Thursday, November 29, 2007
You know, I feel bamboozled. All my young adult life the TV show â€œGood Timesâ€ represented something negative in popular culture. It was always referred to as a perpetuation of stereotypes, a negative portrayal of black life. Everyone focused on JJ as The Coon. But I had the pleasure to lay up all day one Sunday (with a very hot man, I may add) and watch a Good Times marathon on TV- One and it struck me that: Good Times actually had it right.
It was odd looking at the show again through 2007-colored glasses. So many things stood out to me, especially watching several shows in a row. First, the Evans family probably had the more integrity than any African-American TV family. Ever. Now before you jump in with the Huxtables, I have to say, the Evans are far more impressive because they actually had real life problems. The Huxtables werenâ€™t really struggling like the Evans. I mean the test of a man is how he performs when heâ€™s down right? Well, the Evans were down all the time with constant problems. And these werenâ€™t the Huxtable â€œthe other kids are calling me rich girlâ€/Gordon Gartrelle problems. These were real life, how-we-gonna-eat problems. There was poverty, VD, unemployment, discrimination, gangs, child abuse, drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, illiteracy. I mean, if there was a social issue, Good Times covered it. And the family dealt with these issues always with a focus on family, morality, integrity, strength and just being downright decent. What African American TV family represents those values today? Shit, what white family for that matter?
They had a strong two parent home. James was clearly the leader of the family but he and Florida still acted as a partnership. The kids respected the parents. They werenâ€™t obnoxious smart asses and they werenâ€™t incorrigible troublemakers either. They were regular kids. They were us. Although they were poor, they were hopeful and eager to learn and jump at opportunity.
JJ was a talented artist. What an incredible role model! I mean as silly as JJ was, he was a talent. Where can you find the representation of a talented African-American painter on TV????? He made black art and painting accessible to the world. He showed us a talent and an art form that many of us would have never been exposed to otherwise. He showed poor kids that poverty cannot stifle art or creativity. And JJ being an artist allowed the producers of the show to incorporate the work of real life African-American artist Ernie Barnes (who did all the actual paintings shown). Where can you find African-American artwork on TV today? Do you realize how hot that is???
And Thelma. She was sexy yet classy and like all us women growing up made some mistakes and got into some sticky situations. She was about to marry that African fool, she got felt up by Wilonaâ€™s creepy guy-friend. I mean thatâ€™s real shit there. But through it all she grew up, stepped up when James died, always handled herself with class and grace, and she had a husband before she had a baby. Who would argue she isnâ€™t a great role model for young women of any socio-economic class?
Ahhhhâ€¦ and Michael. Little militant Michael. Michael always kept racial issues in the forefront injecting social consciousness into every conversation. And sure, he got a little gay as he grew up (not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with that) and his militant rants were soon replaced by cheesy talent show crooning with Penny. But its all good. Michael was the typical city kid. He was militant, excelled in school, strong but respectful of his parents. But he also got involved with gangs, got drunk off Vita-Brite and beat up that fat kid in school that time. He went through what we all go through trying to find ourselves in this world. But through it all he knew that education was the key to his success and that thread ran throughout the show. Where can you find that now?
And as bad as they may have be doing, they never wanted hand-outs, charity, never made excuses. The acknowledged racism but never used it as a crutch. They didnâ€™t give up, they didnt try to get over. They just knew they had to work twice as hard because racism stacked the deck against them. If times were tough James just worked harder. Thelma would work extra hours part-time. Or they would sell underwear out of that big cardboard box. But Florida and James always had a hopeful outlook. They always focused on hard work and its relationship to success. They helped their neighbors and ate dinner together. No one obsessed over entertainers and athletes, bling was a non-issue and a nuclear family was the rule not the exception. Can you imagine what a world this would be if we all embodied the character traits of the Good Times family?
Looking at what we currently have passing for representations of African-Americans on TV, I can’t believe I ever stuck my nose up at Good Times. I bought into the theory that we should write it off as some negative one-dimensional image of black life. An insult, a stereotype. Something we had come too far to look at. An obselete show with no value and no relevance to modern day black people. But that couldnt be more wrong.
