A version of this post originally appeared at Pushback
By employing phrases like "food-stamp president," Newt Gingrich has become a symbol of racialized politics. But he's not the only one suffering from racially insensitive diarrhea of the mouth.
crossposted from Campus Progress
I arrived late to the new meme "Shit Girls Say," but my family members were quick to fill me in over the holidays. They showed me nearly every iteration of the original video series, hoping I would laugh wholeheartedly at the absurdity...
I admit, Quentin Tarantino's slavery revenge flick Django Unchained sounds awesome: escaped slave-turned-bounty hunter avenges his wife's honor by heading down south to put the hurtin' on his former/her present slave owner and rescue her from forced prostitution; perhaps leaving a trail of black-and-blue on white in his...
I was dopily excited to hear about this doc via Danny Glover on Democracy Now way back when he was still shopping it around the Sundance Film Festival. The Black Power Mixtape is a compilation of never-before-seen footage of the Black Power movement shot by Swedish journalists in the 1960s and 1970s. Left neglected in a Swedish TV station's cellar for 30 years, it was discovered by documentary filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson who conceptualized the linking of the sparse and seemingly incohesive material of the movement with amazingly shot intimate b-roll of children playing in defunct playgrounds, commentary from Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, John Forte and other "socially conscious" artists, looped to a sweet soundtrack crafted by none-other than ?uestlove... what was there not to love?
How about everything I just described minus the soundtrack?
I love Badu, I do, but I couldn't stand how many times her commentary was featured. There just wasn't enough "a-ha!" moments to justify giving her the mic that many times in the doc. The decision to have contemporary "socially conscious" artists comment at all, had to be purely for marketing purposes. I get it; throw some ?uestlove commissioned tracks on there, let the artists attempt to relate to a time in history they [seemed] to know little about and the 20-something year old viewers will follow. I know I did, and It was cute for while but a catchy hook can piss you off and that's essentially what happened here. The marketing move turned gimmicky too soon, and vastly overshadowed the very critical and analytical commentary shared by those like professor Robin Kelley, Kathleen Cleaver or Angela Davis, who actually have the street cred to talk about this specific moment in time.
From Dr. Jared A. Ball, a professor of communications at Morgan State University via BAR:
The value of Black Power Mixtape, particularly in its rare footage of many of the era's brightest leaders, is far outweighed by what has to be considered the film's light or lazy research. For instance, why are there no contemporary interviews in the film with the political heirs of the Black Power Movement? The contemporary interviews with Angela Davis focus on her historical role as a Black Power era icon but say little of her current work or the relevance of her analysis in 1975 to 2011. Kwame Ture is similarly left in 1968 despite having lived another 30 years and leaving any number of admirers and members of his organization -- still in existence -- the All African People's Revolutionary Party, none of whom are interviewed in the film.
"We need to tell our stories"
Now that was an "A-ha!"moment. Ironically, Badu spits some sense about the need for us to tell our own stories -- to ensure we don't get nixed out of our own history but I can't help but think that this comment was kept in to suggest that this particular retelling of what happened during the Black Power movement is somehow authentic -- that or Olsson was a twisted sense of humor. It is not. Since the archived footage was shot, edited and directed by Swedes it cannot inherently be "authentic". In this instance, we may have told our stories to a rolling camera but we did not decide what was left in, what was kept out, and the overall messaging that would be conveyed to the consumer. Over at Colorlines Olsson explains how being an outsider, a Swede helped (rather than hindered) him create this film:
For this project, I'm not thinking about myself as a white man; I'm thinking about myself as a Swede. I'm an outsider looking at something that I can identify with. I'm using the same method -- or lack of method, lack of knowledge -- as the filmmaker and journalist did back when they recorded the images. You know what I mean? The reception that I got, and that the documentarians and journalists got in the '60s and '70s -- coming from Sweden, knocking on the Black Panthers' door, and saying, "Hello, we are from Sweden, what are you doing here?" These people understand that I don't have all the history, but they also understand that I'm not stupid, even though I don't have the language.
