seriously from someone who has made the oppressor her husband.  Smith does not own black pain because she does not hone black pain; rather, Smith re-creates a specific black female pain in her conjugal choice. I say this not to reprimand Smith or castigate her choices, but to underscore that re-presentation remains a central yet under-discussed discourse with regards to black identity, the black experience, and black pain. Smith re-presents black pain in a contractual sexuality, as does She Gotta Have It through protagonist Nola Darling.

While Lee is not married to the man in a conventional sense, his “art” delineates an espousal to western ideals. Lee is unable to divorce western ideals due to an overt inability to acknoweldge their influence on him as director/creator. Specifically, Lee creates black characters whose sexuality and sexual behavior reflects a systemic trauma. Sexualized physically and mentally, black sexuality is not to be taken lightly. Black sexuality constitutes a performance that though seemingly rooted in pleasure, remains anchored in black pain. 

She’s Gotta Have It, illustrates multiple black woman attempting to hone a sexualized pain: Nola as an artist, Clorinda as a young professional, and Mekka as a budding businesswoman. All the black women featured on the series have a dissonant relationship to sexuality. Clorinda, who sleeps with an older man who is also a leading force in gentrifying Brooklyn, realizes her sexual commerce actualizes professional and personal bankruptcy. Clorinda’s sexual performance delineates a black woman attempting to see herself on the other side of oppression. What happens, of course, is that she engenders a cold reminder that she is perhaps worse off then those in her collective. Clorida’s false belief that her position beside white men under the covers detaches her from societal oppression, deals a hard blow when she realizes her systemized subjugation is not only outside of her window but in her bed.

In season one, viewers witness Mekka opt for butt injections to enhance her occupational performance. The result proves catastrophic as Mekka’s injections fester her physical and psychological disfigurement. This depiction re-presents the black female mutilation that follows systemically induced pursuits to acquire what the black woman naturally possesses.

Nola depicts this shared pursuit in her portrait, where she paints herself as hanging by her braid extensions. These braids re-present the black female body and black female personhood as lynched by the beauty industry and on a larger scale, American culture. The hair industry, an industry built on black female emulation, strips the black woman of her beauty and creates black pain. She’s Gotta Have It re-creates said pain and re-presents she who is systemically raped. Re-presentation though, is not freedom; rather, representation functions as a re-manifestation of white hegemony.

Nola’s re-manifestation ruffles feathers in illustrating a pain Mekka views as private. Nola’s portrait resonates with Mekka because their pain is a shared pain; both women, however, individualize a collective pain. This indiviualized scope becomes obvious in Nola’s use of the word “my.” Individualized pain or trauma is a privelege, a shared pain mainfested seperately marks a systemic and cyclical disenfranchisement. Similarly, Mekka’s trauma marks a detachment from other black women who don’t share her physical scars. Mekka’s words illustrate that she fails to see her physical condition as reflecting a scarred mental state. Black people actualize the wounds of a colonized past physicality personified by our last names and our English proficiency. So when Mekka asks Nola why why she chose to sexualize black female pain, this query, while valid, separates the part from the whole. Black pain is inherently sexualized just as sexuality inherently connects to trauma. Re-presentation, as depicted through Nola and Mekka’s discussion, fails the black collective time and time again, because it dismembers a collective pain into a digestible form fit for entertainment. 

To own black pain is to “present” black pain. To present is to endure decoloniation and seek to solve, not to re-present what the oppressed already know to be true. Re-presentation dominates She’s Gotta Have It. Nola represents Laura Nelson and all the other faceless black women subject to the horror their blackness imbues; she does not, however, progress this narrative. If anything, Nola’s characterization proves that though Nelson’s body was eventually cut down, she still phantasmocially sways in the wind; the disdain to black feminity a public sight consummated by re-presentation.

Nola, re-presentats a particular kind of black female pain that follows a cognitively free protagonist who performs a traumatized sexuality that functions as libratory. This trauma is perhaps best illustrated through Nola as a home wrecker to a black family; here, Lee re-presents a pervasive image that follows the black woman in her contemporary casting. The black woman of course is not a homewrecker but she who derives from a home wrecked by the very systemic issues to which her continual re-presentation places her on the wrong side.  

What is perhaps most interesting about re-presentation as it appears in the series, is that it underscores Lee’s selective imagination. Particularly, Lee re-presents an idealized relationship between blacks and Puerto Ricans. This is an obvious play to insure the series appears “inclusive;” however, as a black woman born and raised in New York City,  I have never felt a kinship with the Latinx community that did not attempt to exist on denigrating the black collective at large. This though, is not the point. The point is that Lee presents an idealized diasporic relationship between black people throughout the diaspora, but fails to imagine, or “present” a black woman as detached from systemized forces he overwrights to unite the displaced Africans in New York City and Puerto Rico. Or, and admittedly this is likely the truth, does Nola Darling embody this attempt to “present” the rebellious being of black female form in a contemporary frame?

Now, I return to Smith’s query: who owns black pain? Though the answers remain numerous, re-presentation surrenders ownership to he or she who gazes. Nevertheless, as Laura Nelson showed us 1911, black pain is not a pubic matter to interpret; black pain interprets a global demon strengthened in the re-presentations of its power. 

Re-presentation casts the being of black female form as she who “gotta have it,” whether “it” is sex, power, or color-induced consequences. Futhermore, as long as these re-manifestations of the chains that shackle us remain the voice of a shared struggle, “she” will never have anything it all. 

