Stirring the Mind into Thought

For Oscar Grant and every injustice done to black people…

What is the value of a black life

Is it only worth trouble and strife

Tell me America, when did you care

For a black mother who had to shed a tear

Did you care when we were in slavery

Or had black VIPs, no that was only for money

Did you care when you lynched a black father

And then right after that turn on the mother

Did you care about the bombings of Move

And Black Wall Street, or too busy in the groove

Did you care that it took decades to prosecute

All the civil rights murders on which you were mute

Did you care about men, women and even children

Who are treated as if they are guilty before innocent

Did you care that police are not charged with murder

From Amadou to Aiyanna to Sean to Oscar

Did you care that it’s taking centuries and more

To settle all of this and even the score

See, I fear for my future son, for him

That he may be another victim of this system

That continuously smacks us in the face

And tries to erase any obvious trace

Of their guilt, and then turn around to me

And say why am I so mad or why so angry?

I value my life and I have no choice but to care

But obviously mine is too much for you to bear.

July 9th, 2010 at 10:24 AM and tagged , , , , ,  | Comments Off on The Value of a Black Life | Permalink


All of Tyler Perry’s films.

Avatar (ok Avatar is not really a black film, but all of the non-white main actors were the Navi’s in the film).

What do these films have in common? They have received in general both commercial and critical praise.

What else do they have in common? They fit the formulaic and stereotypical formats of mainstream film and use of stock characters to draw audiences in. Also, they prove the lack of promotion for more diversity in Black (and other people of color) film.

Now, I am not saying that these movies should not have been made or that they should not be seen. All of these movies do have good elements to them. However, just as any other art, these works need to be watched with a conscious mind and parts of it should be criticized. No one watches anything with a blank mind and no one should have to either.

Also, when I talk about diversity, I do not mean only more positive images in contrast to negative images, but also less of the stereotypical images that Hollywood and audiences expect (there tends to be set ways in which both positive and negative images are shown, including ones involving race). It is more about thinking outside the box and breaking down limitations and expectations because that is the only way the world ever changes.

When Spike Lee said that Tyler Perry’s movies were “buffonery and coonery,” to a certain extent, I did agree with him. This is all of what he said:

“Each artist should be allowed to pursue their artistic endeavors but I still think there is a lot of stuff out today that is “coonery” and buffoonery. I know it’s making a lot of money and breaking records, but we can do better. … I am a huge basketball fan, and when I watch the games on TNT, I see these two ads for these two shows (Tyler Perry’s “Meet the Browns” and “House of Payne”) and I am scratching my head. … We got a Black president and we going back to Mantan Moreland and Sleep ‘n’ Eat?

We’ve had this discussion back and forth. When John Singleton [made “Boyz in the Hood”], people came out to see it. But when he did “Rosewood,” nobody showed up. So a lot of this is on us! You vote with your pocketbook, your wallet. You vote with your time sitting in front of the idiot box, and [Tyler Perry] has a huge audience. We shouldn’t think that Tyler Perry is going to make the same film that I am going to make, or that John Singleton or my cousin Malcolm Lee [would make]. As African Americans, we’re not one monolithic group so there is room for all of that. But at the same time, for me, the imaging is troubling and it harkens back to “Amos n’ Andy.””

He did make a point. The first time I saw Diary of Mad Black Woman, I actually loved the film, but, by the time I saw the shows, House of Payne and Meet the Browns, and the movie, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, I was tired of Tyler Perry and his films and shows. I felt as if I was being inundated with the same stock mammy and “Amos n Andy” character types and similar patriarchal stories of having “a knight in shining armor,” or “the perfect man” rescuing you. I just got bored.