Whether Olsson believes he is white in the American sense isn't important, but his ability to confidently list a lack of knowledge, and "outsidership" as qualifications for telling this story should raise a brow or two because it is exactly these "qualifications" that are commonly used to colonize black culture. If lack of melanin doesn't disqualify Olsson than perhaps mentality should; when Olsson uses the word "outsider" to describe himself he assumes this is a novel way of approaching black culture, despite the fact that this voyeuristic way of documenting is a favorite for white American filmmakers (Hoop Dreams, Waiting for Superman... ). In one scene, a busload of white tourists wind their way through the Harlem jungle, the guide warns the tourists of the violent dangers that await them if they wander there on their own. Not even the more affluent Coloreds dare go, he warns. Like the bus tour guide, Olsson ignores and warns. He ignores our history by using his "lack of knowledge" method (but attempts to call it objectivity) and he warns the viewer of the in-applicability of a movement that uses self-defense as a tactic to redistribute power.
To its credit, The Black Power Mixtape did show the Black Power movement in a more positive light by demonstrating how a people could be moved to (and rightfully so) pick up arms and defend themselves from police brutality, and by highlighting the lesser known programs that were beneficial to the black community's survival like free breakfast programs for children. Where the film fell shortest was in its inability or unwillingness to connect this extraordinary moment in history to the injustices we face today.
The message is clear; while the Black Power Movement was too big then and too iconic today to be ignored, it must only be viewed as a relic of history not as a programmatic guide for improving the world today. Praise the movement in its time only. The ideas, strategies and tactics that once challenged the world and inspired millions are of no use in 2011 despite the fact that every single solitary thing those women and men fought to eradicate is still here and worse than ever.
The only visual vestiges I had of the black power movement before seeing this doc were the same ones I left with: remnants of a commodified culture of natural's and hair grease, black leather jackets, and clenched fists, to be adorned on t-shirts, posters and coffee mugs. Way too eager to indulge in the movement nostalgia of a youth from a generation ago it is easy to leave the theater's feeling rejuvenated but see the film again and you realize it's the footage, not the film that deserves your praise.
Go see The Black Power Mixtape if you want to, but go in knowing that it's your history chopped and screwed like...
When I was a kid, I loved Halloween. It was a day of fun, the one time I was allowed to go into the nearly all-white neighborhood's adjacent to my nearly all-West Indian hood of Flatbush, go up to a complete stranger's door, and scream "boo" while simultaneously demanding they...
The "Angry Black Woman": she is independent but single; an emasculating man-eater; never light-skinned; possibly has kids but no ring; thinks brothers are trifling but refuses to date outside of her race; has bobblehead-like tendencies; must shove her two cents up everyone's ass; an envious hater of white women; above all else, she is angry about her station in life.
The ABW trope, or some version of it, is commonly used in Hollywood -- we got the mammy-like best friend Tara from True Blood who hates everyone but Sookie, the freeloading but righteous Loretta Black in Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Shirley, a single-mother who thinly veils her rage with false high-pitched sweetness in Community (and these are the better ones). Even highly successful black directors with their own platforms aren't immune to injecting the ABW junk into their movies.
Reality television is no different -- you could probably argue that it's worse. The genre gives the illusion of reality and the shows a document of personalities put in a situation in which they react instead of act.
The oversimplified performance of reality television characters is normalized through the guise of a low-budget, documentary style. This is why I loathe the Nenes and Omorosas of the world, why I can't stand The Bad Girls Club.
Since I don't scream at TV's anymore I decided to confront the latest ABW to hit our screens: Deena Jacobs. Appearing on the now-shelved reality series H8R -- a weak show hosted by Mario Lopez that gave celebrities a chance to confront their number one hater with the hopes of changing their minds -- Deena was more than happy to represent ABW's everywhere and confront her number one rival, Kim Kardashian. Her main complaint? That Kim was taking our men without inhabiting or bigging up their spaces, capitalizing on features attributable to black culture (i.e. beauty, booty and braids) and not doing enough for the black community. (KK is of Armenian descent, for the record).
Deena seemed to hate Kim, and I hated Deena -- or at least what she stood for. But this was her chance to change my mind. The interview:
Q: When I saw you on H8R I thought 'How typical for Hollywood to pick an envious and "angry black woman" to portray women of color in general.' Aren't you providing fodder for stereotypes already held by the status quo about our women?