The Third Killing of Sam Cooke: Thoughts on Netflix Documentary Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke

There are some things in life that are simply once in a lifetime experiences. Sam Cooke the singer is a once in a lifetime experience for anyone who loves music. Sam Cooke the activist and black nationalist is a black treasure lost in the media mutilation of his body and legacy. The Netflix Documentary Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke seeks to place singer, songwriter Sam Cooke in a contemporary context of “Black Lives Matter” by highlighting Cooke as a political activist. While clearly the efforts of white producers who seek to steer contemporary fervor stealthily in their favor, the documentary scores in implementing black celebrities and black scholars to tell the untold story of a man who was not just a singer or songwriter but a legend.

Realistically, aside from the stamp of time that has claimed many close to Cooke, like his family who have since transitioned, the documentary deviates little from previous documentaries on the singer. Though the documentary references the death of Cooke’s son Vincent, the film remains largely focused on Cooke the businessman and activist rather than the personal elements of his life. This focus makes the comment about Cooke’s “womanizing” from a white female former colleague appear deservingly crass.. Her comment also reeks of an upset that sounds reminiscent of a woman scorned, but I digress.

The documentary tackles black conspiracy in a manner that appeases the white gaze. The featured black scholars and celebrities bring integrity to the project and the black archive with their commentary on the following.

Black Brotherhood

The brotherhood with Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Jim Brown, a colloboration Jim Brown (featured in the documentary), called “defying second class citizenship.” Brown also delivered the most resonating line in the film, stating that “hit records didn’t do it for him like touchdowns didn’t do it for us.” Brown’s line renders a poignant denouncing of the symbolism too often used tp attain black satisfaction.

II. Posthumous Releases
Sam Cooke’s live concert at the Harlem Square (1963), not released until 1985 because it was deemed “too black” and “too soulful” for universal circulation

“A Change Gonna Come” was also not released until after Cooke’s death.
This reminds the masses that in addition to what we wear, what we hear is systemically influenced to impair our ability to fight back. To release Cooke’s mergence of soul and activism after his tragic and bizarre death is to change its functionality. After Cooke’s death, the music serves as a warning of what consequences blackness imbues, yet to those who know and love Cooke’s craft, the song and album capture the immortal status of the black archive.

III. Sam, The Black Nationalist Businessman

Sam the Businessman:


The documentary also makes a significant comparison between sharecropping and the music industry. Money, fame and material continues to obscure the oppression that remains aligned with the music industry.
Sam didn’t wish to be a sharecropping singer, he wished to own the crop.

Sam desired economic and creative ownership over his talent. Thus, he was not only affiliated with black nationalism but espoused to its praxis.

IV. The power of black influence


The film notes that Sam Cooke, unlike most of the singers of that time, refused to conk his hair. Rather, Cooke donned a natural look that inspired many to go natural. He would go on to inspire feelings of black empowerment in others throughout his career, something that would eventually lead to his untimely death at 33.

V: Just Another N*gga

One of the most significant aspects of the documentary was the revelation that Cooke’s death was initially not investigated because he was thought to be “just another n*gga killed in Watts.” As delineated by history, Cooke’s murder would never receive an extensive investigation because the details that surrounded his murder painted him in America’s image of the black man.

VI. Once in a Lifetime Voice
The most touching component of the documentary was watching those who loved and admired Cooke listen to Cooke’s once in a lifetime voice, that though physically silenced, continues to sing the notes of the black experience from the grave.

The Critique

The beauty the black scholars and black celebrities bring to this documentary, however, does not negate the reality that no documentary can do this for us. By “this” I speak to a black quest for truth. Yes, in placing Cooke in a contemporary context, the documentary reveals information previously stated but not attached to the singer’s legacy. However, there is still a lot that remains unsaid. To laud this documentary as presenting the whole truth is to issue Cooke a third death.

This documentary puts forth information surrounding Cooke’s murder like a good suspense film. Remastered leaves audiences intrigued and with good talking points for superficial engagement with a serious topic. Simply put, Remastered barely scratches the surface of what lies beneath this tragedy.

Sam Cooke’s battered and bruised body tells a vastly different narrative than the tabloids– a narrative not even a seemingly radical documentary will tackle. The documentary, while it does feature footage from Cooke’s funeral, does not give readers a close view of Sam’s beaten face. The parallel between Cooke and Emmett Till is made early in the documentary but retires to the back of viewer memory by the time the film revisits Cooke’s murder. The murder of black people does not just happen to the individual, it continues to happen to all of us. These mutilated bodies, as heartbreaking as it is to see, remains necessary in affording a portrait of oppression. These images showcase what racism looks like upon the canvas of the black body. This omission is a means to ensure that the white audience remains comfortable with the conflict of race, which is inherently racist.

The black community has never believed Sam Cooke died how the media said he died. This documentary appears to be for those who did. Cooke’s death delineates the normalized mistruths that sew together the displaced African’s experience in America. If the Sam Cooke story does not inspire one to adopt the praxis of black nationalism fearlessly, or to question every component of “truth,” then his legacy remains tragically reduced.

Cooke is an archive of what celebrity should mean and the fear that enables it to function as it does. He remains a testimony to the high price paid for not only desiring to stand upright as a black man, but seeking to create and own a platform to empower the black creative .

Mr. Cooke, may you rest in the peace you strove to give your people in life.

You’re still the best Cooke in town.

Black Power ❤

“Slave Play” An Appropriate Title for an​ Oh so Wrong Production…

There are only two things the black collective needs to know about Jeremy O. Harris’s Slave Play. The first is that all of its show dates are sold out. The second is that it has a number of rave reviews from white publications and white platforms. Both illustrate that this play cannot possibly be good for the black collective.

Though praised for its nuanced approach to the slave narrative, this play is what the black collective has seen many times before. 

