Hey BET, Check Out What OWN’s Doing

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OWN Network had two new shows that made me smile.  First up was Black Actresses in Hollywood.  This was an hour long segment that Oprah was inspired to film because of Gabrielle Union’s rousing speech at a pre-Oscar bash titled, Black Women in Hollywood.  Union, the recipient of the Fierce and Fearless award, used her acceptance speech as a platform for calling black women in Hollywood out, starting with herself. 

The speech which began with, “We live in a town that rewards pretending…”  Union goes on to talk about experiences in her young life being embarrassed and ashamed of being black.  How growing up watching television and movies she never saw herself represented.  She speaks eloquently and passionately about the racial prejudice in Hollywood, comically taking on the voice of a white casting agent, “Hey, if we’ll go black, it will totally be you.”  The audience gives a knowing chuckle.  She segues and begins what seems to me (an industry outsider) to be some sort of mea culpa for who she was, which was apparently; a big bitch. 

“I took joy in people’s pain and I tapped danced on their misery,” she admits looking around the room (to her left especially, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was where Kerry Washington sat). She goes on to call out those in the industry who act selfishly and do not work to make the world a better place.  “Women, fearless and fierce women, admit mistakes, and they work to correct them.  We stand up and we use our voices for something other than self promotion.”

 What spoke to me most was Gabrielle’s call for all of us to change.  To the do the work and to realize “you would actually like to be happy and not just say you’re happy.”  Her call for self betterment and change has come at a time when change is pervading my life and the world around all of us.  From the summer solstice, to the super moon, human beings are being pushed into a new phase of awareness and it is starting small; a festival, a speech, a female Fox News reporter telling off her misogynist, racist co-anchor, or even Jim Carrey deciding not to do promotion for Kickass 2 because of Sandy Hook’s violence.  Change is coming…and right about now, I feel a little excited.

 

Part 2 is coming…

The Agony of Untold

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In my other life, not as the blogger behind this website, I work with children (go ahead, let out a frightened scream). I recently had a parent say to me in a heated rage, “Can you imagine what it is like for my child to live in a world where he is always outside of the mainstream?”
Now, my first gut reaction was to chuckle, which I did to his disgust. Can I, a black female in American society imagine what it is like to live outside of the mainstream cultural hegemony…says the white upper class male?
I had a few options. I could continue to chuckle until it turned into a laugh and then bare my fangs and tell him what I could imagine as a black woman in America, I could also nod sympathetically (it seems each and every child in America now a days has some sort of extenuating circumstances that make him/her special), or I could sit back and let him talk. I chose the latter and as I tuned out of his ridiculous diatribe, I found myself really thinking. Does my otherness allow me to know someone else’s otherness? Can I, as a “chick in color”, always understand what it feels like to be outside of the mainstream?
From the ages of 11 – 18, for me, school was a hotbed of contention. I spent those years in a constant argument with those around me, no, not just the typical angst, but against my peers. I went to a school that was 99% white and upper class. I cannot tell you the amount of times I left a history class with my skin on fire or a dull ache in my stomach after a discussion about culture, race or well, anything. A concrete example:
Mr. VanWilder, * was a twenty something teacher of US history at my high school. He had assigned each student to research an aspect of 20th century America, as he hadn’t gotten around to it, he was far to fascinated with the founding fathers and how Jefferson was the most “brilliant man” of the century.
A girl in my class, who I thoroughly liked, began to present her information on the Klu Klux Klan. The thesis of her research being that, yes, the KKK had a bad wrap now, but that was unfounded, and to be plan honest, untrue. I sat and listened to her pink lips spout out this information from the center of her blonde curls.
I actually felt I had done a nice job listening and being respectful to her claims of false history about a group of people who had massacred and tortured my ancestors, more accurately, more relatives. Imagine asking a Jewish student to listen to a classmate tout the kinship and culture the KKK adhered to and spread?
After her presentation was the q and a. I couldn’t help but put a few choice questions to her and others in the class who seemed enthralled and pleasantly surprised that the KKK was in actuality a group of buddies who drank beer together, not unlike the fraternities of modern days.
“Why then did they target blacks?”
“How can their leadership explain the tortures and murders?”
“What about now? The KKK seems to accept and promote the racism?”
It was after my fifth question that Mr. VanWiilder asked me to think about my questions a little more before I asked them and pointed out that I seemed to have a clear agenda.
I had never felt the otherness that I was more than at that moment. Even in this “academic” setting where wrong and right seemed so clearly identified, I was still the other. I still was a voice that no one could recognize. It was at this moment that I knew my otherness and would never forget.
It was this moment that the overprotective father brought forth to my memory. Was I pushing this child’s thinking out of my space because it was other? Could I truly understand being outside of the mainstream simply because of who I am?
I took this thought home with me. Can “other” automatically know “other”?

