Sunday, December 12, 2010

Passing the Mic: Yo, "B" What Were You Thinking?

It has perhaps now gone viral. The White House press conference over the weekend that featured Obama passing the mic to Bill Clinton to help him sell his stinker of a deal with the GOP to continue Bush era tax breaks for the wealthy. The idea on its face was not a bad one. Clinton, after all, remains widely popular and resided over one the most economically robust periods in recent memory. And, to be sure, on the mic--Prez got game.

The problem is not that Obama passed the mic to Clinton, but how he passed the mic. After the shellacking the Dems took recently in the midterm elections Obama has visibly lost his swag. Gone is the confident, intellectual statesmen that single-handedly took on the GOP establishment in an open public debate a year or so ago. His mix of charisma, good-looks, and high IQ meant that more often than not, he was shaping the terms of the debate, a talent not seen ... well, since the Clinton years.

The post-shellacking Prez looks tired, off-centered, and exasperated. Like he's lost the fight before he's even thrown the first punch. Granted, this could be a temporary state of being; he's been down before and has bounced back nicely--at least politically speaking. Trying to find inspiration in the "come back" kid par excellence in Bill Clinton is not necessarily a bad move on this score. That is, unless, you give him the mic and the license to freestyle. Which Obama mistakenly did. Rumor was during the general presidential campaign that Obama decided against picking Hillary as his running mate precisely because of Bill Clinton's Alpha Dog personality and propensity to stir up controversy from the time to time on the home front. If Hillary couldn't keep Bill in check, then what made Obama think at this crucial juncture in his presidency that he could.

To watch the press conference is to see Obama in a very confused and awkward state. After making a few brief comments about his faith in the passage of the bill, he passes the mic to Clinton and then says that he can't stay for the duration of the press conference because of a Christmas event that he is attending with Michelle.

The hilarity ensued, however, as Obama watched former president Clinton shift into a full brown commander in chief mode. Based on Obama's physical response--and indeed the fact that he stayed around for a significant period of time before actually leaving--he clearly realized his mistake. Not that Clinton was ineffective, mind you. Just the opposite. As he held court during the press conferences, one was reminded of why he was such an effective politician and communicator. It was, in fact, his effectiveness that illuminated Obama's lack thereof in the present moment.

Who knows if this episode will have a prolonged life in the news cycle. One thing is certain though, if Obama wants to regain his swagger and demonstrate that, at bottom, he is still the man in charge, he can't so casually pass the mic. Or, at least not to the one person that can actually match or exceed his rhetorical skills. I have a sneaky suspicion that we won't see a repeat of this political theater any time soon.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Let's Rescue the Race Debate

“There is another class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. ... Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs ... There is a certain class of race-problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well.”

Charles M. Blow

This 100-year-old, cobbled-together quote from the “the Great Accommodator” Booker T. Washington has gotten quite a bit of circulation in the right-wing blogosphere since the Tea Party came under attack over racial issues.

The quote helps support a broader sentiment that the current racial discontent is being fueled by a black liberal grievance industry that refuses to acknowledge racial progress, accept personal responsibility, or acknowledge its own racial transgressions. And that the charge of racism has become a bludgeon against anyone white and not in love with President Obama, thereby making those whites the most aggrieved — victims of the elusive reverse-racism Bigfoot. It’s perfect really: the historic words of a revered black figure being used to punch a hole in a present-day black mythology and to turn the world of racism upside down.

(The fact that those on the right would glom onto this quote is fascinating from a cultural/historical perspective. The quote is a not-so-subtle swipe by an aging Washington at his young nemesis, W.E.B. Du Bois, an Obama-like figure who advocated a more broad-based, activist movement for racial equality to be led by an erudite black intelligentsia. This is so riddled with ironies that I couldn’t possibly tackle them all in this column. Maybe another time. Rain check, please!)

The argument of these whites minimizes the victimization of others while magnifying their own victimization. While their argument may hold for some individuals, when you look at blacks writ large, the argument falls apart.

According to an ABC News poll conducted last year, blacks are even more likely than whites to admit that they “have at least some feelings of racial prejudice.” Thirty-eight percent of blacks admitted to those feelings while only 34 percent of whites did. I use the word admit because people notoriously underreport negative behaviors on polls, and knowing which groups may underreport and to what degree is impossible to gauge. For more objectivity, we need more scientific measures like Project Implicit, a virtual laboratory maintained by Harvard, the University of Washington and the University of Virginia that has administered hundreds of thousands of online tests designed to detect hidden racial biases. Tests taken from 2000 to 2006 found that a whopping three-quarters of whites have an implicit pro-white/anti-black bias, while 40 percent of blacks had a pro-black/anti-white bias, about the same amount as those admitting racial prejudice in the poll.

Furthermore, a January poll by the Pew Research Center found that most blacks agree that blacks who can’t get ahead are most responsible for their own condition. Only about a third said that racial discrimination was the main reason.

This whole hollow argument is further evidence that many whites are exhibiting the same culture of racial victimization that they decry.

The latest evidence of this comes in a poll released this week that was conducted by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute and financed by the Ford Foundation. The poll found that 62 percent of whites who identified as Tea Party members, 56 percent of white Republicans, and even 53 percent of white independents said that today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. Only 30 percent of white Democrats agreed with that statement.

It’s an extraordinary set of responses. And my question is the same one used by the right to defend the Tea Party against claims of racism: Where’s the proof? There’s a mound of scientific evidence a mile high that documents the broad, systematic and structural discrimination against minorities. Where’s the comparable mound of documentation for discrimination against whites? There isn’t one.

We can find racial prejudices in all segments of the population, but pretending that the degree and consequences are comparable is neither true nor helpful. And attributing to the agitation of the “colored” masses to the self-aggrandizement of a callous few is truly detrimental.

In fact, some on the right seem to be doing with the race issue what they’ve done with the climate-change issue: denying the basic facts and muddying the waters around them until no one can see clearly enough to have an honest discussion or develop thoughtful solutions.

I had thought that the reflexive denials and defenses of many on the right were simply an overreaction to, in their view, being unfairly accused of racism on too broad a scale. My present worry is that denial may be the new normal and that the hot language of the past summer has cooled and hardened into a permanently warped perception of the very meaning of discrimination and racism. I worry that the last bit of distance between where we are and where we want to be on racial reconciliation is being drawn through an ever-narrowing, ever-more-treacherous terrain.

