Tags: Barack Obama, Black Eyed Peas, campaigns, Congress, Democrats, gridlock, health care reform, John Boehner, minority leader, music videos, No you can't, politics, Republicans, Will.I.am, Yes we can
Republished courtesy of The Huffington Post
In every competition, there's a winner and a loser.The open Internet protections being debated by the Federal Communications Commission right now will determine who wins and who loses in the fight over whether big companies or regular people will control the Internet. I want everyday people to win.
In the fight over who will control the Internet, big companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast are hoping they will win a pass on FCC oversight and public interest protection leaving them free to make as much profit as they can even if the service they provide is gated and discriminatory. Some civil rights groups are legitimately concerned that protecting the public from discrimination online -especially the poor and people of color- from the proven abuses of Big Media companies will result in those companies refusing to build out high speed broadband to rural communities and poor urban communities.
Media companies have said as much, claiming that public interest and consumer protections that ensure that the Internet remains an open and true source of innovation, otherwise known as "net neutrality", will cost too much and deprive them of revenue for deployment of broadband to the communities that need it most. Threatening to withhold build-out of this critical national utility in poor communities if there are consumer protections attached is called digital redlining, and it's wrong.It makes sense that the threat of digital redlining has some civil rights groups in the DC beltway concerned. This concern has resulted in some groups like the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), run by David Honig, taking a position against the open Internet protections that would ensure that the Internet remains an un-gated platform for self-representation, innovation, and opportunity.
Openness protections are the Internet's bill of rights. There are no such protections for broadcast or cable and these mediums have become a gated community full of devastating misrepresentation. Openness protections level the playing field on the Internet and ensure that those communities who create and rely on small businesses can use the Internet as a platform for economic mobility and real opportunity. Outside of DC, the civil rights community understands this. The organizations of the Media Action Grassroots Network have met repeatedly with the Federal Communications Commission to share stories from our communities about why a non-discriminatory Internet is a civil right in need of protection.
We told Commissioner Mignon Clyburn about the millions of migrant families who use free sites like Skype -which are threatened by removing open Internet protections- to remain connected with their families abroad. We talked with Commissioner Clyburn and our congressional representatives about how the openness we enjoy now on the Internet enables the constituencies we represent to reach a larger audience. This ability to speak in our own voices and control our user experience on the Internet is as important to communities of color and the poor as broadband deployment and adoption, and is one of the most important communications fights of our lifetime.Commissioner Clyburn has become a champion of Internet openness and has called upon the DC civil rights community to do the same, and some legacy civil rights groups have done so. Unfortunately, MMTC keeps ringing the false alarm that these openness protections will harm our communities. Honig claims to represent the interests of communities of color, and has taken a strong and positive stance on broadband deployment- but in the case of protecting the interests of communities of color online- its time for MMTC to stand with communities of color and the poor, and not with big media.
Tags: astroturf, AT&T, big telecom, Center for Media Justice, Comcast, communities of color, digital divide, digital redlining, Free Press, Garlin Gilchrist II, internet freedom, Joe Torres, Malkia Cyril, minorities, MMTC, national broadband plan, net neutrality, netroots, open internet, people of color, SaveTheInternet.com, Verizon
Afro-Netizen on Friday, March 26, 2010 at 12:55 AM in Business & Entrepreneurship, Community & Consumer Activism, Economy/Finance, Health, Labor/Employment, Public Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: African Americans, Afro-Netizen, Applied Research Center, ARC, Blacks, Chris Rabb, ColorLines, community benefit agreement, community organizing, grassroots, green economy, green equity, green jobs, Latinos, navajo, Racewire, SCOPE
By Don Terry
Ebony magazine, the African-American monthly, has been a beloved institution in black America for more than sixty years. These days the love is still there, but the luster has faded. One of the few African-American-owned magazines in the country, Ebony is like a once-beautiful, stylish elderly relative, desperately searching for the fountain of youth. Born November 1, 1945, Ebony showed off her glamour and vitality for decades. But she is tired now, debt-ridden and seriously ill, her once crystalline voice a raspy whisper. The black celebrities who once courted her now have other media suitors, thanks in no small part to the trail Ebony blazed. Too many readers and advertisers have followed them.
