Archive for November, 2009

Oh So”Precious” Open Forum

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

I had originally intended to name this blog post “Precious, Celie, and the Opposite of the Tragic Mulatto.” But I changed my mind. Have there been any “tragic mulattoes” movies in recent years? Does anybody but me know what I’m talking about when I speak of the tragic mulatto?  As David Pilgrim points out in his study of the tragic mulatto figure:

…literary and cinematic portrayals of the tragic mulatto emphasized her personal pathologies: self-hatred, depression, alcoholism, sexual perversion, and suicide attempts being the most common. If light enough to “pass” as White, she did, but passing led to deeper self-loathing. She pitied or despised Blacks and the “blackness” in herself; she hated or feared Whites yet desperately sought their approval.

Tragic mulatto.  Think of literary characters like Peola Johnson in Fannie Hurst’s “Imitation of Life,” Clare in Nell Larsen’s “Passing.” Tragie Mulatto. Think real life entertainers like Dorothy Dandridge. Halle Berry, Lisa Bonet, Mariah Carey. (For the tragic male mulatto counterpart, think Frederick Douglass, Bob Marley, Barack Obama.) One of the top excuse racists, like Louisiana justice of the peace Keith Bardwell, use to protest interracial marriage is the fate of mixed-race children. It’s an argument rooted in the “tragic mulatto” myth which suggests that mixed race  children are doomed to be rejected misfits whose black blood prohibits them from reaping the privileges that white people enjoy.

You get my point.  The female tragic mulatto character is the antithesis to the fat, black Mammy character that Hollywood loves and shows no sign of doing away with. One has to think long and hard about when was the last tragic mulatto movie produced by Hollywood. But Hollywood sees to it that every generation gets its “black, ugly and unloveable” black woman story. Back in the 1985 it was Celie in “The Color Purple” and now in 2009 it’s “Precious,” Lee Daniel’s movie adaptated character from Sapphire’s book “Push.”

Both films explore incest, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy and colorism within the black community. In “The Color Purple” Celie is the victim of a sick, loathesome abusive father. In “Precious” the girl Precious is the victim of a senselessly savage, cold, despicable abusive mother. The recent film is set in 987 Harlem and tells the story of an obese, black, dark-skinned, teenage girl Precious (played by Gabbe Sidibe) who is impregnated twice by her father and lives in an apartment with her extremely physically and verbally abusive mother, named Mary (played by M’onique).

There’s no denying that while both “The Color Purple” and “Precious” are commercially successful, much-hyped  films, but is it true as  Salamisha Tillet over at The Root claims that the two films have met with radically different receptions by audiences?I don’t know.  Is it obesity that turns some folks off from the movie? Is it the fact that Precious is not only dark, dark skinned and unattractive (in the European sense of the word), she’s morbidly obese and breaks your heart every time you look at her. Do audiences react differently when weight/obesity enters into the equation? Is it the fact that Harlem’s means streets serves as the background to Precious’s harsh life which adds to the movie’s discomfort compared to poor, but gentle rural backdrop to”The Color Purple”?

I don’t know the answers because I haven’t seen the movie yet.

While I’ve seen the trailers, read the reviews, and caught some of the talk show interviews Gabbe has given, I haven’t ventured out yet to actually see the movie “Precious.”. I can do bad on my own, I tell myself. I don’t need to pay money to be drawn into other people’s unrelenting tragic drama.  That’s the excuse I give friends for not rushing out to catch the movie.

The truth is: I’m still weighing whether to wait until “Precious” comes out on DVC where I can see it in the privacy of my home. That way I can cry, wince, groan, scream, and rail in the privacy of my home as opposed to being held hostage in a big movie theatre to a story and a sorrow that have no end.

So, weigh in. Tell me what you think of “Precious.” How does it compare to its Hollywood antecedent “The Color Purple” or its antithesis “the tragic mulatto” figure? Just wondering.

