29 October 2008

minding my own beeswax.

hey gayle,

my cynicism has a purpose. i know it does.

i read the secret life of bees before i went to go see it. i had had the book on my shelf for a while, but the way i earn my bread had precluded me from engaging in any leisurely reading for, like, two years. when i saw the cast on oprah the other day, i decided that i should spend my upcoming vacation day reading the book, for i was sure someone i knew was going to ask me to come with them to the movies to see this thing. (and yes, i dry heaved through queen latifah's over-hetero antics--again. the queen lusting after the men in egypt? is that what i just heard while brushing my teeth? bitch, please.)

the blurb on the back of the book seemed harmless enough. blacks and whites getting together and loving each other despite the mores of their society. how lovely. i plowed my way through it. the story was ok. knees in grits? nice. i'd never heard of that one. and though black beekeepers seemed fertile ground from which to sprout magical negroes--paging bagger vance--kidd seemed to get close to that line without entirely crossing it. either way, the book was rather predictable. perfect for a little midweek leisurely reading. and, it read like a movie.

the film, like the book, features all the usual suspects: racist southern red-faced spitting white men, black substitute parental figures, singing blacks, angry, social activist blacks, and, of course, the simple-minded, yet heart as pure as gold southerner (full disclosure: i kind of love forrest gump). except of course, unlike the novel, in the film the people are younger and better looking.

i hated this movie. well, not entirely. dakota fanning was good. i'm not a movie buff, but calling her the next jodie foster sounds about right. they kind of look alike. alicia keys wasn't bad; she definitely portrayed a female version of the "huey newton complex" (a term i coined meaning, hella light-skinned, hella militant) just fine. the more i see her on screen, the more i think j.hud is a natural.

so mostly, i hated queen latifah. as soon as she appeared on screen, my hand went into my afro, and i slid down in my seat. it seems as if she's gone from "ladies first" to portraying every possible stereotype she can muster. is she getting back at me? for this? and this? if alicia "hell's kitchen" keys can kinda sound southern, or at least make a good attempt, why do you dana "dirty jersey" owens, sound like a house slave? ("we'se makin' honey!"). i guess the moral of ms. owens' career is: you might default on dignity, but coonery will (still) get you paid.

perhaps it was just me, but her image radiated the following message from the screen: by way of my cleavage alone, i will impart wisdom on you, young white girl. if it wasn't her 60s natural looking like someone just put some leave-in conditioner in her head and kept it moving, it was her "sermon of the black madonna." inspired by the oprah winfrey school of monologues, her speech elicited some of the weakest call and response i've seen this side of the color line. though, i can't blame her for that. your bad, gina prince-bythewood. i expect better church scenes from negro directors. i fully believe i could've gotten more from my actors. and i'm a heathen.

i left the movie having learned two things: 1. even child abusers can be redeemed through the presence of blacks; and 2. integration was really about young black boys accomplishing their dream of boning white girls without getting beat up. (i feel warm inside.) i left the movie and the book with the following, more general question: why is white parent absenteeism so... cute?

perhaps it's residue from my whole obama/moynihan gripe, but i read that book and the movie trying to figure out why stories about white orphans make such heartwarming tales. harry potter? annie? oliver? angels in the outfield? those may not leave you depressed. hell, you might just leave the theatre humming a tune. but losing isaiah? the color purple? hell, the bluest eye (i know it's never been a movie)? watching a movie partly premised on lack of black parental rearing will make you wanna slit your damn wrists. oh wait. i forgot about like mike. that movie will give you the warm fuzzies. thanks, lil bow wow.

that said, i could be completely wrong about this. i just can't shake the feeling that most of these movies about orphan black kids need to get adopted by brangelina. if not, i'll have to rely on tyler perry for my happy endings. yep. it's a hard-knock life.

