Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I'm Sick and Tired

I don't know what else to say so I'm going to quote famed Civil Rights Activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who coined the phrase "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."  The ignorance and insensitivity towards minorities and their respective cultures is a jarring example that there is still much work to do to realize the promise that is America. This great country has always been more of a mosaic than a melting pot. A beautiful mosaic that boast the pride of different ethnicity’s and cultures working in concert for that dream impassioned in Martin Luther's King speech.  But also a mosaic that pigeon holes, undermines, and erects barriers to some of the most colorful components of that mosaic. I'm not going to touch on Ferguson or Michael Brown because I don't think I can say anything as heartfelt or intelligent as Grey's Anatomy actor Jesse Williams Instead let me focus on the Entertainment Industry, and more specifically the Exodus movie, The Washington Redskins team name, and the New York Times article about Shonda Rhimes. 

The derivation of the term Redskin is muddled.  But no matter the origin, today
the name is at best culturally insensitive and at worst blatantly racist. But billionaire and team owner Daniel Snyder says it is a term of honor and respect. Interesting choice of words but for the sake of this post let us traffic in facts.  The dictionary defines Redskin as slang: Often disparaging and offensive. There is nothing honorable about that. But the Redskins name controversy is more about self-identity and power than anything else. Native Americans deserve the right to control their image, their identity, and how they choose to be represented. We cannot tell them what they should or should not find offensive or racist.  We have to cede that power and allow that if they themselves find a term racist or offensive then no matter our personal beliefs that term becomes by definition racist and offensive. Unless of course you are a billionaire and team owner.

Ridley Scott has come under fire for his peculiar casting choices in the upcoming movie Exodus. The issue is that white actors are playing all the lead roles while
actors of a darker hue have been relegated to playing slaves. What makes these casting choices controversial is that the movie takes place in Egypt which of course is in Africa.  If it were in Canada this might be a non-issue. But how do these "oversights" keep happening? How does casting whites as kings and blacks as slaves not raise any alarms? I mean it's 2014!  And what would happen if we tried the inverse? Would it be objectionable for Denzel Washington to play JFK? Or Morgan Freeman to play George Washington? I'm thinking someone in casting might object about the legitimacy of the movie if that happened. The ability of two men of color having the chops to play historic icons and presidents would be beside the point. That film would not get green lighted. Not so for Exodus.

"Angry Black Woman" If you have not read the article about Shonda Rhimes in which Alessandra Stanley referred to the famed director as such you have undoubtedly heard about it. But however popular that view is it is not entirely accurate. I'll paraphrase what Mrs. Stanley attempted to say and provide context so you may have a somewhat better understanding of the gist of the article.  And for lack of a better word let's call this journalism. Mrs. Stanley, in a very clumsy, clueless, and in-artful way was attempting to be complimentary of Shonda Rhimes by detailing how she was excelling in doing things her way in an industry dominated by white males.  The fact that Mrs. Rhimes will have three shows airing on the most coveted day and two head lined by women of color buttresses Mrs. Stanley's argument. Fair enough.  But here's, the thing; Mrs Stanley is a journalist.  Words are her medium.  She doesn't get to be in-artful, awkward, or clumsy.  If I ask my mechanic to write a piece on Shonda Rhimes HE gets to be in-artful.  Not so a famed journalist from the Paper of Record.  And the most maddening part of the article was the under handed slight she gave to the first lady by juxtaposing Shonda's success with Mrs. Obama's perceived failure. This article was so bad on so many levels one wonders how it made it through the editing process. But Alessandra is no different then most people in power when it comes to dealing with racial issues.  That is she is in-artful, clueless and awkward.

Having money is not everything not having it is. That's a Kayne West lyric and a fairly accurate metaphor of the disparate prisms in which whites and minorities view and experience race. Whites are involved in race while minorities are committed, and like the chicken and pig our rolls are decided at birth. Mr. Scott had tea with Christian Bale when he decided to cast him as Moses. Alessandra Stanley swears up and down that her hit piece on Mrs. Rhimes is actually complimentary if we can just get past the first 140 characters. Mr. Synder confidently speaks of Redskins being a term of honor and respect with no hint of sarcasm. The insular and myopic view of these three individuals are the rule not the exception. And their privileged arrogant responses when challenged are representative of the state of race relations in this country and one reason why I am so sick and tired of being sick and tired.