There’s A Place in the Sun

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

My mother was a big Stevie Wonder fan back in the day. She’d work in the bakery of Rich’s Department store in Atlanta all week long to buy us children shoes and to buy herself a new 45rpm record. Whatever records were stacked on the record player waiting to be played when she got home from baking and decorating cakes all day long had to be rearranged to accommodate whatever Stevie Wonder hit she held in her purse.  Wonder’s ‘66 hits “A Place in the Sun” and “Blowing in the Wind” ( both composed by Bob Dylan) were my mother’s favorites. (Stevie himself was only 16 years old when he recorded the two songs.) Waking to the sound of these Wonders’ hits blasting from the record player was a sure sign to us children that we’d be spending that Saturday cleaning the house at Mama’s orders from top to bottom.

Here’s to you Mama here on Throwback Friday. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get it.

Like a long lonely stream
I keep runnin’ towards a dream
Movin’ on, movin’ on
Like a branch on a tree
I keep reachin’ to be free
Movin’ on, movin’ on.

‘Cause there’s a place in the sun
Where there’s hope for ev’ryone
Where my poor restless heart’s gotta run.
There’s a place in the sun
And before my life is done
Got to find me a place in the sun.

Like an old dusty road
I get weary from the load.
Movin’ on, movin’ on
Like this tired troubled earth
I’ve been rollin’ since my birth
Movin’ on, movin’ on

‘Cause there’s a place in the sun
Where there’s hope for ev’ryone
Where my poor restless heart’s gotta run.
There’s a place in the sun
And before my life is done
Got to find me a place in the sun.

Love Your Enemies. For Real Jesus?

Monday, November 16th, 2009

It’s the question every liberator has had to ponder. What do you do with traitors? What do you with slaves who get half way to freedom, take one look at the swamp that stands between them and freedom, and decide they want to go back to the plantation? What do you do with the slave who sells out his kin and friends down in the slavequarters by telling the master about all the talk about rebellion and freedom that takes place at night when massa’em is asleep up in the big house?

Judas did the honorable thing. He took his own life.

While violence isn’t something I subscribe to normally, I can understand why Harriet Tubman  felt it necessary to keep a gun on her hip at all times. It wasn’t just to blow away any bounty hunter or slave catcher that crossed her path. The gun on Harriet Tubman’s hip was for slaves too. Before each escape she’d get in the faces of all the men, women, and children who met her in the brush harbor saying they wanted to go with her, and say to them, “If you don’t follow me when I go out, I’m going to kill you. Go forward and live or turn back and die.”

Harsh but necessary words, I suppose. I wonder what Moses did when his runaway slaves started murmuring about being hungry and preferring their slave pallets to the harsh desert conditions they now faced (Exodus 16:3). I know he complained to God about it, but, for real, what did Moses and his lieutenants do to dissuade runaways from turning back and betraying to Pharoah’s army the whereabouts of the Hebrew camp?

Every movement has had to decide how it will deal with traitors, turncoats, defectors, betrayers, and people who half way through change their mind and want to go back.

Of course, we’re a civilized generation now. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. Side with the oppressor, if you share the oppressor’s political views. We don’t all have to think the same. Follow for as long as you feel comfortable, and when you don’t feel comfortable anymore; stop following.  Change your mind, if you want.  All’s fair in love and politics, right?

Lord, Renita, what’s got into you this morning?

What had happened was…from time to time I listen to so called Christian radio when I’m in the car driving to Atlanta. There’s nothing Christian about the stuff that comes out of the mouths of the folks on many of those shows, especially when the President of the United States is the subject for the hour (which he nearly always is). And from time to time I watch Fox News (something I don’t do often) and I’m stunned by the things that come out of the mouths of some of the black conservatives that come on Fox News.  enemie's fingersAnd admittedly, I’m still shaking from an encounter I had here on the blog over a month ago. You remember the one where a reader left a comment admitting that she is a black woman Tea Party member who loathes Obama’s politics and has no qualms with her party’s caricature of the country’s first black president as a monkey. After much yelling back and forth between us, the reader and I eventually calmed down and agreed to disagree and went to our separate sides of the rings. But I haven’t been able to get the incident out my head. That encounter made me sit up and pay attention.