Then Tyler Perry decided to try something different with producing Precious and once again I was not very interested. Yes, I could tell that it would be a moving and powerful story and that it needed to be told. But I feel like I have heard and saw that story already. Oh, look at the tragic lives of black people living in the ghetto! Some people even called it “poverty porn” (just look at all the hood movies produced that are very popular, even though there are some I like). As one of my former professors, Bridgett Davis, said “She’s a type. Rather than make her real, i.e., flawed, Sapphire made her someone who can elicit from us only two emotions on the same continuum –sympathy and pity.” Another stock character that lacks the sense of humanity that makes them relatable and feel authentic (though it tries), like some of Tyler Perry’s characters.

One of my favorite poets, Bassey Ikpi, also felt that the film only made the audience feel happy that you were not her, but did not give you any direction on where to go from there. It just dumps all this on you and leaves you hanging. Then the, as Professor Davis said, it gives you this easy “fairtytale redemption” (very typical) and audiences are surprised that a girl who looks like that can be lovable (even though some still made fun of the way she looked in the theatre). Everything always ends okay and fixed easily with a bow. Wrong!

Another problem I had with the film not showing the face of the father who was raping Precious and having the rape scene quickly inserted and pulled out (no pun intended) with no follow-up. That one scene felt unnecessary and failed to put a human face to the father, instead of just showing him as some monster type. Moreover, the inconsistency of Precious fantasies in which she dreams of her actual self in a Hollywood-type fashion versus the scene in which she sees a white woman in the mirror. Not only those, but also the failure to elaborate how Precious’ child, named Mongol, ended up light-skin if her father is Precious’ father and the failure to elaborate on the institutional failures of schools and social services (how, unfortunately, in reality someone like Precious would be an exception).

Even the people who “rescue” Precious are just as much as stock characters (when Ms. Rain tells Precious to write, it felt like a Freedom Writers moment). The extreme colorism in the film is obvious; I do not think it a coincidence the Paula Patton, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz (all light-skinned black people) are the main heroes of the film, while Gabourey Sidibe, Monique and her father in the movie are dark-skinned, helpless and dysfunctional. In the original book, Push, Ms. Rain (who is played by Paula Patton) was actually darker-skinned with dredlocks (she would look more like me). Just listen to what the director Lee Daniels said about his prejudice of dark-skinned blacks: “‘Precious’ is so not P.C. What I learned from doing the film is that even though I am black, I’m prejudiced. I’m prejudiced against people who are darker than me. When I was young, I went to a church where the lighter-skinned you were, the closer you sat to the altar. Anybody that’s heavy like Precious — I thought they were dirty and not very smart. Making this movie changed my heart. I’ll never look at a fat girl walking down the street the same way again.” This tells me that he put some of that bias into his film.

The colorism in Precious reminds me of Avatar. Why? Well, the “White Hero” motif that is often widely promoted. I can list a lot of films that fall into the category; in fact I’ll do that now:

Blackboard Jungle, Dances with Wolves, Pochahantas, The Last Samurai, Enemy Mine, Dune, Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds, Blindside, Invictus, Radio, Fern Gully, The last of the Mohicans, Mississippi Burning, The King of Scotland and the list goes on…..

These consist of three story types: White guy falls in love with a non-white (or alien) princess, White guy leads a group of non-white people (or magical or alien species *hint*) to fight against his own people and help non-white people protect their culture, or White teacher or coach goes into an inner-city school to help minority kids become successful…

But I cannot help but think if this can be told differently – non-white person goes into a white suburb and leads them into a new direction and no I am not talking about the “magic negro” in which he rescues the entire world or it is not a specific group (often Will Smith). Maybe, telling a story like Avatar from the point of view of the Navi’s and someone like Sully stands on the sideline. A non-white person rescuing the aliens or magical creatures. A non-white teacher or coach coming to the aid of white kids or minority kids.

In fact the last one has been done often with less promotion: Full Court Miracle, Coach Carter, Remember the Titans, Antwone Fisher, Akeelah and the Bee, The Great Debaters, Stand and Deliver, Lean On Me, The Marva Collins Story, Hotel Rwanda, Catch a Fire and much more. However, those do not get the same recognition as movies like Avatar and Blindside.

