Monday, November 11, 2019

Retro Black Sitcoms

An ongoing theme for the blog this year has been nostalgia and as we approach the last few weeks of the year, I figured I would keep that going with a piece that I first hinted at writing this summer. You may recall that I uncovered a clip from Charlie & Co., which was a short-lived family sitcom that starred R&B Diva Gladys Knight. Finding that clip got me to thinking about a few other shows that I vaguely remembered, which of course led me down quite a fascinating Memory Lane...

Clearly, I watched a LOT of television which explains why I am a repository of random pop culture trivia. Whenever we think of classic Black sitcoms, we revisit the same handful of shows that happen to stay in regular syndicated rotation, such as Sanford and Son, Good Times, and The Jeffersons (which all happen to have been produced by Norman Lear). However, there are many more shows that made it onto the small screen, even if for a brief moment. As you look through these clips, you might be surprised to see several familiar faces before they achieved mainstream success. And if we're lucky, maybe one year TVOne, Aspire, or some other retro TV network will acquire the rights to air a marathon of one or more of these shows so that we can have a more diverse pool of reruns upon which to binge.

That's My Mama (1974)
The Hub did not believe this was a real show--he thought it was a joke based on the reference made to it in at the Black Awareness rally scene in Coming to America. So imagine his amazement when it aired for a brief time back in the early days of TV One (and FWIW, there was no 'Joe the cop' or a 'What's Going Down' episode). Growing up, this was the other Black Mama show (What's Happening is better known) and my random trivia is that both Theresa Merritt and Mabel King appeared in The Wiz.

Baby I'm Back (1977)
I did not remember the premise of this show, which was probably a good thing considering...this was definitely not the kind of show that would get a hard pass in today's contentious social media climate. Even in the late 70s, this seems like the type of show that would have garnered protests for promoting negative images of Black fatherhood. On the bright side, there are several familiar faces that reappear in subsequent sitcoms, including a very young and clearly gifted Kim Fields. Demond Wilson would star in a remake of the Odd Couple that also lasted for about 13 episodes, Helen Martin would return to sit in the window at 227,  and Denise Nichols would also continue to appear in various projects through the years.

Getting to Know Me (1980)
I am SO glad to have finally found a clip of this show on YouTube! This aired one summer on PBS, and I remember watching it with my Mom. Seeing this entire episode after all of these years made me emotional for so many reasons. Let's start with how that theme song has been in my head for nearly 40 years, and then how I just assumed that this show was lost forever somewhere in a dusty library archive. In hindsight, it makes sense that it only lasted one season and that it aired on PBS given the times, but this needs to be restored and made available at the Blacksonian or for a February programming binge. Priceless!

He's the Mayor (1986)
What I remember about this show at the time was how it seemed like such a ground-breaking concept despite the fact that there were Black mayors in several major US cities in the mid-80s. Even Chicago had elected Harold Washington as its first Black mayor, although it would take few years for New York City. Perhaps it was Kevin Hooks' youth and maybe the fact that while plenty of Black people were used to the idea of a Black mayor, this would have been a definite cultural shock outside of a Chocolate City. Even though it only lasted half a season, this show clearly provided some inspiration for The Distinguished Gentleman (1992) and Head of State (2003).

Charlie & Co. (1985)
This show attempted to clone the success of The Cosby Show, which was on a rival network. It didn't work for a variety of reasons. They seemed to be a nice enough family, so maybe on another network in a Friday night lineup of other bland shows it might have worked better. Which is what happened for Jaleel White, who went on to become Steve Urkel (imagine how different his career would have been). And of course it was one of many acting credits for Kristoff St. John, whom we lost earlier this year.

What's Happening Now (1985)
This was one of those syndicated shows that attempted to pick up several years in the future after the end of the first show. And it was terrible, which should provide some context for why nearly every sitcom reboot is a bad idea. However, it did introduce us to a young Martin Lawrence and Regina King's younger sister, Reina (just the type of random factoid that would win on Black Jeopardy).

Frank's Place (1987)
In the list of great Black sitcoms, this show is always mentioned in high regard. Unfortunately, I did not watch it regularly enough to know that on my own (which might explain why I was so ill-prepared for my transition from Atlanta to New Orleans). Nevertheless, there is a good reason why this show is remembered so fondly and I think that audiences need a better reason to remember Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell Reid than as corny Ray Campbell (Sister, Sister) and as the second Aunt Viv (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air).

Out All Night (1992)
When I was putting together the R&B Divas playlist, I knew Patti LaBelle had been in a sitcom that I watched, but that it only lasted for about a season. Beyond having up-and-coming talent that included Morris Chestnut, Duane Martin, and Vivica A. Fox, it was generic and forgettable. The younger actors would go on to become big screen stars throughout the decade, and of course Miss Patti would continue to be her larger than life self.

Thea (1993)
If you recognize a young Brandy Norwood before she dropped her last name, released an album, and got her own sitcom, as well as a young Jason Weaver, one of the hardest working teen actors in the 90s, then you might be wondering how you forgot about this show. Well, because sometimes the stars are the kids, and not the eponymous name in the title. My question: what happened to Thea Vidale?

