Category: African American

Why White People Love Africans (But Can’t Stand African-Americans)

I’ve been aware of the preferential dynamic between Africans and White Americans for a very long time. It’s something I witnessed all throughout childhood and well into adulthood. It wasn’t a secret that professors at my university showed preferential treatment to African immigrant students, both in instruction and in resources. And it’s not uncommon to hear about preferential hiring and promotional decisions in favor of African employees as opposed to Black Americans in the workplace. I mean it’s cool for Africans and white people to love each other, the problem arises when innocent people are affected by this preferential treatment and biased decision making. It wasn’t until I saw the effects of such treatment played out in my own life that I thought to explore why this dynamic existed. Now these are just my theories, but let’s explore 5 possible reasons why white people love Africans (but can’t stand African Americans).

“All of the Melanin, None of the Guilt”

Slavery is America’s greatest sin. No matter how much white people would have us forget it ever occurred, grab our invisible bootstraps and move on, we know that can never happen. The truth is the residual effects of slavery are sewn into the fabric of this country, making the avoidance of guilt a seemingly impossible feat, especially when you’re still wearing it’s clothing. Not to mention, interfacing with your victims on the daily can get pretty taxing. Of course the white people we see today aren’t the ones who steered the ships and physically chained us, but their willingness to maintain hold of the privileges they inherited through these atrocities lets us know that they’re in no rush to make amends. And because White people feel this unavoidable sense of guilt when it comes to forging on in their ancestors bloody footsteps, their subconscious is always thinking of ways to avoid further persecution. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to avoid who makes you feel guilty about it.

If this observation is accurate, then it only makes sense for white people to prefer Africans immigrants. Not only can they whip out the “I have a friend from Ghana” card, but they also get to avoid the social responsibility, the expectation of ally-ship, the acknowledgment of wrongs, the challenging of old family beliefs, and many other responsibilities that come along with befriending Black Americans. Sure, the Transatlantic Slave Trade began in West Africa but white people don’t see slavery as a crime committed against Africans — at least not directly. So in the context of friendships and intimate partnerships between Africans and White Americans, these topics are easily avoidable. No victim, no crime. No rallies to attend, no protests, no boycotts, just guilt-free fun. The African friend essentially acts as a breath of fresh air to the white conscious.

“Is This Wakanda?”

Now this next sentence may not go over well, but Black Twitter will pretty much tell you all you need to know about Black culture. What we eat, how to cook it, how to season it, what we’re listening to, who we love this week, who we hate, what boycott we’re half-assing, where the cookout is, how to get there, and what kind of raisins to bring for the potato salad. Black people don’t keep much of anything a secret when it comes to Black culture. Nothing is off limits and nothing is too sacred to discuss out in the open. That’s not necessarily something to fault Black Americans over but when has easy access ever made us more appreciative of something? Not to mention that Black American culture derived from the culmination of European influences and whatever remnants of African culture were permitted to remain on the plantation.

White people know Black culture well because they had a huge part in its inception — been there, stole that. In contrast, African culture is a little harder to access. You won’t find nationally televised shows depicting a modern African way of life, there is no continent-wide cookout for us to dish out invitations to, there’s no honorary South African pass for best gwara-gwara dance, and you won’t find Nigerian gele (traditional West African style of headdress) at Forever 21 or Zara. African culture is tied to Africans which means you must go through the people to access it, which white people have proven they have no problem doing. White people cant get enough of things that aren’t made for them and it doesn’t get more F.U.B.U. than African culture.

“Let’s Have a Pity Party”

National Geographic came forward this year and issued an apology for historically racist coverage of Africans and indigenous groups around the world. Shocker. But that apology doesn’t do much to rectify the lasting imagery that their coverage created. The naked African hunting bushmeat in the forest, the bloated belly of a starving African child, the drug fueled African warlord, some of these images are the only images of Africa that many Americans know. Leading some white Americans to see African immigrants as personal charity cases, whether warranted or not. It’s not uncommon for a white person to befriend an African immigrant for the sole purpose of feeling like a do-gooder. Who else would introduce Mbutu to the wonders of pants and forks? The destitute African friend gives White Americans their much needed dose of heroism, which is not the case for the Black American friend. And why is that, you might ask? Black Americans are somewhat destitute in their home country, are they not? The answer to that question is yes, we most certainly are. But it’s a little more difficult for white people to feel sorry for Black Americans because that would require them to acknowledge their participation in keeping Black Americans destitute in the first place. And white people hate feeling guilty, especially when they’re guilty.

“You Are Really Dumb… Forreal.”