In the name of progress, the public must reclaim the facts of the race debate in this country. Many racial problems have been solved but many remain. Some we must tackle within our individual communities and others must be dealt with between them. Racism isn’t everywhere we imagine it, but it is in far more places than we admit. If we can start from common points of agreement, we can come much closer to common ground. But to do that, everyone must step out of the shadows of denial and into the brutal light of honesty.

Booker T. Washington was right that there are some who may not “want the patient to get well.” Those people exist on all sides of the debate, and they will always be there. But they’re a minority. Cast them aside. Let the rest of us start with this point of agreement: The patient is doing better but is still sick.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Strip Searched: Race and the Unasked Question in the Airport Scanner Debate

By George White

As we enter the busiest traveling season of the year, one story has remained constant on the Internet and the evening news – the fear of and objections to TSA body scanners and pat-down searches in the nation’s airports.
As a civil libertarian, I appreciate the concerns of travelers and their allies. But at this historical moment, I’m unconvinced that civil liberties are the main thrust of the protests.

Black communities have been among the most policed and monitored groups in American history. We have been forced to live our lives out in the open, whether being groped and prodded on auction blocks or on city sidewalks as part of a “stop-and-frisk” regimen. Sometimes our right to move freely depended entirely on a White person’s determination that our “pass” was valid. At other times, that freedom could be curtailed by local, state, or federal law enforcement officials who suspected that legitimate political organizing was really a “front” for Social Justice conspiracy.

One of the interesting aspects of racial segregation was that White Supremacists consistently used concerns over “security” to justify their heinous crimes (lynching, anyone) or deprivations of freedom. Even the State of Louisiana in the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case argued that its legal enshrinement of “Jim Crow” was a justifiable use of its “police powers.” Our history proves that racial profiling does not work and that it obscures more than it illuminates. Our present reveals that our city streets, bus terminals, and subway stations are sites of public humiliation, as some of us are strip searched or forced to lay face-down on the ground. These same spaces can become killing fields for people like Sean Bell or Oscar Grant. It has become common for most Americans to cheer on these efforts to “make our streets safer” or, at the very least, to walk or drive by without remark. Now, we’re supposed to be upset over body scanners at the airport…inside a building…where no one is taking down your name and address…planting evidence on you…or threatening to give you an “attitude adjustment” if you talk back?!

I agree that the security screens are invasive. I respect the voices of political conservatives like Bob Barr, one of the few Republicans who joined with the ACLU and regular citizens who organized against the USA PATRIOT ACT; regular citizens like me and other friends who founded the Greater Knoxville Civil Liberties Alliance in 2003. But the proposed alternatives frighten me too; racial profiling (you again?) and privatization (hunh?). And since the attacks-on-civil-liberties train left years ago, I am left to ponder if there is something else percolating in this anti-authoritarian brew.

I don’t travel much by air when I leave my new home in New York, but when I do I am always struck by the demographics of its airports: the travelers are overwhelmingly White and middle- or upper-class and the TSA agents are all working-class and, generally, people of color. I’m not saying that the dominant culture consciously has an aversion to being monitored by people of color, but it leads me to this thought: the fight over the body scanners and pat downs is a fight over the currency of normative (read: white) privilege.

Yes, this “crisis” is one of the ironic results of our national risk aversion. But remember, as Americans demanded to be made “perfectly safe” (an impossibility if there ever was one), the burden for this irrational stipulation fell overwhelmingly on the shoulders of people of color. Because the dominant culture wasn’t inconvenienced by these measures, there was very little resistance to such rash and draconian efforts. Fast forward to the twenty-first century.

Now that those who are accustomed to getting a free pass on these measures may have to experience the consequences of state surveillance, there is an increasing uproar about violating civil rights. Sure, the body scanners and pat-downs seem like unconstitutional violations of the 4th Amendment but so is everything else that has emerged from the silt of our radically raced and capitalist-driven “War on Terror.”

I’ll be happy to lend my outrage when everyone decides to 1) object to racial profiling; 2) remove the informants and agent provocateurs from neighborhoods and places of worship; 3) insist on the repeal of Arizona SB 1070; 4) free the Newburgh Four; 5) stop the warrantless wire-tapping and data mining; 6) protest the torture and continued imprisonment of detainees and “enemy combatants,” among other things. If, indeed, “freedom is not free,” as the conservative mantra goes, then neither is race privilege. Liberty and justice for the privileged just won’t cut it any more.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Who Really Speaks for Precious

Who Really Speaks For Precious?:
Unheard Voices in the Black Feminist Discussion

David Ikard, Ph.D.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
2:30-5:00 pm
Richardson Library, Rosati Room 300

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

'Left of Black': Episode #3 featuring Salamishah Tillet and David Ikard

Sexual Predators and The Black Church Tue, 10/05/2010 - 08:51

In this week's Left of Black webcast, host Mark Anthony Neal discusses sexual predators and the Black church with University of Pennsylvania Professor Salamishah Tillet & Florida State University Professor David Ikard.

Professor Tillet is Founder of A Long Walk Home, a non-profit organization that uses art therapy and the visual and performance arts to document, to educate and to bring about social change.
Professor Ikard is the author of Breaking the Silence: Toward a Black Male Feminist Criticism.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Can I Get a Witness?: Who's Really Getting Screwed in the Black Church

Several years back a close black clergy friend of mine was having marital problems. He discovered that his wife was having an affair and was struggling to reconcile the relationship.

In need of spiritual counsel, he sought out the advice of several of his clergy colleagues. To a man, he was advised to seek out the “sexual comfort” of his flock. Take the edge off, so to speak, and even the score with his wife.

Once the deed was done, the thinking went, he would be of a mind to return to his wife and reconcile the marriage. Though my clergy friend was acutely aware of the abuses of patriarchal leadership in the black church, even he was taken aback by the perverse level of male entitlement and sexual exploitation.

I was reminded of this situation when the story broke recently regarding Rev. Eddie Long’s alleged sexual affairs with several young men in his congregation. Long is accused of using his money, power, and station to manipulate these men into sexual encounters. Long has categorically denied the charges, arguing via his attorney that he is the victim of a calculated shake down and that his accusers—most of whom have criminal records—are not to be trusted.

