Tag: Black

RAPPER’S DELIGHT: Sugarhill Gang – “Big Bank Hank” Has Died at the Age of 57

Hank Jackson, aka The Sugarhill Gang‘s Big Bank Hank, has died, as TMZ reports. He was 57 years old. The cause is believed to be cancer. The other two founding members of the Sugarhill Gang, Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright and Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien, told TMZ, “So sad to hear of our brother’s passing. Rest in peace Big Bank.”

Jackson joined the Sugarhill Gang in the late 70s when producer/Sugarhill Records founder Sylvia Robinson was looking to record a group to capitalize on the then-nascent hip-hop movement. They became known for their 1979 single, “Rapper’s Delight”, which is commonly credited as the first song to bring hip-hop to a wide mainstream audience.

Rappers Delight

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.

Do African Americans Have Equal Gun Rights In America?

CONVENTIONAL wisdom holds that firearms are the preserve of conservative white men. You would never know this at my local shooting range, which happens to be in a majority African-American area, and has a clientele that reflects that fact. There, as a white man, I’m often in the minority; just one more guy who likes to fire weapons — another person to chat to and share stories with. It is, I’d venture, how things should be.

By rights, the Second Amendment should serve as a totem of African-Americans’ full citizenship and enfranchisement. For centuries, firearms have been indispensable to black liberation: as crucial a defense against tyranny for Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. as for Sam Adams and George Washington. Today, however, many black Americans have a decidedly mixed relationship with the right to bear arms.

In August, as the outrage over the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., dominated the news, an African-American group calling itself the Huey P. Newton Gun Club took to the streets of Dallas, rifles in hand, to protest. Local businesses were supportive, and the city’s police chief confirmed in a statement that his department “supports the constitutional rights of all.” On Twitter, the hashtag #blackopencarry prompted a warm response from conservatives.

And yet, that same month, a 22-year-old black man named John Crawford III was shot dead by the police in an Ohio Walmart after a white customer claimed excitedly that a man was pointing a gun at his fellow patrons. Later, the store’s security footage revealed that Mr. Crawford had been holding a BB gun that he had picked up in the sporting goods department, and that the caller’s testimony had been wrong. Ohio is an open carry state. That didn’t make much difference for Mr. Crawford.

Until around 1970, the aims of America’s firearms restrictionists and the aims of America’s racists were practically inextricable. In both the colonial and immediate post-Revolutionary periods, the first laws regulating gun ownership were aimed squarely at blacks and Native Americans. In both the Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies, it was illegal for the colonists to sell guns to natives, while Virginia and Tennessee banned gun ownership by free blacks.

In the antebellum period, the chief justice of the United States, Roger B. Taney, wrote a grave warning into the heart of the execrable Dred Scott decision. If blacks were permitted to become citizens, Taney cautioned, they, like whites, would have full liberty to “keep and carry arms wherever they went.”

White Southerners would eventually be forced to accept blacks as their fellow citizens. But old habits died hard. After the Civil War, many Southern states enacted Black Codes to prohibit ownership of guns by blacks. The measures served their purpose. In her remarkable 1892 disquisition on the evils of lynching, the writer Ida B. Wells noted that “the only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense.” Wells offered some blunt advice: “a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”

At the height of the civil rights movement, black freedom fighters took Wells’s counsel seriously. Although he was denied a concealed-carry permit, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had what his adviser Glenn E. Smiley described as a veritable “arsenal” at home.

Far from being a digression from the principle of nonviolence, this willingness to defend oneself was heir to a long, proud tradition. Considering in 1850 what he believed to be the best response to the Fugitive Slave Act, Frederick Douglass proposed: “a good revolver.”

The first major ban on the open carrying of firearms — a Republican-led bill that was drafted after Black Panthers began hanging around the State Legislature in Sacramento with their guns on display — was signed in 1967 by none other than Gov. Ronald Reagan of California. The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 was primarily a reaction to the scourge of “Saturday night specials” — cheap handguns owned by the poor and the black. The National Rifle Association opposed neither law.

So the fact that one of the seminal Second Amendment cases in American history is named for a black plaintiff is a beautiful and moving thing indeed. McDonald v. Chicago, argued in 2010, was brought by Otis McDonald, a 76-year-old black man tired of watching his neighborhood give way to crime and gang warfare. The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that the Second Amendment applied not just to all people, but to the states as well as to the federal government, and that Chicago was therefore not permitted to prohibit Mr. McDonald from keeping a handgun for his defense.

Yet African-American activists typically refrain from involvement in the issue of gun rights. In October 2013, Shaneen Allen, 27, a black single mother of two, was arrested in New Jersey for carrying a firearm without a license (she was under the impression that her Pennsylvania concealed-carry permit was accepted across state lines), and threatened with a prison sentence of up to 11 years for her mistake.