Generally speaking, White People are ignorant. And despite all of the free information at our fingertips, many will choose to remain in that state. And it’s probably best they do, simply based on the fact that most of the ideologies, advancements, and innovations that white culture promotes and celebrates were birthed from Black minds, which for many would be too big a blow to their egos.

What we know about white people’s silent inferiority complex is that it’s very important to them to feel in control, in power, and in moral authority, which is hard to do if you’re constantly being called out on your immorality. And while it’s impossible to avoid the very obvious connection between the condition of Black America and its relation to White America, it’s a little easier to glance over Africa’s relation to the West. The truth is that the continent of Africa has been repeatedly pillaged, siphoned and squandered ever since Europeans first decided her resources were profitable. There have been countless documented incidents of war, genocide, group extermination, sterilization, intentional disease outbreaks, famine, child trafficking, molestation and rape at the hands of UN “peacekeepers”, intentional elimination of indigenous spiritual systems and the list goes on, all at the hands of white people. White people aren’t blameless when it comes to the state of Africa and it’s inhabitants, they’re just ignorant.

“He Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly”

White people aren’t afraid of a lot of things they probably should be: each other, wild animals, extreme sports, each other, the sun, illegal drugs, heart disease, cancer, each other, and chronic lower respiratory disease just to name a few. After all, these are a few of the things that pose the greatest statistical threat to white life. You know what’s not on that list, Black folk. That’s right, Black people actually pose an excessively low threat to white lives, (now if only the reverse were true). But you would never guess that with the immense amount of irrational fear white people seem to have when it comes to Black people. A fear they don’t appear to have when it comes to African immigrants. And while many would look at the rate at which American-born Black men are killed by police in comparison to that of African immigrants and attribute that to some instigative behaviors on the part of Black men, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the vastly different representations these two groups possess. Black Americans are portrayed as unpredictable, unhinged, violent, aggressive and irrational. African immigrants, on the other hand, are depicted as docile, overly religious, determined and jovial. The African is harmless. Harmless to the fragile white ego, harmless to white establishments, harmless to the white savior complex, harmless to white sensibilities, just plain ole harmless.

There are a ton of other reasons that could potentially explain why white people prefer Africans. One being that African immigrants, having nationalities that don’t reject them, are less tied to racial classifications than Black Americans and therefore are less likely to see their race as an inhibitor. White people love that. Another reason could be that Africans are more willing to capitulate, quickly denouncing culture, language, tradition and birth name in order to blend into white society and corporate culture. A third reason could possibly be that Africans are often more willing to overlook the racist and bigoted comments and beliefs their white friends hold, not having the same historical attachment to various words and references. Whatever the reason, white friendship has never been and will never be the prize. And we should all beware of any white people who think making exceptions for a few “safe” Black people makes them any less racist or prejudice. It doesn’t. And whatever we call it, tokenism, favoritism, nepotism or a classic case of divide and conquer, the only thing I know for sure is that we should all be skeptical.

*Originally published on Madame Noire.

Can African American Sitcoms Make It? Be Careful How You Talk About Race In This Country

AA sitcom

Among those who consider such things, it’s generally agreed that “The Cosby Show” holds a canonical, almost sacred status in television history. But there’s at least one critique it’s never been able to shake: The groundbreaking sitcom, which aired from 1984 to 1992, largely sidestepped any discussion of race. Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, who worked as a script-production consultant on the show, recalls an episode where Phylicia Rashad’s Clair Huxtable applied for a lawyer’s job and got turned down. In the writers’ room, says Poussaint, the “Cosby” staff had considered using the plotline as an opportunity to highlight racial discrimination at law firms. But they didn’t consider it for long.

“[They] felt that was too much of a direct hit, and that it would be better to portray the fact that these guys were simpletons, and let the audience assume that they’re rejecting her because she was black without even saying it,” said Poussaint, now a Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry. “It was a little bit more subtle, but white people could say, ‘Those guys are jackasses.'”

According to Poussaint, there’s one rule of thumb when it comes to talking about race on black sitcoms: Best not to do it too much. “A lot of people will turn off if you’re trying to send them a message,” he said.

“Black-ish,” the new ABC sitcom created by veteran TV writer Kenya Barris, doesn’t follow this line of reasoning — the show engages with race from the moment its title card appears. “Black-ish” follows Andre “Dre” Johnson (Anthony Anderson), an advertising executive, as he tries to establish a sense of cultural identity for his upper-middle-class, African-American family in suburban California. When “Black-ish” premiered in late September, it received a dizzying amount of critical praise (tempered by a few pans). Slate’s Willa Paskin declared it the fall’s “best new sitcom,” and as Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara noted, the show has been widely greeted as a “game changer.”

