I’ve been in a writing funk for weeks and it’s all because of the Hunger Games…and Justin Bieber…and his fans. You see, three weeks prior to the release of the worldwide blockbuster, a young Black boy named Trayvon Martin was shot by a vigilante neighborhood watchmen. I’m sure by now that you’ve heard the story.
To be honest, though that story troubled me to my core (as I have a son myself), I was able to compartmentalize it because unfortunately, young Black boys getting shot by other Black boys, cops, and people in pickup trucks is nothing new. Soon thereafter, I went to the movies to see Hunger Games, a movie that I knew nothing about except for the fact that it involved teenagers, bows and arrows, and a love triangle between two boys and a “girl on fire”…whatever that meant.
So I apprehensively went to see this movie and it did not disappoint in its seemingly effortless ability to be thought provoking and deeply troubling. Though it was filled with people with purple hair and computer generated hybrid animals, the ominous themes of the movie – and their relationship to current events - could not be ignored.
But that’s not what put me in a funk.
When I reflected about the premature death of Trayvon Martin, I could only hope that racism would die with Baby Boomers, Generation X, Y, and Next. We may be tainted by what we have seen and overheard from our elders, but I was hopeful that this next generation of youth would finally escape the seductive clutches of prejudice. Justin Bieber and Jaden Smith are best friends…so the end of racism must be upon us, at least that’s what I thought.
When the uproar started over the casting of Hunger Games, I was surprised at my own reaction to it. I hadn’t read the series, I hadn’t even heard of it prior to the week before its release. So why was I so affected by the uproar and dare I say, why were my feelings so hurt by strangers’ apathy and ambivalence towards a Black character getting killed?
It’s because I saw myself in her.
As I sat and watched the movie and saw the little girl die, I cried. In fact, I cried like someone that I knew personally died. I cried an ugly, “I just got a whooping” cry. I was hurt. But to read that thousands of kids and yoga moms, across the world saw this character’s death as “less sad because she was Black” made my heart hurt. If this beautiful little girl’s death didn’t invoke emotions, surely no one would care if a little Black boy died. No one would care if a Black mom died. No one would care if a Black father died.
This revelation saddened me but it also disturbed me because it came from the perspective of a generation of people with whom my son would likely interact. It was an unfortunate addition to a list of worries that I would be unable to protect him from: street corners, cops in the South, paint cans and now...teenie boppers.
So I got pissed off.
I was pissed because I thought about the immense stupidity of racism which deems someone as less than human because of a physical attribute. It is truly a phenomenon started by idiots…and assholes. I also started thinking about what keeps racism so engrained in our psyches, and I believe it’s because we don’t talk frankly about it with our racial counterparts. So in effort to do my part on this Earth, I thought I’d give it a shot. This may spark dialogue or it may not. I won’t tag this with a news-worthy title to get internet traffic. These are simply my random thoughts about race, a few statements and a lot of questions. All I hope for is that if you are reading this that it will make you think, reflect, and start a dialogue with someone else.
On the N-Word
Nigga. Nigga. Nigga. Nigga. Nigga. Say it aloud or to yourself. Then hopefully, everyone could put it out of their vocabulary. But I know this won’t happen. Black people say the n-word to refer to anything from Black men to eggs to sandwiches. In my mind, people of all colors get a pass if they are over the age of 90 because they aren't going to change anytime soon. My grandmother will use this word (when describing gang bangers) until she goes to heaven and I have come to accept that. But what I don’t get for the life of me is this: Why do other races feel JUSTIFIED in using it, even if the intent is not malicious?
If I say cracker, honkey, chink, wetback, or any other derogatory term as a Black person, I can’t suspend the obvious negative connotations of those words – even if I am in the presence of other races who are using the words themselves. Other races justify using the n-word since Blacks use it but society has never made these same accommodations for other unsavory words used to identify someone by their ethnicity. But that doesn’t mean that Blacks should use it either. BLACK PEOPLE, BLACK PEOPLE…please set the example for how you want the world to treat you.