Me and the Boys (1994)
Before all of the kid-friendly sitcoms shifted to Disney and Nickelodeon, there were a few that managed to make it onto the major network schedules, and that would include this show with Steve Harvey. It was cute and might have lasted longer if not for the unfortunate illness and death of co-star Madge Sinclair. Harvey reportedly did not want to continue the show without her, so he got a different show for which he is better remembered.

At some point in the 90s, maybe right in the middle of the decade when new networks were launching, certain programming became more expendable and the landscape of situation comedies also changed. As I mentioned above, most of the shows that were designated as family-friendly migrated from the networks to cable, and Black sitcoms were relegated to the fledgling networks UPN and WB. Then my TV viewing habits changed, so it is quite possible that I missed something notable from early 2000s. I know that streaming services made some shows not mentioned here available to current audiences, such as Smart Guy. And it is possible that some of these shows might air on one of those platforms.

But for those of us who haven't cut the cord and who are not sure what to think about Good Times live (at least it isn't a reboot), a couple of these shows deserve to pinch hit one of these holiday weekends.

Friday, November 8, 2019

BBW Tea Party: Harriet

This piece will contain a few spoilers, so if you have not seen the film, I strongly encourage you to do so unless you have been convinced that it is a waste of time, in which case, I urge you to read this and then reconsider. Please and Thank You.

In the weeks leading up to the release of Harriet, I saw a lot of chatter on Twitter and I am sad to say that I read far too much of it prior to seeing the movie; however, I ignored most of it. It was a good movie, I recommend it, and if you are weighing whether to see it, I implore you to do so as soon as possible!

I sat in a theater that was partially full of senior citizens for a matinee showing, which is not surprising for the middle of the week, but a little disappointing when I think back to not yet two years ago when I first tried to see Black Panther a few days after its release. It was a midweek morning and I specifically chose an out of the way theater, but showings were sold out for the entire week. I lucked up and saw the movie a week later at a multiplex in New York where there were shows every half hour and the theater was still packed with people, many of whom were seeing it for the second or third time. I mention this at the outset not to shame anyone who saw Black Panther multiple times (because that was a great movie), but to point out that this movie should have done better than fourth place this weekend.

I also felt that it was important to reference Black Panther in response to the concerns about Cynthia Erivo being British. Chadwick Boseman is American, and yet I don't recall any misgivings about him taking on the role of an African King. And there weren't any complaints about Boseman's co-stars Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown, or Michael B. Jordan, also American actors. Nor a lot grumbling that the Black Panther had been written by an old white guy (the late great Stan Lee). Yeah I know Wakanda is a fictional place, but it was purported to exist on a real continent as an independent and thriving utopia that had been unspoiled by colonialism...which goes beyond the realm of fantasy into delusional. Not a word or a whiff of outrage.

I read a few of Cynthia Erivo's past tweets and yeah, a whole lot of y'all say problematic shit on Twitter. That doesn't excuse her statements, and she deserves the appropriate dragging. And maybe there was another American actress who could have filled that role, but it isn't as if British and American actors don't ever cross the pond and switch places. Meryl Streep was Margaret Thatcher. Sir Anthony Hopkins was Hannibal Lector. Idris Elba was Stringer Bell. Renee Zellweger was Bridget Jones. Naomie Harris is currently an American cop in Black and Blue. And do you know why we rarely notice? Because they are actors and that is their job.

But since we are apparently keeping score, Black Brits have been getting a lot of American roles lately so be sure to boycott the next film or favorite project that stars Lupita Nyong'o (Us), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (A Wrinkle In Time), John Boyega (Star Wars), Chiwetel Ojiofor (The Lion King), Thandie Newton (Westworld), David Oyelowo (Don't Let Go), and Carmen Ejogo (True Detective). Remember, those are roles that could have gone to Americans, so let's stay righteously mad Every Single Time. And why stop with Black Brits when there are Black actors throughout the diaspora who are infringing on the rights of American-born actors: Winston Duke and Lorraine Toussaint (Trinidad and Tobago), Letitia Wright (Guyana), Sidney Poitier (Bahamas), Grace Jones and Sheryl Lee Ralph (Jamaica), Danai Gurira (via Zimbabwe), Uzo Aduba (via Nigeria), Tatyana Ali (via Panama and Trinidad and Tobago), Laz Alonso (via Cuba), and Harry Belafonte (via Jamaica).

America First! Send them back! Build the Wall! That's how you sound.

As for Erivo's performance, she was excellent! Leslie Odom, Janelle Monae, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Clarke Peters, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Daphne Maxwell Reid, and my line sister (I saw you girl :) also gave noteworthy performances. I am unfamiliar with the other white actors, and their presence on screen was one of the weaknesses of the movie. White actors in these historic pieces can either come off as cartoons or ciphers if not used adequately, and unfortunately the performances of Joe Alwyn and Jennifer Nettles fell short of the brilliance we experienced with Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson in Twelve Years A Slave. But, I also recognize the desire to elevate this narrative above the condition of enslavement, so it was an interesting creative choice to marginalize the white characters.