When interviewed about his project, Jeremey O. Harris uses the word “American” slaveplayjeremyseveral times. Though he performatively acknowledges his blackness, it is clear that Harris seeks to occupy an American space. He acknowledges a childhood inundated with white spaces where he came into his identity via binary opposition. Slave Play, where Harris fails to centralize black characters, mirrors this identity crisis. Instead, Harris focuses on interracial relationships where the black character emerges as the binary opposite to their non-black mate. This focus exposes a detached and derogatory portrayal consistent with the playwright’s many, and conflicting selves.slaveplaytwerk

Slave Play illustrates linearity between the slavery of the antebellum south and the present. The premise, however, is not where the play goes wrong. Rather, the execution marks its tragic downfall. It is impossible to separate interracial unions from the mental enslavement birthed from physical bondage; though somehow its contemporary manifestations depict this praxis as a sign of the revolution that has yet to arrive. Slave Play depicts a similar feat; it functions as a sign of revolutionary fervor but is a figment of assimilatory art. Specifically, Harris’s display of interracial unions beg the issue of consent and appear to assert a colonized desire “othered” bodies have for their master. 

This contention takes form in the contemporary depiction of a white man with a black woman, where the black woman asks to be called a “nasty negress” during intercourse. The request implies that blacks look upon their past with lust; their contemporary placement allowing them to consent to what their ancestors merely had to endure to get through the day. 

Consent remains a fickle topic of discussion. To this, I wish to assert that Harris oversimplifies the relationship between consent and agency.

Issues of agency remain largely unresolved by those of the black collective that have yet to emancipate their minds from the teachings of white supremacy. Thus, what I contest here is not the portrayal of black agency, but Harris’s underdeveloped and violent portrayal of said agency.

The issue with this Harris’s play is that it obscures the line of demarcation between the two with regard to the black body. Harris depicts the black woman as looking upon her own body andslaveplay personhood with the gaze of a southern slavemaster and not the very descendant of this slavemaster as sharing the gaze of his forefather. This depiction is problematic because racism made it impossible for any black person to consent to relations with a white person during physical slavery. Arguably, contemporary manifestations reflect a similar duress. However,  Harris represents said duress as consent. This portrayal assigns accountability to black agency an accountability that Harris does not extend to his white characters. This portrayal affords comfort to his white audience.

This violent revisionist history is to the benefit of the ever-present oppressor seeking to gain symbolic profit for a perpetuating the myth that slavery was “not so bad after all”. 

For this reason, Harris’s alignment with an enslaved woman twerking to Rihanna is not anachronistic as delineated by several reviews. Black women in culture maintain identical placement to their ancestors displaced on plantations. The issue here is that Harris encourages his viewers to laugh at the lie of progress. 

What is also ignored here is that the entire play is a twerk for the white gaze. Harris, checking all the boxes of twenty-first-century diversity, is a tool of his master seduced to think that this play is a masterpiece and not a public lynching. Harris’s mutilated psyche is what the play essentially displays- a display that allows a predominately white audience to bask in a gruesome depiction of their abducted power.  So while many viewers note that white discomfort lies at the core of the play’s production music does not compose the soundtrack of the play, but the sound of a fading heartbeat. 

slaveplayjhHarris’s play functions in a new wave of art by black people that appears to confront issues it distastefully circumvents. These projects, which terrorize the black narrative with distorted truths, hold hands with one another in their commitment to caricaturing the black narrative for white entertainment. Our experience is not entertainment, yet as long as our skin folk continues to act like Jeremy O. Harris, our bodies will continue to be for sale. 

Nevertheless, the art is not in the play or even the actors. The art is the “artful” depiction of empathy in Slave Play’s production and reception. So while I do not discourage anyone from signing the petition to end this play, I moreso underscore the query as to why we expect anything different from our oppressors? 

So rather than encouraging the “anti” attitude, I encourage those of the black communityslaveplayviolin to seek black productions for and by us. Most importantly, I encourage those of the black collective to write and produce the next pages of our narrative. 

Harris’s attempt to portray the black narrative delineates potential as merely unwielded power. Harris is a beautiful black man, whose potential is thwarted in an abducted identity projected as a nuanced blackness. Harris is a man traumatized by white supremacy, the very  forces that convince him that his work is genius. If anything, this play falsely portrays white supremacy as genius as this play conveys a portrait of white power painted from four hundred years of trauma labeled art.

Black Power ❤

Remembering The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin

My father and I were scheduled to see Miss Aretha Franklin this past March on her birthday. The concert was abruptly cancelled, my father’s funds returned to his bank account. This alarmed us in a way we did not articulate. Instead we remained hopeful that in a few months we would be able to see the Queen again.

We wouldn’t.

Our last time being in the same room with Miss Franklin was a few years ago at the New Jersey Performing Arts center. She came out in a white dress with a boa around her arms. She surprised fans by performing “Oh Me Oh My, I am a Fool for You,” an oldie but goodie that moved many to scream in excitement, and others to tears. The highlight of the evening for me was Miss Franklin’s arethatfranklinfurrperformance of “You make me feel,” her voice mirroring the original vocals that made the song the staple it became. Seeing Aretha Franklin in concert solidifies her presence as a once in a lifetime talent that was able to withstand a changing world with unchanging talent.

Experiencing Franklin’s talent alongside my father who’s lifetime spans the duration of her career, I was able to transcend time and hold hands across generations with kinfolk who lived to see today, and those confined to the memory of tomorrow. Perhaps that is the measure of true talent is the ability to unite a people persistently divided by our white oppressors. Aretha Franklin not only united me with my father, but united many millennials and post millennials with their forefathers and foremothers in a manner that only a queen can. She is the Queen of Soul, simply because her talent bore a key to the souls of black folk. Specifically, her life proved a lesson of love, and her love proved a path to life for so many within the black collective. 

