I’m Black and I’m…Quiet?

It’s weird…I didn’t see any police being attacked by Beyonce albums today. Could this be because Beyonce’s halftime show was not just about inciting violence against police officers?

No, that’s crazy.

Beyonce’s halftime show was big and energetic, with crazy costumes and gravity itself tripping on Beyonce’s dance moves.  But it was the theme of her halftime show that was the most talked about. The outfits that paid homage to the black panther movement. The word negro sung repeatedly in front of a stadium full of people. And the main song of her act, “Formation” connected to a music video that depicts a New Orleans cop car underwater. Many critics put the pieces together and drew their own conclusions.

Since I believe in the freedom of speech, I’m highlighting my favorite comments, and adding my own commentary:

From Former Mayor Giuliani,

“I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us, and keep us alive,” – Giuliani

(Because Negro is a secret code word for attack, obviously)

To Facebook commenters:
“Rise above and stay above the strife. For a girl who grew up in a privileged, wealthy family, she has no business pandering to those who didn’t.”-facebook commenter

(If you have money, you can’t comment on society. That’s just how it goes.)

And as of now, there’s even  petition to ban Beyonce from performing:

In Beyonce’s newest music video which was just released, she is shown drowning a police car. Her video is disgraceful. Why should she be able to perform on the same field as the great men of the New York Mets?

(The first thing I think of when I see A New Orleans cop car underwater is Hurricane Katrina for some reason. But I can see why you would confuse that with drowning.

P.S. And I’m a huge Mets fan from Queens but I’ve never heard anyone refer to them as great men. Thanks!)

 

Overall, I love that this is such a big topic. Because every article, good or bad, about Beyonce’s performance has the potential to bring more attention to issues affecting the black community. But the thing is-none of the above critiques were ABOUT her performance-just the content of the performance. Which is troubling. If kids of any race, creed, or orientation are seeing that an international celeb is being criticized and potentially boycotting for trying to make a statement, they may become more fearful of expressing their own strong opinions. What’s the point if people are going to shut it out?

Fortunately, I have no doubt Beyonce will take this all in stride. She’s Beyonce. But it bothers me tonight. Will I get attacked for making a Facebook status about blacklivesmatter? Could a tweet about the black panthers get a police officer angry at me?Will this article get me banned from my local Trader Joe’s? The fact is: at the end of the day, I”m going to say what’s really on my mind.

If I’m quiet…who’s going to make jokes about the Mets?

(And commentary about blacks in society.)

 

You can’t sit with us! Thoughts on Rachel Dolezal

Featured

In order to talk about the Rachel Dolezal story, I’m going to put a few things aside right at the beginning. I’m not going to make this an article about being “transracial” (whatever that is) or make any comparisons to Caitlin Jenner’s situation. I’m just going to get to the bottom of why this is such a big issue in the first place. because, in reality, despite expert analysis and feedback, it’s all very simple.

Let’s pretend that you formed a group with friends at school. The group started because you have this similarity: you each have heterochromia in your eyes, meaning that none of you have the same eye color for both eyes. For example, Jill has a blue eye and brown eye, and your friend James Bond (the name is quite common) has a green eye and a hazel eye. Not everyone with heterochromia sits with your group at lunch every day, but a lot of them stick together. You like a lot of the same movies, a lot of the same artists and hang out in a lot of the similar place. One day, one member of your group, who we will call, “Rach” is eating her pudding when something flies out of her eye.

CONTACTS!

This entire time she was eating with your group and advocating for its awareness, she was lying-both her eyes are baby blue. They are quite nice eyes now that you see them…but that’s beyond the point. Rach has been lying to you for months. She pretended to be something she wasn’t. Now we wonder, what else was “Rach” lying about?

Trust is what this whole national issue is about. That’s what we should be upset about most in this story. So why do most arguments center around Rachel’s “pretending to be black”? It comes down to appropriation vs. assimilation.