09 October 2008

humanity 101


one of the things i've found frustrating about the obama campaign is the way in which race has been deployed. this time, i won't harp on the point about obama's father being from africa and not, say, the south side of chicago. that's important, but i really only think it matters to white people, as it contributes to the way they subconsciously understand him. though the silence around that point gives me pause, what irks me more was how, especially during the early part of the campaign, obama talked to black people. i hate to say it, but i agreed with jesse jackson on this.

it seems to me that obama's talks about the absenteeism of black fathers, his assuaging of white people's fears by implicitly telling him that he-- and more importantly, his wife-- won't make them feel guilty about racism; that he would rather repeat the moynihan report and chastise poor blacks, consequently conflating the pathology of many into some sort of modus operandi position of all; and that his campaign would be complicit in allowing, and therefore encourage this media-obsessed "transcendence of race" talk all relies upon some notion of black exceptionalism. doing so implicitly accepts racial blackness as a list of behaviors and traits rather than, maybe, a particular relationship to various and varying historical experiences--which would, i guess, disqualify senator obama altogether. accepting the former position allows obama to say, "i'm not like them," and also, maybe, "i will make them more like me and my family."

gayle, in a certain sense, i suppose i can't fault him. he is, after all, trying to win a national election. then again, i wonder what the political fallout would have been for him to have said simply, "no, i'm not necessarily transcending race in all the ways you might think. i identify as a black man; my wife is a black woman. sans my desire to become president and a few other things, certain aspects of my life are only exceptional and transcendent if you have a constricted sense of who black people are and what they do. lots of black people, for example, matriculated through harvard and princeton and columbia before me. lots have and will after me. this is only a big deal if one's imagination regarding such things is limited." moreover, what would the media look like had he said there's nothing wrong with being muslim?

the other reason i might not blame him for rather easily accepting this transcendence stuff is because this isn't new--even amongst our (black) selves. though i'm not that into eating outside or drinking games, and despite the fact that i've never seen an episode of friends (or even seinfeld for that matter), i occasionally and rather glibly (more like lazily) pronounce my adoration for certain "white shit." for instance, i got the oddest stare from a black guy one day when he pulled up next to me in traffic; it might have been a myriad of things, but for whatever reason, i'd decided to blame the stare on me blasting the cranberries from my car stereo (what can i say? i want dolores o'riordan to sing me lullabies). at the same time, my friend and i got the biggest chuckle out of peeping a black dude singing a james blount song at the top of his lungs from the driver's seat of his escalade--we heard the music, his voice, the car, then finally saw him.

so i guess what i'm saying is what was so frustrating about those moments during the campaign was the fact that it seemed like an opportunity to expand who and what we think black people are. granted, a lot of folks' minds will and have been expanded. one can only hope that such enlightenment transfers to other avenues. for example, my list of available images for black women in the popular mind is pretty short. to name a few: nell carter, beyonce, clair huxtable. michelle obama fits very nicely into the latter category. but surely, there's something else.

of course there is. gayle, i've taken the scenic route to my essential point: the student body presents is totally rad. (yes, i said "totally rad.") i initially fell in love with the oakland duo late last summer. a musical guru of mine suggested them to me; i copped their cd and was immediately smitten by how weird they were. i listened to arts and sciences pretty heavily for a minute, and then they somehow fell out of rotation. last week, while rolling through my city, i blindly grabbed their album from the inside of my arm rest. i instantaneously re-enrolled in their course. i remembered sitting in my parked car in front of lake michigan playing this joint on repeat. their track "driftwoodit" is worth the bones alone. they talk about everything-- from outer space to the boxes people sacrifice themselves for just to fit in.

as i re-acquanted myself with tsbp's music, i mentally compiled a list of people i need to urge to listen to this record. then my thoughts turned to how often i've decided to do this with music i fall in love with. though i sometimes become protective of such slept on artists, i wonder what the world would be like if we understood what was coming out of my speakers as black music, too.

santogold has an awesome (yes, awesome) quote about music critics. about being lumped into the r&b genre because she's black she said, "it's racist (laughs). it's totally racist. everyone is just so shocked that i don't like R&B. are you shocked that good charlotte isn't into R&B? Why does R&B keep coming into my interviews? it's pissing me off. i didn't grow up as a big fan of R&B and, like, what is the big shocker? it's stupid. in the beginning i thought that was funny. i'm an 'MC', i'm a 'soul singer', i'm a 'dance hybrid artist'. and some guy said i looked like Kelly Rowland!"

exactly. to come full circle: i'm not that into transcendence. i prefer expansion. transcendence allows us to retain prior notions and accept the foreigness of others without disrupting or complicating our long-held beliefs and ideas. expansion inspires us to move beyond codifying people, and understand that though there are types--to a certain extent, we all are-- the great task is to recognize the humanity beneath, below, above, within-- in ourselves and others. that, i imagine, would be the ultimate goal of an awesome liberal education. in other words, cop arts and sciences. it'll send your brain to outer space.

there's a square peg in all of us.

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