Arethafranklinwhitedress

Franklin’s embodiment of life prompted my initial disbelief in the news of Aretha Franklin’s fatal illness that surfaced earlier this week. The media had been similarly cruel in predicting Harry Belafonte’s death, so I perceived this as yet another means of the white media to prematurely bury the black body for profit. I still say they got it wrong. The queen is not dead. The truly influential never die, simply because they cannot. Songbirds never die. Even long after their physical departure, the wind still echoes with the song of a songbird, as their influence is eternal.  Aretha’s tool of influence was a voice, a voice that in over sixty years of recording has granted her immortality.

But even immortality does not ease the stinging realization of what Franklin’s death truly means for the black collective. Aretha Franklin’s transition not only marks the end of an era, it marks the now physical invisibility of that which will never happen again. There will never be another Aretha Franklin. Despite the sacrifice and contribution of the black musicians who endured exploitation and mutilation via the white media,  the talent of artists like Aretha Franklin has birthed a talentless era. Gone are the days when one’s natural gifts provides healing to the masses. Gone are the days where talent has more precedence than scandal. 

As a millennial, Aretha symbolizes what has largely escaped my generation, and what arethafranklinbrownfurrmany millenials will never experience in person.  This is not to gaze at the past with an unhealthy nostalgia, but to encapsulate the magnitude of loss in the physical loss of our greats. Aretha Franklin, like many artists of the Soul Era, symbolizes everything an oppressive society tried to take from us—pride, poise, and the natural gifts manifested from a black past onto present bodies. In the talent of our foremothers and forefathers, be it singing, writing, arranging, dancing, science, math, astronomy or what have you, are elements of who we were before we were displaced. Through their majestic attributes, our ancestors, foremothers and forefathers embody a freedom arethadranklinshorthairdolargely forgotten by the mental enslavement that persists. Aretha Franklin’s voice in particular, paints an auditory illustration of the heaven Africa was before her physical and systemic rape, not the heaven out white oppressors created for us. 

May the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, rest in the same peace and power she will afford her people forever. 

A songbird never dies, she only flies. Black Power ❤

Sorry to Bother You is not a Bother at All, A Black female Perspective 

Introduction

Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, an innovated theory of society as a hyper-site for ridicule and conformity is nothing short of fascinating. A product of magical realism, the film employs protagonist Cassius Green— a melanated black body who attempts to negotiate the western subject by way of capitalistic ambitions as resulting in a literal black dehumanization that turns the black body into a human/animal hybrid exploited for labor. A societal object, running towards capital, casts the black body into a fatal predictability that ultimately seizes black humanity.  stbyposterwords

The quest for visibility and purpose gradually moves from the background to the forefront throughout the film. In the film’s background is reality show “I got the Sh*t kicked knocked out of me” — a popular show where guests volunteer to various forms of public humiliation. The show is reminiscent of the show “Fear Factor,” a popular series in the early 2000s where contestants performed a myriad of acts from eating cow testicles to having rats crawl all over their bodies for two minutes. The show in its fact and fictive representations illustrates the allure of ridicule to those with a self and esteem seized by a ruthless culture that thrives on such baseness. In hindsight, the show appears a physical representation of the great lengths one will endure for their place amongst the white lights that veil the red venom of white supremacy. 

Cassius Clay or Cassius Green 

The film provides cause to question whether protagonist Cassius Green is named after the late Cassius Clay who preceded the body it was initially assigned to in death. While watching the film, I could not help but wonder whether Cassius Green was who Muhammad Ali would have been had he not experienced a cultural awakening? Nevertheless, it seems an oversimplification to render this film a cautionary tale of black assimilation. Rather, the film functions as a meditation of the fatality of the black follower. To follow whiteness as a black man or woman is to be lead off a cliff. To follow whiteness as a being of black form, is to imbue a predictability that makes you everything and everyone that you should not be. Cassius predictably though is one that leaves the reader questioning. His acquiescence to white supremacist culture, comes after he has already taken a step over a cliff. He is so far gone though, that he sees his step of a cliff as the step off the elevator that issues an allusive upward mobility. Cassuis’ stbyheadwrapdesire to win at the white man’s game by any means necessary, attracts the negative attention from his oppressors that truss in his trust in them. Cassius exudes this trust in snorting a line of coke that will ultimately transform him. Cassius invests this white powder off a plate with s horse on it, foreshadowing the transformation that is yet to come.

The film provides further contemplation that many of us have had over the years but a query that not enough have asked themselves let alone the world. What force lies behind those who have made a prodigious contribution to our collective? Why are some of our leaders killed but not others? Cassius, after climbing the ranks of predictability, is offered an opportunity to lead the inevitable  revolution of the oppressed man/animal hybrid. He is presented with an opportunity to be “A Man Amongst Horses,” an opportunity he has already accepted by walking through the door.  This depiction illustrates the “black leader” as often the prediction of the white oppressors designed to pacify the masses with illustration not liberation.

