“Don’t You Ever Not Recognize Yourself in Somebody Else”: Words of Wisdom from Marta Moreno Vega

I found myself listening to Marta Moreno Vega’s words last week.  It offered some sanity after an Atlanta-based rapper released a video on social media of 1990s sitcom actress, Maia Campbell, who was completely unraveled in a conversation with him at a local gas station.  I cannot vouch for the young man actually being a rapper; certainly, no one ever really heard of him until he used his phone to garner internet fame by exploiting a Black woman who was once a beloved child-star.  It becomes quite obvious in the video that Maia, who has battled bipolar disorder and drug addiction for many years now, is not doing well and is in complete relapse mode.

The video, which of course went viral, was meant to be “funny.”  The wanna-be rapper who filmed Maia even defended his actions, ranting about how he was not sorry for what he did (he has recently recanted, claiming that he jokes with Maia like this often).  I won’t link the videos here because they are too traumatizing, both Maia’s obvious breakdown and the young man’s willingness to dehumanize her (I won’t say the rapper’s name either since he does not deserve more air time than he has gotten). I see this as yet another example of the spectacular spectacle of Black women’s dehumanization that runs the gamut from Iyanla Vanzant’s/OWN’s pseudo-therapeutic “intervention” in Maia’s life to a young Black man’s calculated decision to humiliate and hypersexualize her.  While it may seem extreme to connect Iyanla to this wanna-be rapper, they connect quite seamlessly for me: both offer up Maia’s body solely for PUBLIC, CONSPICUOUS consumption; neither offer her substance or support in return for the otherwise unttainable attention and stardom they achieve via their chosen media outlets.

As I stated in my opening, in times like these, you need the words of your elders to show/remind you who you really are in the world.  This week, for me, that has meant the AfroLatinx activist, scholar, and teacher, Marta Moreno Vega.  Her closing story in the video below is especially relevant here where she describes her brother’s childhood friend, Jimmy, who was an addict.  One day, Jimmy spoke to her on the street and in her teenage/youth arrogance, she decided he was too dirty and embarrassing to warrant a response or acknowledgement from her.  When Jimmy told Vega’s mother about the incident, Vega was quickly punished and warned that Jimmy’s life could very well be her own, her brother’s, her sister’s, or even her own mother’s life.  Her mother warned her that she must never NOT RECOGNIZE HERSELF IN SOMEBODY ELSE.  As much as social media has offered radical opportunities for a radical Black Presence/ Black Voice/ Black Vision/ Black Humanity, it can eradicate all of that at the same time. The generational wisdom of the elders here as passed down to us from Vega seems critical… seeing ourselves in Maia rather than so easily exploiting her belongs to a legacy of Black expectation that we need to uphold now more than ever.

Remembering George Whitmore this MLK Day

IDFor a few years now, many, many black women have recommended the ID (Investigation Discovery) channel to me.  I always promised to check it out simply because I trust sistas’ judgements about this kind of thing, but I honestly never got around to it.  Quiet as it’s kept, black women talk about the ID channel more than they talk about Scandal; at least to me, they do. What holds constant across these black women’s recommendations is the promise of a representation of bone-chilling criminality and death without the overdetermination of mass media’s (local and national news; shows like CSI, Law and Order; all of the NYPD; etc) equation of violence with blackness.  This is not the goal of the channel and race is never admitted or discussed, but it is all right there for the taking.  This winter break I started watching ID channel and let me just tell you, I ain’t never seen so many murder-hungry white folk in my life…. outside of history books, that is.  Like I said, I trust sistas’ judgements on these kinds of recommendations and they did NOT disappoint.  I can’t even watch this channel late at night because Freddie Krueger and Elm Street ain’t got NUTHIN on the kind of nightmares and fears that this channel induces.