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Maya Angelou

*All names have been changed

(Untitled)…

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D’Jango Unchained

It has taken me this long to formulate my thoughts about this film.  And I saw it on New Year’s…that long.

It made me uncomfortable.  I knew this.  I felt it.  When DiCaprio urges the young, strong, black man to kill the other, I cringed.  When the dogs tore to shreds the black man who could no longer tolerate ripping another, I shuddered.  When Kerry Washington burst out of the steam pit, and you could read the distress, the humiliation, the human spirit in her eyes; the breath ran out of me.

This was an uncomfortable movie in the guise of sheep’s clothing.  According to interviews, Tarantino intended to make slapstick, western, blaxploitation comedy and what we got instead, was Shakespearian, Oedipus Rex-style tragedy.  D’jango Unchained reminded the “post-racial” Obama America where it came from and not in the cute way Gone With the Wind did, but with the cold, cruel reality.

For some reason, the scene that sticks with me was when Dr. King Shutlz (the German and D’jango share a drink at a saloon they’ve just shot up, the black slaves in the background.  Tarantino shows us, the menial the slaves are forced to do: stomping down a dirt road, the white pedestrians blind enough to ignore the human suffering beside them.

Spike Lee has come out against this movie, and vilified Quentin Tarantino for the use of the “n-word.”  When else should a movie use the word nigger than in a period piece about slavery in the deep south?  Didn’t the word originate there?  Isn’t it that use of the word what made the sound of it burn in all black people’s souls?  Why then, when Samuel L. Jackson’s character uses it, is it funny?  Why do American audiences seem unfazed by hatred and vehemence behind this word?  It is because of the rappers and the comedians who have made that word equate with humor and hip-hop culture.  This,Generation Y is where Jay-Z’s lyrics came from.

Many have shouted down D’Jango Unchained. Lee, a shitload of people on Facebook…

But I applaud Tarantino for making me think for a minute about my ancestors, something I hadn’t done for awhile, and making me really see and feel, for the first time the pain and degradation of the generations before me.

How black is that, seriously.

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SNL.  I have a lot of complaints, but I will focus on last Saturday’s episode.  Let me begin by saying I do not watch Saturday Night Live.  There have been all of two memorable black females on this show and can  you remember an Asian, Indian or Latina female?  One of two things must be true. 1) Women of color are not funny. 2) Women of color do not audition for SNL. 3) SNL is not funny.  I tend to lean toward option 3.

Here’s why:

Last Saturday Jamie Foxx hosted SNL.  Now, for honesty’s sake, let me state, I am not a fan of Jamie Foxx.  It all started years ago at a premiere when he acted like he had soooooo many better things to do then have a polite conversation with me.  This was before Dream Girls and Miami Vice and right after Collateral, and well after The Jamie Foxx Show.  You would think he could have taken the trouble to chat, be kind, but no, anyone not famous was not worth much to him, as is true for many Hollywood types.  But, alas I digress.

Jamie Foxx hosted.  He began with an “edgy” monologue…

Foxx goes through a list of how “black” things are in America.  Here are a few of the things he says make black the new white.

-       The Nets moved to Brooklyn and wear black and play on a black court and are owned by Jay-Z (“How black is that?”)

-       D’jango Unchained, his new movie, where he plays a slave (“How black is that?”) and ends up killing a bunch of white people (“How great is that? And black.”)

-       Obama was re-elected and was late to his acceptance speech (“All the white people, your turn, “How black is that”), and will reappear on Ellen and dance differently (I could only interpret this new style as more “black”)

He then proceeds to sit at the piano and sing a little Christmas ditty about a big booty hoe with some rapper who looks like he just popped in the studio from off the street (I mean, what happened to dressing for the occasion?).