Cassius Green, A Lost Boy in a Man’s body

Viewers meet Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield) as his morning thoughts reveal a common quest of trying to turn life into meaning. Green desires to make something of himself. He desires purpose—to make a mark on the world. Sorry To Bother You illustrates that attempting to make a mark on that which you do not understand, is setting the world up to brand you with its brutality.

stbylslookEssentially, Cassius Greene is the quintessential “lost” melanated body who is not on a quest for blackness, but whiteness— a quest guised as conventional success. His desire is best manifested in the starry gaze he affords the elevator that takes employees up to the “higher” level. These employees, who are essentially his co-workers, dress flashier and hold themselves with a pseudo confidence. Greene forges credentials that prove superfluous for an entry-level telemarketing job that will change his life forever. The job initially confirms his feelings of inadequacy, but once  senior employee, Langston gives him the key—Greene opens the door to opportunity, or what he eventually learns is slavery. This key is a “white voice.” Greene’s adaptation of “the white voice”  is the selling point of the movie, a point that coincides with the now cliche phrase that “anything is possible when you sound white on the phone.” The viral status of the phrase reflects the societal predilection for ideologies that articulate or maintain white as central—an ideology performed in the white voice overs that persist throughout the film.  Riley challenges the ideology of the white voice by posing query as to whether it exists at all.     stbycassuis

Through Langston, Sorry to Bother You presents whiteness as an ideology, as a wish rather than a reality. Whiteness is something that needs bodies to believe in it, to reinforce and thereby prove its existence. Every body in the film functions as a tool of whiteness, even those who seem most vested in its abolishment. All desire a piece of a white pie, they desire it in different manifestations, depicting whiteness as a pervasive disease that has affected all. Though mastering the white voice, Langston does not gain upward mobility. This lack of upward mobility is easily attributed to choice afforded by Langston’s knowledge of what lies on the other side. 

Foreshadow: The Path Less Taken 

Greene’s fate is eerily alluded to by a senior co-worker played by veteran actor Danny Glover. In a conversation about what it means to be a “power-caller,” Glover compartmentalizes the sales of these superstar employees as “holocaust,” words that should foreshadow the misfortune that awaits a lost Cassius, but escapes rather than admonishes him.

stbylakeithstanfield 

Langston’s words are not all that escape the film. Angst as a character, despite appearing in number of scene, remains vastly under developed. Like the man that appears in the background via photograph with a variety of expressions who appears to be Cassuis Green’s father, Glover’s character appears almost phantasmal. The black man and the Cadillac, the Cadillac a symbol of the black man’s dream—the black man’s desire to culminate what was outlined for him by his oppressors. This black male figure appears in the background of the film to personify his place in the background of society, in the backdrop of the world, in the back of the minds of their sons and daughters, their lives long forgotten by a world who rendered their birth and burial with the same indifference.  Though Green finds community with his boss, a nameless black man dressed to mirror the caricature he embodies, their connection is one of sell outs. They connect as hollow shells of what could of been, but instead what was and is a white supremacy. In their quest for fictive power, they became predictable. Their predictability results in their profitable praise a profit the enslaved are paid for their subjugation.

Squeeze, the Non-Black Person of Color As Head Activist

A relationship that does carry throughout the entire movie, is the relationship between stbysqueezeCassius and his pseudo activist associate Squeeze. Cassius meets Squeeze shortly after starting his position, and is quickly recruited to the movement. At first Cassius is excited, excited to be a part of something, but when he is given a chance to move up the ranks, he does so. This process, though initially portrayed as positive, sets off the downward spiral in which Cassuis is unable to remove himself. Cassuis’ severance from the movement is depicted with a sort of implied scrutiny, a scrutiny undercut with the reality that Cassuis battle is unlike that of his non-black person of color coworker. 

 So though Squeeze both articulates and seems to act as if his struggle mirrors that of his black colleagues.  Squeeze’s struggle is a single struggle, an oversimplification he extends to his followers in his protest against his boss. As a person of color without color, Squeeze can negotiate what the black body must take. His solutions therefore, are self-serving, and a means for the black body to escape the battle only they can and must take in order to ensure liberation. 

Like Mike?

 What’s interesting about the dynamics portrayed in the film, is that Cassius Green represents the contemporary black men who possesses more freedom in his unemployment than his climb up the corporate ladder. The film depicts Green as seduced to want to be something else while those around him desire to be like him. This point speaks directly to Squeeze, the organizer for the employee strike. His request is for a means to live similarly to those for whom he works. Squeeze desires a seat at the table, and perceives his desires as commiserate to his black and white coworkers. A willing migrant, Squeeze wants to make good on the promise of the American Dream, a promise stbylslooknever made to those whose bodies afforded the commerce of western wealth. A seat at the table will not garner freedom for the black man or woman, as the very table is held up by the dismembered legs of their ancestors. Squeeze illustrates the non-black person of color as seizing black allies when convenient, and perhaps most importantly, the non-black person of color’s not so secret envy of blackness. Squeeze’s desire to be like the black man manifests in his desire for Cassuis’ romantic partner, Detroit. This desire is seen in the company who employs Detroit for her labor and Squeeze who despite seeing Detroit and Cassuis’s love for one another first hand, desires to replace Cassius. Squeeze conceals this desire from Cassius, but is quite forthcoming of his intentions with Detroit. The black female body has habitually been a form of conquest, a means for oppressors to mark their objectification of the black man.

Detroit, The Black Female Lead

Detroit, played by Tessa Thompson in her recurring role as love interest to a significantly darker skinned man, narrates what appears to be the black female experience. Detroit, intelligent and outspoke, speaks loudest in her accessories–seemingly a commentary of stbytessatompsondetriotblack female fashion as a narrative of its own. This ambiguity angers me, as my medication on Detroit appears once again to be a black woman searching for herself in a world that flourishes in this obscurity.

Though Detroit speaks of Africa’s exploitation as the muse for her her art exhibition, she does so without overt attachment. She is far more her tie-dyed hair and burnout persona, perhaps to intentionally depict the displaced African as viewed intersectionally. I personally find the racially ambiguous black woman as largely played out. In an industry with only a handful of brown skinned black men, the continual omitting of a black woman of the same hue suggests what the media perpetuates daily—the myth that blacks of a sun-kissed hue do not love one another.

