Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? …Now

September 12, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Lonnie Farmer, Julia Duffy, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Meredith Forlenza in the Huntington Theatre Company production of Todd Kreidler’s compelling family comedy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner directed by David Esbjornson, playing Sept. 5 – Oct. 5, 2014. Photo: Paul Marotta

Lonnie Farmer, Julia Duffy, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Meredith Forlenza in the Huntington Theatre Company production of Todd Kreidler’s compelling family comedy Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner directed by David Esbjornson, playing Sept. 5 – Oct. 5, 2014. Photo: Paul Marotta

Guest review by Kevin C. Peterson

Against the political backdrop of a dashing, brilliant black president, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the racial crisis now roiling in Ferguson, Missouri over the murder of unarmed Michael Brown by a local white police officer, the themes and tropes that comprise Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—which premiered at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston this week–seem absurdly lame and unforgivingly naive.

Originally released as a movie in 1967 to critical acclaim, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was also widely popular, featuring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as white ultra-liberal parents who face a moral and racial reckoning when confronted with the “situation” that their daughter was on the verge of marrying a black man–played in the film sensationally by Sidney Poitier.

The current cast performing in Boston is excellent, led by Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Theo, from The Cosby Show, playing the pliant Dr. John Prentice), Will Lyman and Julia Duffy portraying Matt and Christina Drayton, the parents of Prentice’s fiancée, Joanna Drayton (Meredith Forlenza) and Patrick Shea, the grog-loving, but soulfully insightful Monsignor Ryan.

Each character alternatively gives the play superb moments that are lighthearted, grim, then sometimes earnestly introspective–reflecting the racial realism of the sexual taboos of the time.

The ensemble sparkles generally but is made more radiant by Lynda Gravatt, who plays the maid, Matilda Binks, the moral epicenter of this story. Gravatt’s protean talent brings to this production all of the spiritual and psychological gravitas of what it then meant to be Negro, female and American–the pangs of love and hate, servitude and dignity, bitterness, promise, and no-nonsense racial conservatism, that stresses family, continuity and tradition.

But mostly Matilda signifies–like Dilsey in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury or Aunt Ester Tyler in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, the hopeful recognition that our humanity is ever waiting for opportunities to bloom, a careful optimism that, despite the country’s many tragic, racial sins, there is space for redemption for those on both sides of the aisle.

The issue of interracial marriage was all the rage at the time of film’s release. During its production, 17 states deemed interracial marriage a crime.

Decades later, this is now an archaic matter layered over and made obsolete by the elimination of anti-miscegenation laws and the emergence of an integrated national popular culture that has made aesthetic and cross-racial erotic choices sometimes simply a peculiarity of taste.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner remains an important literary artifact mainly because it reminds the carefully attentive clear insight into how hard the task is of achieving a racial democracy. This reality is made so clear as we simply look at neighborhood apartheid patterns that persist as an embarrassing American social feature.

The play, (which runs at the Huntington through October 5th) is good nostalgic theater that possesses moments that will evoke laughter and even raise high the irony that the guests at dinner at the White House every night currently are black.

But for Americans today–including Bostonians–who continue to take race seriously, who acutely understand the persistence of racial supremacy, this is a theater production that will also evoke some sadness.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at UMass Boston and a democracy activist.

Should More States Require Racial Impact Statements for New Laws?

July 31, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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By Maggie Clark, staff writer for Stateline

Most states evaluate new legislation for how it might affect the economy or the environment, but what about measuring a law’s effect on minorities?

Earlier this month, Oregon became the third state to require racial impact statements for any changes to state criminal laws or sentencing codes. Any new criminal justice proposal must be evaluated if at least one member of each party requests a report. The report, produced by a sentencing commission or legislative analyst, must show how a proposed law could have consequences for sentencing, probation or parole policies affecting minorities disproportionately, and that information is shared with lawmakers before they vote on the bill.

Iowa and Connecticut require racial impact statements before lawmakers can vote on any new criminal laws, and Minnesota’s sentencing commission regularly drafts racial impact statements for new legislation.

Attention to racial bias in the criminal justice system has been growing. In May, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights  began a national review to determine if controversial self-defense laws, known as “stand your ground” laws, promote racial bias.