Some say her condition is critical and that she could soon die without an infusion of new ideas and the cash to back them up. Others say—sadly, always sadly—that it is too late. Those who love her should say their farewells.
Nonsense, says the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson. He can never say goodbye. “It will not shut down,’’ he vows. “Its form might change. But that tree will not fall. We will not let it fall. It’s beyond my imagination.’’
“It’s unique to us emotionally,’’ he continues. “Everything the white culture said we couldn’t do, Ebony said we could do and do it better. You’d have Frank Sinatra. Then Ebony would display four pictures of Nat King Cole. You had an all-white basketball league. We had the Globetrotters. We could play basketball and entertain at the same time.’’
Back in the day, Ebony was the best way to keep up with the latest happenings in black America. The African-American elite—the movie stars, the singers, the ball players, the politicians, the preachers, the scholars—were all part of her flock. They were eager to talk to her about their trials and triumphs and then, if they were lucky, grace her cover for the whole nation to see. They weren’t appreciated—celebrated—anywhere else this way. To white magazines, they were invisible. Ebony, they knew, would treat them with R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
She was good company. She was entertaining and informative while you waited at the dentist’s office or beauty shop. Each year she listed the most eligible black bachelors and bachelorettes in the country. If they got together, she had useful advice about marriage and décor. She was a role model, a mirror for the middle-class that reflected only dreams come true. On coffee tables across black America, Bibles and issues of Ebony lay side by side. After all, they had the same message: look here for the promise of paradise.
Lots of people made fun of her, though, especially when the 1960s rolled around and black patience with white racism had worn thin. Her critics said Ebony was too moderate and soft for such momentous times. They called her bourgeois and said her head was filled with fluff. There was some truth in their harsh words. There still is.
But don’t let the glamour fool you. Ebony has a tough side, too. She didn’t always wear flouncy ruffles and Yves St. Laurent shoes. When she had to, she’d pull on a pair of sturdy boots and hit the freedom trail, singing “We Shall Overcome.’’ During the civil rights movement, Ebony and its petite sister publication Jet, the pocket-sized weekly, marched along every step of the way. Moneta Sleet Jr., the first black man to win a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography, worked for Ebony. He won the award for a photograph of Martin Luther King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, at the slain civil rights leader’s funeral in 1968.
For African Americans trapped in the segregated South, Ebony was a lifeline to the outside world. She was the chronicler of African-American firsts, source book of black pride and confidence. Growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, in the ’40s and ’50s, Jesse Jackson remembers how the magazine helped turn a dreamy black boy into the globetrotting man who twice ran for president in the 1980s, helping clear the path for Barack Obama’s history-shattering march to the White House twenty years later.
Jackson says his family had issues of Ebony “stacked up like furniture.’’ Many of his teachers, he says, “used Ebony to teach black history. Black history wasn’t in our textbooks.’’
In the 1960s, when the latest issue arrived in the Arizona mailbox of Dr. Clarence Laing and his wife, Laura, their young daughters, Mavis and Mercedes, would risk ripping the pages in their tug of war to see who would get to read it first. “There were just so few other black people in Phoenix in those days,’’ Mavis Laing says. “Ebony was the only way we learned what was happening with African Americans.’’
But now Ebony needs money, not memories. Word is she owes her printer millions. According to media reports, there’s a lien on her famous eleven-story headquarters in Chicago, overlooking Grant Park. The same park where some 200,000 people gathered to celebrate the realization of an Ebony reader’s wildest dreams: the election of a black president.
Last year, Linda Johnson-Rice, chairman and CEO of the company and the daughter of Ebony’s founder, John H. Johnson, was reportedly seeking a buyer—or a partner with deep pockets—to keep the magazine alive. (As this issue went to press, Bloomberg reported that NBA legend Magic Johnson was interested in buying the company.) Johnson-Rice declined to comment for this article. These are tough times for her company, the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC), and her family. Her mother, Eunice, who came up with the name Ebony, died in January at age ninety-three. Her father died in 2005. In a prepared statement, Wendy E. Parks, a company spokeswoman, said that the privately held JPC does not disclose in-depth financial information. “However,” she said, “I assure you that, like any conservatively managed business, we are continuing to make strategic decisions we believe are prudent to help us weather the current economy.”