My concern here is not with Long’s case per se. Given the intensified interest of the media, my guess is that we will find out sooner rather than later about what really happened in this case. More pressing for me is what this issues highlights about the predatory nature of many black male clergymen and, more generally, the collusion by the black church at large in covering up and, indeed, enabling their misdeeds.

The truth of the matter is had Long’s accusers been women this story would have quickly lost its legs. At least insofar as the black community is concerned. This is not to say that ALL black churches are guilty of these abuses or condone this behavior. That said, the problem is not so much the individuals abusers as much as the institutionalized patriarchal thinking which inform how many, if not most, of these religious institutions operate.

The clergymen that counseled my friend in crisis clearly felt entitled as men and religious leaders to use the women in the congregation as objects of sexual gratification. Their comfort level in offering this advice was no doubt a reflection of the confidence they had in both the complicity of their sexual targets and that of their congregation, the bulk of whom are women. How can this be? How can women tolerate such treatment.

Scholar Terry Eagleton rightly notes that dominant power is able to stay dominant by getting those it exploits to collude with it. This collusion does not necessarily have to entail incentives or “bribes” of a material nature. The invention of “whiteness” by the elite European classes during the colonial period in the U.S. is a salient case in point. Grossly outnumbered and in need of a servant class to act as bodyguards against “Native American insurgency,” the elites devised a rather brilliant plan. In short, they gave indentured European servants (which, for all intents and purposes, were little more than slaves) the cultural gift of “whiteness” and, by extension, the legal “privilege” of being exempt from slavery and the stigma of blackness.

As we see by the racial tensions and prejudices that persist even to this day, this dastardly strategy of control has worked rather successfully, pitting similar exploited working class groups against each other time and again and, in so doing, assuring that those in power remain in power. Patriarchy is the weapon of choice in the black church power hierarchy. Operating similar to the cultural capital of “whiteness,” it gets black women to collude with it in the name of supporting black men and, by default, the health and survival of black communities at large.

In exchange for their cultural loyalty to black men, black women attain the cultural status of belonging, of being “good black women.” In an atmosphere wherein black women are blamed within and outside black communities for the failures of the black family and black men in particular (check out the notorious “Moynihan Report”), the importance of such a cultural identification becomes clear. The black church—which remains the most influential institution in African American life, especially for black women—relies on this political calculus to maintain the male hierarchy of power.

Granted, as Eddie Long’s controversy is bringing to light, there are boys and, in some cases, men that fall victim to this power equation as well. But the bigger story, the one that rarely makes the headlines, is the pervasive and longstanding pattern of exploiting women sexually in the black church. Can I get a witness? Ya’ll don’t hear me though.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


--George White

On Saturday, Right-wing television commentator Glenn Beck held a rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Beck claimed that – after having changed the date of the rally to August 28th – he had no idea his rally would fall on the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, keynoted by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have Dream” speech.

Whether we take Beck at his word is irrelevant. What is most significant about the “Restoring Honor” rally is its proof of the continuing resiliency of White Privilege in America.

Once questioned by media about the timing of the rally, Beck dismissed any concerns by claiming that his rally would “reclaim the civil rights movement.”

During a segment on his radio show, Beck reiterated that notion and added that he and his fellow conservatives were entitled to “take back” the civil rights movement because “damn it…we were the people who did it in the first place!”

Beck has never explained who took the civil rights movement and where they went with it. Nor did he acknowledge that it was America’s political, social, and Christian conservatives who rallied massive resistance – using federal, state, and local power, counter-protests mobs, and vigilante violence – against the likes of Dr. King, SNCC, the SCLC, and others.

I never heard Beck describe how he was going to honor King’s legacy when King was the type of “social justice” minister Beck rails against daily. Then it occurred to me that none of this was central to his cause; truth and accuracy have never been his forte. What is absolutely critical for Beck is the ability to name the world in any way he sees fit, whether or not the definitions match reality.

Beck’s rally – like the rest of his political theater – seemed scattershot and ill-conceived. Over the past few months, the theme of the rally changed more than the date, moving from a book launch, to an explication of his supposedly divinely-inspired “plan,” to a celebration of America’s soldiers. It’s difficult to imagine a similarly situated entertainer-of-color putting together such a confused and confusing demonstration and have the entire nation take her/him seriously. Nonetheless, what we should take seriously is the pattern highlighted by the demonstration.

Beck has made quite a name for himself with acts like his campaign against Van Jones, as well as by stating that President Obama was a racist with a “deep-seated hatred of White people.” He has demonized community organizers, unions, and social justice churches. He constantly demonstrates religious intolerance and xenophobia. The only thing he has in common with Dr. King is that each of their last names has four letters and a “k.”

The post-rally news coverage also was troubling because reporters and observers, at best, merely hinted at the glaring contradictions. The media’s response simply augmented the spectacle by focusing on Beck-the-celebrity, his guests, and the crowd, absent any analysis of what actually happened. This isn’t about how many people showed up, whether the crowd was racially diverse, or whether the rally demonstrated that we live in a divided country. It’s about White privilege and its tremendous, ongoing costs.

Don’t get me wrong; Beck is dangerous. He is the latest opportunist to package the old wine (or is it “whine”) of White fear, paranoia, and self-pity into a new bottle of “aw shucks” folksiness. His discourse is hate speech with a smile, faux sincerity, and the occasional, well-timed tear. Yet, what is most dangerous is the ability of White Privilege to define America (and the globe) with little, if any, factual support.

White Privilege is dangerous because it makes the absurd seem commonplace, the indefensible suddenly appropriate. It is dangerous because the attitudes, ideas, and actions that emerge from it appear to be “natural” and “normal” rather than the hideous social deformity that they are. In Beck’s world of privilege, “little Black boys and little Black girls” only play with “little White boys and little White girls” if they are all Communists bent on the destruction of America.

The toll of White Privilege is high and the meter continues to run. There will be lots of Glenn Becks and Sarah Palins; there always have been and neither is particularly original. Let us seize our power and call them what they are. Let us “refudiate” their naming. Humanity can no longer afford silence.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Time to stop the (tea) Party

It is hardly a secret in or beyond black communities, that the majority of black folks are conservative—if not ultraconservative—when it comes to morality, parenting, work ethic, homosexuality, gender roles and the like. Indeed, any black person that resides on the far left of the political spectrum—as I do—can bear witness to this reality. (I, for one, have the scars to prove it)

The plain and simple truth is—beyond race-centric issues such as racial profiling, police brutality, economic discrimination, institutionalized poverty—black folks’ politics align rather closely with those on the Right, if not the far Right on several matters.