Some people may think that I am over-analyzing and seeing things, and might not believe me. But if they do not, I will give them another example. Recently, Danny Glover started creating a movie about the Haitian revolutionary, Toussaint Louverture, and when he tried to get funding for the film, he was asked if it was a black film and “where are the white heroes?” However, with a movie like this it is almost impossible to have a white hero, still they wanted one because the producers believed it would be more marketable. If that does not convince you, I do not know what will.

I am not saying that I do not want movies with the stereotypical characters to be created because I know they exist and I am not saying that I do not want movies with white heroes because I know that they exist, too (for example, Blindside is based on a true story). What I am saying is that the over-promotion of these stereotypical characters and reoccurring themes reinforce certain ideas, creates limitations, causes us to bypass some great films, causes us not to see the complexity of humanity and lets us ignore a portion of the humans that exist in the world because they do not fit into an expected box. Please open your mind!

Lee Daniels Quote from here:

Bridgett Davis article:

American Dream, Asian Hero post on Avatar:

Articles on Danny Glover’s Toussaint Louverture Movie:

January 14th, 2010 at 9:16 PM and tagged , , , , , , , , ,  | Comments Off on Spike Lee and Others Do Have a Point About Black Film | Permalink

Remember Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark case in which schools were supposed to be desegregated because “separate does not mean equal.” Another reason the case is so memorable is the famous doll test by Dr. Kenneth B. Clark in which most of the black children chose the white doll over the black doll, gave good attributes to the white doll (good, smart, pretty), gave bad attributes to the black doll (bad, dumb, ugly) and in the end stated how they looked like the black doll, implying that the held all the attributes of the black doll that they just said. It has been 55 years since that case and what has come of it? Most school are still not integrated and the doll test has been redone numerous times over the years with basically the same results.

What does this prove? Yes schools are the gravy of the situation, but it did not solve the meat of the problem, which is self-esteem issues and images of black people within our society. I have a few theories on why education for black people is not very encouraging. First, neither segregation nor integration in school works because black people still feel inferior in each situation. With segregation, black schools were not given the same adequate resources as white schools. With integration, black students are not often given the same adequate attention, resources and encouragement as the other students. Usually, black students in lower education are typecasted as unwilling to learn, slow to learn or troublemakers without even a chance given to them.

Second, the American school system is biased in the favor of Eurocentric history and viewpoints. It is hard for black students to feel as if they are important, can offer something to the world and have self-esteem, if they do not have a sufficient amount of self-images and examples of their own people who have made many accomplishments surrounding them. Black and African history are barely taught in school, instead assigned to the month of February (not surprisingly, the shortest month of the year) when it is discussed sparing amounts. Even when it is discussed, people often revert back to the typical heroes in Black history, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, etc. Most can count the number of significant black figures they can name on their hands. Moreover, it is only taught that Blacks were important in the Civil Rights Movement and that is all. However, we are more to history than just the Movement, even tough it is an important Movement. Many people cannot name a lot of Black inventors, scientists, doctors, teachers, revolutionaries, writers, artists, musicians, poets, prophets, actors, actresses, kings, queens and the list goes on. These people are not the exceptions to the rule, they prove that we have contributed a lot to the world. Today, everyone thinks of Africa as a poor, violent and diseased continent, but barely anyone mentions how it was once so mighty and valuable to the development of the rest of the world. Most of the people I learned about from African and Black History I came across on my own, through enlightened teachers or when I began college. It feels as if our history has been misconstrued or parts erased in order to appear that we did not contribute anything to society except fight for our freedom and rights.