Which is why the rumors of a white savior was such a reach. Mind you, there are benevolent white people in this movie, because there were white abolitionists, who sheltered runaways, provided them with food, clothing, and safe passage. Not to be confused with the slaveowners, overseers, and bounty yes, there are depictions of good white people because that's how the Underground Railroad worked. Additionally, there is no need for all of this ruckus over the existence of a Black bounty hunter. Don't be that naive and willfully ignorant. Some enslaved people did not leave the plantations; others found the means to survive the best way they could. In a biopic, creative license is what makes the narrative interesting and engaging. If you prefer the straight-forward factual story, then watch a documentary or go to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park. Otherwise, I need more of you to learn your history from reading books, not an #ADOS twitter/instagram rant.

Or you can revisit one of the previous movies made about Tubman's life. I was recently reminded of this gem that I saw back when I was in elementary school. Thanks to inclement weather, indoor recess, and what passed for being 'woke' in the late 70s and 80s, I had the memory of these stellar performances by Ruby Dee and Cicely Tyson. The current movie dramatizes Tubman's life, which is what a biopic does.

Thus, I really appreciated the treatment of John Tubman's story because it offered a perspective on the complexities and tensions on marriages between free and enslaved people. Instead of the commonly accepted story that her husband was a scared man who did not support his wife's desire for freedom, we get a sympathetic portrayal of a man who sought it for her. His choice to move on was presented as practical, not out of spite or from a lack of love for a woman he never thought he would see again. I also appreciated the nod to the earlier films where Harriet's parents would not look at her in order to truthfully say that they had not seen her. It highlighted another emotionally challenging component of relationships among enslaved people--the illusive structure of enslaved families and the extraordinary effort she undertook to reunite hers.

There were a few scenes that I thought were gratuitous and unnecessary, but nothing egregious. The greatest flaw was an omission, so I agree with the criticism that Tubman's later work as a Union Army spy got the footnote treatment. That is the one aspect of her life story that most people know the least about. The Combahee River Raid, which is referenced in Glory (one of my favorite movies), would not have been successful without Tubman's leadership. Yet, it isn't included in Ken Burns' Civil War series either, so that might also reflect a lack of serious historical scholarship on the vital role of women and enslaved people in the war.

I have had some time to reflect on the sexist nature of the backlash, fueled at least in part by the ashier elements on Black Twitter. These are the same dudes who never pass up an opportunity to bash Black women whether it is Oprah, Kamala Harris, victims of sexual assault, and now a film about a real-life American shero directed by a Black woman. I expect conservative movie reviewers to dismiss the film as ideologically driven because they regard any critical examination of slavery as revisionism. But when there are Black people denouncing as trash a movie that they haven't seen (or when they have an obvious agenda in disparaging it), then that is the exact opposite of wokeness.

We're boycotting because Comcast is the distributor and look at their role in the Byron Allen case. The same Byron Allen who calls himself a protege of Rupert Murdoch and works in partnership with Sinclair Broadcast Group. Did he call for the boycott of this movie because he plans to produce an alternative on the Weather Channel?

We're boycotting this film because we're tired of seeing slave movies. In the same year that we commemorate 400 years of the African introduction to this continent in bondage, we are ashamed of the condition that was imposed on our ancestors? Y'all better stop listening to Kanye West...

You ain't woke if you would rather see another stale installment of The Terminator franchise, but at the very least that would be honest. I am not saying that Harriet is the best film or that it doesn't have shortcomings. But we have flocked to the theaters to see all kinds of movies, even Kevin Hart movies, so surely this is better than Night School. At the very least, see it and judge for yourself.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Double Down

I had not paid close enough attention to the scandal that engulfed the promising career of former California Congresswoman Katie Hill until I saw this political ad for one of the local State Senate races in Virginia. The ad exploits the circumstances of the sexual assault allegations that have dogged embattled current Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. As I was doing the research to find that link, I learned that similar content is being used against another candidate in another part of the state.

For what it is worth, I have already shared my concerns about the allegations brought against Fairfax, but that was eight months ago. Since then, another accuser came forward and for that along with various other reasons, my feelings about his political future are no longer as wishy-washy. He needs to go. He comes from a well-connected family, has a good private-sector job, and in the best interest of everyone involved, stepping away from the limelight spares us the agony of watching him transformed into a modern-day Willie Horton. It makes me sad, BUT not sad enough to acquiesce to the suggestion that the good he could have done in public office could not be accomplished by someone else.

In that same vein, it's outrageous that the accounts of his two accusers have become part of a cynical political narrative intended to disillusion voters. One candidate even bolstered the impact of the ads with mailers that allude to the allegations, but that feature someone else's image, which I find both disturbing and deeply offensive. Mind you, Justin Fairfax isn't even on the ballot and I am pretty sure that these women did not consent to use of their image in this way. And I am also 1000% sure that neither of the campaigns that produced these ads give one whiff about what these women endured by coming forward. Just ask Christine Blasey Ford.

Someone famously quipped that politics ain't beanbag; for women it can be dodgeball with live grenades. From what I have observed throughout my life, but definitely in the last three years, women are the collateral damage in most political scandals.