The malady afflicting Ebony is an industry-wide epidemic: not enough advertising; not enough readers. “Ebony’s readership is dying off and it’s not being replaced,’’ says Charles Whitaker, the Helen Gurley Brown Research Chair in Magazine Journalism at the Medill School at Northwestern University and a former editor at Ebony. “I don’t see how they are going to make it. Ebony really has a tough road ahead.’’
According to Whitaker, Ebony’s circulation is around one million, and dropping fast. In the early 1990s, the circulation was about 1.8 million, he says. Although it has a Web site, EbonyJet.com, Whitaker says it has not done nearly enough with it to capture the young black audience. Like everyone else, these readers have many options in today’s fragmented, Internet-driven media market, including the black-oriented, Time Warner-owned Essence magazine, Ebony’s most direct competitor.
Richard Prince, author of the online column Journal-isms, says Ebony blew a perfect opportunity to make a new-media splash. It was Ebony that was given the first interview with President-elect Barack Obama. But instead of putting the interview on its Web site immediately, Ebony waited to publish it weeks later in the magazine, apparently concerned about hurting newsstand sales. In the meantime, the new president had sat down with 60 Minutes, which quickly put its interview on the air. “The whole effect of Ebony having the first interview was lost,’’ Prince says. “They’re so afraid of undermining the print product that they’re falling behind.’’
Yet in January, when the earth shook so violently beneath Haiti that Port-Au-Prince was reduced to rubble, Ebony’s director of photography, Dudley Brooks, traveled to the devastated island, blogging and shooting pictures for EbonyJet.com:
It was close to an hour-long drive to Titayen, a village on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, where small convoys of dump trucks deposited the bodies of quake victims. I had heard stories that, earlier in the week, hundreds had been deposited there—amidst the garbage and debris. They were spread on the very field where Papa Doc Duvalier deposited the remains of his enemies years ago . Mass graves are easy to find—you follow the smell. It’s an acrid, powerful, disturbing smell that, depending on the wind, can drift for miles. It stays in your nose hairs and saturates your clothes.
Powerful, timely, important stuff. That’s not all. In the last few months Ebony and Jet have undergone attractive face lifts, with new features and a sleek new look. But is it too little, too late? Whitaker, the Medill professor, thinks it is. Three years ago, Whitaker turned the plight of his old employer into a class project for his graduate students. The assignment was how to save and rebrand Ebony for the twenty-first century. Company officials allowed the students access to some of Ebony’s financial records, after requiring the class and the professor to sign a confidentiality agreement, Whitaker says. When the project was over, Whitaker says, he was “stunned’’ at how poorly Ebony was doing. “The bleeding we saw three years ago is hemorrhaging now,’’ he says. “There’s no way to stanch that.’’
Whitaker hopes he is wrong. He spent a total of ten years as an editor at Ebony between 1985 and 2002. “I became a journalist because I wanted to work for Ebony,’’ he says. “It will be tough to see it go. It’s an institution. But sometimes institutions become obsolete. If Ebony goes away, maybe it will allow someone else some room. Maybe it will give someone else incentive to replace it.’’
The founder of Ebony, the late John H. Johnson, borrowed $500 to start his first magazine, Negro Digest, in 1942, putting up his mother’s furniture as collateral. He created Ebony weeks after World War II ended, and a few years after that he launched Jet. For decades, these two periodicals have been the heart and soul of his now troubled media empire.
To be sure, Johnson created the magazines to make money. That he did in abundance. His publications “formed powerful prototypes for success in black media’’ and “set the standard for black business in America,’’ writes Boyce Watkins, a finance professor at Syracuse University. But Johnson also wanted to do more than that. He wanted to change hearts and minds. Johnson wanted to show people on both sides of the color line a simple truth: black is beautiful, too.
At a time when people of color almost never made it into the pages, let alone onto the covers, of Life or Look or scores of other “mainstream’’—read white—publications, Johnson sought to make African Americans and their accomplishments visible to the whole world. As Julieanna L. Richardson, an African-American archivist, puts it, “Ebony was a positive machine. It gave you a sense of self-worth.’’
