A Quick Take and Retake on Film and Racial Bias

Black Identity, Film, Race, Uncategorized

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Recently I was talking to a friend about a skit I’m working to film and produce. The skit features two young adult women. I have two actors in mind for this and one happens to be white and the other happens to be black. When I was describing the concept to my friend, I mentioned that I didn’t want for there to be a racial component to the story. He provided a simple solution saying, “You should only use white actors.” I was caught off guard, it sounded racist but my friend is not racist at all. I thought about the interaction for a while and realized how easy it is to be complicit in a system of white supremacy.

I originally started sharing this as a Facebook comment to this short article about Woody Allen not hiring black actors unless the story “Requires it.” I started by writing the post like this:

Recently I was talking to a friend about a skit I’m working on to film and produce. the skit features two women. I had two actors in mind and one is black. I said that I wanted to use the black actor but didn’t want to have a racial component in the story. He provided a simple solution saying, “You should only use white actors.” I was floored but understood how easy it is to be complicit in a system of white supremacy.

There are a few things wrong with my original words and the thinking behind them.

“I had two actors in mind and one is black.” This in a way assumes that the normal thing to be is white. I didn’t mean it that way but my brain automatically went there instead of saying that one is black and one is white.

“I wanted to use the black  actor but didn’t want to have a racial component in the story.” This is HUGELY PROBLEMATIC and I almost left it out there in a comment trying to show solidarity with a fellow black person who is an actor. It’s a problem because it places the onus of racial tension on the black person. It implies that black people are a racial problem. They are not. (We are not.)

As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me,   “Race is a product of racism.” It’s a white problem. Not necessarily the problem of an individual person who is called white but of the whole system of attitudes and behaviors that have created the terms, white, and black. A system that has persisted and has continued to oppress black and brown people in sometimes very subtile and nuanced ways but also in violent and obvious ways. Obvious at least to those who are paying attention either by proximity or by intentional wakefulness.

As some of you may know, I am the son of a black mother. She denied being black for my whole childhood and came out to me as a black person when I was in my 20s. Here’s a post about some of that:  THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF GROWING UP WITH A CONFUSED RACIAL IDENTITY

So, yeah. I’m half black and also a little bit racist. I’ve got white supremacy in my thinking. I unintentionally comply in this system all of the time. I promise, I’m really working on this.

I’ve been thinking about this stuff ALL OF THE TIME. I carpool and work with a very thoughtful and woke white friend and we talk about systemic white supremacy every time we ride together. It’s an inexhaustible topic of conversation. I feel that we will never run out of things to say on the topic.

ConFuSing pAragrapH>>>Being a person of mixed race, I find that I have trouble with language regarding race. I don’t self identify as a white person but when I look at things I’ve said or written I find that I only sometimes identify as a black person. I usually call black people they and sometimes call white people they, although if I look closely, I find that I imply that I share a white experience, which I do in some ways. I have been subject to various forms of white racism in my life and have been treated as other enough times to make me feel genuinely other. I don’t really look black though and I was raised by a poor single black mother who had a life riddled with violence, drug abuse, imprisonment, unfortunate police encounters, domestic abuse, and deep shame regarding her own identity as a black woman. In many of these ways I think I share an experience that many black people have had and yet I often feel like an outsider in that group as well.

I’m doing racism sometimes and I’m really sorry about it. I think it’s important for people to come to terms with the fact that racism exists and that they probably participate in it without even knowing.

Was I writing about film? Yes. I guess so. If you’re working in film, do better. Don’t assume you’re not racist.

So you’re feeling offended by Beyoncé and her black friends.

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On Sunday, the Colorado Football Men with their leader, Terry Manny, and the Carolina Fast Guys, also all men, faced off in an extremely important match. My family and I actually went to a friends house to look at it. Our friends prepared tons of sweet and salty goodies for our enjoyment. It was a big deal.

After some time, there was a big concert where 3 relatively unknown artists got the chance to play for a huge audience. At the end of the overwhelmingly spectacular, (although not musically stimulating) performances there was an inspirational retrospective montage featuring other struggling artist getting their chance to shine before capacity crowds. As far as I can tell from my extensive research, this has happened nearly L times.

One of the artists named, Beyoncé, sang and danced with her beautiful buddies. They were ultra serious and had dark skin. They also wore black clothing that was sometimes shiny and I was frightened but only for a moment. After they finished, my daughter Jane briefly imitated some of their moves and it looked very cool.