But it was conservative publications, such as my own National Review, and the N.R.A. that came to her defense. The N.A.A.C.P. and the usual champions remained unusually quiet. (There was no news conference featuring the Rev. Al Sharpton.) They have been largely absent, too, from the case of Marissa Alexander, a black Florida woman given a 20-year sentence for firing a warning shot near her abusive husband.

It’s a problem of perception, an assumption that the Second Amendment is the province of whites, that cuts both ways. In 2009, as the first Tea Party rallies swept the country, Contessa Brewer of MSNBC showed a video of a man at an anti-Obamacare rally with a pistol on his hip and suggested that “there are questions about whether this has racial overtones … white people showing up with guns.” Later, it came out that the man in the video was actually black.

At least 15 percent of African-Americans report that they own guns — about the same rate as all other “nonwhites.” But as anybody who has attended an N.R.A. convention can attest, there is a gaping hole in the organization’s membership. Look around the convention center and you will see plenty of women, a good number of Asians and Hispanics, and even a smattering of children. Blacks? Not so much

This is a tremendous shame. It is one thing for the N.R.A. to celebrate black Second Amendment advocates such as its spokesman Colion Noir, and Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. of Milwaukee County, but it is quite another for Wayne LaPierre to inveigh against “home invaders, drug cartels, carjackers, knockout gamers, and rapers, and haters,” and for the camera to then pan around a sea of white faces clapping in unison.

Malcolm X may have a deservedly mixed reputation, but the famous photograph of him standing at the window, rifle in hand, insisting on black liberation “by any means necessary,” is about as American as it gets. It should be celebrated just like the “Don’t tread on me” Gadsden flag. By not making that connection, the movement is losing touch with one of its greatest triumphs and forsaking a prime illustration of why its cause is so just and so crucial.

If supporters of the right to keep and bear arms want their pleas to be heard in their proper context, they might consider talking a little less about Valley Forge and a little more about Jim Crow — and attempting to fill their ranks with people who have known much more recently what tyranny really looks like.

guns

 

*Article originally published by the New York Times.

Why Paula Deen Can’t Say The N-word But Kanye West Can

Paula, Paula, Paula. What a mess she has gotten herself into! Because of her use of racial slurs, I was so glad to hear that the Food Network has decided not to renew her contract and am hoping that QVC drops her too. I believe that an example should be made of her, especially since she hasn’t denied any of the allegations (I guess it’s not an allegation if it’s true). But it’s not just about her using the n-word it’s the systematic behavior throughout her business operations and the hostile work environment that she has allowed that are morally and financially degrading to African Americans. Paula Deen’s actions go way beyond the use of the n-word. She is a millionaire and has become a culinary celebrity by selling to ALL ethnicities, even though her company failed to pay African American employees the same as White employees.

Paula Deen is from the deep south (Savannah, Georgia to be exact), so can I blame her? She comes from an era where the n-word was used as commonly as the word “the”. Sure this is a new day & time, but if someone is raised a certain way with racist values embedded in them it’s not so easy to shake those ways. Our upbringing shapes who we are even if times have changed. Now this doesn’t excuse her actions it just helps explain why she feels the way she does towards Blacks. The problem I have with Paula is that if she didn’t see the big deal about what she was doing and not ashamed of her true feelings, she would have felt free to discuss this subject matter with Oprah when she came to visit her at her home 1 year ago.  I believe that Paula may be upset because she got caught saying the n-word, not because she said actually said it.

It’s comical that the vast majority of the people who support Paula Deen’s return to the Food Network are White. It’s even funnier that more White people are accepting of her behavior and think that her actions deserve nothing less than total forgiveness. After all, she is from one of the most racially charged states in this nation. However, it is one thing for her to have used racial slurs (which I’m sure she still uses) but it’s another thing to treat your staff unfairly in a racially hostile work environment. Paula Deen claims that she is not a racist but if that was the case why did so many of her African American employees feel uncomfortable & discriminated against? When Paula spoke about her desire for the antebellum period (read: Southern plantation style) for her brother’s wedding & having Blacks dress up like slaves, that reeks of good ole fashioned racism.

Now one of the oldest questions that Whites always want to know is why is it okay for Blacks to use the n-word but they can’t. Why do we allow our rappers, like Kanye West, to use that word but are ready to start a riot when White’s admit to saying the n-word? Well, here’s my response: If I were to call your mom fat, you would have a problem with that wouldn’t you? I know for many men, those would be fighting words. Even if you know that’s a sore spot for her and she’s struggling with her weight. But if your mother looks in the mirror and calls herself fat then that would be okay. I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with the use of the n-word, but if an African American chooses to use that word then that is their discretion, not yours. But it by no way permits Whites to use that word EVER. So White people please stop asking us this question, it is not your place to question what we call ourselves.

As for Paula Deen, I would say that her apology is too little and way too late. The only thing that racist people like Paula understand is not Black or White but green (money), so I will not be patronizing her businesses now or ever: A bought lesson is a taught lesson.

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