Consider the scrutiny that accompanies the wives of political office seekers. The traditional role of a political spouse was that of a smiling, well-coifed homemaker. Then along came modern women with their own opinions such as Hillary Clinton and Teresa Heinz, who when pitted against the likes of Cindy McCain and Laura Bush, were regarded as liabilities. It is a perverted Mrs. America Pageant, especially for FLOTUS, where every aspect of a contestant's life is dissected and mounted for public display. Not even the useless Melania Antoinette evaded being slut-shamed for having taken nude pictures in her past (yet, somehow that worked in her husband's favor).

Women who pursue candidacies of their own face a Ms. Congeniality competition that pits appearance against intellect and ideology. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a popular conservative target, not because she is a ballsy millennial upstart, but because she is young, attractive, and smart. Her detractors get a lot more mileage from mocking her alleged intellectual deficiencies than they would by going up against fellow freshman Congresswoman Katie Porter (even in this Batgirl costume). Liberals had our fun back when Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann were trending, so the ridicule cuts both ways. And if we aren't directly disparaging a woman's looks, then the next line of attack is her age which is also a sideways insult on her appearance, so there's that.

And if we aren't attacking or maligning or deriding the women who are married to power or who are seeking it for themselves, then our issues are political fodder. Abortion might be the most explosive and polarizing, but pay equity, family leave, public benefits, minimum wage, and healthcare fall under that umbrella of kitchen table issues used to describe and then dismiss domestic policy that disproportionately impact women. Every policy change debated in that space turns on the financial impact to employers or taxpayers, which is just another way of saying that we give lip service to equality and fairness but we don't want to pay for it.

All of this makes the rapid rise and fall of Katie Hill so perfect for the Lifetime movie treatment. She hadn't even finished a full year of her term before she self-destructed. Her hasty departure could have been the stuff of another Helen Fielding sequel--Bridget Jones Goes to Parliament or perhaps we should go back and watch The Contender.

The problem I have with her resignation isn't that it happened, but that she won't get any credit for sparing us the tawdry details of her private life. While I agree that she was subjected to a double standard (because men have been accused of much worse and managed to hold on), she went down for more dubious reasons. Instead of being the purpose-driven, dutiful wife caught up in a love triangle with a philandering husband in a long-distance commuter marriage, she was the sexy siren who was seducing her staff to join in their threesomes. By proclaiming her bisexuality as part of her political biography, she left her blinds wide open.

Of course her untimely resignation seems unfair. Of course the very idea of a sex scandal that takes down a female elected official is so on brand for the bizarro world in which we live (because it requires a lot more hubris to take out a male politician). Of course the revenge porn allegation has merit, because the outlets that published her nude photos were partisan. Of course her once promising political career is done even though one would have thought the same thing about the dude who sent dick pics to underage girls. Of course she was sacrificed on the altar of political expediency because Mama Pelosi doesn't have the bandwidth to protect a reckless freshman who can't keep her slip from hanging.

Whether we are the reluctant protagonists of a negative ad campaign; the wives who are paraded as props for political advantage (Madonna and whore); the candidates who smile past the insults and belittling by pundits; advocates for issues that are deferred as expendable; or the rising star that suddenly goes supernova, life ain't been fair for women since Adam blamed his downfall on Eve.

Our only recourse is to press on in spite of the double standards. And to close the blinds.

PS: Those ads didn't appear to have worked in Virginia this time.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

BBW Tea Party: Sweep the Leg

Last weekend, I was in bed with some advanced mutation of this cold that been dogging me since the Kid went back to school, so I had time to catch up on a few old movies. I watched When Harry Met Sally again and yes, it is still the gold standard for romantic comedies. I also watched Soul Food again, and yes I stand by my declaration that it is a bad Black movie (not the worst, but still no good). And I had a chance to watch The Karate Kid (the 1984 original) and noticed quite a few things that I missed the first 100 or times I watched it previously.

For example, I didn't notice that the set up for this movie--a single Mom and her adolescent son moving across country is similar to the premise for Alice, the sitcom. I also didn't know that show had been based on the movie, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. (And for what it's worth, I cannot explain why this was all so fascinating...)

Nevertheless, the reason why Daniel LaRusso ends up in California is less important than what happens to him, which is the real story. He makes a friend, but we quickly realize that he is not to be Daniel's real friend (since no one else would let his boy get his ass beat in front of a girl by a bunch of surfer dudes). Hence the May-December/East-meets-West bromance with Mr. Miyagi. Of course, this movie is terrible in every 80s way imaginable (movie soundtrack notwithstanding), but we loved it because it is a classic underdog story that just happened to indulge our interest in martial arts.

I didn't think that was much more to notice about this movie, other than the faint nod to West Side Story, but then I got to the big tournament at the end and something struck me. It has become a familiar sight these last few years:

More specifically, if you were to zoom into this scene:

Which provides a partial answer to one of the most willfully naive questions I often see posed on social media: who are these people? Well, if you look close enough, you might note their resemblance to these folks:

Who, as it turns out, are really not that much different than these folks:

And I know that for some who tried to make the moral equivalency argument that these folks weren't much better:

I beg to differ. Because to begrudgingly accept the free speech/assembly rights of one group while denouncing as un-American the incivility of another group is arguably more offensive and distasteful in my eyes. I digress...