I could tell countless stories of the things I have seen on this channel.  One story in particular fascinated me: the robbery and brutal murder of an elderly white couple in the state of Washington in the dead of winter a few days before Christmas.  (Generally speaking, after these few weeks of watching this channel, I can truly say that if you are in any small town in Utah, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, or Minnesota and you see/hear/feel something kinda strange, RUNNNNN FOR YOUR LIFE!)  Two young white men from the town held the elderly couple at gun-point in their car, took $8500 from them, shot them in their backs, and then threw them on the side of the road in a couple of feet of snow.  It was 20 years before the killers were caught.  One teenager, driving in the car with his mother, saw the elderly couple with the two local men (his friends), knew they had committed the murders as soon as he heard about the incident on the news, and claimed he was so scared that he said nothing about what he saw and knew about that day… for 20 years!  The two culprits moved to Alaska a few months after their crime so this man claimed fear for more than 19 years even though he never saw the two men again. The two criminals abandoned the elderly’s couple’s car at the mall where many locals saw them exit the vehicle with guns under their arms.  Because the law does not require anyone to conceal their firearms in Washington, no one thought anything of it.  Nuthin quite like American shopping malls!  And, it gets better. The two murderers had borrowed the guns they used from a friend, so they returned their borrowings to their friend who suspected what they had done.  The friend simply had his stepfather get rid of the gun to protect the murderers.  Other than a neighbor who saw the two criminals casing the elderly couple’s home, no one in this “warm, small, tight-knit community” (the townspeople’s language, not mine) said a word about what they knew.  Twenty years later, the 60-year old children of the elderly couple hired their own private detectives to secure new leads and discoveries in order to re-open this unsolved case.  At this point, the criminal pair was hidden deep in the arctic jungles of Alaska so when authorities finally found the pair, one had already died: a diabetic who used heroine profusely even though, apparently, diabetes and heroine do not mix.  The other still-living culprit was as cool as a cucumber and even paused to order hisself some chicken wings while being questioned by police. Now, this ain’t such an extreme murder case in the context of the ID channel, but what baffled me the most was the townspeople’s insistence that this town was warm and friendly.  Ain’t enough money in the world that could get me to visit that town and if I ever get stuck there, Ima get down on my knees and pray for escape ideas from the kind of North Star-knowledge of a Harriet Tubman!

In a really strange way, I began to see very clearly how the media really does twist people up.  Racially subordinated groups often believe the stereotypical images of black/brown-as-innately-violent and hate their own skin.  Racially elevated groups believe their kind can do no wrong and risk their daily lives with their inability to see the white dangers right in front of them at the gun-friendly shopping mall. Wow!  This is not a surprise, for sure, but ID channel just showcases these issues in amazing ways. Like I said, there is never any such race-dissection in the shows.  The commentators seem to believe in these delusions of white-town-innocence too.  I most certainly don’t.

So this brings me to the point of this post: THE LIFE OF GEORGE WHITMORE.

Continue reading

Cyber Monday 2013 & the Inanity of Whiteness

I did a lot of babysitting as soon as I hit my teens.  From early October to December 24, I exploited the fiction of Santa Claus as much as possible.  While I understand many people’s animosity and hesitation with this concept, it made my babysitting days so much easier.  You can really work that fiction to get kids to behave.  A recent lecture by Dr. Nteri Nelson filmed by Paul Gibson, however, has helped me to reach deeper understandings of the ancestral connections that have drawn black folk to Christianity, celebrations of Christmas, and Santa Claus and other holiday emblems.

Given the African American draw to Christmas and our Black Buying Power, it seems like the endless Christmas animations, the Hallmark movies with their messages about love/family/rebirth, the window displays, the Santa Claus images and look-alikes, the flying angels everywhere, the traditional children’s stories, and all this Christmas paraphernalia wouldn’t all be so damn white.  Last year, on Black Friday and Cyber Monday alone, African Americans spent more time browsing online for toys than any other group.  It seems like a good capitalist would capitalize on all that and do a full-blown black-up of all children’s marketing.  But capitalism is not logical and it is never just about making money.

