Sunday, January 9, 2011

One More Time, Arizona


Thanks again, P.E.



Live, 2010



and California, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia....We're coming. In solidarity to those there. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"But I've never seen a nig--sorry, slave--that wouldn't lie"

Oddly, this is my second post this week on Huck Finn. This time, I am writing briefly on the removal of the use of "nigger" from a reissued Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The title comes from what will soon be history itself, the original text. Much has already been written and said over the past two days about this issue and I agree with Melissa Harris-Perry, Mark Anthony Neal, Michaela Angela Davis, and Elon James White's takes on the removal of the word. I don't think it should be omitted and I'm not surprised that this conversation is happening in the post-civil rights, "post-racial" moment. A moment when people proclaim to be "color-blind" and unable to see race, at the same time that they vote to end affirmative action, cross the street when they see a group of Black youth walking in their path, and when Black politicians no longer want to called upon to "only" discuss race. A time that often leaves me on edge, terrified at times, about what is to come. (It's also a time when white people feel free to come up to you, smiling, happy, exuberant actually, while you're wearing your 'I LOVE Black People' T-shirt and exclaim "ME TOO!" as they walk by you on a hiking trail with your dad outside of San Francisco. True. Story. And, no, I don't think it's better than the alternatives).

Removing the n-word, as folks have come to refer to it, jeopardizes the "teachable moments," or just, teaching, that can happen around the history of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights for African Americans in the U.S. Yes, I think it's that dire. Think of the discussions, the opportunities that will be lost because teachers feel uncomfortable talking about them. I know this happens all the time and when I read Huck Finn in my Reagan/Bush era classroom, we didn't have those discussions. But now we're sanctioning that uncomfortable-ness. We're saying it's OK for people to feel uneasy talking about race and racism, so now they don't have to. Avoid it all together. And while, "slave" and "Indian," which replaces Injun, should not let people off the hook, it will put it in an entirely different context. I'm troubled, um scared, about this because these acts move us closer to erasure. For instance, how some folks claim that evidence of a Jewish holocaust is questionable, or that it didn't happen entirely. Or, how we don't talk about the genocide of Indigenous peoples throughout North (and South) America, or when we do, we pretend that that's all over now, no more effects of genocide. And, gay people are just like us. The enslavement of Africans and subsequent history is next on the list, I fear. And while people who say the holocaust never happened may be written off as "cra-cra(zy)," I bet some of them probably just felt bad or were uncomfortable talking about it.  I teach classes where students confuse the dates of the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil War (thanks California public education), say 'colored people' instead of people of color, and don't know the destruction of the AIDS epidemic and history of AIDS activism in the "liberal" city they live in. And I'm sure they're not the only ones.

And that makes me (physically) uncomfortable, to the point of being kept up at night or waking up in the middle of it to type this post.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Easy A(frican American storyline/joke)



So, Joan and I sat down last night to watch a movie on DirectTV. It was a last ditch effort to be leisurely before we both have to go back to work this week. It's been pretty splendid these past two weeks since I finished the book edits and grading--movie watching, house cleaning, lots of friend-seeing/talking, more hanging in pajamas with girlfriend, gift shopping for folks and me--still have an incredible expensive shoe fetish--and delicious food making. Note to self: get things done in a timely manner more often and get more boots on sale.

Anyway, we sat down last night to watch Easy A, the Sony Pictures release about a white teenage girl who  makes up a story about having sex for the first time to her friend and then ends up using similar said stories to "help" guys in her school seem cool. She pays the "ultimate" price in this almost Disney movie by having her good, virginal name and reputation smeared for the next couple of weeks. It had a pretty good cast of folks that I like, namely Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci (I don't know this Emma Stone person, and only know Penn Badgely--what a made up name--from my one episode of Gossip Girl a few years ago). Overall, I laughed quite a few times at the main character, Olive's, sense of humor, especially the 1980s movie references. And, I was struck by two things: 1) Olive's adopted Black younger brother who has maybe ten lines and is mostly shown in the kitchen, and 2) references to Huck Finn and his running away with a "big hunk of a Black man," Jim. Those two things came out of nowhere (there was also a moment when Olive imitated a "Mexican" accent by saying holmes and ese). Now, it's not that I'm surprised that racism shows up in films entirely about white people, or that it's inserted into my nightly television watching--Joan is Native American, so there is at least a once a week random viewing where someone is wearing a full headress or says "off the res." I get it, and I shouldn't be surprised, but I was. I still haven't wrapped my head around it because the characters felt so disparate and random, but right now, I can only point to some lazy writing about white racism/fascination with Blackness. I mean, really, you're just going to insert a Black, younger brother and pretend that's it no big deal in Ojai, CA where the population of African Americans is less than 1%? And then, you're going to make the already told joke about a sexual relationship between Huck and Jim, updating the story with the one gay male character running off with an older, Black man? (No joke, the end of the movie montage includes the two of them shirtless on a bed watching Huck Finn on TV, "don't worry Huck, I like to steer" says Jim on the television and then the two roll over). *blood boil*

This is something I haven't yet mastered when trying to talk to students about racism and how it works in this moment. But, this muddled white boy humor (yeah, this was written by a guy) that has run amok in the past few years makes it seem like racism is not racism and, really, "kinda cool." Like, white people are just quirky, harmless, clueless folks when it comes to race. Hello Judd Apatow and Vince Vaughn. Why not make the ex-girlfriend in the movie South Asian, and the male prostitute dressed in drag, Black? What's the big deal? And, it continues to feel like I've been slapped in the face when I watch these movies. And I like to watch movies, mindless comedies to be exact. But, not only does Hollywood have to include a gay character in just about every film (which Stanely Tucci often plays, a la Devil Wears Prada and Burlesque), but now, just slip in some fantasies about race relations and obsessions about Black male sexuality and you've got a hit film. I mean, Madonna did it. Sandra Bullock did it. It's not a big deal for a white family to adopt a Black child, right? Not only does this minimize the reality of the numbers of Black youth in foster care who never get adopted, but makes it seem like transracial adoption and the raising of Black children is easy peasy. Just stick them in a "good (middle class and white)" environment and voila! racism solved. Make the requisite reference to Black male sexual prowess and voila! kill two birds with one stone, Black and gay.

OK, so maybe I'm making too much of the five minutes that Black characters were shown in this film and relying too much on Hollywood to really address racism and I should have prefaced this by saying that another Sony Picture Classics, Quinceneara was on LOGO this week...but, there is too much overlap between these kinds of jokes and discussions of "post-racial" in politics, education, and immigration. The Dream Act (which wasn't without problems) did not pass, but states are gearing up to push their SB 1070-like laws. And young,  Black men who have sex with men continue to be the highest number of new HIV cases. These race relations and the racist approach that popular discourse takes to overshadow and belittle them makes cozy movie watching nights in, more and more difficult.