When you arrive in a new environment, work environment, school environment, etc., you are likely to pick up certain work habits. For example, if everyone starts using the word “ZANTHEPE” to refer to an unruly customer, you’ll probably start saying it or at least start thinking about it. As time goes on, you may consciously pick up certain work habits while consciously rejecting all others. This is the process of assimilation into the new culture. You do it actively and passively so that you can survive and thrive in the company. By contrast, let’s say your roommate that works at Burger King starts using your work lingo and slang. One day, they come to the company Kwanzaa party and talk and act as if they worked there and had their experiences. This is seen as appropriation, because this person is pretending to be a part of the culture without having a direct connection.

This is an important distinction that is often missed. Any person of color in America that has been accused of “acting/talking white” knows this. Because they have chosen to take aspects of other cultures in the diverse American melting pot into themselves, they are seen as outsiders in their own respective cultures. Yes, there are some people who take it a bit too far but the large majority are just living the way they want to. There is nothing wrong for a person who does not identify as black to wait for the newest Kendrick Lamar mixtape to drop. In fact, they just have a great taste in music.

Crossing cultural lines and divides is a beautiful thing that we get to do in America. Unfortunately, that decision is not always supported by culture you were born into. That’s why some people are willing to go to extremes to avoid the transition. If you just take on the new culture wholesale by putting in those contacts or changing your skin color, you get to skip all those questioning looks from your culture that say, “Why are going over to that lunch table? You already have us.” It doesn’t make it right. You should be who you want to be despite judgments and criticism. But we all know that the world is not that kind and accepting…yet.

Rachel, you went about this the wrong way. Instead of embracing your identity and black culture simultaneously, you sacrificed one for the other. That lie you held for so long is going to take a while for us to get over. You’re not a bad person…we think. You did all of this because of your love of black culture…we think. You didn’t mean to make light of the culture by appropriating a false identity…we think.
You know…it’s hard to say.

We’ve never met you, Rachel.

Expendablacks-Why is the black dude always the first to go?

(Spoilers for Walking Dead Season 5 to follow. You have been warned)

Walking Dead had a strong second half of the season, elevating season 5 of the zombie drama to one of its best. But despite my enjoyment of the characters, story direction and mounting tension, one thing still bothered me:

The black guys kept dying.

I’m not exaggerating. In the first half of the season, we lose Bob to cannibalism. Then we lose Tyreese to two silmulantaneous walker bites+blood loss from a severed arm (in an attempt to stop the infection). Lastly, we lose Noah, (a character that has been a part of the main group for less than half the season) to a horde of zombies devouring him in one of the most gruesome deaths of the series. That’s three in one season. As a point of comparison, the “Main group” has only lost one other member that was not a black male this entire season (if you don’t know by now, I’ll let you figure it out).

Even if you take into account that Chad Coleman (who plays Tyreese) may have been looking to get off the show for another one, that still doesn’t get the Walking Dead off the hook. In previous seasons, we’ve had multiple black men die, only to be quickly replaced by another one. It’s a joke among fans of the show, but it’s not an exaggeration. The writers seem to keep killing off the black male character as a sacrificial lamb and then adding a new lamb to join the flock…only be to slaughtered later.

Is it also a coincidence that their deaths have been some of the most disturbing in the series? While Tyreese’s is somewhat standard for a zombie show, Bob is not only bitten, but has his leg cut off and has to watch people eat it in front of him. We then watch Noah as he is literally torn apart by a crowd of zombies. To make sure that we catch every detail, they even use a puppet that makes it look more realistic. In comparison, the fourth character that dies this season got a gunshot to the head. Brutal, yes, but only a few moments’ pain at most. All the black male characters suffered this season before they died. Was the suffering really necessary?

I picked a lot of the Walking Dead because I believe they are a byproduct of a longer trend. Let’s be honest, when you watch a horror movie, do you expect any of the minorities to make it out alive? Isn’t it a surprise where the black characters make it to the end? Sure, I’ll say if the movie stars Will Smith or Denzel, you’re not expecting a funeral at the end. But short of being a prolific actor, your life is not guaranteed. Is Hollywood saying that you have to be so beloved that people would riot if you were killed in order to survive? That’s what I’m getting from all of this.