“That need still exists,’’ she adds. “We’re still bombarded with negative images. It affects the soul of our community. It affects the world’s perception of us.’’
If Ebony belongs to the past, then Chris Rabb and Cheryl Contee belong to the future. They are among the frontiersmen and women of the increasingly expanding black blogosphere. Rabb, forty, is the founder and “chief evangelist’’ of the blog Afro-Netizen. He started the site of political and cultural commentary in 1999 as an e-mail newsletter. Within eighteen months, he says, he had 10,000 subscribers. “It filled a gap,’’ Rabb says. “Everywhere I’d go and there were more than a dozen black folks, someone would say, ‘Rabb, are you the Afro-Netizen guy?’’’
He is also the great-great-grandson of John Henry Murphy Sr., who founded the Baltimore Afro American newspaper in 1892. Rabb was on the board of the Afro American for ten years but resigned in 2007 partly because he felt the paper “wasn’t moving fast enough to integrate technology into the business model.’’
“Many of our institutions have fought technology because they thought it would run us out of business,’’ he says. “Ebony was one of the strongest household brands in black America for decades. It could have been a leader in social media. But family-owned businesses tend to be the most conservative businesses. No one wants to change a winning formula—until it’s too late.’’
Cheryl Contee, thirty-eight, is the founder of the blog Jack & Jill Politics: A black bourgeoisie perspective on U.S. politics. She grew up with Ebony and Jet, but has a hard time remembering the last time she’s read an issue. Ebony, she says, has not updated its style or its use of the Web sufficiently to fit modern African Americans. “I think they’re trying to catch up,’’ she says. “The question is whether they have time.’’
Contee believes that while race still matters, it does not matter nearly as much as it did even a few years ago. “My experience in America is very different than the lives of my parents and grandparents,’’ she says. “If it weren’t for the increasing assimilation of African Americans into society, then there wouldn’t be a black president. I don’t know if Ebony and Jet necessarily acknowledge that reality.’’
Yet she says she started Jack and Jill Politics in 2006 because when she surveyed the Internet she did not “find the voice of the African-American middle class being respected and honored in any significant way.’’
Of course, that’s the same reason John H. Johnson started Ebony in the 1940s.
Veteran journalist Sylvester Monroe thought he had found his dream job when he joined Ebony as a senior editor in 2006. He had been a journalist for thirty-seven years, twenty-seven of them at Time and Newsweek. Monroe was lured to the magazine by the publisher’s promise that Ebony was going to be different. It was going to make a splash on the Internet and improve the writing in its print publications. “I was told we were going to bring Ebony into the twenty-first century,’’ he says, “that we were going to make it more relevant, give it some edge, bring it back to its old position as a relevant and important publication.’’
Monroe had visions of a combination of Ebony, Vanity Fair, and Emerge, the formerly hard-hitting but now defunct black monthly that once put an image of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on the cover made up to look like a lawn jockey. “It could have been the best job I ever had,” Monroe says. “But almost as soon as I got there, things went south.’’
Advertising revenues plummeted across the industry, and Ebony put its grand ambitions on the back burner. Monroe hung on for as long as he could, thinking once the economy turned around the job of remaking Ebony would resume.
One day in 2007, more than a dozen members of Ebony’s editorial staff were seated around a gleaming table in the eighth-floor conference room, debating who should be included in the list of the twenty-five “coolest’’ black men of all time. Monroe, who is in his late fifties, and others nominated such notables as Muhammad Ali, Denzel Washington, and Billy Dee Williams. The twenty- and thirty-something staffers rolled their eyes. “Can’t we have someone under fifty?’’ they pleaded.
Monroe says there was a generational tension between old and new over Ebony’s future both inside and outside of the magazine. “Linda Johnson-Rice,’’ he says, “was always very concerned about walking the fine line between bringing in new readers and not alienating its traditional base.’’
Monroe quit last year, “frustrated out of my mind’’ over a lack of money for writers and a coherent editorial direction. If Ebony gives up as well, Monroe says, “My generation will be saddened and will miss it. People under fifty probably won’t miss it at all. They feel Ebony has served its purpose.’’