When I first considered all of this, it was in response to the erroneous presumption that the support for this DESPOTUS and his policies were some kind of aberration. Well, they ain't. Throughout our history, large groups of people have proudly chosen to be on the wrong side of it. Some Americans were ardent British loyalists, Confederates, fascists, racists, and folks who voted for Ralph Nader. I'm sure that none of them believed that they were wrong at the time. Or perhaps they did know, which brings us back to the lesson of The Karate Kid.

Kreese, the sensei of the Cobra Kai, was clearly that dude who thought he should have been the shit after high school, but for whatever reason, he flamed out. So he channeled that bitterness and resentment into ventures that allowed him to remain the same tool he had always been--the kind that people only interacted with by choice. And he figured out that being an unrepentant jerk came with certain advantages, such as cult-leader status among other like-minded assholes. (Describe anyone else we might know?)

Thus, the kids who chose to follow him did so because his ex-Hollywood stuntman bravado enabled them to terrorize others. Hardly a bunch of disaffected outsiders, these spoiled rich boys were already atop the social food chain, but that was not enough. Why else would a bunch of guys from Malibu go out of their way to pick on a kid from the Valley? Because the Cobra Kai were the angry mobs that burned down the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They were the crowd that stood with Gov. George Wallace when he blocked the door to the University of Alabama in 1963. They were the Wall Street bankers who crashed the economy in 2008. They were the school officials who threatened parents with unpaid lunch balances. They don't lose any sleep over children sleeping in cages.

No mercy. Sweep the leg.

So instead of scratching our heads about what motivates their sadism, let's just stay in the fight. I noted a lot of allusions to Rocky, so go the distance. Focus. Find your balance. Put in the work. Stop complaining. Seek the wisdom of the elders who have experience and learn from them. Don't ever assume that a win in one tournament is a knockout that permanently ends the fight (as there is a new show about the next generation of Cobra Kai on YouTube right now). Much like sitting through the third movie, expending time and energy on appealing to their better angels is pointless because they are trash. Finally, in the words of Mr. Miyagi:
It's okay to lose to [an] opponent. It's never okay to lose to fear.

Monday, October 14, 2019

HBCU Just Give: Love Thy Neighbor

It was Homecoming at the Mecca this weekend, and for half a  minute I considered making an appearance on the Yard...because for the umpteenth time, I probably won't make it down to Atlanta to my own Homecoming festivities in two weeks. When I say that it lasted for about 30 seconds, that is an exaggeration, because that would be 29 seconds too long. But y'all know that I'm kidding because I love all HBCUs.

And that is not an exaggeration. I LOVE ALL HBCUs. So it irritates my SOUL when fellow HBCU alumni post booshay like this on their social media. ➨➨➨

I had a hard time deciding whether a response was even necessary, because there are times when it is best just to let others have at it, but then a few other offensive images/posts popped up on my timeline this weekend so I resolved to use this as an opportunity to put my $18.81 on the table. It also gave me an opening to re-introduce a project that I have been working on since the summer, which is the official re-launch of #HBCUJustGive.

It was just a few weeks ago that a friend sent me a rather upsetting article about his beloved Dear Old Morehouse. Then this local news segment was posted in our FB group, accompanied by various questions and then some earnest discussion about how we, as alumni, can intercede to make a difference. The announcement and celebration of Oprah's $13 million came a week later; yet, there was no announcement regarding a suspension of the furlough. So I'm betting that the cost-saving measures will remain in place because the gift from Oprah is restricted. For anyone who needs some translation, Morehouse still has to do some belt-tightening in order to make it through the 2019-2020 school year. Oprah's gift will benefit the students who are enrolled in the scholarship program that bears her name, but it won't pay salaries or keep the lights on in the dorms.

Allow me to break this down a little more for those who aren't understanding this--even Morehouse has financial woes. I don't know all of the details, but knowing that one of the most recognized HBCUs has to furlough employees means that times are hard for Every Blessed One of our schools. Perhaps then, our energy is better spent on thinking of solutions instead of airing petty grievances.

I have addressed this point in the past, and maybe it's hard to believe coming from a Spelman alumna, but these are the facts: We are not in competition for celebrity donors if there are only a handful who are opening their wallets. We are not in competition for celebrity donors in the age of Operation Varsity Blue when Aunt Becky is bribing the crew coach at USC to save a spot for her insta-famous daughter. We are not in competition for celebrity donors if college-bound athletes don't even bother to visit our campuses. We are not in competition for celebrity donors if we have to accept money from the Koch Foundation. We are not in competition for celebrity donors if we are being encouraged to participate in a PR campaign in order to 'win' a few thousand dollars from Home Depot.

We are in survival mode. Some of us are on life support. And some of us might not make it to the end of the fiscal year.

Just to illustrate this point, take the donations that have been made to HBCUs by none other than Queen Bey herself. She gave $50,000 to be split between Spelman and Howard in 2017, followed by another $100,000 donation in 2018 that got split four ways among Tuskegee (AL), Bethune-Cookman (FL), Wilberforce (OH), and Xavier (LA) Universities. Folks were hyped even though those donations went to scholarships that benefited six students, one at each school for about a semester's worth of support. Mind you, our exuberance was rightfully attached to her highly celebrated Coachella performance, where she paid homage to the HBCU Homecoming experience. Compare those donations to the amount she and Jay might have paid to rent out the Louvre for a music video...