ST_PERFECT12I recently watched the movie, The Perfect Holiday, where Morris Chestnut was a shopping mall Santa who enchanted three little kids and their mother (played by Gabrielle Union; the added bonus as Terrence Howard as a rat, evil dwarf, etc).  Morris Chestnut is one Santa no one would need to make me believe in!  Clearly, capitalists don’t care about black people’s dollars; otherwise we’d see family movies like this everywhere. Instead, this year’s blockbuster will be a black man dressing up as a black woman who then dresses up as Santa (i.e., Madea) for a 2013 Christmas Coon Extravaganza.  The images that we see and don’t see of black people during these holidays are not motivated by the economics of neoliberalism alone; these economics are nested quite snugly with maintaining a white lens and a white world, a reality 100s of years in the making given the history Dr. Nelson provides us.  Like I said, if it was all about money, BLACK WOMEN would be the center of all marketing campaigns since we are the ones with the most buying power.   You know something deep is going on when NO ONE tells you this.  I am not suggesting that buying power and wealth are the same thing and that black women and communities have wealth in the United States.  It just seems telling to me that American consumerism functions according to a logic that deliberately omits black faces but exploits their cultures and dollars.

Outside of home, friends, and family, the many white intellectuals, scholars, teachers, and so-called “educated” people who I work with still won’t get— don’t want to get— why black folk focus so much time and energy on constructing positive images of ourselves and releasing all the negative.  Truth is, we don’t have time to worry about these people who don’t want to understand this.  They just aren’t worth it. This December, however, I am doing what I often do when I am looking for images and concepts that DON’T destroy black children and families when a dominant white image/mindset completely saturates every turn you make: I turn to African American children’s literature.  Beginning with this year’s Cyber Monday, this black woman is spending her ancestral time/energy and her Black Buying Power looking for African American children’s literature that offers real and soul-sustaining Black lenses and belief systems about this time of year.  I’ll share my favorites in the coming days and weeks.

When White People Drop the N-Bomb

DeenBetween packing up my office, moving to a new university, and participating in the protests related to Trayvon Martin’s murder, I missed an important diss-able moment here: doggin out PAULA DEEN.

Black folk on twitter kept me afloat during that time and I’m not even on twitter.  And in case anyone was confused about this, yes, we are laughing AT Paula Deen, not with her.  Everything about her— her dishes, her health, her children, her Bubba— got publicly dissed on every social network site imaginable.  It was the most lovely way to treat a white supremacist.  The memes alone inspire deep pride for me. It made it that much easier to dismiss all those “liberals” saying black people were too sensitive or blowing things out of proportion. If my recent trip to Savannah, Georgia is any indication, then it seems safe to say that social networking brought down Deen: every time I passed a Paula Deen Tour Bus, it was E-M-P-T-Y!  Personally, I think all of those very public disses of Paula Deen should be a model for how we treat anyone who thinks we should dress as/be slaves, serve them sweet potato pie (and everything else), and/or maintain confusion about the N-bomb.  Descriptions of Deen’s racism are hardly over, including the ongoing testimonies of black women in the recent NYTimes who Deen exploited while thiefing their recipes and expertise as cooks.  It seems like Deen’s empire really was run like a plantation: the exploitation of black labor, ingenuity, and skill while she sat back, rich and fat, grinning for the public as if she had herself pioneered something.  A plantation, indeed.

Like I said, Black Twitter was a thing of beauty, but my heart goes out to AfricanoBoi who gave the best commentary on Paula Deen yet!  For all non-black folk, no, you can not laugh at this but you do get to hear how WE HEAR white supremacy.   For all black folk: yes, you can roll all over the floor and laugh your hearts away!!!  I know I still am.  Sometimes, laughing back and talking back go hand-in-hand because, given all that is coming to light about Deen’s labor practices, AfricanoBoi might not be exaggerating that much.