Is there a point in a political fight when it’s more than the fact that you and I differ ideologically. It’s not just that we have different ideas of what it means to be a Christian. We’re enemies, Boo. Plain and simple. To allow you to continue on in your rants and ravings is to leave myself at risk of being killed, subjugated as a woman, or sold back into slavery.

Sometimes I wonder whether Jesus understood exactly what he was asking of us when he demanded, “Love your enemies,  bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). For real Jesus?

The Flintstones Meet The Jetsons

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Raise your hand if your Saturday morning cartoon watching included the stone age antics of the Flintstones and the space age futurism of “The Jetsons.” As a kid  Fred, Wilma, and Barney and Betty, Pebbles and Bam Bam held my emotional strings.  But it was George, Jane, Elroy,  Judie, but most especially, Rosie the mechanical housekeeper and the many space age appliances in the home, that  captured my imagination.

According to the Jetsons technology was supposed to make our lives easier. Certainly nothing about the Jetsons prepared us for the cost technology would wreak on our humanity. For a while there most of us just assumed that our growing use of fast, interactive technologies would free up our time and give us more time to do the things we enjoy. Instead, with every new device comes greater demand upon us to be available and to be productive. With our cellphones, laptops, and wireless internet come raised expectations about how much a human being can reasonably achieve, giving many access to better opportunities and leaving many others in the dust because they can’t keep up.

Technology has changed a lot of things. Some of them good. Some of them bad. In a few years bookstores will go the way of the the Sone Age Remington typewriter. And when the last bookstore closes its door I’m gonna miss the sensation of walking through a bookstore, browsing shelves, flipping through books, browsing the table of contents for nothing in particular but something special that speaks to the soul. I didn’t mean for turning to Amazon.com these days for most of my book purchases to contribute to the demise of bookstores. But it has.

I’ve already begun browsing online for the gifts on my Christmas gift list. As convenient it is to do my Christmas shopping online I gotta admit that nothing beats the holiday glow that comes from dashing back and forth into my favorite store on those last couple of nights before Christmas for a few last minute gifts.  Christmas tree aglow, cookies and punch back in the customer service department, sales people dressed up in reindeer gear, the sound of Nat King Cole singing “The Christmas Song” piping from the surround system, and  peels of “Merry Christmas” ringing from  shoppers across the aisles.

flinstones meet the jetsonsBookstore lines I don’t mind. Bank lines give me the creeps. When online banking became available some years back, I signed on immediately. Let’s just say that bank robbery scenes  from movies like “Set it Off” keep me looking over my shoulders whenever I walk into a bank. I found myself in a bank the other day because I needed a personal banker to assign me a new online customer id number. (I could have called customer service and tried making myself understood to a service rep over in India. NOT!)  I got my new number and then went back to my car to to drive up to the ATM machine: typed in my pin number, slid my check in the slot when prompted, viewed a scanned copy of my check on the screen, and drove away with a receipt that included an image of the check I’d just deposit. Talk about progress.

Teller? What’s a teller, kids will be asking in a few years. Someone who tells the future?

Raise your hand if you know someone who’s lost their job to technology in recent years?

Although unemployment continues to make headlines, the demand for workers who’ve kept up with the new technology continues to rise. But what about the “average worker”? You know the average worker. Your classmate from high sschool.  Everybody in my working class elementary and high schools couldn’t make it out of our working class to poor neighborhoods like I did. What will happen to those for whom college is out of the question? Not only can they not afford college. They just don’t have the smarts to grind it out. What is the future for the average worker? Those who in the past depended on bank jobs, factory jobs, the service industry, and construction work to make a living for themselves and their family? What will the new workforce look like in coming years?

Raise your hand if you’ve bought some new gadget or signed on for some new online convenience without giving any thought to how the worker that technology replaces is faring in her effort to re-skill and find a new job for her and her children.

Whether you’re one of the Flinstones or one of the Jetsons, work and shopping and human relationships as we once knew them  are all changing.  Technology will see to it. Will our people be prepared? Will you? How has technology encroached upon the way you live and work?