Notes on Fire

a minority view on race in Hollywood

How Hollywood Politicizes Sexual Sins (Pt. 1)

Harvey Weinstein is not Nate Parker is not Casey Affleck.

I say this out of concern. For it seems in this newfound fervor to right some long-seated wrongs within the industry, that somehow so ever so indiscreetly an indiscriminate from of labelling has slipped past the gate watchers. (For the record, I favor indiscriminate justice, however I disavow indiscriminate vilifying.)

Consider:

  1. Nate Parker, an African-American actor, is tried and acquitted of a rape charge that occurred while he was in college.
  2. Casey Affleck is charged with two charges of sexual harassment and settles out of court both times for an undisclosed amount.
  3. To date, no less than 58 women have made allegations of inappropriate sexual advances against Harvey Weinstein; some to which he has apologized, others settled out of court, and the rest he denies as “patently false.”

Of particular note is the last case.

For in the case of Mr. Weinstein, he has been alleged to have made inappropriate actions, but few of the cases (8 total according to the NY Times) have actually been tried by a court of law. No matter. What Mr. Weinstein has been found guilty of court of public opinion. And it seems that the more women that come forward, the more he is found even more guilty. (This of course, does not mean that one woman’s claim are any less true if she stands alone, or any more true if more than one woman comes forward). The conservation further escalates when celebrities have spoken against Mr. Weinstein—we may ask, why would they risk name and career to make false accusations?

Still, while these mysteries remain, the “Weinstein effect” is alive and well.

What this does mean is that (as loathe as I am write it) that we must do well to reserve our judgement (those of us who do not know all the facts) to the proper places reserved for judgement, namely the courts.

“Believe the survivors” (again, I am loathe to write it) should not be the sole response to claims made by one party against another. Even though it feels counterintuitive to do or say so, we still must fight on the side of rule of law and not the rule of accusations. (Meanwhile, we pray that justice does come speedily on behalf of the courageous abused who break silence).

And if this is true for Mr. Weinstein, it is also even more true for Mr. Affleck, and Mr. Parker.

For in the cases of these two latter gentlemen, they have been tried in the court of law on account of their alleged actions.

Yet in the case of these two actors we have seen and, are to some degree still witnessing, how the tide of public backlash is used against their character and against Hollywood et large for employing and/or recognizing their talents publicity.

Much blowback has arisen over the case of Mr. Parker and Mr. Affleck, particularly around Oscar season; for it appears, as Armie Hammer identifies, that sexual crimes and their aftermath, the long-held substance of Hollywood fare, can and are used as a weapon to publicly smear, at worst, or at least cause for need of pause, at best, on the part of the Academy when they cast their votes each award season.

And in these instances, it appears that the issue is less about justice and more about certain parties need to connivingly bolster their chances to win that coveted Oscar trophy.

But of course we knew sex was political, right?

And worse: is there any wonder, particularly in the case of Mr. Parker, that race then also enters the picture? For if his enemies are willing to drudge up past charges to discredit his chances for Oscar gold, then why not if all else fails also play the race card?

Yes, Mr. Hammer, there is a double standard. Alls fair in love and the hunt for an Oscar.

The reality of the so-called political shenanigans of their perspective enemies does not mean that Mr. Parker nor Mr. Affleck deserve a get out of jail pass. What it does mean is that the political intentions of some are being allowed to hijack the conversation to the point where the conversation moves from being about justice to being solely about the zero-sum game of who can scream the loudest or throw shade the farthest.

And in the doing so, the conversation becomes less and less about the true victims themselves.

 

 

 

 

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Racism is Not Indigenous to Black Folk

There, I said it.

In reading the NYTimes Article, The Culture Has Caught Up with Spike Lee—Now What?, I was struck by Spike’s comment, “Black folks get kind of funny now with other people telling our stories.”

At first I chuckled as I implicitly agreed, only to immediately find myself asking, why?

Is it that Blacks truly think that any telling of racism by a White person will be inherently less truthful 

or

that White retellings are almost always overtly political in nature

or

Blacks have some primordial right to be the sole tellers of our own history?

Clearly, one could argue, that in order to tell accurately of Black plight, the natural ‘teller’ ought to be Black. After all, when it pertains to racism, Blacks can and should speak for themselves, right?

Hold up. Wait a minute.