The fledgling show has gotten so much hype in part because it marks an overdue return of the black family sitcom to network television. Over the years, there have been two major waves of such shows — first in the 1970s, led by a welter of sitcoms from the white producer Norman Lear (“Sanford and Son,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons”), and again in the mid-’80s and early ’90s, following the success of “The Cosby Show” (“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Family Matters,” “A Different World”). By 1997, there were 18 black sitcoms airing simultaneously on network TV. But as shows like “Seinfeld” and “Friends” grew in popularity, a dry period set in that has more or less lasted to the present day, aside from the occasional outlier like Damon Wayans’ “My Wife & Kids,” which appeared on ABC from 2001 to 2005. “Black-ish,” which received a full season order earlier this month, is the first all-black ensemble comedy on network television in five years — the last sign of one was Fox’s “Brothers,” cancelled after 13 episodes in 2009.

The Decline of Black Sitcoms
Black sitcoms on network TV entered a sharp period of decline after their heyday in the 1990s. This graph chronicles sitcoms that ran on the big networks — ABC, CBS,NBC, FOX, The CW, and the now-defunct UPN and WB — from 1968 to today.

 

“Black-ish” has provoked one thinkpiece after another for the way it puts race front and center. Yet the show hardly exists in a vacuum. Rather, “Black-ish” fits within a rich history of black sitcoms that have examined race more or less successfully. It’s a subject Robin R. Means Coleman, a communications professor at the University of Michigan, has made a central study of her work. In her 1998 book African American Viewers and the Black Situation Comedy, she divides black sitcoms into six categories, according to how they’ve dealt with race and representations of blacks (see graphic below). Most of the successful shows that followed “Cosby’s” example avoided the topic of race almost entirely. If they did address it, it was only when an otherwise lighthearted show took on a “serious” tone, working in a plotline where unambiguous discrimination was at play.

The Six Eras of Black Situation Comedy
University of Michigan communications professor Robin R. Means Coleman divides black sitcoms on network television into the following categories in her book, African American Viewers and the Black Situation Comedy: Situating Racial Humor.

TV Minstrelsy
(1950–1953)
Blacks are objectified as comical, operating for the amusement of whites.
Nonrecognition
(1954–1967)
Black situation comedy is absent on network television.
Assimilationist
(1968–1971)
Blackness is rejected to the extent that there is no reference of black culture and no sociopolitical conflicts.
The Lear Era: Ridiculed Black Subjectivity and Social Relevancy
(1972-1983)
Norman Lear introduces social commentary into situation comedies. Black situation comedies thrived during this time, due to the popularity of shows like “Sanford and Son,” “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons.” Race and class were dealt with head-on, but blacks were also segregated from the white world.
The Cosby Era: Diversity and Family
(1984-1989)
This era marked an explosion of black situation comedy programming. It improved depictions of the black nuclear family, and set a standard for non-ridicule by presenting blacks with equal status. It was, however, devoid of racial and economic struggle.
Neo-Minstrelsy
(1990-present)
Defined by its Sambo, coon, prized criminal character types, this era places a renewed emphasis on the ridicule and subordination of black culture as homogeneously deviant.

Source: “African American Viewers and the Black Situation Comedy: Situating Racial Humor,” Robin R. Means Coleman

So is it possible for a sitcom to do what “Black-ish” is attempting — to have its minority characters talk about race more than occasionally, and at the same time to have popular success? The answer, according to Poussaint and Coleman, is yes. That is, as long as the show makes fun of itself.

It’s a style that has its roots in the early 1970s, with Lear’s socially conscious comedies like “Sanford and Son” and “The Jeffersons.” For the first time, black sitcoms were confronting racial and economic issues. The downside, Coleman says, is that African-Americans were viewed as segregated. “The unseen White world was implied to operate superiorly over a Black world which was marred by individuals’ lack of achievement, trickery and dishonesty, and buffoonery,” she writes in her book.

Poussaint argues that these shows were able to achieve success because they pointed their racial commentary inward.

They were “making more fun of black people, and only incidentally, white people,” he said. “A lot of these black shows coming on [today] know that they have to be more in the mode of the old-style shows [‘The Jeffersons,’ ‘What’s Happening!!’] to get ratings.”

“Black-ish,” Poussaint said, is toeing this line cautiously. The show’s creators “are pretty careful in not making white people feel like it’s them that’s being attacked,” he said. “And if they started being hard-hitting against whites and racism, the show would go under fast. So they have to make blacks the fall guy.”