What’s the problem? It turns out that there was A LOT of context in there. Beyoncé sung lyrics that reminded people of racial tension in the mid 20th century and throughout American history. It didn’t just look aggressive, it was aggressive. Well, actually it wasn’t aggressive. It was assertive. Aggressive means that someone was ready to attack or confront and in this case, there were very tight time constraints and since it was a choreographed performance with a political message, it should be processed as performance art.

Here are some things to consider before you call this a racist display.

CONTEXT:

What is happening in our country right now regarding people of color? Are opportunities equitable right now or is there a vast and long standing bias that favors white people? Do you know about #BlackLivesMatter but think it should be #AllLivesMatter or even better #PoliceLivesMatter? Be careful here, because #BlackLivesMatter is actually saying #BlackLivesMatterToo.

REPRESENTATION:

Some are noting that Beyoncé only had black dancers up there with her. Is that important? Why do you think she did that? Is it really racist or is she trying to send a message. I’ll admit, when I saw the performance, I didn’t like it. They were frowning a lot and I couldn’t tell what they were singing and the music was just not my thing. It wasn’t until the next day that I saw that people were upset about the performance art element.

HISTORY:

What has happened in the past regarding people of color? Have things always been great until recently and we just need to make America great again or have things been bad for a long time with infuriatingly small improvements mostly at the cost of black lives?

EDUCATION:

When an artist makes reference to something in history, does it mean that they wholeheartedly support and endorse what happened in the past and are recommending a similar corse of action or are they educating people? Is Beyoncé trying to get people to think abstractly or is she calling for violent action. If she’s calling for violent action, who is her audience and against whom does she hope to act?

THINK:

Before you react or vent about this, think first. What is the context behind the performance. What has happened historically? What is representation? What is there to learn?  There is something deeply wrong with the fact that black people are being put in the position to explain the history of their/our legacy every time the media and individuals forget.

 

Tiny Review of “Searching For Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans

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I read  by . The whole thing reads like a prayer and is probably the most meditative and overtly belief oriented book I’ve read. It brought up a lot of memories of my high school youth group days and my time being involved in a kind of church start-up in the early 2000s. Although I think I agree with Rachel on nearly every topic I’ve read her opinions on, it was almost uncomfortable at times because I realized that I think of Rachel as someone who is disillusioned with God as I am. I don’t think that is accurate though, her story is one of true independence of thought mixed with a real and deep faith in the redemptive power of Jesus. If you are a non believer or an ex christian and want to make yourself uncomfortable by reading an intelligently conceived, prayerful memoir, this book would be a good place to start. If you are someone who has dismissed Evans as a heretic for her views and opinions, you need to read this. I think this would challenge you as well. Rachel, please continue to write books.

A Good Start To November

halloween, Parenthood, Star Trek

November 1, 2014- An excerpt from the journal that Becca and I keep for Jane

Today we started potty training and you are crushing it. We’re half way through the day and you just went with virtually no spillage. I’m so proud of you. Obviously, it’s been a long time since I’ve written to you. We came back to the US in february and things have been very chaotic ever since. You seem to really miss being in our little apartment in Ingelheim and I do too. I miss the rabbits in the yard, our friendly neighbors, Geert, Christina, Luise, Gerhild, and Gunther, and our simple life without cars. Although things are harder now, I think we’re making more progress in life.

Just yesterday I was told that I won’t have a job after December 14th. It’s OK because I was getting way too good at a job that I wasn’t passionate about. If you must know, I am cleaning yogurt machines for Peachwave Frozen Yogurt. You seem to love your highly privileged access to frozen treats, but for me, it’s tough work. I get up early in the morning, clean for a few rigorous hours, and come home to care for and entertain you for the rest of the day. Being with you is always the highlight of my day. When I come home often your face will light up and you run to me and hug me. It’s not every time but it’s certainly enough to warm my heart and bring me up out of whatever mood I’m in.

Yesterday was Halloween. Our first here in the States. We were Star Fleet officers. You were a princess and for some reason, Becca decided to get you another princess dress just a week before halloween. Come October 31st, you wore dress #2, Princess Anna from Frozen, got it dirty at the park, and refused to wear the very fancy and more expensive dress we got you. Later in the day, you showed interest again and rocked that poofy dress with an impressive hoop skirt. I was apprehensive when we first started knocking on doors to trick-or-treat (too many years of adulthood) but after a few houses, we were all having a good time. You came home with a noble stock of candy and we are dispensing said goodies to you piece by piece as rewards for your porcelain triumphs.