These laws are on the books in at least 21 states and gained national attention after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. Martin was an unarmed black teenager killed by neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

More states are considering requiring minority impact statements in the wake of Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict and the recent Supreme Court decision ending the federal preclearance requirement for election law changes in states with a history of voter discrimination, said Wayne Ford, a former Iowa state representative. Sponsor of the nation’s first racial impact statement bill, which passed in Iowa in 2008, Ford is in talks with lawmakers from 29 states interested in adopting racial impact statements.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that minority impact legislation has national, historic implications in regard to enactment and expansion of ‘stand your ground’ legislation,” said Ford. “Its scope can be expanded to make legislators and the public aware of the potential effects of ‘voter suppression’ legislation, too.”

Lawmakers in Oregon were motivated to enact their legislation by reports of disproportionate numbers of minorities in the child welfare system and in state prison.

“These racial and ethnic disparities suggest that we are using state resources inefficiently and ineffectively,” Democratic Rep. Joseph Gallegos, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. He was referring to statistics showing that African Americans make up less than 2 percent of Oregon’s population, but 9 percent of the state’s prison population.

Similar statistics convinced Iowa to become the first state to adopt minority impact statements.  In a scathing report published in 2007, researchers from The Sentencing Project, a national advocacy group which highlights racial disparities in the criminal justice system, found that Iowa had the nation’s highest racial disparity in prison populations:  African-Americans account for 24 percent of Iowa’s prison population, but only 2 percent of the state’s population.

Those numbers made Iowa lawmakers eager to act. “We did not want to be recognized as the nation’s leader in the incarceration of black men,” Ford said. Both chambers passed the minority impact statement bill nearly unanimously.

Racial impact statements aren’t a panacea, however. Even though Iowa has required them for more than four years, the state still has wide racial disparities in its justice system. The state has the worst racial disparity in the U.S. in marijuana arrests, according to an ACLU study. Blacks are more than eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though usage is about even, according to researchers.

Minnesota, which also uses racial impact statements although not required by law, ranked third behind Iowa in the ACLU report, with blacks more than seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Still, the statements are a helpful tool for lawmakers to evaluate outcomes of new legislation, said Nicole Porter, advocacy director at The Sentencing Project.
“We don’t claim that racial impact statements will resolve all disparities, but it will allow lawmakers to be intentional about the effects of the laws they enact,” Porter said.

Reprinted from Stateline. Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

Rosa Parks: A National Day of Courage

February 4, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In commemoration of Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday, Detroit Public Television and The Henry Ford Museum are presenting A National Day of Courage: a full day of performances, speakers and tributes (livestream below.)   In 2010, TIME Magazine called Rosa Parks one of the 25 most powerful women of the past century.

Relevant links:
National Day of Courage
Rosa Parks, Eyes on the Prize (American Experience/WGBH)

Friday News & Notes: November 2, 2012

November 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Editor: Valerie Linson

M. Gertrude Godvin School, Walnut Avenue, Roxbury, MA circa 19th century. The building is currently the home of the National Center of Afro American Artists.
(City of Boston Archives, via Flickr)

 

The Cleveland Uppercut, Lil Reese and camera phone savagery
Akiba Solomon, Colorlines.com, October 29, 2012
In my neck of the online woods, two violent camera phone videos have been making the rounds and sparking disturbing reactions about if and when it’s OK for a man to strike a black woman.

The first video, popularly known as “The Uppercut,” shows a Cleveland bus driver later identified as Artis Hughes, 59, arguing with passenger Shi’dea Lane, 25, for several stops. Witnesses claim that Lane struck and spit on Hughes, provoking the 22-year employee to punch the woman in her face and physically throw her off the bus. When an unseen passenger screams, “That’s a female,” Hughes retorts, “I don’t care! She want to be a man? I’ma treat you like a man.” Hughes has been suspended and charged with assault.
Read more…

National Civil Rights Museum to open balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot
Agence France Presse, November 2, 2012

The motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee where US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 is being opened to the public, a spokeswoman said Friday.

It is the first time that visitors to the erstwhile Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, will be able to stand on the very spot outside Room 306 where King was gunned down by sniper James Earl Ray.
Read more…

The African American debate on voting rights
Jamila Aisha Brown, Guardian.uk.com, September 25, 2012

Not voting in the age of Obama has become almost a taboo subject among African Americans. After record black voter turnout helped elect the nation’s first black president in 2008, the decision not to vote is regarded by many as an affront to the ancestors who died and activists who bled to exercise this right.