To illustrate this, Poussaint pointed to the workplace scenes on “Black-ish.” Dre works at an advertising firm, and in the pilot episode, he is promoted to senior vice president of the Urban Division. This is a source of much conflict for his character (“Wait, did they just put me in charge of black stuff?” he wonders in voice-over), and he proceeds to make a mess of his first assignment in the new position.

“He’s acting buffoonish when he’s at the meetings,” Poussaint said. “He’s not even being clever or smart, sly or sophisticated about being black. They [whites] are still in charge.”

Coleman agreed that modern network sitcoms “have to do this kind of, ‘We’re going to hit you over the head with a teasing about black life and culture, so ours is what’s on display and is the spectacle, and we’re not going to indict whiteness as much.'”

However, Coleman went on, “Black-ish” doesn’t embrace the old-style formulas entirely. She sees it as closer to “The Bernie Mac Show” (Fox, 2001-2006), or “Everybody Hates Chris” (UPN and The CW, 2005-2009). The latter show, loosely based on the adolescence of comedian Chris Rock, explored this cliche effectively because it implicated whiteness.

“He does it through Chris’ playmates, who are constantly calling him names,” Coleman said. “Each week there’s this bully kid who’s like, ‘Hey nipsy, hey sambo, hey this,’ and it’s an acknowledgement that there are problems in race relationships that you have to deal with every single day.”

“What those two shows did well was have simultaneous conversations about race and class, and they didn’t conflate the two,” Coleman continued. “What I’m looking for ‘Black-ish’ to do is be a little bit more nuanced in teasing those two things out.”

“We’re going to hit you over the head with a teasing about black life and culture,
and we’re not going to indict whiteness as much.”

When it comes to race, is making fun of yourself ever an effective brand of comedy? Yes, in that it’s successful ratings-wise, Poussaint says. As a form of commentary, though, he finds it lacking, and prefers the “Cosby” model. That show, Coleman argues in her book, set a “standard for non-ridicule” by presenting blacks with equal status.

She points to lesser-known series from the late ’80s and early ’90s, like “Frank’s Place” (CBS, 1987-1988) and “Roc” (Fox, 1991-1994), as examples of shows that have talked about race in a nuanced way.

“Smart comedy does not end with ‘making fun’ of groups. Good comedy capably permits all of its subjects to turn inward, thereby exposing their shortcomings, strengths, and eccentricities,” Coleman told HuffPost in an email. “What makes shows like, say, a ‘Roc’ or ‘Frank’s Place’ stand out is that they were able to involve and implicate a range of groups in a critique, albeit a humorous one, of our social systems.”

By any measure, “Frank’s Place” was an odd duck in the late-’80s TV landscape. A single-camera dramedy centered on a black Ivy League professor (Tim Reid) whose life gets diverted to New Orleans by a voodoo curse, “Frank’s Place” was on television at the same time as “The Cosby Show,” but existed in a parallel sphere where race was actually discussed. On the day of the show’s premiere, Sept. 14, 1987, a telegram arrived from Bill Cosby with one word: “Bravo.” Critics loved the show, and it won three Emmys its first season, but CBS never allowed it to get to a second.

Seasonal Breakdown
Of the 111 black sitcoms that have aired on network television, more than half did not last longer than one season.

Sources: Huffington Post analysis of Wikipedia, IMDB.com, FamousFix.com

Poussaint sees the show as something of a cautionary tale for subsequent black sitcoms. “‘Frank’s Place’ addressed racism a little bit, and it was an excellent show, but did not go anywhere and was canceled,” he said. In a 2002 New Orleans Time-Picayune feature story, Reid (known to ’90s TV viewers as the father on “Sister, Sister”) remembers telling writer/producer Hugh Wilson: “Hugh, I think this is brilliant, but it scares hell out of me … I’m not sure television is ready for this.”

Robert Vianello, a professor of television, film and media studies at California State University, Los Angeles, said that “Frank’s Place” illustrated “complexities within the African-American community that sitcoms often don’t … It’s very unusual in its representation of African-Americans.”

Coleman said that “Black-ish” has the potential to pick up where “Frank’s Place” and “Roc” left off — to continue the line of sitcoms that address “racial identity and belonging in complex, nuanced ways.” Poussaint agreed that a more incisive commentary on race is possible. “I think they could make it funny,” he said, “but the question is, will whites in large numbers watch it?”