Still hating? Are you mad at those six students, or mad enough at Beyonce not to buy another one of her $200 concert tickets?

And speaking of over-hyped performances, let's discuss Kanye West, who decided to bring his gospel concert pop up to Howard University this weekend. From all accounts, it was well attended and inspiring and uplifting, and as usual, Yeezy courted controversy with a few of his remarks. And it was free, as was the event that was held later in the day at George Washington University across town. I also saw a rumor that West donated $1million to Howard as well, so I shouldn't have a complaint in the world about any of that, right?

Well, except I do. Because operating in survival mode causes us to compromise principles in order to make a few dollars. When we compromise our principles, we accept invitations that we should decline (Talladega at the Inauguration). When we compromise, we extend invitations that are indefensible (Betsey DeVos at Bethune Cookman). When we compromise, we endure unnecessary humiliation (that Howard v. Maryland game). When we compromise, our proud traditions and values become props for someone else's benefit. Of course, Howard's Homecoming might seem like the perfect venue for a sunrise gospel service, and maybe Kanye isn't just a tool of distraction, but as long as he's out here quoting Blexit talking points, that's the headline.

Not that thousands of alumni and their families returned to their alma mater without incident this weekend. Not that Howard just entered into a partnership with Amazon that will provide a pipeline for more opportunities in Hollywood for creative talent. And so far, no confirmation that Kanye gave Howard anything other than a warm up for his show at GW. So instead of pushing Taylor Swift aside, he hijacks Homecoming. But at least his kids were dressed for the occasion.

Howard has been operating in survival mode for some time, selling off external properties such as the divinity school and the hospital. Just this spring, some dude suggested that the university should accommodate his gentrified dog poop or move. But some of y'all would rather be pissed that Howard ended up as the punchline of a Blackish episode. (Yeah, how about you call Kenya Barris out for not mentioning Clark Atlanta University--his own alma mater!)

We've got Black college students at PWIs emulating us to the point that they will claim an HBCU-ish experience, and y'all are mad at them. Instead of engaging in that foolishness, how about we get mad with them about the various microaggressions they endure at those institutions--the very reason why they need to create silly hashtags and why they are posted up at our Homecoming festivities...

As for how this all relates to #HBCUJustGive, my hashtag campaign that encourages All HBCU alumni from Every School to give back to their institutions in Any amount? Well, that's it.

I had grand plans for a splashy big relaunch, but sometimes when things fall apart, it is a sign that you need a plan B. I will spare you the details, but right now I am working through Plan C or D, which will include a new series of articles and profiles that will be released on the blog and social media in the coming weeks. But I am also pleased to see that I am not alone in the effort to increase awareness and support of HBCUs via social media. Great minds think alike, so even if I didn't get to execute my initial idea, it's okay as long as the message is out there. Because we are in survival mode, this isn't about who did what and when and whatnot. Not every blessing comes from a celebrity. Worry about the checks you're writing that keep the lights on at your alma mater. And if you haven't written a check yet...


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Salty Pretzels: 30 Minutes or Less

A friend texted me to inquire if I planned to watch the latest episode of Mixed-ish, the sitcom prequel that offers a backstory for Rainbow Johnson, the character portrayed by my imaginary twin sister, Tracee Ellis Ross (because we look and act exactly alike). As usual, I had forgotten what day the show aired, so I put the Kid to bed and tuned in. My friend had intended for me to live-tweet about the episode, but I got distracted, so I turned my focus to the much ballyhooed Girlfriends reunion episode of Black-ish.

(Full disclosure: Even if she hadn't texted a reminder, I would have tuned in to watch Mixed-ish because the show-runner is a classmate of mine from middle school, high school, and college. This will be must-see TV for me whenever I remember to tune in, which will probably be hit or miss, so at some point I will need to watch a marathon on demand to stay current.)

Nevertheless, the episode covered a lot of ground in less than 30 minutes considering the fact that Black hair is such a touchy subject. Touchy as in don't-touch-my-hair-unless-I-am-paying-you-to-do-so, but because I wasn't paying close attention, I'm not sure if that is one of the issues that was addressed. I also don't know how the younger brother ended up with beads in his head like Stevie Wonder from the early 80s, so that's something that might make more sense upon a second viewing. However, I do not need to re-watch the exploration of feminism on Black-ish, which for what it's worth is also a rather weighty topic to attempt to address in less than 30 minutes...

When we were younger, family sitcoms were big on very special episodes, and Black-ish has apparently revived that aspect of the genre. Every episode is very special. Every episode provides timely social commentary. Every episode is meant to provoke deep reflection or provide some epiphany, which is why I often find the show very annoying. Especially this tongue-in-cheek musical number and this Good Times-inspired dream sequence...every episode feels like that sociology class in college I was excited to take until halfway through the semester when the weather got nice. Then I lost interest.