Detroit, like the systemized City, is sullied by the forces of white supremacy. She appears a “free spirit” but she isn’t free at all. Her situation appears perhaps most devastating because unlike her male counterparts, she seems to understand her oppression. Her art exhibit  is anchored in the systemic rape of Africa, a mutilation she emulates in her presentation of the work. During her exhibit Detroit wears a costume that depicts hands grabbing her breasts and genitals, recites a poem, and allows the audience to toss items from batteries to sheep blood at her as she recites a monologue. As bizarre as the scenario sounds, its depiction is reminiscent to the dynamic many black female superstars offer at their concerts.  The sight is hard to watch, as a nearly nude black Woman stands on a platform reminiscent of an auction block, where she is ridiculed, stbytessathompsonmentally defiled, and utterly broken before monetarily consumed by her oppressors.

Detroit festers the bounds of her defilement in a reckless sexual encounter with Squeeze, the Asian activist who functions in the same circle as Cassius and those from her Oakland community, hours after her breakup  with Cassius. This depiction cheapens Detroit, countering what previously functioned as intellect as a devotion to diversifying the ways in which she is exploited and mutilated. The sexual merging of black and Asian bodies could also represent the Asian conquest and exploitation of African bodies and goods.

Perhaps one of the most poignant moments of the film is a horrified Cassius jumping in to save his beloved in her humiliating demonstration. Confronted with the physical manifestation of what he also does for a living, this scene is especially significant because it illustrates that it is often far easier to acknowledge the problematic behavior of others, than to acknowledge your own—which is a common side affect of post traumatic slave syndrome. 

Green with Envy or Naivety? 

It is a point of wonder whether the Greene in the protagonist’s “sir” name is representative of naivety or envy. My argument would be that his character represents a stbyheadwrapmedley of the two, a naive jealousy that cripples him in fomenting a meditation on what he does not have, rather than making due with all that he does. Greene’s quest for freedom, as something handed to him by his oppressors, is not freedom at all but what the oppressive chokehold of white supremacy needs marginalized bodies to believe is freedom to ensure the black collective is never freed. Greene, like all bodies within the black collective, was born with the tools necessary to engender his liberation. It is only in the contemporary enslavement of the black body, the labor force that tells individuals that they are nothing without a job, a 401K, an expensive car, and other worthless material items, that the marginalized body displaces the purpose of their oppressors in place of  their collective purpose.

Closing Thoughts

Though named after an apologist phrase, the film is anything but apologetic in its critique of conformity and the poisonous attributes of a society that are largely normalized. The film diverges from the usual depiction of conformity as the road to success manifested in the Ivy League, 1percent, and the countries’ most revered professions. The film suggests  that what the world projects as the light, is a darkness for dark people— a dark hole to which the melanated body loses sense of self and never emerges as human. The film is the contemplative exercise missing from contemporary pop culture, the admonishment needed to steer our kids towards self and away from the demons of conformity.  

stbybandaidPerhaps the most resonant depiction of the film is the nameless character played by Omari Hardwick. Green meets this character in his rise from entry-level to higher-level executive, a character whose voice and name is oppressed in the system to which he has sold his soul. We hear Hardwick’s actual voice moments before Green takes the substance that ultimately turns his body into what his mind has already become—an animal. Hardwick’s character represents what becomes of the assimilatory black body, it becomes dismembered, erased in a violent consummation of anti blackness where the once black body is not only not black, but completely void. Hardwick’s character is a necessary character as he embodies what so many within the black collective see far too often in those who are presumed to have made it— at the expense of exchanging self for status.

In short, the film illustrates that the essential component to freeing black bodies from capitalism is acknowledgement that the black body is in fact capital. Green was capital the minute he measured himself by the white man’s measuring tape—long before he even considered a telemarketing job. May this be a lesson to all of us, the dangers of merging our double sight into the single vision of white supremacy. 

Black Power ❤

Black KKKlansMan, A Review

Amidst the contemporary climate of inclusionary activism emerges seasoned director Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman. Based on a book of the same title by protagonist Ron Stallworth, the book and movie entertain via depicting black entry in a white space. This activity occurs multiple times at once throughout the film, the most notable being protagonist Ron Stallworth staging his intervening of the kkk, while also infiltrating the soliders of white supremacy—the Police department. bkvariety.com

John David Washington does a brilliant job as Ron Stallworth, a man manufactured for the use by his oppressors, almost too brilliant.  It is perhaps easy to label Stallworth as a man caught between his “blackness” and assimilatory whiteness, but this is what most viewers want to believe. Stallworth is not caught between his blackness and assimilatory whiteness, assimilation is what Stallworth has been bred to believe is freedom and that is what he seeks. Stallworth’s ambitions are somewhat troubled in his encounter with a beautiful black woman who is on a journey towards blackness. His infatuation with her is similar to James Weldon Johnson’s reflection of Booker T. Washington at the end of The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Both infatuations are the result of mediating on “what could have been.” Both bear a predisposition towards pro-blackness as a choice of doom, that it does not appear or function as beautiful as Patrice, the black student union president, or Booker T. Washington makes it look.  Therefore, both illustrate an alternative ending to a  fate their counterparts tried desperately to avoid.