Art is often a reflection of the society in which it was created. And lately it’s felt like the “black dude dies first” trend is more prevalent than ever. I’ve written about them before, but again, Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Unarmed black teens shot by officers out of a combination of fear and rushed decisions. And both are only a couple examples in an unfortunately long history. In the news media, they are seen as victims, but often will be criticized for rumored gang involvements or “looking suspicious”. In the movies, the black characters are still often stereotypes and not always portrayed sympathetically. I will give the point to Walking Dead here: at least they depict their black males in a positive light (if you don’t count the black priest. Seriously, no one likes him). But there is still an overwhelming amount of stereotypes lingering out there for black community, Hispanic community, lbgt community and more.

I’ll close with one of my first points: The Walking Dead (and other media) is not completely ruined for me by watching the black males die constantly. But the fact of the matter is that the show, like all art, can help provide an escape from reality. Yes, the Walking Dead is a bleak drama where people die all the time. But do those people have to be the same people that we see dying on our news channels time and time again? I want to stop being surprised that the black male gets to live a good and lengthy life.

There’s enough of that in real life.

Can you paint with all the colors in your mind?

Disclaimer: This blog post is not primarily about Pocahontas, but also, kind of all about Pocahontas. Allow me to explain.
About a year ago today, I was putting the finishing touches on my first play. It takes place in the future, and at its heart, is a long allegory for Alzhemiers’ disease. I remember swinging by the office of an old professor of mine (just by timing. The man is in better shape than me.) and telling him all about my play. We discussed themes, length and that one joke I put in there about buzzfeed. But the thing that sticks out the most was when we talked about the characters’ themselves.
Specifically, their colors.
It kind of went like this.
Professor Man: …Are your characters any particular ethnicity?
Me: With the exception of Cheng, I wasn’t really specific. I thought they could be played by anyone.
Professor Man: Interesting…do you normally create characters like that, or are they usually the same race as you? (Black/Puerto Rican)
That was the big question that got me to think: what color do I create in? When considering characters for stories, what do they look and sound like? I went back and look at the last seven or eight ideas I created. In all of those stories/plays/dark musicals, there was at least one black or Hispanic character. And if they weren’t the lead, then the lead character had no defined race, and in some cases, not even a defined gender. But even if it wasn’t explicit on paper, when I imagined those faceless leads: they looked a lot like me or my sisters.
The reasoning for this is pretty obvious. I want to picture myself as the intelligent badass who has unlimited resources and allies in my fight against evil, or the ridiculously strong, yet sensitive leader of the group. But then that got me thinking: If my mind works like that, does the same go for all other creators? Is our own color our default setting for a story? More often than not, I think that’s the case.
Black directors are expected to direct movies about black characters. The script should also be adapted by a black writer. This is not to say it’s a bad thing whatsoever. Or to say that this is always the case. Taylor Hackford gave us a fantastic movie about Ray Charles, and he was a white director. But nine times out of 10, there seems to be a societal expectation that a black director would be by the camera. Which is again, not nearly close to being a bad thing: except that minorities are just that in Hollywood.
In every area of entertainment be it directing, acting, screenwriting, or anything else, you will tend to find more Caucasians than people of any color. If my theory from earlier is correct, and artists create using their “color” more often than not and apply to Hollywood, that would lead to one conclusion: We will continue to see more films with white male leads. Now, I know I’m not blowing off the lid of any big conspiracy theory here. You could have guessed all of this from just looking at the Academy Award selections this year. I bring this up because maybe the reason we don’t see different cultures represented more often is not because of bigotry, but because of difficulty.
Let’s go to Pocahontas again. Although Disney skimped on some of the details, they had to do more than just make up a story from scratch. They had to research culture. They had to take create complex animation to accurately capture bodies and shapes in the correct way. They even met with an Algonquin nation in Virginia to get a better idea of accuracy. Yes, they took liberties with the material, but you cannot deny that they put in the effort to understand Native American culture before they were able to make the story they did…and it paid off.
So why don’t more artists do this? Controversy. Although I wish I could remember the exact book, I remember that a man of Asian descent wrote a book about the experience of being a black maid in the south through the 1800’s. Some people were upset because they felt that there was no way that an Asian man was qualified to tell that story. But did the people who criticized him read the book? Or see what his primary resources were? I don’t have those answers. But I do know if Michael Bay offered to tell the story of Malcolm X, we’d hear similar rebuttal. (and see lots of explosions)
Again, I know I’m not breaking new ground here. It is clear that minorities are still just that in American media. And that stories about them should be treated with honesty, dignity and by people who truly understand their experience. Realistically, it’s going to take many, many, many years before Hollywood can say there’s a completely equal number of artists creating in a rainbow color coalition of people that covers every gender, sexuality and race. But maybe the path that leads there is proving that we want to see our entertainment in every color. Go see Milk. Take your friends to Selma. Flip a coin on Tyler Perry. If Hollywood sees a demand, they will respond with a supply of different movies, which in turn will lead to wider minority representation, which in turn, leads to that beautiful rainbow I talked about earlier.
Artists often create in their own image. I’m no exception. If we want to see more colors out there, we need to take the artist by the hand, lead them to new culture, point and say,
“You can paint with these colors too.”