Now, to be honest, at this point I stopped watching.  Does Jamie Foxx really think that saying a bunch of stereotypical things about black and white people is funny?  I couldn’t help but think that the person who wrote these jokes must have been white as obviously the target audience was white people who could laugh at Foxx’s jokes and at the same time tell themselves,  ‘See, I get it, I’m down.’

Don’t get me wrong, race in all of its absurdity can be funny, really funny, but this was not an example of that.  Maybe I just strongly dislike Foxx, but come on there are funny actors writers out there who know how to really do a race joke its justice.  You know, like those comedians in the past who pushed limits and hit that fine line between biting satire, laugh out loud funniness, and the uncontrollable desire for the audience to say  “It’s funny cause its true!”

Guess what SNL staff… it exists and it’s on TV, you just don’t hire the writers or actors.

Like what? Glad you asked. Here is an excerpt from the opening monologue of a little show called Key and Peele:

“When is gonna be a day when we can have a college movie for black people where we get to act like fools? “

“I’ll tell you this now, when a black man dresses like a woman in order to live in a sorority house, we will have reached equality.”

“Actually that, actually, that movie exists, it’s called Big Momma’s House 3 starring Sir Martin Lawrence.”

“ Well then we have reached the mountain top.”

And that Jamie, is how you make race funny.

So, my final word: If you want to laugh at something race based don’t watch SNL.  Actually, just don’t watch SNL.

How black is that?

An Open Letter

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Dear Zoe,

First of all, let me say, I’m a huge fan.  I loved Columbiana and I think you are super pretty. I like how when you are interviewed you are smart, witty, politically aware, and fun.  I like how when you were asked if you were black or Latina you responded in Spanish, “Yo soy una mujer negra.”  I like how you support President Obama and make it known that there are issues in the world you care about.  Oh, and those Lens Crafter’s ads are fabulous.

As of late you have found yourself a source of contention in the black entertainment world. Many black female celebrities have expressed their outrage that you were chosen to portray Nina Simone in a movie about her life, and these are not light weight entertainers we are talking about.   India Arie and Whoopi Goldberg, who Simone herself wished to portray her, have expressed their distaste in your being cast.

Why are they outraged?  Well, you are not a woman of African-American heritage like Simone, nor are your features as unique as Simone’s were.  She was dark-skinned and wide nosed at a time when those characteristics were rarely seen in entertainment (still true).  This was a point of pride for Simone.  She wrote songs about her dark brown skin, wooly hair, and wide nose.

I get their outrage, Zoe.  I understand why it is frustrating for them and many others to see you cast as Nina Simone, when there are many actresses out there who look more like her.  But Zoe, I think they are misdirecting their anger.  The bigger issue is why is there one movie about a black woman being made that all the black actresses in Hollywood  are scrambling to get?  That is the bigger issue.  That is the white elephant.

I saw the pictures of you with the dark makeup and the wig and the prosthetic nose.  I had to swallow down my initial feelings of disgust since I couldn’t help but be reminded of black-faced actors of years past.  But Zoe, here is where I think you missed an opportunity.  Wouldn’t it have been so awesome if you had cut your own hair and worn it natural for the part?  Wouldn’t it have been cool if you had laid out in the sun and let yourself brown (and girl, I know you can)?  Plus, wouldn’t it have been out of this world amazing if you too had spoken out about the lack of roles for black women in entertainment?  And I’m sorry, but Obama being president does not magically open doors for black actors, come on, get real.  Now, I am not of the camp that believes you should have turned down the part.  I think you are a great actress and its tough times, a job is a job.  I just wanted to point out to you Zoe, that it would’ve been really nice and empowering to all women of color if you had highlighted your own natural black beauty.

Stay strong.  Do not let anyone try to quantify or qualify your blackness.  Tu eres una mujer negra, just as I am, just as Ms. Goldberg is, just as Ms. Arie is.  I can state with confidence, without any personal knowledge, that  being a brown person in America, you have felt the burn of discrimination, racism, and the frustration of trying to meet a closed-minded definition of beauty.  So, that is what I had to say to you Zoe.