Perhaps, but many of the issues of race and discrimination that Ebony has addressed in the last six decades still exist, from soaring African-American unemployment rates to a widening wealth chasm between blacks and whites. Although there are younger, Internet-savvy voices emerging to carry on the fight, these newcomers have not yet passed the test of time. It would be a wasteful shame to lose Ebony’s experience and hard-earned authority. “There is a role for Ebony still to play, beyond sentimental, particularly in the age of Obama,’’ Monroe says. “I think there is a dangerously erroneous perception that now that Obama has reached the mountaintop, issues of race are no longer important. Whether it is health care, education, or housing, there are still huge gaps and a lot of work to do. To look at these problems from an African-American perspective is more important than ever.’’
Every month, Johnson Publishing Company puts the covers of its magazines in the huge window of its lobby, a little old-school advertising. The other evening, as darkness fell over Chicago and a cold wind blew down South Michigan Avenue, I stood in front of JPC’s building, peering through the window at four large photographs positioned there to face the street. One was a recent cover of Jet, featuring a smiling Michelle Obama. “Her Power of Influence,’’ the headline read. Next to her was the February Ebony cover promising, among other features, “Love Stories Revealed: How 8 Couples Keep It Going,’’ and “Demystifying Islam.’’
A few inches from the giant reproductions was a similar-sized photograph of John H. Johnson, the man who started it all. His photograph was placed in the window after he died. Now a portrait of his wife, Eunice, has been added.
I paid my respects to the Johnson parents but realized I’m not ready to say goodbye to their dream. I’m pulling hard for Ebony, the dowager, to find that fountain of youth. Not tomorrow, but today. I hear everything anyone could ever need or want can be found on the Internet.
Tags: Afro-Netizen, Black media, Black newspapers, bloggers, blogging, Chris Rabb, digital literacy, Ebony, fourth estate, Johnson Publishing, journalism, netroots, new media, social media, The Jet, web 2.0
The hateful acts that occurred at the tea party rally in Washington this weekend were not isolated incidents -- they are part of a growing pattern of violent rhetoric, racially charged imagery, and paranoid conspiracy theories emerging from the Republican party's grassroots supporters.
Republicans officials have contributed to this atmosphere with fear-mongering and coded racism, and they have actively courted this element of their party. It's time that Republican leadership is forced to address what it's helped to create.
Please join us in confronting Republican leaders and demanding that they take responsibility for tamping down the bigotry and hate among their supporters, and that they disavow the fear-mongering that leads to it. And please ask your friends and family to do the same -- unless we take a strong stand against this kind of hate, it will continue. We need as many people as possible -- of every race -- demanding that it stop.
- Unequivocally condemn bigotry and hate among your supporters, and make clear that those who embrace it have no place in your party and that you reject their support.
- Make clear that you will not tolerate fear-mongering and coded appeals to racism from officials in the Republican party, at any level.
James Rucker on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 05:44 PM in Commentary/Opinion, Community & Consumer Activism, Crime & Punishment, Elections/Campaigns/Voting, Politics, Race, Culture & History, Television | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: Action, Bigotry, Color of Change, ColorOfChange, ColorOfChange.org, Homophobia, Petition, Racism, Racist Slurs, Republican Party, Threats, Violence
Republished courtesy of YES! MagazineIn the struggle for racial justice, it’s time to pay more attention to the fears of white people.
Aren’t We Special?
For conservative white people, the dominant fear is of someday living without the privilege that comes with whiteness. Polite conservatives defend the primacy of “Western civilization.” More reactionary whites are openly racist about the threat that non-white peoples pose to “our way of life.” Both versions defend the existing distribution of wealth and power, even though many of the working-class and poor whites who endorse such views have access to precious little wealth or power. Race is used by white elites today, just as it was in the nation’s formative years, to drive a wedge between people who would otherwise come together to challenge those elites. Divide-and-conquer strategies, it seems, never go out of style.Liberals are quick to denounce both the thinly veiled and the openly reactionary conservative racism. But what of the fears of liberals? White liberals might reject the very idea that they are afraid, citing their support for diversity and multiculturalism. But my experience suggests that while white liberals reject assertions of white supremacy, many fear the loss of white centrality. They are willing to renounce the idea that white people are superior, as long as they are allowed to live comfortably in a world where white is the norm.