Tell you what, watch Good Times. And then look at us now. And then look back at it. And then look at us. Look at our images on TV today and look at Good Times and look at us. Look at MTV and VH-1 and BET and then look at us. Look at the evening news and look at us and then look at Good Times.
And you tell meâ€¦.didnâ€™t Good Times have it right?
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Am I a bad black person? There was a March Against Injustice or Against Hate Crimes or Against Nooses or something today in Washington DC. And I could care less. Does that make me a bad black person?
Im in DC. The march and marchers were 10 minutes away but I had no interest in attending. And when I turned on the TV and saw Judge Greg Mathis at the podium, I became even more steadfast in my decision not to go. Itâ€™s like when I went to the Million Woman March and Jada Pinkett was speaking. WTF????? Again, am I bad??
My enthusiasm for marches ended with the Million Man March which I believe was the most amazing moment in black history that I have been alive to witness. (The OJ verdict not withstanding). Iâ€˜m just finding it very hard to muster the energy to participate in these marches and drives and â€œmovementsâ€ that seem so out-of-touch with the real important issues challenging Black America. Now donâ€™t get me wrong, of course I am against injustice and racism all the time everywhere. I think the Jena 6 protest was a legitimate protest for a legitimate cause and I am proud we were able to galvanize and make a difference in that case where there was so clearly an injustice. I guess my question is: why is it that we are so quick to oppose injustice done to us by white people, yet we run away screaming, arms flailing overhead when asked to be champions for ourselves?
Weâ€™re marching over nooses? These nooses are likely put up by copy cat obnoxious white kids that are just looking to get a rise out of the black community. And we so gladly give it to them. Yes, nooses are offensive. A thousand times yes. But so are black men getting gunned down in the streets. In fact, I must admit that I am a little more concerned with the latter. You can put everyone who has hung a noose on somebodyâ€™s doorknob or tree in jail for 100 years and weâ€™ll still be killing each other on the corner. What then? Do we cry victory cause there are no more nooses?
Fuck a Ku Klux Klan. Fuck a neo-nazi. Fuck a hate crime. I donâ€™t care how many nooses are hung, those nooses donâ€™t have the power to affect change in our communities. These are infinitesimal elements of black life in America. They donâ€™t have the power to influence a generation of black boys and girls. But our behavior does. Our families do. Our schools do. So why donâ€™t we fight as hard for these aspects of our lives as we do against racist behavior by a few white idiots?
5 young men can get gunned down on the streets of DC and we do nothing. Silence. â€œThem niggas shootin againâ€¦â€ Let a preacher steal millions from people who could least afford it. â€œIt aint the man, itâ€™s the message.â€ Let a man not take care of his kids. â€œIts hard on a black man out here.â€ Black kids cant read. â€œthose tests must be culturally-biased.â€
But let some white person call us a nappy headed ho?????? Whewâ€”you got a fuckin revolution. Its so sick. Does it make me a bad black person for saying that?
Will we ever get tired of begging somebody to do something? Its such a place of powerlessness. The Justice Department and Viacom and BET and Don Imus and nooses are just easy targets that we can point at and blame for this or that. Then we go to bed feeling better knowing that Sharpton and Jackson are on the scene saving us from racism. But who is saving us from ourselves?
Itâ€™s clearly a manifestation of our own inferiority complex. We donâ€™t feel weâ€™re valuable enough to save ourselves. We care more about how white people treat us or what they think, than we do each other. I dont think there is anyone (except maybe Sharpton or Jackson) who would say that racial discrimination and racism is the biggest problem faced by Blacks in America. So why are all of our movements seen through this paradigm? Is that all we know? Does that make me a bad black person for saying that?
Or maybe the problems have become too difficult. Too complex, too formidable. Its like when I look at my To Do list and its too long, I get anxious and go have a drink instead and nothing gets done.