Black people and education, jail, teen pregnancies, and welfare
I once worked at a consulting firm where I was the only Black. During staff meetings, we’d begin with general topics of current events. Whenever the topic of gang violence or teen pregnancy came up, the Director would smile and motion towards me. During debates on welfare, I’d get a nod from several coworkers. I wondered during these meetings whether I should volunteer that I don’t know anyone in jail or that I had never seen a drive-by. Should I tell him that my parents made six figures and had paid off their house? Would I lose my street credibility in the office if I informed them I didn’t lose my best friend to crack but instead to malaria when she visited Ghana during a foreign exchange program while attending college?
I decided not to enlighten my coworkers because my hard core ethnic status meant that they didn’t bother me most of the time.
Sometimes the assumptions that are left unsaid are worse than outright prejudice. Many Blacks know nothing about crack cocaine or how to get food stamps. Don’t assume that we all have intimate knowledge of gang warfare or would feel any more comfortable walking into the projects than you would.
The “race card” and "race baiting"
Yes, Black people admit it. There is a race card. OJ and R. Kelly did it. Kobe probably didn’t but Mike Tyson probably did. We need to be more discerning with our claims that the “white man” did it. I personally look with skepticism when Jesse Jackson Sr. appears from out of thin air.
But on the other hand, as we have seen over the events of past few weeks, racism is in fact still alive and well. Hopefully, this has enlightened the viewpoints of Blacks, White, Latinos, and Asians alike. Yet, if Blacks must have a come to Jesus meeting about the race card, then non-Blacks must have the same realization about “race baiting”. Replacing the word “Black” with the terms urban-dwellers, hip-hop community, bbq-lovers, and ethnic supporters of Barack Obama are thinly veiled categorizations of the same community. The act of using racially derisive language in order to incite anger amongst Blacks, while allowing one to hide behind the excuse of “I didn’t say ‘Black’” only belittles the intelligence of African Americans.
Latinos and Asians
As our country becomes more diverse and integrated, I fully understand that topics of race extend beyond the Black/White paradigm. However, for the purpose of this blog, I can only speak from the perspective of an African American which heavily influences the lens from which I view race issues. But what I will say about my ethnic counter parts is that our love for hip-hop, salsa dancing, and Korean barbeque permanently unites us…whether we like it or not. (Yes, I’m joking…partially.)
Blacks and Single Dimensional-ness
Black people, Black people…we can be a hard crowd to please. First we’re mad that Denzel got an Oscar for being a crooked cop. Then we’re mad at Halle for getting an Oscar because she slept with Billie Bob -Thornton. From our self-righteous standards, Jamie and Jennifer deserved their Oscars. But then, it was an affront to Black people that Viola Davis was nominated. Wasn’t it a good thing that her depiction of as an indentured servant was seen as art and not merely as a blasé reflection of who Black women are?
Then we got mad at Oprah and the organizer of the Kony campaign for helping Africans. Why not help Black kids in America, many Blacks yelled. If you are not doing your part to help neither Black Americans nor Black Africans, who are you to complain about what someone else is compelled to do? This is not a judgment, it’s just a question.
The Black President doesn’t help Black people.
Why rally over Trayvon Martin when five people got shot in Chicago last night?
The list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, Blacks around the globe are in no short support supply of socio-economic problems. Oftentimes, our single dimensional view of what the right solution looks like prohibits us from making progress. Somehow we convince ourselves that only Blacks are the ones who are willing, able, and capable of repairing issues that impact other Blacks. That mindset does our community a severe disservice.
Let’s start with dialogue.
Do hoodies make you nervous? Well, white t-shirts make me anxious.
What is it about race that you have always wondered but never said out loud?
As long as you are respectful, your questions, statements, and theories are welcome here.
[Picture courtesy of buzzbox.com]