The question of the hour, then, is why aren’t throngs of black folks flocking to the Tea Party. If you answered, because they love Barack and Michelle Obama, you’d only be partially right. The other glaring reason is that the Tea Party (which is comprised primarily of disgruntled GOP purists) come off, more often than not, as apologists for racist behaviors.

A dramatic case in point is the response that the Tea Party has recently exhibited toward the NAACP’s condemnation of perceived racist elements in the movement—namely, the blaringly derogatory depictions of Barack Obama as an African witch doctor, monkey, Hilter, and coon on handmade signs (and now billboards) that are frequently and prominently on display during Tea Party rallies and gatherings.

Rather than engage the NAACP’s claims seriously, Tea Party spokesman Mark Williams responded by calling the organization racist. Why, you ask? Because they still retain “colored” in the organization’s official name. This is the same Mark Williams that, until recently, had penned an open letter on his website, mocking the NAACP and black folks at large. In the letter, addressed to Abraham Lincoln, Williams cast African Americans as mindless, bootlicking, Tea Party haters.

Worse yet, he plays upon age-old stereotypes of black folks as welfare-loving, social parasites. At one point in the letter he writes, “The racist tea parties also demand that the government ‘stop the out of control spending.’ Again, they directly target coloreds. That means we Coloreds would have to compete for jobs like everybody else and that is just not right.” The question is not whether this is a racist document, but how can any rational person argue otherwise.

Let’s be clear here, this is not about supporting or defending the NAACP, a group that has a less than stellar history when it comes to color and caste bias. Williams’s comments are offensive because they are racist, not because they attack the NAACP. As for the Tea Partiers that don’t espouse this type of thinking—and I’d like to think that there are more than a few—it is high time that you speak up. For if you remain silent and allow Williams and his ilk to speak for your movement, you will have lost more than the black vote, you will have lost all of your political integrity.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Miseducation of Texas School Kids

by Afi-Odelia Scruggs

See, a bunch of guys needed something to do in 1865 and 1866, right after the Civil War. It wasn't like they could go back to their plantations; Northerners had seen to that. So these good ole boys amused themselves by dressing up in sheets and riding through the countryside pulling pranks. Just good, clean hijinks, until they discovered their antics terrorized former slaves. Then, things turned naughty and nasty.

But in the beginning, the Klan was just a social club.

How do I know this? I learned it in school.

Tennessee history was a required subject in the '60s, when I was a student. The Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tenn., a small town about 90 miles south of Nashville, my hometown.

Here's what the lessons omitted: The first Grand Wizard of the Klan, Confederate general and native Tennessean Nathan Bedford Forrest, made millions as a slave trader.

I can't remember reading anything about slavery in that class. But I've never forgotten about Forrest, the Klan and Pulaski, Tenn. They popped to mind when I read about the social studies curriculum recently approved by the Texas Board of Education. (The changes approved by the conservative Texas board include minimizing Thomas Jefferson's importance in the founding of this country, vindicating McCarthyism and downplaying the significance for the separation between church and state.)

Texas' social studies changes deserve more than the shrug of a shoulder. The state buys so many textbooks that its standards might seep into classrooms all over the nation.

If so, students will learn much about General Stonewall Jackson, and little about President Barack Obama. They'll be taught that states' rights, not slavery, caused the Civil War, and the civil rights movement had "unintended consequences," like affirmative action.

Read the entire article at The Root

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Banning Ethnic Studies: Why Stanley Fish's Take is Out of Bounds

Sometimes just making yourself at home is revolutionary"

--Slumberland, Paul Beatty

If you received the kind of secondary public education that I had, you would have believed that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, all Martin Luther King wanted in terms of human rights was for his children to drink from the same water fountains as the white kids, and that the socioeconomic hardships that black folks have endured in the U.S. were largely of their own making. My education was so thin, in fact, regarding African American contributions to the U.S. that I didn't realize that black folks wrote great books (including Harriet Jacobs' Incident in the Life of a Slave Girl, W.E.B. DuBois's The Souls of Black Folks, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man) until I attended college. Indeed, when I enrolled in my first African American Studies course as a college sophomore I felt that my education up till that point in my life had been a complete sham. What I had learned of substance about slavery and black struggle at large could've easily fit on an index card.

And though at college I could take courses in African American Studies, the curriculum was set up in such a way that all of the course offerings were marginalized within it. So, for example, as an English Literature major, the three courses in African American Literature that I took at the time didn't count toward the completion of my major degree requirements. In real and symbolic ways, then, the white writers (including Shakespeare, Milton, Twain, Dickinson, Faulkner, and Steinbeck) mattered; the black ones (including Morrison, Hurston, Ellison, Baldwin, and DuBois) didn't.

Indeed, when I informed my then academic advisor and Chair of the English department that I planned to pursue a doctorate degree in African American Literature, he reared back in his seat and let fly, "Why on earth would you do that?" He then followed, "What is there even to read?" Given that the faculty at the time consisted of two African Americans that taught African American Literature, his comments struck me as particularly venomous. I was later informed by one of the black faculty members that my advisor had plenty of company in his views; that there was a block of faculty members that actually prided themselves in having never read an African American novel. This happened, by the way, in the mid-1990s.

Given the extent to which African-American and non-white experiences have been marginalized—then and now—in public education (and, mind you, including these experiences in history, literature, and social studies text books does not mean that they are actually being taught in the classroom), the recent op-ed piece
"Arizona: The Gift that Keeps on Giving" by Stanley Fish in the
New York Times regarding the newly minted and explosive Arizona law banning ethnic studies wildly misses the mark.

Fish attacks the idea of politicizing curriculum, which includes casting the Raza studies classes in Arizona as propagandistic, because they encourage students to see our educational system as politically biased on matters of race and socially equality. Ignoring, among other things, the undeniable social variables of discrimination/oppression that ignited ethnic studies in the first place, Fish proposes that the problem with ethnic studies, generally, and Raza studies, in particular, as well as with the new Arizona laws banning them is that they all “politicize” education.