Assimilatory Whiteness

Assimilatory whiteness speaks to alternative attributes of melanated beings developed and performed with the intention of diluting physical blackness. Assimilatory whiteness emerges from a normalized fear, and is an effort to mollify said fear by subconsciously performing as expected. Though bearing the “black is beautiful” image of the 1970s with a full natural and sideburns, Stallworth has the American superpower of a transcendent voice. His voice, dichotomous to the his physical appearance, becomes the key that opens doors to thresholds withheld from the average being of black form. Thought the film seems a meditation of moving beyond the voice, or the voice as a tool against those whom it emulates, the undercurrent of its depiction in the film, is that the white voice is a gateway to change. Specifically, that merging “white” with “black,” or the colorless to the colored is the most concrete path to change.

bkfroron The issue with this illustration is that the black body remains displaced with the burden of change. In this contemporary climate of pseudo change, the black body remains burdened with the social responsibility to change what they did not great, to fight through forgiveness, to join forces with our oppressors in hopes of being oppressed under more “gentle” circumstances. This is what I call inclusionary activism, which despite the phrasing, is not activism at all. Inclusionary activism,  is a seemingly revolutionary project that mollifies wrestling with the ugly and uncomfortable by holding hands with the ugly and uncomfortable. The film rides the fence between two sides, making it not too much of anything, and therefore baby steps forward countered by two giant steps backwards in the liberation of black thought and image. 

Black Power v. White Power: Fence Riding

Perhaps the most disturbing moment of the film is the juxtaposing of “black power” with “white power.”  Namely, the black student union of Colorado Springs and the white demonstrations of the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK. The juxtaposition implies a similarity. Particularly, this juxtaposition suggests that saying “black power” is synonymous with “white power”. This could not be more untrue. Black power is rooted in a nationalism that wishes to grant blacks their own, and white power is rooted in seeking to own black people through oppression. ]

The film also features David Duke as saying that he does not “hate” blacks, but wants bkdaviddukeblacks to “be with their own.” As conveyed, this ideology suggests a similarity between the black and white power groups. Duke’s words however do not convey the truth, but rather what white supremacists tell themselves. The infiltration of Ron Stallworth into Kwame Ture’s attendance at the black student union, is an imperative depiction. On one hand, it illustrates the intention of black entry into white spaces. Black entry into white spaces has absolutely nothing to do with anti-racist ideologies, but everything to do with diversifying the ways in which racism is practiced. In recruiting blacks desperate for visibility and the white man’s commerce, comes the Step’n Fetchit’s and Clarence Thomas’s of the world, seen commonly in black officers and police chiefs used to convey racist messages or even execute racist behavior. It is also seen in schools where black bodies are employed to instruct the next generation of students to acquiesce to the subjugation designed for them. In short, black inclusion does not illustrate whites as allies in post-racial America, but blacks as allies in a wound worsened by infection veiled as infiltration. bkflipron

This depiction also illustrates what the movie appears to work against “That anything is possible with the right white man.” Stallworth states this line almost ironically when articulating his plans to infiltrate the KKK to the police chief. The irony wears off in the reality that this very scenario illustrates these very words. Stallworth’s plan ends with Stallworth being taken for the black man he is—unprotected by the fickle veil of a badge and blue clothing. This scene proves a platform for the emergence of the white savior figure, embodied by Phillip, or “flip.” This emergence illustrates that you can do right when the man beside you is white, making the initial utterance of this statement not ironic but an ideology that anchors the film.

With the ally ship of white men, Stallworth is able to have a “crooked” cop arrested and exposes the deadly ways the KKK. This depiction is central in proving the pervasive ideology of the “good” white, the “anti-trump” white person. A stance weakened by the reality that it is easy to be “good” when your gestures do nothing to negotiate your superior societal position. By this I mean that although the actions of Stallworth’s coworkers appear good, what is not so good is that the white man is still literally calling the shots. The white man is still very much still the fate-decider, he remains a manifestation of god, with the token black man as a manifestation of Jesus—the “chosen one” nailed to the cross for the good if his people. So as much as many want this film to push again the very forces that continue to oppress us as a people, Blackkklansman is the lastest product of a black man who is allowed to “win” in a white world because he is a Ron Stallworth of Hollywood. Lee is the chosen one who humanizes the white man in function and implication—allowing the white man to play god in a fate that seems to favor his “chosen” black subjugate. 

bkposterlong

 

The white savior is a persistent image throughout the film, perhaps most persistently aligned with Phillip or “Flip,” who provides a body to the white voice created by creation Ron Stallworth. Phillip’s nickname “Flip,” though seemingly synonymous with his “passing” as WASP, actualizes the fence rides that consumes the film. The film’s fence riding is perhaps best illustrated by its guest of honor, Harry Belafonte who recalls the horrifying murder and torture of Jesse Washington. Now, my critique is not of Mr. Belafonte the individual, because I acknowledge that Mr. Belafonte has done more for the black collective than I have. I will say that Belafonte embodies the fence-riding illustrated by this film. My commentary meditates on the dichotomous reality of Belafonte, a man who was walked beside the greats of black thought and action, yet dedicatedly espoused to white women for over sixty years. Belafonte’s marital selection seems eerily aligned to the other distinction between he and the other black men involved in civil rights—the fact that he saw 91 and most did not live to see past 40.

Feminism: A One-Woman Show

The =bkpatriceronWhite Woman is a singular entity, a single entity the film depicts in excess. A small man with penis envy, Felix’s plus side wife symbolizes the excess that he seeks. Felix speaks and treats his wife like a child, an action that functions deliberately to display Felix’s constructed masculinity. Connie, wife of KKK member Felix, has all the bearings of a southern mistress.  Her accent is deep, her home quintessential American middle class. She makes the home, but she also makes the deadly ambitions of her prejudice husband a reality. When Felix decides to target the black female leaders of the Black student union, it is the white woman who executes his plan. As she journeys to plant a bomb at Patrice’s home, Connie sees Patrice as not a “Woman” but as black– reflective of how the black women is seen throughout the global paradigm of white supremaycy. This depiction of white femininity as merely executing the ambitions of white male patriarchs, and inevitably anchored in race not gender, is an imperative lesson to the black viewer.