Such was the case with the feminism episode--I was excited for the Girlfriends cast reunion, but once we got halfway through and everything went left, the struggle to see it through to the end got real. I've got lots of notes, so let's begin with my frustration that in an episode about feminism, which certainly started off with promise by centering on Rainbow, her daughters, and her friends, the most poignant and crucial moment occurred in the boys night out subplot. But put a pin in that for the moment...

Rainbow and I are the same age, so we were in college in the 90s when this existential conflict of feminism versus Blackness reasserted itself for our generation. Maybe I'm mistaken, but I thought we settled this by determining that we can be friends, call ourselves allies, but we also know better...I mean isn't that why Alyssa Milano and Bette Midler get dragged on Black Twitter at least once a month? (And we love Charmed and Hocus Pocus, btw.) So I guess I don't understand how Bow suddenly had this confrontation in her 40s. You mean to tell me that she never had a come-to-Jesus moment with a white feminist? In California? Not with some hippie aunt or ex-bff from the commune? Not even at Stanford? Really???

Ok, if that's what you expect me to believe, then explain why y'all under-utilized Yara Shahidi in this episode. This would have been perfect fodder for a future episode of Grown-ish since her character is in college and probably definitely would have some serious encounter with this topic on campus. Or is that just my unrealistic hope that Grown-ish will eventually tackle something other than Zoey's chronic self-absorption? I know, this isn't A Different World...

And what's up with hyping us up on a Girlfriends reunion that didn't give us any of the classic interplay we expect from this ensemble? Did they even get new character names? Why was the best moment was when Toni expressed relief that Ruby wasn't her Mama? And y'all just threw William in at the end as a tease!

Look, it wasn't a bad episode. It was timely and poignant and typical of Black-ish, with the only notable exception being that one story arch where Dre and Bow separated (which must have come from real-life). But it frustrated me, much like the HBCU episode did because it tiptoed right up to the line, went left, and then neatly resolved the conflict without any lingering fallout. I cannot be the only person left wondering if Bow will be able to make up with her white activist friend, or if we will be treated to more cameos with her Black friends. And how long is this gap year Junior is taking going to last?

As far as this being a typical sitcom take on feminism, I am dissatisfied. The resolution cannot be that each side gathers up her things and goes home. We cannot make progress if we accept that white feminists shouldn't have to consider race, nor should we advance the narrative that being inclusive towards women of color is some kind of hostile takeover. There is a middle ground that takes work to traverse, and the pay off can benefit us all at the moment of truth.

Unless the real intent of the episode was the subplot I referenced earlier, which was Dre's awakening to the idea that white people tend to regard racism with the same disbelief and indifference that men respond to sexism and misogyny. And if that was the point, then that is also classic Black-ish: Dre, the giant man-baby, is the center of attention even when the show isn't supposed to be about him.

Which of course, is precisely why Black women cannot afford to reject feminism. Call it womanism, being intersectional, solidarity, or woke as fuck, we are already on the third or fourth wave of a struggle that goes back at least as far as Harriet Tubman leaving her husband behind for freedom. He'll either catch up or he won't, so stop tripping, sew a satin lining into that pussy hat (we got edges to protect), and let's get to work.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Grace, Mercy, and (In)justice

Several years ago I took a mediation class, and at some point a woman in the class said something or asked a question that sparked some controversy. Folks were heated and upset, and when she tried to dig herself out of the mess, it only made things more muddled. So the instructor paused and sought to allow everyone in the room a safe space to address what the woman had said in an effort to diffuse the tension of the moment. Three people offered perspectives on the incident that I remember: my own (which was not to offer an opinion for the sake of expediency); the person at the center of the drama (who offered what she perceived was an apology); and another woman whose response was, in today's vernacular, GTFOHWTBS!

Allow me to take a step back to offer a little more context--the women who made the offensive gaffe was white and the woman who responded in ALL CAPS was Black. Those details are significant because whatever the first woman said, it triggered all of the racial alarm bells and whistles that many Black people recognize from an early age. And I shall never forget how this lone Black woman, in a class where she was not a minority, felt compelled to call bullshit on what she felt was the familiar manipulative maneuver of deflection. She was insulted that we had taken class time to resolve something the other woman should have known better than to say, and if I am remembering things correctly, her instincts were proven correct in subsequent dealings with Miss Did-I-Do-That.

For whatever reason, that incident resurfaced for me in the immediate aftermath of the trial of Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer who was convicted of killing her neighbor, Botham Jean, in another daily episode of Being Black in America. Of course, everyone has an opinion and a perspective on what happened, and I too struggle with finding some resolution. Today, I find myself in the same WTF posture of that sister from that mediation class that I took so many years ago. I am incredulous that this case has become all about the redemption of Amber Guyger at the expense of rendering justice for Botham Jean, the man she killed.

So let me put on my #LawyerLenses and start by addressing anyone who thinks that after all these years of watching Law & Order marathons, you earned some kind of certificate on the criminal justice process. Even with my expensive law degree, I had to pause and wonder aloud about a major element of this case, which is why Guyger was charged with murder, and not manslaughter. Because one of the first things I was taught in law school was the definition of murder. The second concept I learned was how that definition differs from other legal terms that describe the loss of one person's life at the hands of another. If you are so inclined, feel free to peruse Black's Law Dictionary to comprehend those nuances. Then if you have the time, commit a few hours a night to studying the Texas Penal Code and then try working your way through the Texas Constitution to get some insight into Texas Criminal Procedure.