Considering the fact that our public education system was initially created with the expressed purpose to “nationalize” the citizens of the U.S. (we started every school day when I was child reciting the pledge of allegiance), Fish’s assertions that ethnic studies and Arizona legistlators are politicizing the curriculum simply have no grounds in history. That is to say, that our public schooling was--and continues to be--a politicized enterprise. (The recent overhaul of the school curriculum in Texas by the dominant conservative political arm of the elected educational board members is a striking case in point.) Ethnic studies programs make this dynamic visible and offer correctives, usually in the form of counter narratives, to enhance our study of the social, cultural, political, and economic world in which we exist. The Arizona ban on ethnic studies is, on one level, trying to shut this crucial dialogue down.

In a twisted political maneuver, conservative Arizona legislators turned the tables on the very programs created to address the racial politicization of education; the kind of politicization that kept folks like me ignorant to the central role that African Americans and historically oppressed groups played in shaping our republic.

Though to the untrained eye, Fish’s pronouncements might come across as “balanced” because he appears to analyze the pros and cons of each side of the issue, his wildly ahistorical analysis trivializes the issues at hand--namely, the lopsided power equation that continues to hold sway over how the historical realities of racial oppression in the U.S. are engaged in the classroom. Suffice to say that it is hardly a coincidence that most of what I, and generations before mine, have learned about African American realities was acquired outside the boundaries of the educational system.

Thankfully, a lot has changed for the better in the twenty years since I graduated high school. Writers like Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston, are now staples in most American Literature classes. Critical engagements with the Civil Rights Movement and black struggle at large are becoming increasing more commonplace in the classroom too. These important and necessary changes to our educational curriculum are the direct result of political agitations and civil disobedience. Our history bears this out. Indeed, the absence of this consideration by Stanley Fish, a scholar of the first order, makes the strongest case that we need more, not less, challenges to educational conventions if we are to make good on the egalitarian principles that we claim to hold so dear.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Still a Nation of Cowards

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards."
Eric Holder

Wasn't that long ago that Attorney General Eric Holder sparked a media blitz for declaring in a race speech during black history month (and shortly after being confirmed as the nation's first black attorney general) that America is a "nation of cowards" on matters of race. Considering that the country was still giddy to the point of hysteria over Barack Obama's historic election and black folks in particular were more optimism about race relations than ever before, Holder's was a rather bold and impolitic statement.

Predictably, folks on the left and right were calling for his head. How dare he rain on the parade of our country's most definitive public statement to date that we are indeed a colorblind society? Surely, a nation of cowards wouldn't have elected a black president or sanctioned his appointment as the first black attorney general. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times states flat out called the brotha a hypocrite. Save your lectures on race, she responded indignantly in an widely read op-ed piece.

As for Obama who is hardly blind to the realities of racial polities, if hamstrung to a large degree by his political office, he dodged the issue like a jedi warrior for weeks. When he could dodge no longer, he offered a mild rebuke of Holder's comments via the New York Times. Race talk, he opined, was not the answer; ending economic hardship for all Americans was. In other words, Holder spoke out of turn. That Holder got the message has been largely reflected in his conspicuous silence on matters of race.

Holder's silence aside, what we see now in the wake of Arizona's recent draconian laws, one of which virtually legalizes racial profiling and the another which abhorrently tags ethnic studies as racist and outlaws its teaching in secondary education, is that Holder's assessment of our racial state of affairs was right on the mark.

This came immediately to mind the other day as I passed a newly constructed billboard on the highway that read, "America. Love it or leave it." Though I've heard this saying more times that I carry to recount, it struck me as being particularly appropriate to the current racial climate. Though xenophobia has, in one way or another, informed and contaminated social politics and policy in the U.S. for some time, the impending reality that we are quickly becoming a majority-minority nation is starting to hit home for many and fueling a particularly nasty form of xenophobia that threatens to collapse in on us all.

As for being cowardly on matters of race, creating a convenient scapegoat in Latino/as immigrants stands atop the list. There's no debating that the federal government has, time and again, dropped the ball on enacting comprehensive and humane immigration reform. That something needs to be done and fast should be apparent to anyone with eyes to see.

Writer-humorist Zora Neale Hurston once famously said that she would die for this country but not lie for it. Encapsulated in her pronouncement is the true stuff of productive patriotism. Rather than hide or camouflage our social maladies, we should aggressively expose and seek to correct them. Rather than love it or leave it, we should be asserting "improve it or risk losing it." Fear-mongering on issues of race not only divides us, but it makes us shortsighted and weak. The true test of our melting pot experiment in America is upon us, whether we can pass it or not remains to be seen.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Domestic Violence and Black Uplift Don't Mix: Expecting More From Tyler Perry

by Jenise Hudson

“I don’t believe in hitting women, but I’ll shake a bitch!”

--Chris Rock

The sequel to Tyler Perry’s official marriage film, WHY DID I GET MARRIED TOO is set to hit theatres nationwide next month. I can’t wait. I’d like to claim a politically correct reason for my choice to patronize the film, such as wanting to support black actors, producers and writers, bu

t that is only part of my motive. For me, there is something about Tyler Perry’s films – perhaps it is a familiarity I feel with the earlier characters, or maybe it is the music – which I enjoy. I have not failed to see one of his movies at the movies.

Nevertheless, even as I admit that I will be getting my tickets early, it doesn’t mitigate the concerns I have about going into another Perry relationship film. The last three years of the director/producer’s works have repeatedly showcased negative images of black career women with little reprieve. For starters, there is Angela (played by Tasha Smith) from the first WHY DID I GET MARRIED (2007), the hairstylist that can’t seem to find the balance between running her salon and emasculating her employee-husband; then there is her girlfriend Diane (played by Sharon Leal), the workaholic whose career takes precedence over her roles as a wife and mother.

And who can forget Andrea (played by Sanaa Lathan), the most vilified wife in this suite of Perry’s cutthroat career women; Andrea is the corporate finance executive from Perry’s 2008 film, THE FAMILY THAT PREYS, whose greed and lust lead her to an extramarital affair that ultimately ends her marriage and her c

All of the images are problematic for the common suggestion that career mindedness and marriage can hardly be managed or mutually enjoyed by women without eclipsing their male partners, yet never have I struggled so much to understand the rationale behind what I see as a scene of violent spousal reprisal for this drive as I did watching the moment in FAMILY when Chris (played by Rockmond Dunbar) backhands his wife across the counter of her mother’s diner.