Best of luck with your film.  Oh, one last thing, usually unauthorized biographical films where the reaming family members refuse to sign on are not the best…I’m just saying.

XOXO,

Chickincolor

The Oft Ignored Other Side of the Coin

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Barack Obama won the 2012 Presidential Election.  You know this already.

Many pundits and newspapers are writing articles about why almost 100% of black people voted for him.  You’ve probably seen or read this:

“Top Romney Aide Sununu Suggests Powell Endorsed Obama Because He’s Black” (Washington Post)

“Will black vote for Obama ‘because he is black’?” (Time)

“Do Black People Support Obama Because He’s Black?” (Huffington Post)

Here is what you didn’t see.  Though, if I were working at any of the above, you would have…maybe:

“Bush Endorses Obama to Keep the Good Old Boy Network in Tact”

“White Men Support Romney by More Than 50% Because He’s White”

“Will White Women Put Aside Feminism for Whiteness and Vote Romney?”

(That was too much fun, I could go on and on. Try it!)

Here is my question.

Why out of all subcategories of American people, did white men not overwhelming support Obama?

Here is my answer.

Because white America is seeing, living, feeling, the fact that their grip of power on the world is slipping.  Asians will outnumber whites in America as will Latinos soon.  China is (arguably) the world fastest growing super power.  The days of British colonial rule, white American slave holders, the good old days (1950s), is quickly disappearing and a re-established new order is emerging.

I was reminded of how shocking this is to many when I heard a woman call in on conservative talk show throwing around the n-word in reference to our president and again when a teenager casually quipped, “I can’t believe we voted in a Muslim for president.”  I can confidently assume both were white.  One can only wonder if this to was the catalyst for the creation of the Tea Party and the fierce dialect of many right wing conservative groups, not to mention Karl Rove’s vehement denial that Obama won the 2012 election while on Fox News.

Why then are top news agencies only reporting on why blacks voted for Obama, when if you look at statistics, all subgroups except white men support our incumbent president?

Drumroll please… because the media is dominated by white men.  Hence this blog.

If You Blinked, You Missed It

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Sigh.  As I daydream about what I wish was on television, I think about a black girl like me.  One who went to college, one who is attractive (*clears throat), one who is not only defined by being the “black character” and has story lines outside of her race.  Dare I even dream of her having a love interest who is not a racist (Monster’s Ball),  perhaps even attractive and successful!

To my surprise I stumbled upon just such a character.  Now, I only caught the last five minutes of said program, but I enthusiastically looked it up.

Emily Owens MD

Enter Cassandra Kopelson (Aja Naomi King), the love interest  of Will Collins (Justin Hartley) and bitter rival of the title character Emily Owens (Mamie Gummer, no relation).  Cassandra happens to be black.  Cassandra happens to be educated (obviously because she too is a doctor).  And Cassandra happens to be sexy.  The scene I saw consisted of Dr. Collins and her sharing a flirtatious moment while the bitterly jealous Emily looks on (who can blame her, Collins is her ex).

Allow me to share what ran through my head:

Excitement

Joy

Relish

As enthusiastic to watch a new episode as a dog is to grab his favorite stuffed bone!

Unfortunately, after further research into said show, I discovered that after dismal ratings from the first two episodes it was already on its way to being cancelled.  Sigh.  Back to my daydreams.

Catch the remaining episodes on the CW Tuesdays at 9/8 C

(Don’t blink)

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly…Hair

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The Good:

Chris Rock tried to do something interesting.  He tried to point out the ridiculousness that is black women and their hair.  He tried to point out that black women in America have been taught to hate their hair so much that they will use chemicals to change its texture, weave in other people’s hair into their own, or even use hair from a horse to hide their own natural texture.

I found his film humorous and it was one of the catalysts that launched me onto my own path of wearing my hair natural, seeking out others who do the same, and finding sources of entertainment that attempt to look into why black women are so uncomfortable with themselves.