Since most of society and government will probably not be willing to help with this problem, we are going to have to do it on our own. A few ways in our history can be more known is through more books, films, documentaries and one very significant way, African schools. No, I do not believe in segregation, but since black people do not make up a large percentage of the population, society is not going to start teaching this anytime soon. So, just as other races have specialized schools (several of my friends went to Chinese schools on Saturday when they were younger), we need them too, even if it is only for certain days while students attend regular school. One such school (a full-time one) already exists in Philadelphia, called the Lotus Academy. The school’s mission is a “commitment to ground the Lotus Academy program in a cultural environment that enhances our students’ sense of self-confidence and self-esteem by nurturing them with a celebration of their African heritage.” Without this celebration of our heritage, the black children who were involved in the doll test and others who feel the same way will always feel inferior. If we have to learn about Louis XIV, we should also learn about Queen Anna Nzinga; if we have to learn about Walt Whitman, we should also learn about Phyllis Wheatley; if we have to learn about Edward Hopper, we should also learn about Jacob Lawrence. Our history is American history and world history, too, and it deserves just as much recognition and not to be pushed to the side.

Lotus Academy website:

List of Black Inventors:

The Isis Papers: Covering Black and African History:

Educated Black Woman

Ever heard the term, “acting white,” “speaking white,” “oreo” (white on the inside, black on the outside). Well, I have several times. Growing up, I was always known as the “smart one,” “teacher’s pet” or “goodie two shoes” and teased for it. Even in college, one of my friends implied that I was not black because I did not act accordingly to the stereotypes of black people (speak a lot of slang, loud, have an attitude, roll my eyes, swirl my neck,etc.) The funny thing is that while they were trying to insult me, they were actually insulting themselves. Basically they were implying as a whole, black people are stupid and in order to be smart one cannot be black. Across the world, the ongoing stereotype is that black people are not synonymous with intelligence. We have been portrayed as buffoons and idiots and eventually some of us have internalized this thinking.

My parents have always taught me the importance of education. At first, I did not understand why, but now I do. As I entered my second year of college, I have realized that education has broaden my horizons. It helps me to make better judgments because I can observe various perspectives on life. No one can use my race against me by saying that “you’re black, so that automatically means that you are not smart.” I can immediately prove them wrong. Too many times, people put us in this bubble of “black” and have this tunnel vision when it comes to who we are. We sometimes think that if we do what other races do, it makes us exactly like them; the truth is we will never be like them, we are uniquely us. I love our culture, but that is not all we are; a bigger world lies out there. I am a well-rounded person because I can do both; I can love who I am as a black person, from the way we look naturally to our own culture, and I can appreciate and learn about others, too.

To Be Continued…

October 28th, 2009 at 7:22 PM and tagged , ,  | Comments Off on To Be Black and Educated… | Permalink

“The Civil Rights Movement” ended only 50 years ago and I feel like we need another one because so many of us have forgotten about it! Today, I came across this video on Black Voices and it really spoke to me and confirmed some of my beliefs. Yes, Obama’s presidency has shown America has changed, but we need to change ourselves, too, as the Mayor of Birmingham, Larry Langford said.

Read the creator, Reginald Bullock’s statement on vimeo: and here:

This video was created to inspire young at-risk African-Americans not to fall prey to some of the problems they face in society.
This video should not to be used to divide people (Black and White).
This video should not be used to criticize all aspects of hip-hop culture.
This video should not be used to degrade the millions of children that do not have the proper educational resources offered in their community.
This video should not be used to scare Black youth into a position of change.
This video should not be used to allow the rest of society to escape from their responsibility, to reach back and help with financial & academic support.

If used properly, this video will allow our youth to see some of the horrific conditions that our ancestors fought through and some of the horrific conditions we face today.

All Americans should be upset at the alarming homicide rate in many cities.
Many have asked “Why should I care?”…but can you imagine, the first person to find a cure for cancer, could be living in one of these areas, that we are afraid to reach out and help.
The use of the voice “Master of Darkness” represents the abstract concept of evil.

A War For Your Soul-Birmingham version from Erisai Films on Vimeo.

September 4th, 2009 at 5:15 PM and tagged , , , , , ,  | Comments Off on Uplifting the Black Community and Remembering Our Past | Permalink