Viewers must all remember where they were when they first witnessed the “smack scene” between Chris and Andrea; it is that notorious. For me, it was a Friday afternoon and I was jumpstarting my weekend with a matinee.

I had purchased a ticket, walked into the sparsely populated theater and sat on the row in front of four black women ranging in ages from mid thirties to late fifties that were also spending their afternoon as I was. My first realization as the opening scenes began to unfold was that I should never come to another Tyler Perry movie by myself.

I remember thinking, half the fun of these movies is the audience’s reaction! In the absence of such crowd participation, I found myself drifting in and out of interest with the movie, unconvinced by the botched Thelma and Louise-style plot that was taking place between Alice’s (played by Alfre Woodard) and Charlotte’s (played by Kathy Bates) characters and even more disillusioned with Chris’s profound naiveté despite all the red-flag signals that Andrea was cheating on him.

I found myself critical at moments where generally the crowd response would have led me to laugh in unison. I was in such a state of mind that when the climactic “smack scene” happened. One minute, I watched as Andrea angrily revealed to her husband that the source of the $286,000 he had taken from her private bank account was her boss, William Cartwright, with whom she had been having a long-term affair. The next minute I watched as Chris faked a turn away from her, built up some speed for the backhand that came next, and collided with her face with such force that Andrea was propelled across the serving counter onto the floor on the other side.

Up to that point, it had seemed that the theatre was silent; if the women behind me commented before then, I don’t remember what they said. But I will never forget how they hooped and hollered over that scene of violence. They cheered, cheered for the attack. “Yes! That’s right! That’s what she gets. He should have yanked her ass before that!” I surreptitiously attempted to peer through the space between my seat and the next so I could get a look at this group of ladies. It was disturbing to see how easily they could be corralled – or corralled themselves – into rooting for Andrea’s disposability.

I watched as Andrea lost not only her husband but her lover, car and job, and ultimately was forced to depend on the charity of her ex-husband. One scene in the denouement has Chris stopping by Andrea’s gloomy motel or apartment to drop her a few bills before charitably kissing the forehead of the child he has learned is not his own and leaving to his now-thriving construction business.

Troubled, I left the theater turning over in my mind why the film had to end that way. The scene seemed to me not to fit, neither in terms of the act itself nor in terms of the degree to which it was performed. I couldn’t figure it out. Why have Chris slap Andrea? Why choreograph the slap so forcefully? What was the point? Certainly there is no denying that Andrea is unlikeable throughout most of the film. With her Cruella Deville black business suits and severely cut bob, Andrea is every bit of the self-serving, ungrateful brat that her sister, Pam (played by Taraji P. Henson), says she is.

Andrea’s "stankness" is doubtless a trait that many viewers wish they could rid her of at one point or another; and if we tease out the reasoning for the literal smack down she absorbs in the diner scene, we likely will find that the choreographed attack is an attempt on the scriptwriter’s (Perry’s) part to reward us for having tolerated her for so long. Yet even with these explanations, the problem still remains: why have the climax of the film center on Chris, the emasculated blue-collar husband, kicking his corporate wife’s ass moments before he achieves his own professional and personal success? For what reason does his reassertion of masculine power hinge on her come-uppance?

The problem with this type of narrative is a problem that has existed for decades, ever since the early twentieth century when images of the Sapphire suggested that black women were loud-mouthed, emasculators. The post-Civil Rights years have seen the discussion morph from a debate about women as matriarchs in the home to heated arguments on the power-tripping black professional women who, in the words of Lance Sullivan in the film, THE BEST MAN (1999), are like Jordan Armstrong, “one step from being lesbian” by virtue of their professional acumen. Anyone looking for proof of this power dynamics conversation in the film can hear it voiced when Chris complains to his Ben Andrea is freaking out about money. Ben replies, “You know she’s freaking out, she’s making all the money,” to which Chris rebuts, “That’s all about to change.” Like a fable, FAMILY is an instructional manual, guide and warning to black men of what can happen when they let their women run unchecked in the marriage.

At least in previous Perry films when an individual (be it male or female) has been previously abused physically, it is more comparable when [s]he responds in kind. There is no such moment in THE FAMILY THAT PREYS; Andrea never strikes Chris first. If anything she only runs her mouth, and it is that, not her hand, which provokes Chris’s attack. Is the message here that a Sapphire woman’s sharp tongue bruises a man’s pride as severely as a man’s hand (or fist, or foot, etc.) bruises a woman’s body?

The way I see it, the slap that Chris delivers to Andrea is a blow intended to end a conversation about women’s professional success that is taking place on a higher frequency. As vile as Andrea is in the film, her character flaws only ostensibly explain why Chris strikes her. The scene is about power dynamics. It is about Chris regaining his voice and power from a woman who supposedly wields too much of both. Chris does not hit Andrea until he finds out she has been sleeping with Cartwright. That he has been cuckolded is the ultimate insult: his hand is forced. He must react.

But where is Chris’s responsibility in the situation? What about his failure to consistently express in a meaningful way to his wife, without violence, that he will not be disrespected in the marriage? We see in the scene where Andrea first tries to attack him for looking into her private bank account that Chris is capable of stopping her rant. Just as Andrea begins to rain down insults on him for asking about “[her] money,” Chris stops her. “I can be the nicest guy in the world,” he says, “but if you keep pissing me off we’re going to have some problems.” To this assertive response, Andrea’s posture changes. Of course, she proceeds to lie; but for a moment, she retreats in the face of Chris’s resolve.

Why doesn’t Perry run with that? Sure, it could be argued that even by suggesting that there will be “problems” if Andrea doesn’t explain the money, Chris is evoking a violent masculine rhetoric that is not much different than that which he resurrects when he does strike her. However, who is to say that that rhetoric, when unaccompanied by actual violence, isn’t appealing to some women? I agree with Joan Morgan when she says that a new age of feminism calls on us to “fuck with the gray.” That gray area is, in part, a space where we acknowledge that as black women, we dig a certain degree of machismo in our men. Perry acknowledges this dynamic in WHY DID I GET MARRIED when Angela’s husband Marcus (Michael Jai White) tells her to let him handle his child’s mother on his own. Why not do the same thing in FAMILY THAT PREYS, Mr. Perry? It is clear there are moments when Chris could take a more assertive stand with Angela without resorting to violence. But he doesn’t. This time the script does not call for that kind of progressive male approach.