They are not worth the color if they don’t vote. They oughta give us their color back. Their African-American credentials should be snatched if they don’t vote,” proclaimed an impassioned Representative Emanuel Cleaver (Democrat, Missouri) in his address to the 42nd annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation before the “voting rights and new age discrimination” panel.
Read more…

Small Wonders: Winning images from Nikon’s 2012 Small World Photo Micrography Competition
Washington Post, November 2, 2012
Read more…

Yes, you can criticize Obama and not be racist
Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post, October 31, 2012
I’ve long argued that Obama’s most ardent supporters should not ascribe racial motives to the president’s critics when none exist. Doing so undermines their argument and the ability to call out real racism — explicit and implicit — when it happens. And at the height of the tea party movement, I made a point of separating those who had genuine concerns about the direction of the country and its mounting debt from the right-wing extremists who latched onto the conservative movement.
Read more…

 

A walk around the web…

October 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Picking up headlines from around the web…
Editor: Valerie Linson

Random image from my office because I like the colors…

 

Obama, Romney face similar debate test: Staying cool under fire
By Amie Parnes and Justin Sink, TheHill.com – 10/02/12
President Obama and Mitt Romney face a similar test heading into Wednesday night’s presidential debate: staying cool while under your opponent’s fire.

At their first debate in Denver — when tens of millions of voters will tune in to see the competitors clash in Denver — each candidate will have to do his best to keep calm despite the other’s best efforts.
Read the entire article here…

7 of History’s Most Racist Political Ads
The Root, 10/2/2012
This election has produced its own share of memorable ads, among them one that is being touted as potentially effective by some, but racially charged by others. The controversial Romney campaign ad attempts to depict President Obama as the welfare president.

Whether or not the ad is appealing to racism in the electorate may be up for debate, but there’s no doubt that is a timeworn strategy in American politics. Plenty of campaign ads over the years have been undeniably racist. The Root looks at the worst of the worst, in no particular order.
Read entire article here…

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Ruling: Judge Halts Enforcement Of Law For Election
Marc Levy, The Huffington Post, 10/2/2012
A judge is postponing Pennsylvania’s tough new voter identification requirement, ordering that it not be enforced in the presidential election.

Tuesday’s ruling comes just five weeks before the election. An appeal is possible. The 6-month-old law requires each voter to show a valid photo ID.

Democrats and groups including the AARP and NAACP mounted a furious opposition to a law Republicans say is necessary to prevent election fraud. Critics have accused Republicans of using old-fashioned Jim Crow tactics to steal the White House and have highlighted stories of registered voters struggling to get a state photo ID.
Read entire article here…

Can Social Media Kill Homophobia?
Michael Arceneaux, Ebony, 10/2/1012
Recently, like everyone else of color who has ever written anything online, I was sent a study from the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta in Canada chronicling the various forms of homophobia found on social media.
Highlighting how pervasive anti-gay sentiments remain, the study revealed that the word “faggot” and all its variations have been used over 2.5 million times on Twitter. Those variants include words and phrases like “dyke” (300,000 tweets), “no homo” (800,000 tweets) and the increasingly proper “so gay” (800,000 tweets).
Read entire article here…

Everything you need to know about Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native American heritage
Washington Post (The Fact Checker) Josh Hicks, 9/28/2012
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has focused his campaign’s attention back on the self-proclaimed Native American heritage of his Democratic challenger, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, who listed herself as a minority in professional directories commonly used by recruiters.

The controversy had faded in recent months while Brown maintained a steady lead in the polls. But Warren overtook the Republican incumbent in more recent polls after delivering a high-profile speech at the Democratic National Convention this month.
Brown brought Warren’s lineage back into the spotlight with his remarks during a debate last week and with an ad that uses old news accounts instead of his own words to renew skepticism about his opponent’s ancestral claims — cleverly avoiding direct accusations. Warren responded with an ad of her own, saying: “Scott Brown can continue attacking my family, but I’m going to keep fighting for yours.”
Read entire article here…

We are Trayvon Martin: LGBTQ and African Americans united by murder

April 20, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

 

What does Trayvon Martin’s murder have to do with gay civil rights protection?

The quick answer: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act (mostly known by Matthew Shepard’s name). And this might be the only option the Florida Justice Department has in moving forward to arrest George Zimmerman and charge him with murder.