This analysis of the dynamics of mixed-race settings is hardly original. Non-white people have long recognized that white liberals are happy to engage with folks who aren’t white as long as their white-centric worldview isn’t threatened, and that white groups are happy to have non-white members as long as the power dynamics don’t change.I observe all this not from some arrogant high ground, but as someone stuck in the same dynamic, struggling to get out. I know that for all my writing and political work on racial justice, I still feel most comfortable in settings where my understanding of the world defines the interaction, no matter the racial composition of the group. Rather than pretend otherwise, I start with that reality and search for ways to move forward.
I have a choice: I can rest comfortably in the privileges that come with being white, or I can struggle to be fully human.
A first step for me has been to question the value of the seemingly endless “race dialogues” that are popular in white liberal groups. In the pseudo- therapeutic setting of such dialogues, with more talk about personal healing than about political change, white people are guaranteed that we won’t be forced out of a white-defined world. White-dominated institutions—corporations, nonprofits, universities, government agencies—are happy to sponsor such dialogues, diversity trainings, and multicultural events, precisely because they don’t threaten the fundamental distribution of wealth and power.
White-dominated institutions . . . are happy to sponsor such dialogues, diversity trainings, and multicultural events, precisely because they don’t threaten the fundamental distribution of wealth and power.
I have been involved in many of those events myself, as a facilitator or a participant, and I have learned from them (typically as much from my failures as successes). The most important lesson I take away is that race dialogues are not enough. As long as we stay confined in a safe world that doesn’t challenge power, we guarantee failure—if our goal really is to change the distribution of that power.
There’s no easy recipe for this kind of challenge, but we move in the right direction when we seek out places where we don’t feel comfortable, looking for relationships in which we can help change the dynamic. For me, that means putting myself in situations where I have to face my fear of being seen—or, more accurately, being seen-through—by non-white people. What if I step into those uncomfortable spaces and non-white people see the ways in which I hang onto some sense of my own supremacy/centrality? What if they see the ways in which I haven’t shaken off my racist cultural training?
Tags: conservatives, inequality, liberals, privilege, race, race relations, racial discrimination, racial justice, racial politics, Racism, white supremacy, white-skin privilege, whiteness
By Imani Perry
Back in the ‘80s, for the young Black and college educated, the doors of corporate America and other professions opened up and broadened the spectrum of the Black middle class like never before. But also, back in the ‘80s, crack cocaine and the aftermath of deindustrialization crippled areas of concentrated blackness in major urban centers.Now in the 21st century, a new Black elite floods the popular imagination as Capitol Hill, the president and his administration become more and more colorful. But also now, in the 21st century, the recession hits Black communities hardest, and at the intersection of devastating rates of imprisonment, joblessness, and inadequate education lie a critical, hurting, mass of Black Americans.
The film tells an individual story, a poignant one, about an abused young woman in Harlem in the 1980s. If we attend to the individual story, fictional though it may be, our hearts go out to Precious. We see in her story personal resilience, possibility, healing. Those are good things.
The film tells a collective story. The story it tells is about the devastation that the 80s wrought on Black communities, and the failure of the public school system to provide a path out for “the underclass.”
In both the collective story and the individual story, there is truth. There is a real Precious out there. The story is fictional, but it is human. The problem is that fictional stories, especially ones on film, don’t just stand as individual stories, but they do “representative work.” They become part of the way we make sense of the world in which we live. The story of one novelist or filmmaker’s imagination becomes the story of entire groups of people or “types” of people. This is especially true when the kind of social location depicted in the story is remote from the experience of the majority of the viewers.
We . . . yearn for the stories of those who sustain humanity and decency in the face of devastating poverty and marginalization . . . for those stories . . . are, after all, far more representative of Black life than the wreck that is Precious’ life.