ABC's "Black-ish" - Season One

Anthony Anderson, right, in episode three of “Black-ish,” in which Dre sets out to expand Andre Jr.’s social circle to include more black kids after he discovers Andre Jr. is clueless about “the nod.” (Photo by Greg Gayne/ABC via Getty Images)

As for the creators of “Black-ish,” they’d prefer to keep their audience broad.

“Some of those topics, you have to be careful with how you present them, because it is a family comedy,” said Larry Wilmore, a veteran television writer (and host of Comedy Central’s upcoming late-night show “The Minority Report”) who produced seven episodes of “Black-ish.” The show’s ideal audience, according to executive producer Brian Dobbins, is “people who have families or [are] looking to have a family and they feel this push and pull on their identity.”

Sitcoms often take a while to find their voice, and having aired just four episodes so far, “Black-ish” is still very much forging an identity for itself. Episode two focused on “the sex talk” and did not engage with race, while the others have each made blackness a plot point. Wilmore teased an upcoming episode that will deal with spanking your children, an issue that ignited a national debate last month when Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse for hitting his young son with a tree branch. “How black people spank and how we’ve done it is a very cultural issue,” said Wilmore.

But he added a caveat about “Black-ish”: “It’s really not a hard-hitting social commentary show as much as it’s a family comedy with some of these issues at the center of it sometimes.”

TV critic Pilot Viruet, who has been following the show’s progression closely at The A.V. Club, would prefer it not go the standard family-comedy route. “I do think that Black-ish can very well exist as a typical family sitcom (and I’m sure ABC would dig that) but it shouldn’t aim that low when it has something much better and more nuanced on its hands,” she wrote in a review of a recent episode.

Though Viruet went on to praise the episode as both funny and elegant, she also argued that a show like “Black-ish” is at a disadvantage from the jump.

“There is an inherent, unfair, and disheartening strike against a show like Black-ish (and not just its title) that is also representative of minorities in general: It has to work harder than your average sitcom just to be seen as good. It has to continue to prove itself,” Viruet wrote. “Modern Family can churn out ordinary, garden-variety episodes and win Emmys without breaking a sweat; Black-ish (and other similar, black-centric sitcoms like Everybody Hates Chris or The Bernie Mac Show) have to hustle and be on the top of their game with every single scene in order to just be considered.”

For her part, Coleman is holding out hope that “Black-ish” can achieve the balance of comedy and commentary that defined some of the most insightful shows that came before it.

“I think that ‘Black-ish’ can do it,” she said. “But ‘Black-ish’ isn’t the first black sitcom. This isn’t our first go-round. And we should be much better at this.”

 

*Original article posted on Huffington Post.

Remembering Geoffrey Holder (1930-2014)

Mr. Geoffrey Holder, the dancer, choreographer, actor, composer, designer and painter who used his manifold talents to infuse the arts with the flavor of his native West Indies and to put a singular stamp on the American cultural scene, not least with his outsize personality, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 84.

Charles M. Mirotznik, a spokesman for the family, said the cause was complications of pneumonia.

Few cultural figures of the last half of the 20th century were as multifaceted as Mr. Holder, and few had a public presence as unmistakable as his, with his gleaming pate atop a 6-foot-6 frame, full-bodied laugh and bassoon of a voice laced with the lilting cadences of the Caribbean.

Mr. Holder directed a dance troupe from his native Trinidad and Tobago, danced on Broadway and at the Metropolitan Opera and won Tony Awards in 1975 for direction of a musical and costume design for “The Wiz,” a rollicking, all-black version of “The Wizard of Oz.” His choreography was in the repertory of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dance Theater of Harlem. He acted onstage and in films and was an accomplished painter, photographer and sculptor whose works have been shown in galleries and museums. He published a cookbook.

Mr. Holder acknowledged that he achieved his widest celebrity as the jolly, white-suited television pitchman for 7Up in the 1970s and ’80s, when in a run of commercials, always in tropical settings, he happily endorsed the soft drink as an “absolutely maaarvelous” alternative to Coca-Cola — or “the Uncola,” as the ads put it.

Long afterward, white suit or no, he would stop pedestrian traffic and draw stares at restaurants. He even good-naturedly alluded to the TV spots in accepting his Tony for directing, using their signature line “Just try making something like that out of a cola nut.”

Geoffrey Lamont Holder was born into a middle-class family on Aug. 1, 1930, in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, one of four children of Louise de Frense and Arthur Holder, who had immigrated from Barbados. Geoffrey attended Queen’s Royal College, an elite secondary school in Trinidad. There he struggled with a stammer that plagued him into early adulthood.

“At school, when I got up to read, the teacher would say, ‘Next,’ because the boys would laugh,” he said in an oral history interview.