Another Sad Depiction of Black femininity

bkpatriceActress Lauren Harriet plays Patrice, her portrayal yet another embodiment of the fair-skinned love interest. This depiction is also another representation of the biracial female body as the face of the black female narrative. This reoccurring action makes this casting  neither coincidence or circumstantial, but custom. Though the paper bag test is commonly referred to as an occurrence of the past, the paper bag remains a standard for black female beauty. Specifically, as depicted in the acceptable beauty of Patrice’s thick features paired with her lighter skin, the paper bag test remains the determining force in whether full lips and African bone structure is attractive enough to warrant visibility. 

Patrice’s feature in the film bears an eerie connection to the juxtaposition of black bodies with ancient European art/depictions—common occurrences that allude to the resurrection of the enlightenment period. The enlightenment period is the perfume white nationalists, liberals, and conservatives places over the truth of the black dehumanization of that period—a dehumanization that still persists. This image functions  as aesthetical elevation in the violent shadows of the platform in which it earns visibility.

Inclusionary Activism

So is John David Washington exceptionally pleasant to look at and watch excel at a craft mastered by many who will never make the big screen? Yes. But this film, an all lives matter depiction marked as black progressive, is yet another notch on the belt of white supremacy who continues to foment new and improved ways to compromise the minds of the colored. Ironically, the film speaks of and to the power of  a Jewish media, and it is this same influence that inspires the juxtaposition of the black struggle with the Jewish struggle. The film paints the portrait that “we are all oppressed” and “racism is killing us bkrondirectorpatriceall.”  Racism however is not killing us all, those who compose the North American majority continue to benefit from racism. Even this film, that could have been blacker in content and execution remains overwhelmingly saturated in white presence. 

The good and bad guys are white. The film is three dimensional solely in its portrayal of white people, which depicts its black authorship as seemingly irretrievably vested in whiteness. There is a moment in the film where Stallworth asks his Jewish coworker why he has “not bought into this?” specifically referencing their infiltration of an organization that poses harm to them both.  The truth is Phillip does not have to buy into his otherness, because he is still white in a white supremacist nation. Phillip can “flip” (his nickname in the film) because he is white. The black body too can flip through assimilatory whiteness, but they are dismembered in the process. Particularly, blacks who adopt an assimilatory whiteness do so at the expense of owning their body, which is what viewers see in both Ron Stallworth and director Spike Lee. bkspikelee

Lee, like Stallworth, seems to believe in the process of change from the inside. There actions of infiltration or entry into spaces that remain dominated by whites, appear an attempt of nuanced activism—inclusionary activism. Inclusionary activism– a symptom of post traumatic slave disorder were the mentally enslaved convince themselves (and others) that their assimilatory actions are a means to liberate their people. Inclusionary activism, as depicted by Stallworth and Lee, always results in the oversimplification or erasure of the black struggle.   

To this many will deem my articulation as wrassling with the oppression olympics. The violent phrasing “the oppression olympics” implies the belief that blacks are the sole sufferers of the west. This is of course not true. What is true is that no other group has endured or continues to endure the level of oppression as black people. You not oppressed if ownership and nationalism are accompanied in an unadulterated perception of self. Blacks are handed self in the form of a caricature, and antagonized in their pursuit of ownership and togetherness. As illustrated in the film’s depiction of police infiltration of black events, black unity actualizes the biggest fear of this nation. The unity of other minority groups, or non-black persons of color does not pose a threat to a nation that awards them what they will deprive from blacks to ensure  a stagnant oppression to those of the black collective.

Final Thoughts

One of the most persistent ways the black body remains oppressed is through hyper-bkspikeleefistsexuality, a common theme in Spike Lee’s depictions of black bodies. To put things bluntly, Lee seems a prisoner of the caricatured male gaze in many of his projects. This project is a tad different, as the solely sexualized body is Phillip, a Jewish man who in his infiltration of the KKK, is asked to show his genitals as a means to prove his Arian lineage. It is interesting and an oversimplification of the black male experience, in a narrative that is supposed to be of a black man, that it is a Jewish man whose penis functions as “other.” Yes, in the same film where the horror story of a tortured, castrated and murdered Jesse Washington is revisited, it is Jewish genital practices that are actively bothered under the gaze of a black direction. This insulting portrayal is perhaps a warm up for the image Lee leaves readers with—the face of Heather Heyer, a white woman killed in the Charlotteville Riots last year. As a being of black form, it hurts to see this image as the final unspoken words of a film supposedly of melanin creation. The pain stems from the illustration of yet another black body as a bridge in which the white collective crosses to a fictive superiority, a fictive superiority made real through black sacrifice of self.

Though overly a page in the chapter of “black lives matter,” the film is easily an “all lives matter” film. Black Klansman is merely anti-Trump propaganda functioning to keep Donald Trump, and every other white man central in a white supremacist world. The final moments of the film exhibit “what I wish I would do,” which includes telling off whites but does not include black ownership or reconciling black twoness. Instead Stallworth seeks to continue living a split life. Viewers witness a similar action in director Spike Lee who offers viewers flashes of consciousness negated by a need to depict equity of struggle where there is none. Nevertheless, the film in execution appears an apology for the pervasiveness of black suffering, so much so, that it must be aligned with other, and lesser form of oppression.

Black Power ❤