Black and White History

Happy Black History Month! In order to kick it off, I thought I’d go with something near and dear to my heart: acting.

No Romeo and Juliet here. The type of acting I mean is the type that everyone does. The choices in personality, hobbies and people that we make every day. As you’re well aware, in many places, America especially, you’re expected to make certain choices based on your economic status, gender, location and of course, race.

And I think that’s bullshit.

As a black/puerto rican man, I’ve been expected to do everything from freestyle rap on the spot (give me 2 minutes at least), dance the bachata (give me at least 6 to remember the steps) and know every rapper in the game (I honestly listen to more Rise Against). But the biggest  thing that I’m expected to be: black.

What does that mean? Depends on the person. Some people expect me to use certain slang, others expect me to be a legitimate threat. When I use certain vocabulary, some people say “i’m acting white”. This is always surprises me, because I haven’t tried out miming in at least 18 years. And this phrase horribly disregards every experience I’ve had leading up in my life to a single moment and reduces it to one factor: my race.

We’re in 2015, and I have no definite solution to this occurrence. All I can say is that there are people who look past race to judge character in my life, and for every person that has done that and continues to do so, I thank you. So until the rest of the world comes around, the best thing to do is to channel those feelings of frustration and ignorance into something better.

Like a poem.

Without further ado, please enjoy:

Red, White, Blue, Yellow

They want me to be “white”, America

My grammar must be exquisite.

I always need to speak in full sentences.

I should wear a suit and a tie everywhere I go.

But when I dress and talk

The way you would have me

I am told:
“You speak well for a black man

But we know what you are.

You should be that instead.”

They want me to be “black”, America.

A loose flow of words

And short phrases

Barely

Connected

Through a couple of rhyming verbs.

Things you heard

A million times before

But you know the score

So homie, don’t be sore

When I bust these rhymes down like a door

And−

“What was that? No more?”

Hey!

Is this your way

To say

“Stop tryin’ to be black.

That’s not what you are

You’re better off actin’ white!”

I’m not white, America.

But I am Puerto Rican!

Mi gentes?

They want me to be Hispanic, America

To speak Span-Ish

To dance the bachata

To listen to some salsa

To make some arroz con pollo

To say me jamo

Excuse me, me llamo…

Que tu dices?

“No, no, no, papi. Tu no comprendes es-pan-ol.

Be…” something else?

So what’s my choice, America?

Black, White, Hispanic, Jamaican, British, Russian, Irish?
How about a human being, America?

A being that speaks in full sentences,

Although, from time-to-time my grammar will slip

And dip

Into a rhyming pattern.