You’re playing hide and seek with your mom while I clean the kitchen. you just counted, “One, Two, … Ten, Eleven, Thirteen, Fifteen, Twelverteen, ready or not, here I come!”

Keep it up, Jane,

Love,

MaPa

I’m thinking about this woman I met on the playground the other day. Well, I guess I didn’t meet her, I mostly just observed her. Her daughter who looked to be about 6/7 years old hopped on the swing and started going. The mother started chanting a weird mantra, “Pay attention, you know you get hurt when you don’t pay attention. You’re tired, make sure you’re holding on. Pay attention…”

Why did she need to talk to her kid like that? She was totally capable. The nagging mom just continued pushing her with tiny pushes and discouraging words while I had Jane on the next swing swinging, “Big up high” as Jane puts it.

It was weird. I don’t get why she felt the need to continuously micromanage her kid. I see this sort of thing all of the time. That, or a parent just talking on the phone the whole time while the kid does whatever.

I can’t help but think that this mother was knocking her little girl down with out even knowing it. It makes me think of how people just fall into certain words and phrases with kids. I see it in myself sometimes. I’m working on getting myself into other habits. Habits of telling Jane that she’s a good person, that she is honest, that she is capable.

Jane on the swings

-Jane at 12 months old on the swings.-

Earlier today I was telling Jane about Becca and I said, “Your Mom is a good person.” She repeated it and said, “I call mommy, say, good person?” I loved that. I think Jane is starting to understand that encouragement is meant to be shared.

I really love being at the park with Jane. She’s at the point where she can just jump in and play with other kids. She’s not in the corner anymore, she’s in the mix. I hope to remember at every stage to keep encouraging her, to select my words carefully and to lift her up at the right times.

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Mother’s Day Rant

Birth, Child Birth, God, Happy Mother's Day, Mother's Day, Unbelief

First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mommies out there. You make our species survive so, that’s great and stuff.

Yesterday I was talking to some women who were recounting their birthing experiences. As numbers like 10LBS 5oz were being dropped, my heart started to race. Ever since the birth of my daughter, I get a bit of anxiety when the topic of child birth comes up.

I guess you could call me anti-birth. It’s just so brutal. I know that there are many many people who see it as a beautiful and holy thing and some who actually enjoy the travailing. I do not judge those who think this way. Obviously, I haven’t experienced it first hand.

I have a standard line that I pull out in situations when people are talking about child birth. I guess it’s a sign of my getting older. I usually say something like,

“I can’t wait for science to fix birth with teleportation.”

I usually get a nice laugh out of it and so I’ve used it several times now. This time was different though. One of the women in the group responded by saying,

“I don’t think that’s what God had in mind.”

Someone else chimed in something along the lines of,

“We’ve all got to pay for Eve’s sin.”

The conversation digressed into a pit of myths.

I was speechless. This is one of the most heartbreaking topics for me in the entire canon of Christian ideas. The thought that God would punish all women with pain in child birth is completely unthinkable to me. It’s creepy in the worst way. I guess that what God had in mind was for every mother in history having to suffer in order to perpetuate human kind. All I can think of are the thousands of generations of scared young women going into labor with little to no medical knowledge. Surviving birth was a luxury for the vast majority human history and in some places, it still is.

For me, I look at Genesis and see nothing resembling truth. Beautifully written myths, yes. Historical accuracy, no.

Then there is Mary. It seems so rude and cruel that God would supposedly use her like that. Even if she did happily agree to it, how could she have known what she was getting in to? There is a great video out there by Steve Shives called Rescuing the Bible from Christians.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DP0v9ydRbYo

He talks about how unfair it is to the Bible to take it so literally. To demand that everything in that specific collection of ancient books is true, is to detract from the literary value of those writings. I think that it also gets in the way of actually learning from the stories in the Bible.

So, that’s my rant for today. I really hope that science fixes birth. Mothers are amazing to take on the task of birth. The good thing is that things are getting better for mothers.

Addendum: I don’t want to imply that someone who found the experience of birth to be beautiful and transcendent is somehow crazy or masochistic. Birth itself is not wrong. Someone purposely designing it to be that way as a punishment would be wrong. It is the way it is though and I hope that science continues to make birth a less dangerous thing. I know many who have had wonderful and empowering birthing experiences and I would never want to diminish that in any way.