Just think about it, the most powerful march since King marched on Washington was the Million Man March and you know why it was so powerful, because it was us talking to us. We called each other to task for the state of our communities. We wasnt begging and scraping asking Mr. Charlie to do anything. For once we all were forced to look at ourselves in the mirror and hold ourselves accountable for our condition. He had it right. We all were inspired, we wanted to do something, we loved each other, we thought we were great. Even if it just lasted that day. But it shows what power the teaching of self-reliance can have. Just imagine if we lived that philosophy?
And then we went back to this begging shit. And here we are. Judge Mathis and all. Great. I say, until we realize how precious our own lives are, we will continue to march in a circle chanting â€œNo Justice, No Peaceâ€ about this or that. With fewer and fewer people actually listening, actually caring. Instead of growing stronger through our increased economic power and our increasing population of educated black folks, weâ€™re becoming the little race that cried wolf. And just like that little boy, ultimately, if it aint happened already, people will stop listening. With all that going on the world, how can we seriously expect the country to care about us when we dont care about ourselves? hell, its some days when I dont even give a shit. Does that make me a bad black person?
So no, it may not get national coverage when we march for each other. You may not get on CNN. You may not get on the news if you and your community stage a sit-in at your local school to bring attention to bad teachers, poor conditions and poor performance. Your protest against out-of-wedlock children may not get on the front page. When we march for black lives and black families and black education, we may not get Tom Joyner to come or Judge Mathis or Jada Pinkett. But just think what we would get. For once, maybe some results. Letâ€™s start talking to the people who can really make a difference in our communities, the people who really control our images and influence our young people. The only people that can help us now. OURSELVES.
Does that make me a bad black person? peace people.
“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are we not to be?
You are a child of God… We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Nelson Mandela. Inaugural Address, 1994. (attributed to Marianne Williamson)
Thanks for the quote Jimmy. You can liberate me any day.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
OK, Whats up with the VIP Room?
Where has our obsession with VIP come from?? You have VIP tickets, VIP lines, a VIP bar, VIP armbands. Now they even have a regular VIP and an ultra-VIP. WTF??? Now dont get me wrong, there are true VIP rooms. The places where stars want to be able to go without getting hassled for their autograph or pictures or getting slipped demo tapes every 5 minutes. I can dig that. I dont mean those places, Im talking about the majority of VIP rooms in every club in every city. Because lets face it, 99.3 % of these VIP rooms have never seen a celebrity grace its doors. Ever.
So what is this obsession with exclusivity? It seems that, at a time when our community needs to come together more than ever, we continuously look for ways to separate ourselves from each other. Is it a coincidence that this focus on exclusivity comes at a time when our cities are more economically segregated than ever? Isnt it odd that as the gap between the haves and have nots widens, we choose to widen it further?
Are we so insecure with ourselves? After surviving slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, segregation, unequal opportunity—being one of the most resilient races of people in the history of the world—do we really need VIP rooms to make us feel special? Dont get me wrong, we all want to feel special, we all like to feel important. (I admit, the few times i have flown first class, I always secretly gloated upon seeing all the poor saps schlepping it back to Coach. hehehehehee. I digress.) But when I see folks spend what they dont have just so they can get that blue armband instead of the yellow armband, when they spend what they dont have to have a bottle sitting in an icebucket in front of them or a reserved sign at their table, I have to wonder, why is so much of our worth more and more centered around stuff?
Why cant we be feel important being good neighbors, or good parents or good friends or because we donated money for new equipment at the library or was the winning coach of a boys club football team or because the kids we are tutoring got an A? Have those things any value anymore?
There are so many ways to stand out in our communities that uplift us all, why do we settle for velvet ropes and bad attitudes to make our mark?
And lets face it, most VIP rooms are full of a bunch of random tired ass people who just paid a grip to sit 20 feet away from everyone else. A lot of people with bad ARM loans about to adjust but nevertheless insist on â€œ ballinâ€ at all times. That doesnt make you a VIP, it makes you a V.I. Puhlease.
So people, next time you want to feel important, bypass the VIP room for a mentoring program or being a Big Brother or volunteering at a nursing home. Trade in the velvet rope and turn a jump rope for little girls after school or organize a trash clean-up in your neighborhood. And although you may not get a fancy red armband, or pay more for the same bullshit, you will truly then be a Very Important Person. Peace people.