Even if we are inclined to think these things, again the question is: why? Would on the face of it,  a white retelling of past racism, be perceived to be any less truthful than a black retelling of the same events? Are we to assume that the victimizer and the victim, or by extension their generations that follow after them, are any more or less objective in their assessment of the facts? The it-happened-to-me-therefore-I-know-best position ought to be subjected to scrutiny of an account of all the available voices and data.

Blacks are not always the victims of race any more than Whites are always the victimizers. This fact suggests there should be a more nuanced, multi-sided view of how racism is presented by and to various people and communities.

Perhaps, then, we can and should ask, to what degree are Black stories the sole property of Black folks? To answer a question with a question: does this mean that Blacks cannot (or should not) tell any stories that are historically categorized as White? Isn’t this in of itself a form of racial bias aka racism?

Are you woke?

Hold your seat for this one…

It is my thought that the story of American racism ought to told more by White people about Black people.

I know, I know, I can hear at the haters now. So let’s just say it:

Will Whites get some things wrong, omit key facts, and water down others? Possibly. Most certainly.

But don’t Blacks do the exact same thing?

Thought so.

So, let’s not major in the minors.

For in doing so, we could miss the all-import point that White voices carry a different credibility within White circles (don’t kill the postman) and as such, if indeed Blacks truly hope to continue to see forward movement in the struggle against racism, there comes a point where they must realize that Black voices can only go so far. And as the case of Kathryn Bigelow illustrates, it is white voices that can in their own way show how racism continues to demand a fresh examination and a renewed commitment to action by all.

Lest anyone think this a zero-sum gain, think again. This emboldening of White voices does not mean that Black voices are to be considered less credible and ultimately silenced. Rather, it means that White voices should be valued in their own right as adding value to the race conversation, especially when they are saying the same thing that Blacks (or other minorities) are/have been saying for years. 

In short, the phenomenon of racism has historically tended to position Blacks on the side of protest and civil disobedience; yet, it is in the creative artistic space of cinema— a medium that is equally suited to educate as it entertains mass markets (particularly when handled by other minorities, and in this instance a White female director)— that demands we treat her and others like her with an openness and a willingness to listen to how her story impacts the cause of addressing racism.

For this openness to hear her telling of the story could further enrich the overall race conversation, by not only the content of her message, but also by empowering other voices like hers and not so like hers to speak up in new and unexpected ways. For it is my hunch, that her own experiences as a minority and a creative in no small part are uniquely shaping her own sensitivities to the plight of others.

America, America

AMERICA doesn’t have a race problem. America has a White people problem.

When the first settlers, aka White people, came to this country, do you really think they sat around the hearth with the Indians and kicked it as they told stories, carved the turkey and ate pumpkin pie? Please. They made and subsequently broke treaties, killed and infected the Indians with their diseases, and even subjugated some to slavery all for one reason: to take their land. White made right and red (read: the so-called Red man) was the new black. But this is not the history taught in grade school to wee little White lads about their forefathers.

In fact, what kids are taught is revisionist history at its finest: they are spoon-fed the most sanitized myths about the nice, brave White settlers who risked life and limb to explore this new country. But never are they told the other side of the story. What of the American Indian’s perspective? What if some random dude busted today into your yard and just started living there as if it was their land? What if they tried to kill you rather than leave? What would you do?

Little has changed since those first days. You would hear more today about lil’ Red kids getting gunned down, instead of Black kids if White people had not already killed most of the Red guys off, or sent the rest to reserves to rot. Admittedly, it’s hard to hear even as it’s hard to write, but the so-called “hardness” or “softness” of facts doesn’t make them any more or any less true.

Black people, we all know, have suffered a different fate. They were brought here for no other reason than to be exploited. Which is why in the beginning our Founding Fathers proudly asserted, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…..all men are created equal…unless of course you are a non-land owner, a woman, or born Black. If the latter, please see footnote. Footnote:  If born Black, you were created to be property. 3/5 human. Chattel. Period. Have a nice life.

I don’t even know if we catch the viciousness of that language. The language 3/5 of a white man or chattel, suggests our Fathers were saying that Blacks were not officially human and they were not officially 100% beast, they were somewhere in between. Sounds like we were some antebellum werewolves or werechattel or something not 100% safe sounding.

I’m starting to believe less in the invisible hand of the free market, and more in the invisible hand of White privilege.

The problem, of course, is not that people don’t know these things or even want to know them. Facts are facts. The problem is the source of these facts. The second a Black men talks about race, the substance of what he has to say is completely ignored as he is instantly labeled an “an angry Black man.” How ironic: a Black man’s skin color discredits him from talking about how other people perceive his skin, and, for that matter, everything else about him. And that about sums up all that needs be said: the object of hate obviously is in no position to tell his haters what he knows all too well they feel towards him. Why? Because it may anger them.