On the one hand, many of us who are familiar with the way the story of Black America in the 80s was told, and the way the story of the rise of imprisonment in contemporary Black America is being told, are frustrated with the spectacle of Black violence, deviance, and dysfunction that appears over and over again. We are tired of this story of pathology that we see yet again in Precious. Instead we want a story that reveals the laws and policies and economic conditions that produce concentrated poverty and its violence. We also yearn for the stories of those who sustain humanity and decency in the face of devastating poverty and marginalization. We would prefer for those stories to be told because they are, after all, far more representative of Black life than the wreck that is Precious’ life.
And so, we balk at a film like Precious, rhetorically asking: Doesn’t it just recycle those old images of Black pathology? And isn’t it reviving those stories just when we are beginning to suffer so much again, just when we don’t need a convenient explanation of “they are pathological” to facilitate the nation turning its back on the responsibility to provide conditions for all citizens to lead productive lives as participants in the democracy and economy?
[S]ome of us want to embrace a film like Precious because it highlights a kind of suffering that our society fails to respond to.
On the other hand, some of us want to embrace a film like Precious because it highlights a kind of suffering that our society fails to respond to. Children who are poor and of color, are inadequately protected in our society. They are more vulnerable to predators, more likely to be victimized on the street and in school, and less likely to have families that are able to marshal resources to deal with trauma, mental illness, and addiction. At the same time, poor, emotionally scarred parents who become abusers have virtually no resources to repair themselves. So when we see a movie like Precious, we applaud it for encouraging sympathy and investment in young women like Precious. We think “yes, the reality of her life deserves to be depicted, maybe it will inspire action.”
The film does both kinds of work on the audience at once. Strange indeed.Earlier, I referred to how the film reveals the challenge of this moment. The challenge is this: When it comes to race: critically thinking members of this society have to consider the implications of symbolism (like the Black president, or the Oscar worthy dysfunctional sexual abusing welfare mother played by Mo'nique) at the same time as we consider the messy, complicated, content of our society, without assuming that these things have a clear or consistent relationship to each other.
Additionally, the film demands that we bring more to the table than just an analysis of its as a piece of art. If the film stands alone, it gets deployed and interpreted every which way. But if we use the film to open the door to conversations about society, ones that are filled with knowledge, data, and careful analysis, rather than mere anecdote and fiction, then it can do some useful work in our social and political lives. Perhaps it can inspire solutions to problems of representation and policy challenges.
President Obama is on our televisions, and a young Black man is selling drugs on a corner near my home in Philadelphia. Precious is on our movie screen, and my classes are filled with brilliant young Black women pursuing degrees at a world class university. These are realities. But what relationships do these individuals have to each other and to the society at large, and how do those relationships reveal the resilience of inequality or the promise of democracy?
Asking and answering these sorts of questions is key for understanding race in the 21st century United States.
Imani Perry is a professor at Princeton University and regular contributor to Afro-Netizen. She is an interdisciplinary scholar who studies race and African American culture using the tools provided by various disciplines including: law, literary and cultural studies, music, and the social sciences.
Afro-Netizen on Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 11:30 AM in Arts & Entertainment, Commentary/Opinion, Family, Film, Gender, Parenting, Public Policy, Race, Culture & History, Youth/Children | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: African Americans, Afro-Netizen, crack cocaine, deindustrialization, drugs, Gabourey Sidibe, Hollywood, Imani Perry, imprisonment, joblessness, Mo'nique, Oscars, poverty, Precious, racism, Reagonomics, structural inequality, underclass
NBC and Comcast execs reveal their major diversity problems during a Feb. 25 House investigation on Comcast's proposed takeover of NBC.
What do you think?
Afro-Netizen on Thursday, March 04, 2010 at 12:04 AM in Arts & Entertainment, Business & Entrepreneurship, Economy/Finance, Entertainment/Sports, Media Reform, Media/Technology, Race, Culture & History, Television | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: Comcast, Comcast/NBC merger, Congress, Maxine Waters, media consolidation, media democracy, media diversity, media justice, media reform, Sheila Jackson Lee
On March 4th, as the University of California San Diego continues to roil with the fallout from the so-called Compton Cookout, thousands of students and faculty will participate in statewide protests against a draconian budget that has cut a bloody swath into California’s public universities. UC and Cal State student activists across the state are calling for an end to the “privatization” of public higher education.