A: That's why I released the YouTube video, to elaborate on the reasons behind the hate. It's not just about her booty or the fact that she doesn't give back to the community. The hate stems from jealousy, jealousy stems from a feeling of unworthiness that comes from a historical sense of rejection.
Q: What feeling of unworthiness and historical sense of rejection are you referring to?
A: ...This goes back to slavery, and no we can't "just get over it." We have to bring it all to light, tell the story so we can move beyond the stereotypes like the Angry Black Woman. Her pain is rooted deep in the systematic denial of her beauty both inside and out. She is angry because she is longing to be see.
Q: So if this is bigger, why attack KK directly?
A: Attacking her is attacking the idea. She had to f#*k RayJ to get put on the map so I f&!$ed her. If you read the comments on my Youtube video and on some of the blogs, you will see this supported by men and women of all races. As with any hater, it's a love-hate association. You hate them because you're jealous and you want what they've got. So yeah, my intention was to speak my mind in a humorous way.
Q: You have a site called http://NewAmericanDivas" target="_hplink">NewAmericanDivas, that highlights your "other" personalities. For example on Ru Paul's Drag U you are a frumpy, "defeated" and unemployed but not angry. Was your "Angry Black Woman" act is just that-an act?
A: OK, so I'm an entertainer who works in Reality TV. Everything you see comes from a real place in me. Every show I've done reveals a truth in me and that's why I enjoy doing reality. My embodiment of the Angry Black Woman comes from a real place in me that has observed this story time and again and has become bitter. I spoke the truth. My purpose is to speak the truth in a way that's entertaining.
Q: In the show, you mention Kim doesn't do enough for the black community -- she isn't black so what exactly should she be doing for our community? What does she owe us?
A: My main point here is to give credit where credit is due. She was elevated to celebrity-dom because of her similarity to our flavor. She should give credit to the community that made her; show us some love after you've made it. [In the show] it was brought to light that she has actually given more directly than I was even referring to with Katrina and her visits to Africa.
Q: You said in a previous conversation that KK has capitalized (forgive me if I am paraphrasing) on attributes that women like yourself have been taught to be ashamed about. What shame have you had to deal with?
A: When I was younger, my round shape was a target of ridicule as well as hypersexualization. You had a big butt you were seen as being overweight, too big, or on the flip-side too sexual. I felt like, as an actress -- when I was younger -- I would look at film and the media and see this idealized beauty and you felt like there was something wrong with your body.
Q: How do you feel about Kim Kardashian now?
A: Still jelly but she gained my respect instantly when she was willing to confront me. I got to give it to her and the producers of H8R for allowing that conversation to happen. This is an old topic that needed to be addressed publicly and it opened up a conversation that was needed. The time has come to push aside the cheap imitation and experience the real deal.
So what exactly did we learn from this latest ABW rendition? Well, I'm still scratching my head and on the fence on how I feel about the ABW stereotype being used as a badge of honor but there is something to be said about the Deena-approach: she provided context for her anger -- instead of seeming out of control and extreme on the show she gave a reasons for her rage, she had the nerve to confront KK and what she represented (and in turn she was somewhat listened to by the celeb), and she used the ABW mechanism to be recognized rather than dismissed.
There are of course more pressing issues concerning the female body that black women have to be pissed off about i.e. the racefails of SlutWalk, and the shackling of our incarcerated women in labor, that just won't be reconciled over painting out the pain. That said, if we take a cue from reality television and make being an ABW OKAY through contextualizing an emotion, shaming us into silence won't be so easy and we'll own the right to be the angry, stereotype-turned-slur be damned.
It seems summer is coming to an end and as we swap out hot and hazy weather for the cool and breezy, HBO is doing the same with it's hit series. The more sexually fantastic...
Okay, so I am not one who can churn out literary reviews well, partially, because I don't like reading literary reviews. They're too long. I would much prefer something succinct like: "this book is tight, bam-bam-bam-these are the reasons why... but I am not going to spoil it for you...