“You Cannot Write The History Of Pro Football Without Telling This Story.” TONIGHT on EPIX – The Forgotten Four

The 60-minute documentary tells the little-known story of 4 outstanding and brave African American men who broke the color barrier in pro football in 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey were credited with integrating Major League Baseball.

Premium entertainment network EPIX has announced that “Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football,” an EPIX Original Documentary, will make its World Premiere on Tuesday, September 23, 2014, at 8PM ET.

Forgotten-four

The 60-minute documentary, narrated by Jeffrey Wright and produced by Ross Greenburg, tells the little-known story of 4 outstanding and brave African American men – Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Marion Motley and Bill Willis – who broke the color barrier in pro football in 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey were credited with integrating Major League Baseball.

EPIX has joined forces with the National Football League to celebrate the achievements of the Forgotten Four with local screenings in NFL team markets across the country, followed by panel discussions on the current state of race relations and athletics. The first team to kick off the commemoration was the Denver Broncos on August 2, 2014. Other NFL teams confirmed to host events, as of now, include the Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins. More teams will be announced over the coming weeks.

The hardships and triumphs of the Forgotten Four are told through the recollections of their families and those who have researched these pioneers. Those interviewed for this Epix Original Documentary include Forgotten Four family members Tony Motley (Marion Motley’s grandson), Mike Brown (Paul Brown’s son), Clem and William Willis, Jr. (Bill Willis’ sons), Karin L. Cohen (Kenny Washington’s daughter) and Kalai Strode (Woody Strode’s son).

An all-star lineup of football legends also shares their insights, including: Don Shula (Hall of Fame coach who also played for the Cleveland Browns), Bob Gain, Sherman Howard, Jim Hardy (Los Angeles Rams) and George Taliaferro (Indiana University). Participating writers/historians include Joe Horrigan (Pro Football Hall of Fame), Lonnie G. Bunch (National Museum of African American History and Culture), Khalil Gibran Muhammad (Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture), Jarrett Bell (USA Today) and Brad Pye, Jr. (Los Angeles Sentinel).

“EPIX is pleased to work with the National Football League to bring the story of these trailblazers in civil rights and professional sports to a new national audience,” said Mark Greenberg, President and CEO, EPIX. “We believe Forgotten Four presents an insightful and informative account of the profound impact these courageous men had on the sport.”

“Forgotten Four: The Integration of Pro Football,” was produced by Ross Greenburg and directed by Johnson McKelvy. Ross Greenburg and Wesley E. Smith are executive producers. Ross Bernard is executive producer and Jill Burkhart is producer for EPIX. Donovan McNabb, former star NFL quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, served as creative consultant for the film.

Join the conversation about #ForgottenFour on Twitter http://Twitter.com/EpixHD, on Facebook http://Facebook.com/EPIX and on the EPIX webpage http://www.epix.com/forgotten-four-the-integration-of-pro-football/.

Remembering J. California Cooper (1932-2014)

j california

“I was telling stories before I could write. I like to tell stories, and I like to talk to things. If you’ve read fairy tales, you know that everything can talk, from trees to chairs to tables to brooms. So I grew up thinking that, and I turned it into stories.”    — J. California Cooper

Joan California Cooper first found recognition as a playwright. The author of seventeen plays, she was named Black Playwright of the Year in 1978. It was through her work in the theater that she caught the attention of acclaimed poet and novelist Alice Walker. Encouraged by Walker to turn her popular storytelling skills to fiction, Cooper wrote her first collection of short stories, A Piece of Mine, in 1984. Called “rich in wisdom and insight,” A Piece of Mine introduced Cooper’s trademark style: her intimate and energetic narration, sympathetic yet sometimes troubled characters, and the profound moral messages that underlie seemingly simple stories. The collection contains 12 short stories of troubles in a black, small town setting. They are narrated in a relaxed, anecdotal, almost confessional style, usually by older, wiser women. The focus of most of these stories is abusive men, and the women who get revenge on them. The stories are full of energy, humor and personality. “The label ‘short’ story is a woefully inadequate description of these intensely, explicitly moral tales. ‘Parable’ is more appropriate. Cooper’s stories are rich in wisdom and in insight” (Belles Lettres).

In 1986 Homemade Love, winner of the American Book Award, was published. In Homemade Love, one of the best-loved volumes of her work, J. California Cooper tells exuberant tales full of wonder at the mystery of life and the hardness of fate. The stories in this collection are narrated by friends, relatives, and nosy neighbors in voices so direct and familiar they sound as if they were talking over the back fence. Awed, bedeviled, bemused, all of Cooper’s characters are borne up by the sheer power of life itself. The stories enlighten, enrich and satisfy our yearnings for the characters’ fulfillment. J. California Cooper promotes the belief that there is someone for everyone, and that someone is probably right here at home. “Gutsy and familiar. . .Cooper’s power comes from sticking to her instinct, which is to tell a story, plain and simple” (The Washington Post).