Activists charge that university officials are increasingly siphoning funding for instruction to research and development through byzantine private investment schemes. In addition, there is a growing trend to give preference to out-of-state students who pay higher admission fees. The majority of these students are not from historically underrepresented African American and Latino communities.
This strategy essentially reduces spots for working class students of color who are far more likely to rely on financial aid. While UC chancellor Mark Yudoff recently boasted of an $800,000 salary and perks to star faculty, “grunt” faculty and staff were laid off or forced to take furlough days, classes were canceled, program funding was curtailed and a draconian 32% tuition hike was proposed. Yudoff’s king’s ransom was garnered on the backs of California students of color who will be denied access to a system that is nationally regarded as the “Rolls Royce” of public higher education.
For those experienced with the business of white supremacist higher education politics, the UCSD administration’s pro forma soul searching, public denunciations and earnest pledges to discipline the “Cookout” offenders are all tiresomely familiar. In 2005, a Black female student at the private California Institute of the Arts found vulgar anti-Black epithets scrawled in her dorm room and degrading anti-Black graffiti had been written on an artwork in the Institute’s gallery.
In response to the incidents, the campuses’ Black Student Union organized protests and meetings with the administration which yielded few commitments to long term change. The school’s miniscule Black and Latino population was imperiled by scant financial aid, invisibility in the Eurocentric curriculum and the paucity of faculty mentors of color.
White faculty fiercely defended their liberal/progressive credentials with showy claims of multiculti “down-ness.” The college president publicly invoked his appreciation for Martin Luther King and deplored the hate crime as an isolated incident. When I was hired in 2006 to teach Cal Arts’ first Women of Color in the U.S. course, the campus was still festering with resentment and racial unrest. Pushing for campus climate change in a group of faculty and student advocates, I presented at endless meetings in which the administration stonewalled on redressing institutional bias through professional development training. The perpetrators had been given a slap on the wrist and it was business as usual in the “liberal” “inclusive” world of arts education that privileged the canon of the white avant garde.
During an interview on CNN, UCSD Ethnic Studies professor Sara Clark Kaplan outlined the crux of the problem with scapegoating individuals in the midst of a systemic crisis. It’s simply not acceptable to blame the university’s egregious disregard for the needs of students of color on the bigoted acts of ignorant white or “minority” students. UCSD’s gross under-representation of Black students reflects the UC system’s institutional neglect of recruitment and outreach to African American high schools. The devastating impact of Proposition 209 (which prohibited California public universities from using affirmative action admissions criteria) has been a convenient smokescreen for maintaining segregation in the UC system.
When I taught at UCLA in 2001 at the Graduate School of Education I had only one African American student in my course on culturally relevant pedagogy. Black students had gone from having a vibrantly visible presence during my stint as a student there during the late 80s and early 90s to barely registering. In some instances it was more difficult for accomplished African American seniors from highly regarded predominantly Black Los Angeles high schools like King-Drew Medical Magnet to get into UCLA than Ivy League colleges.
At slightly more than 1%, UCSD’s Black student enrollment is yet another indictment of the UC’s disgraceful wholesale complicity with the spirit of 209. As part of its demands to administration, UCSD’s Black Student Union has called on the university to step up its recruitment and retention efforts for underrepresented students. They have also pressed for more recruitment of diverse faculty and granting of tenure to faculty of color.Recruitment, retention and tenure are important goals. Yet the deeper question of the lack of cultural responsiveness of the faculty and administration is a thornier issue. The ghettoization of ethnic studies and other so-called “minority-oriented” interdisciplinary departments contributes to a segregation of cultural knowledge in which the historical foundations of racial apartheid are obscured. Racism is viewed as a series of misguided individual acts rather than as an integral part of American national identity, power and authority. At core, the UCSD events are merely another manifestation of the post-racial fallacy that plays out every day in California’s first world apartheid classrooms.
Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of blackfemlens.org and the author of the forthcoming Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and Secular America.
Afro-Netizen on Wednesday, March 03, 2010 at 01:57 PM in Commentary/Opinion, Community & Consumer Activism, Crime & Punishment, Current Affairs, Education, Race, Culture & History | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: African Americans, bigotry, campus politics, multiculturalism, racism, students of color, UCSD, universities