Instead, Chris is paraded across the screen as an exemplar of “good black manhood,” and I have a huge problem with such a characterization of him. To begin, painting Chris as the “good black man” completely obfuscates the fact he steals from his wife’s bank account to the tune of $286,000! Remember, after learning that the loan officer will not grant him the $300,000 he needs to start his construction business, Chris takes the money from Andrea’s separate bank account and sinks it into his business without her knowledge. By doing so, he acts as a thief. Is that how a “good black man” behaves?

Suffice it to say, that if Chris had smacked Andrea with a force that threw her head back during the argument, it would have been bad enough. Had the blow had just knocked her to her knees, it would have been bad enough. But the scene doesn’t stop there. Why is it necessary for Chris to lay Andrea out so violently that she flies across a table?

Shuttling that retributive act of violence onto Chris’s shoulders as a cover up for its more broad reverberations punishes Andrea in a way that should be disconcerting for women and men alike. To buy into the pretense that Chris is unable to discover a more progressive way of managing his marriage is to open the door to his outburst without holding him accountable. Meanwhile, Andrea is left in the way of a nineteenth century sentimental novel protagonist to languish because she has lost the favor of any man that might rescue her. The ending is as questionable as the climax. According to the film, Andrea is a top graduate from her Master’s program. How is it that with her credentials she is unable to land on her feet? Is that really justice, or is the retribution being laid on a bit thick? Who knows. What I can say for sure is that we all should keep our critical eyes peeled as we gear up for WHY DID I GET MARRIED TOO in a few weeks.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"You Your Best Thing": The Other Side to the Black Abortion Debate

"You Your Best Thing," Paul D relays to a grief stricken and traumatized Sethe at the end of Toni Morrison's most touted novel Beloved. The physical embodiment of black women's self-sacrifice( she kills her daughter to protect her from experiencing slavery), Sethe responds incredulously--"Me?Me?"--as if the very idea that she held value beyond her role as a caregiver and nurturer for someone else was beyond comprehension. The fact that Morrison puts these powerful words in Paul D's mouth is certainly no coincidence.

Indeed, Morrison has written extensively about her self-consciously political narrative choices and authored a landmark study in Playing in the Dark that explores crisis of white identity as rendered through the creative, racialized imagination of white American novelists from Herman Melville to Ernest Hemingway. It matters that Paul D speaks these encouraging words to Sethe, not only because she loves and respects him, but because they share a history of unspeakable strife.

Raped by white men himself--a reality that he never utters aloud or fully comes to terms with emotionally--Paul D initially runs away from Sethe after learning of her infanticide because her bloody revolt and intense mother love hit too close to home. Unable to see his way clear of his own hidden demons and hold fully accountable the monsters that molested them both, Paul D casts Sethe as primitive and animalistic and heads for the exits. When Paul D circles back, he engages Sethe from the point of deep empathy, recognizing that the true culprit was pathological white supremacy and those who policed it; that her reaction of infanticide reflected the no-way-out calculus of black slave motherhood.

I raise this intense and poignant climatic moment in Morrison's Beloved, to introduce a rather glaring oversight in the current debate about black women and abortion that has erupted as a result of the recent antiabortion billboards that were erected in Atlanta. The billboard (pictured above)--which features a visibly distressed black baby and reads "Black children are an endangered species"--is designed for maximum cultural shock value.

Wanting to sound the alarm about an exploding abortion rate among black women in Georgia, the primary sponsor of the billboards--Georgia Right to Life--hired a black consultant in Catherine Davis who masterminded an effective political antiabortion campaign, framing the rise in abortion rates among black women as a white supremacist racial conspiracy. What makes Davis's conspiracy so dangerous and effective is that it is premised in part on the truth. That is to say, that the idea of exterminating and/or ridding the country of blacks goes back a ways historically.

Many whites--including one Thomas Jefferson--feared that if slaves were emancipated they would retaliate in violence, seeking payback for the harm done them under bondage (peep Notes On Virginia to get the R-rated version). Indeed, good ole' Abe Lincoln seriously contemplated a plan to have blacks shipped back to Africa to keep the Republic intact.

And, there were certainly white eugenics movements afoot in the early part of the twentieth century and several states, including North Carolina, during the first decades of the twentieth century were notorious for sterilizing black women without consent when they arrived at hospitals to give. Suffice it to say then that there was more than enough historical ammunition on Davis's side to undergird her conspiracy thesis.

What most disturbs me about Davis's political propaganda is that it covers over rather than illuminates the harsh socioeconomic realities of black women and motherhood in the U.S. As Morrison makes clear in her novel, black motherhood was thrown radically into crisis because of slavery. Laws were put in place so that enslaved black women's children--regardless of their paternal line--followed the social condition of the mother.

What this meant in plain speak is that white men could rape and impregnate their slaves without worrying about having to contend with legal claims of free status from their bastard offspring. To give birth then for enslaved black women was to incarcerate your children into bondage. Adding to this breeder status, was the always present reality that one's children would be sold away. There was thus an inherent danger attached to even loving one's child. Morrison's narrative captures this sentiment best when she explains that the coping mechanism of the enslaved was to "love small." Fast forward to the twenty first century and its clear that the vestiges of this thinking are still with us.

Though the term "welfare queen"--popularized by none other than Ronald Reagan during his 1976 presidential campaign--has fallen out of fashion, the image of the parasitical, baby-churning, unwed black mother is alive and well. Peep the recent events at University of California San Diego if you want proof. To bring the matter closer to home, I distinctly remember the cautious response that my then wife received when she disclosed to her family that she was pregnant with our first child.

Though we had been married for over 5 years, were economically stable, and both well-educated, her family--upon hearing the news--remarked almost to a person, "This is good news, right?" So accustomed had they become to seeing pregnancy as a death sentence for the women in their family that they were genuinely at a loss of how to respond when the pregnancy was planned and welcomed.