The nation is outraged that in 2012 an unarmed, African-American, 17 year-old high school student can be shot dead by a neighborhood watch captain because his egregious offense was   “walking while black” in a gated community.

By now you are familiar with the story—on February 26, Trayvon Martin left a 7-Eleven convenience store to head back home to his father’s fiancée’s gated community in the Retreat At Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida. George Zimmerman, 28, of mixed ethnic descent (mother’s Peruvian, and father’s Jewish—he identifies as Hispanic)  began following Trayvon and called the Sanford Police Department. Although Zimmerman was advised by his superior not to pursue Trayvon he shot Trayvon in self- defense after a physical altercation initiated supposedly by Trayvon.

Was Zimmerman motivated by racism; therefore, racially profiling Trayvon?

And was Zimmerman’s act also a hate crime?

Many politicians are throwing around the h-word concerning Trayvon’s murder. Now many African-Americans are, too.

Renowned African American filmmaker Tyler Perry told CNN.com that “Racial profiling should be a hate crime investigated by the FBI. That way local government can’t make the decision on whether or not these people get punished.”

Perry recalled his frightening experience when he was pulled LAPD for making an illegal turn and having tinted windows. Once a black officer pulled up at the scene recognizing Perry. The arresting officers apologized and let him go. Perry stated that the incident, however, has stayed with him, opening his eyes to what type of treatment he might have endured if it wasn’t for his celebrity status.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act in law.  Many African-Americans were irate that their protection under the law—which they argue they have fought for since being shipped to America in 1619—had to be associated with a white gay male who was killed in 1998.

Some African Americans, and, of course, heterosexual homophobes, wanted to know why couldn’t they have the James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act act solely to protect them. Many further argued that the law would serve to solely protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer Americans and would do precious little to protect them, particularly since the bill is commonly referred to as the Matthew Shepard Act.

“The more time I spend in the LGBT community’s civil rights movement the more I’m struck by the need for all the various human communities to support one another…Trayvon’s death is as personal to me as any white lesbian’s death.  Trayvon is my brother, and whether one is black, white, gay or straight, we are all human beings together in this struggle for human dignity.  It’s as simple as that,” Carol Fischer, wrote me in an email. Fischer’s a white lesbian and producer of bloomingOUT, a weekly queer radio show on WFHB Radio Station in Bloomington, IN.

In 1998 both James Byrd Jr., and Matthew Shepard were victims of bias-motivated crimes. Byrd, an African American was murdered by three white supremacists who chained him to the back of their pick-up truck at his ankles and dragged along a three mile asphalt road until he was dismembered.  Shepard was tortured, tethered to a fence and left to die because he was gay.

With Florida’s Stand Your Ground permitting Zimmerman to walk without charges, the Shepard-Byrd statute not only reminds us of how bias-motivated crimes links gays and blacks together but that it’s also the best hope for Trayvon Martin and his family seeking justice.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker, and theologian.  She  has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

The Hunger Games’ young racist fans

April 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Guest editorial by Rev Irene Monroe

The Hunger Games: Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). Photo credit: Murray Close

There’s a frenzy surrounding the blockbuster film and book The Hunger Games. But the fan attention around the movie has taken a decidedly different turn from the fervor the book caused. The schism originates from the difference between reading ­— where one’s visual images of characters can be both personal and individual — and watching — where the film’s visual images of characters are a literal representation.

The film script follows the book closely and some of fans are apoplectic. The result is a tweeting tsunami of racist comments focusing on the presence of the few main black characters in the film.

Here are just a few of the racist tweets that have gone viral:

“why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie.”

“Kk call me racist but when I found out Rue was black her death wasn’t as sad.”

“why did the producer make all the good characters black.”

“Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you pictured.”

Sadly, there are more vile tweets, some employing the “n-word,” that have been collected on a Tumblr page called Hunger Games Tweets.

Lionsgate, the distributor of The Hunger Games issued a statement praising fans who spoke out against the racist tweets, saying, “We applaud and support their action.”

Gay rights activist and actor George Hosato Takei who’s best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the USS Enterprise in the television series Star Trek, responded to these racist tweets stating, “Some fans outraged that blacks cast in Hunger Games roles. Teens killing each other in futuristic arenas, and they care about what color?”