In 1991 J. California Cooper wrote her first novel, Family. Family offers a unique portrait of slavery as seen through the eyes of the ghost-like narrator Clora, in the era of the Civil War. While illustrating the horrors of slavery with wide-open eyes and a firm sense of its tragic magnitude, Family also recognizes the power and resilience of human nature. As the San Francisco Chronicle noted in one of Family’s many positive reviews from across the country, Cooper’s words “envelop and transcend time, offering hope and renewal at the same time they chronicle desolation and death. ” J. California Cooper has said that Family “wasn’t just about the last slavery. I’m trying to say that every time you make a slave out of somebody, anybody, you do a wrong. ” Family is well written in Cooper’s trademark colloquial style, and is poignant and disturbing, yet at the same time, humorous and charming. “Mesmerizing. . .Cooper weaves four wry, humorous, tragic tales that envelop and transcend time” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Since the publication of Family, J. California Cooper has presented readers with a diverse and – as always – moving and heartfelt body of work. In The Matter Is Life, Cooper returned to her traditional short-story format, with exuberant language, distinctly personal narration and a memorable group of characters struggling to make the right choices in a difficult world. In 1994, Cooper again turned her prodigious talents to novel-writing with In Search of Satisfaction. She shows an epic saga of three families whose paths intertwine with the devil in their quests for wealth, power and love. Cooper relates this meandering tale of two half-sisters in a folksy, dialect-strewn voice that is moralistic, which animates this fictional work. Cooper created a “hypnotic tale” that is a “deep and lucid exploration of good and evil, free will, truth, duty, and the nature of honor” (Atlanta Constitution). In Search of Satisfaction combines Cooper’s trademark narrative style with a deeply moral sensibility, a focus on religion and the Ten Commandments, and an unabashedly sharp sense of humor.

In the past twenty years, through her novels and her stories, J. California Cooper has become recognized as one of America’s premier storytellers. She was known for a folksy, conversational style and for stories of women scarred by violence or betrayal. Her work was praised for its power and at times criticized for being didactic.

J. California Cooper died peacefully at the age of 82 in Seattle, Washington on September 20th.  Her daughter Paris Williams was by her side.
In lieu of a funeral Ms. Cooper requested that she be remembered with personal acts of kindness or charity.

wake of the wind

 

Is There A Strong Black Woman Trapped Inside Of Every White One?

Lifetime’s new show Girlfriend Intervention is not subtle about its message. Its premise is four black women giving a makeover to a white woman on the theory that, as they put it, “Trapped inside of every white girl is a strong black woman ready to bust out.”

They don’t even have to say “weak white girl” or “lame white girl” or “ugly white girl” or “unfashionable white girl” or “boring white girl,” because all those things are, before long, implied.

The four makeover makers are Tracy Balan on beauty, Nikki Chu on “home and sanctuary,” Tiffiny Dixon on fashion, and many-many-many-time reality star Tanisha Thomas (most notably of Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club) as your — this is real — “soul coach.” Thomas lays out her philosophy early in the first episode, saying that black women are taught that no matter what else is going on in your life, “as long as you look fabulous, that’s all that matters.” On the other hand, she says, “with Caucasian women, you get married, you marry the man of your dreams, you have his children, and now it’s time to stop taking care of you? Girl, I missed that memo.”

Are you a black woman? You might find this offensive. Are you a white woman? You might find this offensive. Are you neither? You might be thinking at this point that you’re lucky to be left out of the entire thing. (Be aware, though, that no one is safe. Near the end of the first episode, Thomas exaggeratedly compliments the hotness of the made-over white woman by yelling, “Muy caliente, salsa picante mucho!”)

Like so much of makeover television, this is shaming dressed up as encouragement (they actually call the segment where the makeover candidate shows them how she currently dresses the “catwalk of shame”). It’s conformity dressed up as individuality, and it’s submission to the expectations of others dressed up as self-confidence.

Only now, with obnoxious racial politics slathered all over the entire thing!