One who can say hola

And yo.

And hello.

To be who I am,

Not just what you want to be, America.

The Next Martin/Marsha Luther King

By now, you’ve heard the news. There will be no indictment for Officer Wilson, the man who shot Michael Brown. Shortly after this announcement was made, there was rioting and violence in Ferguson, among numerous arrests. In the wake of all this information, America has been wondering: what do we do now? After deep thought, the answer is obvious: we need another Martin Luther King.

Before talking about why that is an obvious solution, we talk about the rioters themselves. First off, separate the “rioters” from the “protestors”. Yes, there were certainly some protestors who took part in the riots. But I have serious doubts that there were people out there “Looting for Michael Brown”. Like in any situation, there were a few that took advantage of the chaos. Without a unified agreement of action, cop cars were flipped, fires were started and arrests began.

For those protestors who did riot, it’s important to understand their anger. My first reaction to the news last night was to speak about their feelings: this isn’t all about a life sentence for Officer Wilson. It’s about seeing justice enacted fairly for all people. It’s about rebuilding a bridge of trust that has been absolutely shattered. It’s about someone, anyone, stepping forward and saying, “Sorry that this happened to you.” But this feelings are not being articulated. Instead, they are being lumped together (mostly by the media) into unrest about a verdict. So every time a  headline comes out of Ferguson, all America will see is rage, instead of a message.

For those two reasons, we need another leader like Martin Luther King Jr. Someone with strong charisma and magnetic charm. An individual that knows how to elevate people who feel as if they can do little to change the world. A person that can speak for so many other people. This person would unite the masses from across the nation. On days like this, we would look toward our leader with heavy hearts and ask what should be done next. That person would step up and give a statement. Not only would that statement help to soothe the disappointment, but encourage all to keep fighting, albeit non-violently.

It’s not that the protestors and supporters can’t be trusted on their own. Or that the movement for justice isn’t strong. But imagine how much stronger it could be. Think back to Occupy Wall Street. Although tons of people were involved, it eventually faded from daily consciousness. They may have had numbers, but no direction and no defined spokesperson. This movement will also fade into obscurity-unless someone steps up to guide it.

In the wake of injustice, there will always be a risk of violence. Whether you believe that the officer was innocent or guilty, there’s no debating that an injustice was done to Michael Brown and his family. The people who chose to riot last night believed that destruction was the only answer to his passing. But I choose to believe that there can be another answer. Another way. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of equality for all. Because of what he was able to do, a hope remains etched in my heart that a day will come where everyone in this country gets a fair chance and is judged the same way. It’s long overdue for these dreams and hopes to become a reality.

If you believe that too, then my only question to you is:

How are you with large crowds?

martin luther king

The Tyler Perry Problem

tyler perrry

It was just around 11:00 and the party was still raging. Some guys exchanged weak pickup lines to disinterested girls. Another friend, Pamela, was taking a shot of bacardi 151 to celebrate her loss of good judgment. Admist all of this, I stood in a circle of friends, discussing movies.

“Did you see Star Trek?”-Friend A says with more enthusiasm than a 12 year old girl at a One Direction concert. “I tried, but I didn’t see past the lens flares!” Friend B says, with more wit than the eyebrow of John Oliver. Friend C rolled her eyes and said, “I was distracted by Tyler Perry showing up in the middle.”

The music stops. People drop their drinks. Pamela takes another swig of bacardi 151. Friend C widens her eyes, realizing that she’s said the two words that are never to be mentioned in a social setting. All at once, arguments break out. “MADEA IS HILARIOUS!” “I’M TIRED OF HIM!” “HE REPRESENTS OUR VOICE!” “HE SUCKED IN ALEX CROSS!” Within moments, punches are thrown and glass shatters. The chandelier falls from the ceiling, and Dementors emerge from the chimney. I barely escape through the front door with my drink. Gasping for breath, I shake my fist at the sky and yell, “TYLER PERRY!”

This night didn’t have to happen.