There are several salient themes both in the book and film, but race is not one of them. While I won’t say this dystopic tale is post-racial, the author’s, Suzanne Collins, treatment of race is both honest and nuanced.

In April of 2011, Suzanne Collins told Entertainment Weekly that her characters “…were not particularly intended to be biracial. It is a time period where hundreds of years have passed from now. There’s been a lot of ethnic mixing. But I think I describe them as having dark hair, grey eyes, and sort of olive skin. …But then there are some characters in the book who are more specifically described.”  Thresh and Rue. Collins said, “They’re African-American.”

And the characters Rue, Thresh, and Cinna are played in the film by African American actors, Amandla Stenberg, Dayo Okeniyi and Lenny Kravitz, respectively. Whereas Cinna’s skin hue is not mentioned in the book, Rue’s and Thresh’s are both explicitly depicted as having “dark skin.”

In describing the character Rue in the novel Collins writes, “And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor.” Prim is the protagonist’s, Katniss Everdeen, sister. I surmise since Prim is white and Rue is being compared to her many fans expected the same, ignoring what’s stated explicitly in the text.

And in describing Thresh Collins writes, “The boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there. He’s one of the giants, probably six and half feet tall and built like an ox. “

Collins could have never imagined this sort of reaction to her non-white characters, yet it highlights resoundingly the lack of cultural and ethnic diversity in children and young adult literature.

Data analyzed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center in 2010 found that only nine per cent of the three thousand four hundred children’s books published that year contained significant cultural or ethnic diversity.

With the paucity of cultural and ethnic diversity in children and young adult literature, white characters and white culture become an expectation and literary norm that is both learned and internalized by white children as well as children of color.

“People very often talk about literacy with words, but there’s such a thing as visual and thematic literacy,” says Deborah Pope, the executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, which encourages diversity in kids’ books. “I think some of these young people just didn’t really read the book.”

While I agree with Pope that the fans who unabashedly expressed their racist views either didn’t read the book or didn’t read it carefully the theme and symbol of innocence and love in an inherently corrupt dystopic world affixed to a black 12-year old girl as Collins does with her character Rue in The Hunger Games is neither commonly nor comfortably seen in our world.

Do writers for children and young adult literature have a responsibility to be more explicit when introducing non-white characters in their books?

Or would being more explicit when introducing non-white characters play into a racist assumption that literary characters are white unless otherwise stated?

An easy answer would be to publish, to distribute, and to make part of core curriculum reading authors of color for children and young adults. Otherwise, this outpouring of racist tweets we see with The Hunger Games will merely be the tip of the iceberg.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker, and theologian.  She  has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

Maid In America

March 1, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

When Viola Davis lost the Oscar for best actress portraying an African American maid in Katherine Stockett’s The Help to Meryl Streep portraying former Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony, there was a collective sigh of relief from many of us African American sisters.

Tulane University Professor Melissa Harris-Perry, the author of an upcoming book on racial stereotypes, summed up my feelings best when she told MSNBC that “what killed me was that in 2011, Viola Davis was reduced to playing a maid.”

Earlier during the Academy Awards ceremony Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress for her stereotypical role as the sassy, tart-tongued “mammy-fied” maid, Minny Jackson, in The Help, making Spencer the fifth African American women to receive the coveted Oscar, and the second sister portraying a maid.

Sixty-two years earlier, in 1940, in Jim Crow America, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar, and for her supporting role as a maid called “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind. When civil rights groups, like the NAACP, criticized McDaniel for her portrayal as “Mammy,” McDaniel famously retorted, “I would rather get paid $700 a week for playing a maid than $7 for being one.”

Knowing of the controversial legacy stemming from McDaniel’s role, Davis told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross her “role of Aibileen, in the hands of the wrong actress, could turn into a cliché. …You’re only reduced to a cliché if you don’t humanize a character. A character can’t be a stereotype based on the character’s occupation.” Davis contest she gave depth and dimensionality to her character by pulling from the actually lived experiences of both her mother and grandmother, who worked as maids.

Spencer, too, had trepidations about portraying a maid, telling reporters that her mother was a maid in Alabama, and “her heart sank when Stockett gave her the manuscript to read, worried that she might appear as a character like Mammy from Gone With the Wind. ‘And then I read it and I couldn’t stop reading it. It was brilliant.’”