However, let me save you the trouble--Guyger was brought up on charges for causing Jean's death, and there is little dispute that she entered his apartment and shot him. The drama of a public trial was to determine if what she did in killing him warranted some kind of punishment. And after a trial by a duly empaneled jury of her peers, she was found guilty of murder, but given a sentence that was more consistent with a manslaughter conviction.

Now, as I remove my #LawyerLenses and adjust my #ChurchLadyHat atop my head, this is where things begin to look fuzzy. After spending the better part of my life in the church learning the lessons of right and wrong, good and evil, etc., I find that this is one of those situations that isn't as neatly resolved by an Old Testament story or New Testament parable. This is that part of the service when the preacher admonishes us to look inside our hearts to render those virtues of forgiveness and mercy and grace. And while I sit with my eyes closed and my thoughts focused in earnest contemplation, I want a clean heart. So it is natural to empathize and mourn with this family that lost a brother and a son. Therefore, my personal feelings about the brother's decision to offer Guyger some compassion after the verdict are irrelevant. Forgiveness is his prerogative.

At this old school mourners' bench/mercy seat, prayers ain't over until everybody is overcome with emotion, so the preacher digs in and appeals on behalf of the woman who almost got away with killing her neighbor. While I can accept his family's choice to offer public absolution, does that also mean that I must follow the example of my fellow sister in the law Judge Tammy Kemp, by embracing Guyger after the verdict was announced? For all of the Christian sympathy and charity extended to Guyger, should I just forget that she allowed that man to bleed out on his own floor because she was more worried about losing her job? In this instance, am I allowed to be Jacob or must I do what Jesus would do and offer unconditional forgiveness?

Yeah, under the weight of that self-examination, my #ChurchLadyHat has become uncomfortable and heavy. So I take it off and tug at my string of #ClutchedPearls to determine what wisdom, if any, might come. And that's how I was reminded of that incident in my mediation class so many years ago. Knowing what I learned in law school and believing everything I was taught as a Christian, it is entirely appropriate to call cow manure by its rightful name. GTFOHWTBS

Amber Guyger wasn't the victim. She had competent legal representation. She had a fair trial. She was given an acceptable sentence of ten years in prison, which is a lot better than an acquittal or a mistrial. There are no legitimate grounds for appeal. The City of Dallas better be prepared to pay the Jean Family a hefty settlement in the pending civil case. Judge Kemp probably won't lose the endorsement of the police union or the criminal bar association when she runs for re-election. But anyone crazy enough to mount a judicial recall or to support her ouster from the bench over something as benign as a hug better be prepared for the old white dude who will replace her (and trust, he won't be handing out compassion).

For all of the good color-blind white folks who are perplexed about this case (because y'all don't see the racial elements), ask yourselves how much your vision would improve if the roles had been reversed, like it had been in this case from Minnesota. I do not recall that there were any attempts to discredit the innocence of that victim because the very idea of an unarmed white woman being killed by a Black cop is inconceivable in and of itself.

For all of the people who live for the narrative of the healing power in forgiveness, ask why you have yet to call on the Goldman family to extend forgiveness to OJ Simpson. To date, I haven't seen any calls for grace or mercy to be offered to Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby or Dr. Larry Nassar. Some of y'all are still salty that a Black billionaire has forgiven college loan debts he didn't even incur while simultaneously lamenting the fate of Aunt Becky. American exceptionalism is made possible in part by the narrative of Black Christian redemption, yet this country refuses to offer a genuine apology for slavery.

GTFOHWTBS. In my #LawyerLenses, my #ChurchLadyHat, and a strand of #ClutchedPearls, I exhort you not to take up precious time ruminating on the petty details of Guyger's Court TV makeover or what was inscribed in that Bible Judge Kemp gave her. All of that can be included in the Lifetime Movie starring Lindsay Lohan, along with a gospel choir cast as the Jean Family. 

GTFOH Amber Guyger and every other police officer who only claim "blue lives matter" as an affirmative defense in confrontations with Black and Brown citizens. Nobody doubts that police work is dangerous, but that's why there is formal training. That's why police officers get generous benefits and pensions. Respect for the hard job of law enforcement derives from the oath taken to protect and serve the public and the implicit risk of putting one's life on the line in the pursuit of justice. The oath, the training, and the public trust are what separates the police from security guards, club bouncers, and vigilantes--not the colors of the uniform.

Support the Botham Jean Foundation that was established in his memory which serves the St. Lucian community of Caribbean immigrants to this country, among other social services. Vote in the next local election and answer the jury summons when it arrives in the mail. If there is someone in your family who needs a good job, send him/her over to the police academy instead of the post office. If you live in a jurisdiction where there have been bad community relations with the police, insist on better training to reduce incidences of unnecessary officer-involved shootings. Advocate for reforms to the Castle doctrine so that it cannot be used as an affirmative defense by an intruder in someone else's home. Let's do more than just protest and complain on social media about the unfairness of the system.