It is not like those politics need to be introduced by the viewer, either: They are the premise of the show, and they are repeated over and over. Black women, we are told in so many words, are unerringly confident, gorgeous, stylish, unflappable, and — ah, yes — better at pleasing men, especially black men. In the first episode, the target, Joanie, has a good-looking black husband, which the women make clear makes sloppy dressing a worse crime than it would be otherwise. “A black woman would never let herself go with a man like that,” the soul consultant announces. The second episode, in fact, also features a woman, Emily, whose partner is a black man. “Now, I know there’s a hot mama hidden in Emily. After all, she got a black man!” says Tracy.

(By the way, just when you think the show can’t get more awkward, the second episode brings a moment in which Emily explains that she met her husband when she reached out and, fascinated, touched his hair. Do we need to talk about how one does not do that? One does not do that. This goes unmentioned.)

Black women are also presented as more fundamentally honest. Your white friends are lying to you: “With Caucasian women, everybody’s afraid to say how they really feel.” Your new black friends, on the other hand, are here to save the day: We are told that they “have the guts to tell you what everybody is really thinking.” But they’re not mean! “We do it out of love. Tough love, as a sister to another sister.”

All of this is overtly about the manipulation of identity. It is made clear from the beginning that dressing in the way these consultants suggest is, to them, fundamental to being truly black if you’re black, and to bringing out your inner black woman (who is presumed to be superior to your outer white woman) if you are white. The fashion consultant, as she observes Joanie’s clothes, says, “No self-respecting black woman would ever hide herself in this if she wants to keep her black card.” And the hits go on and on: In the second episode, Emily is taken to a studio to rap. And she’s given a gold chain. And a hoodie. For the empowerment, you know.

On this show, all toughness, and in fact all showing of spine among women, is associated with being black, as we learn when Joanie shoots one of the consultants an unhappy look about an unflattering outfit in which they’ve placed her, and they immediately seize upon how easy it was to bring out her “black woman.” With all due respect to these particular four women, I learned the throwing of a proper stink-eye from my mother, thank you very much, and I would put my stink-eye up against anyone’s.

The casually insulting way these consultants approach their white … clients? … is unappealing, certainly, but the show’s approach to the consultants themselves, and to black women in general, is hugely problematic, too. The black women on Girlfriend Intervention, like the gay men who did the work on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, are supposedly being saluted for their (stereotypically) superior style and knowledge and backbone, but are cast as helpers and facilitators for the benefit of, respectively, white women and straight men, valued for what they can offer and required to display sass at all times in sufficient amounts. (Among other things, it’s unfortunate that other than Thomas being the loudest, they don’t much distinguish the four stylists from each other, either.)

Popular entertainment targeted to white women is thick with obnoxiously other-ish fairy godpeople: the gay friend, the keeping-it-real black friend, the Latina neighbor, the wise black boss. There’s always some earthier, real-er, truer person whose task it is to flutter around to provide perspective, to fix what’s broken, and often to embarrass you for your foolishness. This is problematic for white women who don’t care to be cast as badly dressed, helpless dummies who need constant life coaching, but it’s no better for black women who don’t care to be cast as flashy-dressing, finger-waving, fast-talking fixers whose mission is making Cinderella presentable for the ball, or for gay men who don’t care to be asked to tag along on shopping trips.

It’s not your black friend’s job to tell you how to believe in yourself and keep your man (the concept of not having a man one is desperate to keep is seemingly foreign to the interventionists); it’s not your gay friend’s job to style you. Friendship is not quite so transactional.

(It must be said, too, that one of the show’s challenges is a simple and serious one: at least in the first couple of episodes, the woman doesn’t look very good or very comfortable in the things they choose for her. It’s one thing to be in charge of sewing Cinderella’s dress, but if she looked better when she was cleaning out the fireplace, you have a problem.)

What makes this particularly disappointing as a Lifetime show is that Lifetime is a network that has actually tried to appeal to more diverse audiences, as NPR’s Priska Neely reported just last month. It’s entirely possible, moreover, that there’s a good show to be made in which black women and white women talk about beauty, confidence, self-care, and how they may see and experience some of those things differently. There’s such a thing as the politics and emotional weight of hair, of style, of body image. But you don’t get there by appointing black women as essentially beauty and style assistants to white women they treat like dolts.

Speaking personally, I walked away unconvinced that I have an inner black woman. I probably have an inner white woman who’s more confident than the outer one. I probably have an inner white woman who’s better at dressing myself, and I probably have an inner white woman who’s better at interior decorating. I definitely have an inner white woman who wears better shoes. But no matter what women I manage to raise from within, they will all be white women. Nothing I say, nothing I do with my hair, no color I put on my walls, will make that any less true. And frankly, I feel neither entitled nor required to act otherwise.

Black woman

*Article originally published on NPR.