In this “post-racial” Obama era, the subject of race and the politics of black representation in films are constrained by neither political correctness, personal enlightenment, nor moral consciousness.

For example, in 2010 the historical legacy of the devaluation and demonization of black motherhood was both applauded and rewarded at that year’s Oscars. And the point was clearly illustrated with Mo’Nique, capturing the gold statue for best supporting actress in the movie Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire, as a ghetto welfare mom who demeans and demoralizes her child every chance she can.

Mo’Nique’s role juxtaposed to Sandra Bullock’s, who captured her Oscar as best actress in the movie The Blind Side, offering the hand of human kindness to a poor black child in need of parenting.

But the images of African-American parenting have historically been viewed through a prism of gendered and racial stereotypes. And the image of Mo’Nique as the “bad black mother” and Sandra Bullock as “good white mother” is nothing new. The images of the “bad black mother” have not only been used for entertainment purposes but also used for legislating welfare policy reforms.

With international stars like Iman, Oprah, Whoopi Goldberg, and Beyonce, to name a few, signaling that women of the African diaspora have come a long way, what’s up with Hollywood’s—and much of white America’s—fixation of us as their maids and welfare moms?

“Portraying African-American women as stereotypical mammies, matriarchs, welfare recipients, and hot mommas has been essential to the political economy of domination fostering Black women’s oppression,” sociologist Patricia Hill Collins writes in Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment.

In a skit imagining what actors are thinking, Oscar host Billy Crystal said the following referring to Davis: “I want to thank my writer and director for creating the role of a strong black woman that wasn’t played by Tyler Perry. …When I came out of The Help I wanted to hug the first black woman that I saw, which from Beverly Hills is a 45-minute drive.”

The iconography of black women is predicated on four racist cultural images: the Jezebel, the Sapphire, Aunt Jemima, and Mammy. With the image of the strong black women who can endure anything and “make a way out of no way,” her strength is either demonized as being emasculating of black men or impervious to the human condition. The Aunt Jemima and Mammy stereotypes are now conflated into what’s called “Big Mamma” in today’s present iconography of racist and sexist images of African-American women.

While the Aunt Jemima and Mammy stereotypes are prevalent images that derive from slavery, for centuries both of them have not only been threatening, comforting, and nurturing to white culture but also to African-American men like Tyler Perry’s “Medea.” The dominant culture doesn’t see and hear African American women voices on this issue because our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of racist and sexist stereotypes. So too is our suffering.

And our suffering is exacerbated when black women’s stories are told and/or scripted through a universally popular feel good but nonetheless racist trope of the white hero/rescuer.

This trope principally conveys the following: black liberation comes about through white agency.

While white guilt and paternalism are clearly pawned off in this trope as compassion, so too is its accompanying fictive narrative about black people.

And given our unresolved and embarrassing history of race relations in this country, only such a trope as the white hero/rescuer could be believed and made in America.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker, and theologian.  She  has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Dedication, October 16, 2011

October 17, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Thousands converged on the National Mall in Washington, DC on Sunday October 16th for the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.  The dedication will be remembered as a historic event as King is the first African-American to be honored with a statue on the National Mall.  The event featured performances by Aretha Franklin and Nikki Giovanni and remarks by Rev. Al Sharpton.  (I imagine a lot of pews in Washington, DC were empty that morning…).  President Barack Obama delivered the keynote speech; Obama was only 6 years old when King was assassinated.

In thinking about the dedication of the memorial I’m reminded of the passing of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth less than two weeks ago on October 5th.   Shuttlesworth was an icon of the civil rights movement, in many ways the opposite temperament of King, but certainly no less effective and absolutely courageous.  In the seminal documentary film series Eyes On The Prize, Shuttlesworth is one of my favorite interviews and an incredible witness to history.  In describing the need to confront racism and segregation head-on and with force, Shuttlesworth says, “You can’t shame segregation… rattle snakes don’t commit suicide; ball teams don’t strike themselves out – you got to put’em out!”  Shuttlesworth survived beatings and bombings; he took the battle against segregation to the streets and to the courts.  In 1965, securing the passage of the Voting Rights Act was a major goal of the civil rights movement; in Selma, Alabama, civil rights activists were beaten and tear-gassed by state troopers.  The television news coverage of the brutality faced by the non-violent protesters helped shift the national conversation about the civil rights movement.