So let’s leave it up to only White people to talk about race. The problem is, so few White people do. Or when they do,  they talk about race and racism in some generic, other-worldly, abstract kind of way. They very rarely talk about it in a personal, ‘here’s what I’m going to do about it,’ kind of way. Fewer still can say, ‘here’s what I have done and am currently doing about it’ which is why few White people talk about race and why so very few have even one non-White friend. After all, its much more convenient to acknowledge the presence and reality of racism, without having to acknowledge the presence and reality of Black people.

In  fact, the idea of squaring away on the issue of race (its past and present reality), means more than most Whites still care to acknowledge. After all, they say, “why should I be judged for what my father, grandfather, great-grandfather did?” Yet, you don’t hear them talk that way when it comes to applying to enter an Ivy or when they use their family member’s or friend’s reputation and/or network to land a lucrative job (at best), or keep them from getting shot by police (at worst). I’m starting to believe less in the invisible hand of the free market, and more in the invisible hand of white privilege.

And that is for the most part the biggest reason why we can’t move forward in race relations: it’s because this Cartesian, dichotomous divide exists to this day that says money, and education and business, and a whole host of other stuff, has nothing to do with the race issue.  As long as White people get the privilege of slicing up the world into nice itsy, bitsy chunks and determining which chucks get affected by White privilege and which don’t, is it really all that surprising that the things that matter like money and power are constantly placed in the latter category?

Now to all this you would think the faith community would have something of value to say to bring some needed light to this issue. Hardly. Black and White Christians hardly even worship together let alone talk to each other. The Sunday morning church hour is still the most segregated hour in America, just as it was in King’s day when he first acknowledged it to be so. Even the smattering of multi-ethnic churches in America today are mostly pastored by White men who are married to Black women. Very rarely do you see multi-ethnic churches of Black pastors who are married to White women. “Those” kind of churches appeal to neither White nor Black sensibilities.

Still, you would think White people who take their Christian faith seriously would acknowledge, whether they like it or not, or whether they created it or not, that as also in the first century, gross imbalances exist and it does little to say you are against a system that you continue to benefit from daily. It’s the reason that Matthew the tax collector, upon being converted, not only left the tax collecting business but all sold his possessions and gave to the poor. Other illustrative examples are scattered across the New Testament.

Now, I’m not suggesting that every White person do exactly the same thing Matthew did (we don’t want to be too religious for our own good, do we?), but I am suggesting that they take seriously the implication of White privilege and covert racism for their own lives, and they work in their own way and with other White, Black, Brown, and people from every other color under the sun, to actively counter it.

Not long ago, while I was in seminary, one of my White classmates asked a couple of presenters who were presenting on the ugliness of the race relations in the local church what he could do personally to end this travesty. The reply was as simple as it was direct, “Some of you should consider serving under a Black pastor or at least, adding Black pastors to your team.” You could have heard the proverbial pin drop. It was like the presenter was asking them to voluntarily sign up for an Ebola injection administered by a Black Panther.

I get it. Yes, for all parties concerned, for people of all colors in America, the race problem is painful.

Do we really think then the solution is going to be pleasant for anybody?

Here’s an idea: if you are born with privilege, do the right thing: exercise responsibility. It is not enough to be resentful or overwhelmed because you were born White. Take a step, however small, to begin bringing about the end of White privilege.

White people: build a relationship with a Black person. Better yet, two or three, four, (do you really need a number?). Do unto others what you would have them do to you. Ask yourself how your resources (namely your whiteness along with your networks of other White folk) can be used to help him/her advance in life just as it has helped you.

Black people: give White people the room to say and do stupid things. Forgive. Help them. Years of living in a White bubble is not going to produce the most racially sensitive people the planet has ever known.

I admit, neither prescription is pleasant for either party. But again, we are not talking pleasant or easy. We’re talking about a solution that is going to take years of hard work from all of us as we learn to recognize our shared humanity and so doing, earn the trust necessary to call each other friends. It’s not going to happen overnight and setbacks will come. Still, forward movement is possible.

If this generation is not willing to do these things, and others like them, then the problem has and will continue to be kicked down the road to the next generation. And this is the America we find today. An America of a whole lot of kicking and too little responsibility. After all, isn’t that one of the best perks of White privilege?