And here's another rub, a goodly number of the black women that opt for abortions have been sexually assaulted. The Oscar-winning movie "Precious" set many a black heads spinning because of its raw and unflinching portrayal of incest and black poverty (what will white folks think of us now), but it also ignited a desperately needed conversation about taboo subjects of intraracial sexual abuse and violence.

The toxic brew of racism, institutionalized poverty, and (culturally sanctioned) sexism, can much better explain the high and rising number of abortions by black women than lax racial consciousness. So, if there is indeed a racial conspiracy lurking out there threatening the black empowerment, we'd better start looking a lot closer to home.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ishmael Reed on the Movie "Precious": He's Absolutely Right and Dead Wrong

In case you haven't received the memo, noted satirist Ishmael Reed is not terribly fond of the Oscar Nominated movie "Precious" based on the novel PUSH by Sapphire. My guess is that most folks became aware of this reality when Reed lampooned the movie in an op-ed article “Fade to White” in the New York Times recently.

But the truth is (and I'll return to the op-ed piece in a moment), Reed has been fuming over this movie for quite some time--his op-ed essay being the culmination of a virtual campaign against the movie. In an earlier rendition of this New York Times piece "The Selling of 'Precious'"--which is decidedly more venomous--Reed rants,"New York Press critic, Armond White, in a brilliant take down of the movie, compares it with Birth of a Nation. I would argue that this movie makes D.W. Griffith look like a progressive. Moreover, I’ve looked at a number of pictures that show how the Nazis depicted blacks and though Jewish and black men appear as sexual predators in many, I’ve never run across one in which minority men are shown as incest violators."

For anybody that knows anything about Griffin's "Birth of a Nation"--which offers a heroic portrait of the KKK as protectors of democracy and white women's virtue and black men as primitive, violent, white-women-raping, monsters--Reed's declaration is nothing short of absurd. And, what of all those black women who happen to find political value in the movie--particularly in its engagement with the taboo subject of incest? Reed surmises that these women are most likely uninformed black feminist literature professors with secret vendetta's against their fathers and black men in general. And, oh yeah, they happen also not to be that smart. Reed's rants would be laughable if such views and tactics of political posturing weren't still so viable.

Indeed, the made-for-public-consumption version of the essay--the aforementioned "Fade to White"--was one of the most viewed essays on the NYT website the other day. Gone were the blatant attacks against black women intellectuals and outlandish references to "Birth of a Nation." Reed--who has accused folks like Henry Louis Gates of "house niggerdom" and trying to speak for the race--pulls off his on version of black spokespersonship.

The debate around the movie "Precious," he informs the overwhelming white, affluent readership of the New York Times (who's shucking now), runs starkly along racial lines. Black folks hate it, of course, because it pathologizes blackness and lets white folks off the hook for perpetuating racial inequalities, and white folks love it--including the political right (Barbara Bush, et al)--because it reinforces the paternalistic white savior/black primitive discourse dating back to slavery. So how does Reed's us/against them binary explain the legion of black folks and black women in particular that identify with the movie's characterization of incest and sexual abuse? Simply put, it doesn't. That is, not unless you believe that all black folks think alike, which apparently Reed expects us--or precisely the mostly white readership of the New York Times--to believe.

And, check this. Reed went attack dog in the comment section on my boy Mark Anthony Neal when, in an essay on his Newblackman blog, he deigned to call the brotha out on his shallow racial politics and patriarchal assaults against black women intellectuals.

Like a school yard bully, Reed kept trying to "feminize" Neal by asking him rhetorically "Aren't you in the women studies department at Duke?" Translation: "You clearly have no legitimate point of view in this debate because your masculinity has been compromised via your feminist and thus self-hating politics." And, here's the rub. Reed's point about white fascination with black pathologies is NOT completely off the mark. As, in fact, Neal, Bakari Kitswana, Gwendolyn Pough, Tricia Rose, Robin D.G. Kelley, Michael Eric Dyson, Jelani Cobb, and others have rightly argued, this white investment in discourses of black pathologies continues to be bankable, including in, of all places, hip hop music and culture.

Personally, I see this dynamic at work, if not in the movie "Precious," certainly in the novel upon which it is premised in PUSH. The pressing question is, and this is something that Reed fails to consider, to what extent can Sapphire--or any black writer for that matter--anticipate how their art will be manipulated in the public domain? Dave Chappelle sure didn't see it coming when his "Chappelle Show"--which from its inception pivoted on a decidedly anti-establishment and anti-racist theme--mainstreamed (read: entertained even racially-biased whites) to the point that Chappelle feared he was perpetuating the very pathological themes of blackness his show was ostensibly created to parody. And, when Chappelle walked away from the show and the 50 million dollar payday from
Comedy Central, he was deemed "crazy" by a good many folks, including blacks in showbiz that should know better.

It is ridiculous then to conflate Sapphire's or Chappelle's artistic intent with how their art is being appropriated by various groups. As Langston Hughes' famously noted in his essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," black artists should not be held hostage to the political demands placed on their art within or beyond the black community. Bucking the "art-as-propaganda" mindset advocated by none other than the intellectual giant, W.E.B. Dubois, Hughes was not saying that black artists have no political responsibility whatsoever, but rather that theirs is to tell a truth beyond the prescribed limits of the political discourse.

What Hughes realized was that creating and perpetuating plastic versions of social realities reinforces rather than challenges the status quo. (There are, in fact, some lowdown colored folks. Surprise. Surprise. And institutionalized racism ain't the primary cause of their lowdown behavior.) One need only peep Herman Melville's
Moby Dick or Benito Cereno to witness the emotional and psychological damage that white supremacy, for instance, has wreaked onto white-identified folks. Truth-telling, however unflattering, is ultimately the path to emotional healing and intellectual growth.

To wit, Reed's argument that white folks are guilty of incest too is fundamentally beside the point of both the novel and movie, both of which try to stimulate an important and necessary intraracial conversation about this enduring yet unspeakable reality in the black community. Will some white folks come away with a different and perhaps even dangerous interpretation than was originally intended by the artist/film maker. Absolutely. But therein lies the risk--not only of black art--but of artistic expression in general. Misinterpretation--deliberate and otherwise--just comes with the territory. One would think Reed--of all people--would get this dynamic considering his illustrious career as a novelist. That he doesn't is perhaps the biggest travesty of all.