In 2007, a march was held to commemorate the Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches.  As the crowd crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the notorious “Bloody Sunday“, it was then Senator Barack Obama who pushed Shuttlesworth’s wheelchair across the bridge.

President Obama’s remarks at the King dedication:

Valerie Linson
Series Producer
Basic Black

The Past Is Never Dead With The N-Word

October 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

In a supposedly post- racial society one would think that the n-word was buried and long gone with it troubled eras of race relations in this country.

But as American novelist William Faulkner wrote in his 1951 novel Requiem for a Nun, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

 

As we all try to move from America’s ugly racial past, there are still rock solid vestiges of it.

At the entrance of a secluded 1072-acre property in the West Texas town of Paint Creek is a rock painted in block letters with the word “Niggerhead.”

For decades Rick Perry’s hunting camp hosted fellow lawmakers, friends and supporters.

Already in a declining bid for the GOP presidency, former front-runner Gov. Rick Perry and his father once leased a Texas hunting camp known by a racist term.

When Perry ran for re-election in 2010 for the governorship, no one knew of the rock. And as one observer of the rock glibly told “Real Clear Politics,” “Honestly, it wouldn’t have hurt him in a Texas primary.”

If Perry, however, doesn’t decline into oblivion in this GOP bid, he’ll face off with President Obama and will also have a lot of explaining to do to African American voters — Republicans and Democrats.

Can Perry recover from this?

And can talk show host Barbara Walters of the “View”?

In discussing the offensive racial moniker of Perry’s property, Walters used the n-word, sparking a debate with her co-host Sherri Shepherd.

“I’m saying when you say the word, I don’t like it,” said Shepherd, who said she has used it among African-American family and friends. “When white people say it, it brings up feelings in me.”

I am troubled, however, in this recent kerfuffle concerning the n-word and how many of us African Americans, in particular, go back and forth on its politically correct use.

Let’s do a walk down memory lane:

In December 2006 we blamed Michael Richards, who played the lovable and goofy character Kramer on the TV sit-com “Seinfeld” for using the n-word. The racist rant was heard nationwide and shocked not only his fans and audience that night at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood but it also shocked Americans back to an ugly era in U.S. history.

In July 2008 we heard the Rev. Jessie Jackson used the n-word referring to Obama. And Jackson using the word not only reminded us of its history but also how the n-word can slip so approvingly from the mouth of a man who was part of a cadre of African Americans leaders burying the n-word once and for all in mock funeral at the 98th annual NAACP’s convention in Detroit in 2007.

And in 2009 Dr. Laura Schlessinger ended her radio show, a week after she broadcast a five-minute-long rant in which she used the n-word 11 times.

In January of this year, the kerfuffle concerning the n-word focused on Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known fondly to us as Mark Twain, in his New South Books edition of the 1885 controversial classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

In a combined effort to rekindle interest in this Twain classic and to tamp down the flame and fury the use of the n-word engenders both from society and readers alike, who come across the epithet 219 times in the book, Mark Twain Scholar Alan Gribben, an English professor at Auburn University in Alabama, proposed the idea that the n-word be replaced with the word “slave.”

In 2003, the NAACP convinced Merriam-Webster lexicographers to change the definition of the n-word in the dictionary to no longer mean African Americans but instead to be defined as a racial slur. And, while the battle to change the n-word in the American lexicon was a long and arduous one, our culture’s neo-revisionist use of the n-word makes it even harder to purge the sting of the word from the American psyche.

The notion that it is acceptable for African Americans to refer to each other using the n-word while considering it racist for others outside the community unquestionably sets up a double standard. Also, the notion that one ethnic group has property rights to the term is a reductio ad absurdum argument, since language is a public enterprise.

The n-word is firmly embedded in the lexicon of racist language that was and still is used to disparage African Americans. However, today the meaning of the n-word is all in how one spells it. By dropping the “er” ending and replacing it with either an “a” or “ah” ending, the term morphs into one of endearment. But, many slaveholders pronounced the n-word with the “a” ending, and in the 1920s, many African Americans used the “a” ending as a pejorative term to denote class differences among themselves.

Too many of us keep the n-word alive. It also allows Americans to become unconscious and numb in the use and abuse of the power and currency this racial epithet still wields, thwarting the daily struggle many of us Americans work hard at in trying to ameliorate race relations.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker, and theologian.  She  has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

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