Tyler Perry is a divisive figure in some communities, and arguably Hollywood itself. If you are not familiar with his work, allow me to take you through it. After some years of failure and obscurity, New Orleans born Perry found success with his originally written and directed musical, I Know I’ve Been Changed. From then on, he found success releasing these plays onto video and then eventually turning them into Hollywood movies. Tyler Perry is now worth about 400 million dollars today.
So what’s the problem?

As you knew/could guess from the title picture, Tyler Perry is black. That is not the issue that most take with him. The issue lies in Perry’s body of work. Most of his stories revolve around characters, often black men and women, go through extremely adverse situations and overcome them with faith and hard work. Although that doesn’t sound too controversial, there are certain trends that are repeated. One of the main characters is usually poor, struggling to pay the bills. There are single mothers and fathers left and right with kids as well. And abusive relationships, physically and verbally often make an appearance in these films. Although these films are usually critically hated (Rotten Tomatoes gave his first Hollywood outing a 15% out of 100), they continue to make tons of money. Why is this?

Most people believe this is all about the content of his movies. A large number of the black community in America may have grown up in households similar to the ones that Perry depicts. And if they didn’t, they may know or be aware of what it’s like. The humor also has a lot to do with black and Christian culture, another common thread with the audience. While not 100 percent of Perry’s audience is black, his repeated use of the above formula has got people thinking that he caters to the wants and desires of the black community in order to make his money.

And that’s absolutely true.

Look at a movie that’s in theaters right now. Seriously, any one. Guardians, The Giver, Grey:The Fifty Shades of, whatever. Each caters specifically to an audience. Comic book enthusiasts, nostalgic readers and people who haven’t discovered that there are websites that do what fifty shades does but much better are the target audiences respectively. And they need to be targeted. No matter how good a director makes a movie, it needs to make money. Otherwise the Director can’t make more movies. In the art world, if they don’t produce, they die. So yes, let’s face the fact that Tyler Perry makes his so-called “Madea” movies for a black audience.

Unfortunately, some members of the black audience have rejected that. They have a case. When your culture is consistently depicted in the same way, people outside of your culture can start to assume that you will look and act a certain way. There’s also the notion of escapism. We don’t go to the movies to watch a guy at his 9-5 job punch in and out while doing simple tasks (although I’m sure there are some movies that could do this well), we go to see a guy punch out gangsters from 9-5. So some members of that black audience see Madea movies less as an escape and more as something that looks like home. Of course, there are still many who love Perry’s movies for the exact same reasons they are hated. It seems as if you have to choose a side.

But you really don’t.

I”m a fan of Perry’s “Daddy’s little girls”. Idris Elba and Gabrielle Union? Yes please! Sure, some of the acting was a little hokey, and some jokes fell flat, but it was all over enjoyable. I don’t care for a lot of his other films. Mostly, it’s because he keeps making similar movies over and over again. Sure, the situations are a little different, and the characters often change, but overall, there’s romance, abuse and Madea over and over again. I want to see something new! And I know Perry is capable of that.

Probably.

The house becomes quiet. I peek into the window, curious to see what has transpired. Unconscious bodies litter the floor. One hand twitches slowly, holding up Madea’s Family Reunion on DVD. Tyler Perry walks through the living room (I forgot to mention that he usually comes to these parties), looking at the results of the chaos. He stops and stands in the middle of it all. After surveying the room, his eyes lock with mine. I can’t resist the words that fall out of my mouth, tumbling to the floor like Pamela after the third shot of Bacardi 151?

“Are you going to keep making movies like you have been?-I ask, “Cause this will keep happening if you do.”

Perry smiles and says, “And If I don’t?”

The words slowly come to me, “Then no one else will. No one else can. Madea will cease to exist in Hollywood. We will cease-“

Perry kneels down and begins to pray. He is a reverent man, after all. I say nothing, letting his prayer continue. I can’t make out the words, or see his expression, but I know that whatever he’s saying must be important. To Tyler Perry, they may be all that keeps him going.