The Bad:

However, as a hair stylist friend of mine pointed out…Rock surreptitiously avoided one or two major points.  Black women who straighten their hair more often than not KNOW that they are adhering to a racist ideal and cannot help but continue to relax.  The psychological exploration of this is fascinating and Rock does not honestly look into this.  How could he?  A black man’s challenges in America are very different than that of a black woman.  Could anyone else except for one who has walked in the shoes of a black woman truly know about the feelings you have growing up when your hair gets wet or when you a boy carelessly remarks on your “kitchen.”  The other point Rock ignores is white America’s role in molding self hating black women.  He does not talk about how this was beneficial to slave era America, Jim Crow’s America, and even Obama’s “post-racial” America.

The Ugly:

White America has used “the beauty standard” to cause minority women to feel less than the ideal, and to divide and conquer within communities.  For example, I was always aware growing up that my hair was something different.  The only other black girl in my class at a private mostly white school pointed this out to the moment we jumped into the swimming pool.  I couldn’t be “full black,” my hair looked to straight when it was wet and was much too long.  Further back in my family chain, my grandmother was well aware of those around her “passing” for white because their skin was light and their hair was straight.   She would tell me about how within her own community those who were lighter and had straighter hair were considered better.  What a divisive, psychological tool this was among 1930s black communities (not to mention that a lot of the multiracial offspring in these communities were the result of forced sexual encounters between white men and black women*).  Has this really stopped today?  I can’t help but think of black women in the entertainment industry.  Beyonce, Rihana, Halle Berry, just to name a few, all of them would fit the age old category of “light, bright, and nearly white.”  Why girls?  Why dye your hair that light blonde color?  Why allow magazines to airbrush your skin two or three shades lighter?

Black women in America need to re-evaluate their own self worth, the way they are portrayed in all aspects of media, and how they feel about themselves.  Chris Rock, thanks for trying, thanks for the laugh, but let’s not forget that “good hair” is much deeper than poking fun of women at the local hair salon.  It is part of a systematic racism that pervades our society even with a black president.

*see future blogs

Who is this guy?

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The first time I noticed Yancey Arias was on one of my favorite shows, ” Revenge.”  This show is all about blue bloods that live in the Hamptons, so I noticed Yancey because his wife was a dark skinned black woman (uncredited).  What?!

I made a mental note of this, and to my surprise, as I watched Elementary on CBS; I say Yancey once again paired with a woman of African-American descent.  Was he demanding this?  Was he actually black and I was missing it?  What could it be?  Why is it that Hollywood is only comfortable putting black women with ambiguous men?  Why not delve into an intelligent black couple or an intelligent interracial couple?

I was instantly reminded of the Disney’s first venture into having a black princess.  She, too, was matched with an ambiguous man.  Was he Asian, black, white, Latino…? I still don’t know.  To be honest, I didn’t care because I so enjoyed watching a black woman being a princess that Prince Naveen’s race was really an afterthought.

Anyway, if Mr. Arias was somehow requesting that his counterparts be black women, he would be an anomaly among his actor peers.  Numerous black actors of high stature miss this opportunity again and again.  In Hollywood there are a handful of high status leading actors; Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jamie Foxx, to name some.  All of them could request black female leads.  Do they? You be the judge (click on the links above and see their filmography).

Oh, and btw, Yancey, if you do, thanks.

Aside

How do I love thee Mindy Project?  Let me count the ways:

1: A depiction of an unrepresented women of color!

When is the last time you saw someone that looked like Mindy Kahling on TV?  Never!  I love it.  I love that she wrote her own show, produced it, and starred in it.

2: Her character is first and foremost, a person!

I remember when I would watch a “very special” episode of Full House and the black girl was on a soap box talking about racism.  I always hated it.  I thought, damn, that doesn’t happen to me.  When I go to school I’m just me.  I love that Mindy deals with life like any other human being and her life is simple made more full by race issues.

“Well what do you think she should wear Dr. Castellano, she didn’t grow up in this country.”

“Actually, I did grow in this country Betsy, thank you.”

3: She’s darker than any other woman on television…

Mindy has brown skin!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There is a character on a screen with brown skin.  Not slightly not white (Beyonce, Rihanna, the entire female cast of any Tyler Perry movie).

4: I just freakin’ like her.

From her drunken tirade at her ex’s wedding to her telling her friend at a club, “I really want to go,” when her other friend is throw up drunk and she’s invited to an after party, to her proclaiming in line for ‘da club that black guys love Indian women.

Love it.

The (Awesome) Mindy Project