Friday, March 21, 2008

Brotherdoc: Beauty and the Beast-Stop the Racism!

Brotherdoc: Beauty and the Beast-Stop the Racism!

Brotherdoc is on point today regarding how LeBron James is resurrecting King Kong imagery.  With the James/Gisele Vogue cover photo, we get a modern take on the dark-savage-Other in contrast to the light-civilized-Center.  Click the Brotherdoc link above to see the troubling images.

Obama- Yes We Can!

Sisterdoc is still riding high from (soon to be POTUS) Obama's speech-- yep, I have the "audacity of hope" too! I had a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat, right along with the future First Lady, as I listened to Obama's "race" speech. It's been a long time since I've heard such a poignant and complex treatment of race relations presented in mainstream media. It's been a long time since Sisterdoc felt like she was witnessing history in the making.

Don't get it twisted. There is no "cult of personality" fawning over Obama here. And, who really thinks Obama has been getting "a pass" while folks like Stephanie "Hillary's Shill" Tubbs Jones insists on calling Obama a Somali. And then there is the McCain camp's backdoor attacks on Obama through the very selective editing of Rev. Wright's sermons. Frankly, Obama has been catching hell.

Still, Obama has used media to communicate democratic ideals that have been absent from this country's discourse for far too long. Nope, he isn't bamboozling us with "3 a.m." diversions.

And speaking of diversions-- as the image attached here reveals, Rev. Wright isn't some hate-filled lunatic. Rather, someone in Bill Clinton's crew thought Rev. Wright was mainstream enough to attend this breakfast. That's Rev. Wright with Bill Clinton. The breakfast was held just one hour before Kenneth Starr was to release his report on the Monica Lewinsky mess.

Of course, there is more to Obama than his rhetoric. But Sisterdoc makes her living studying discourse. She believes it is important. She believes that discourse is culture, and that discourse leads to change. Folks are feeling Obama's discourse, and they are seeing a hope and a change-- "A More Perfect Union"-- on the horizon. Check out brother Tyrone Malone on this point.

Black Media Archive

Sisterdoc needs all the readers she can get. However, I want to direct you to a blog and podcast that is one of the most important resources for Black history on the web. The BMA: Black Media Archive podcast presents ORIGINAL speeches, texts, documentaries, and images related to Black history. For example, Sisterdoc just finished listening to a Fannie Lou Hamer speech from October 15, 1969. The speech is about the Viet Nam War, racism, and hurricane Camille. One need only replace Viet Nam with Iraq and hurricane Camille with Katrina, and Hamer could be talking about the U.S. today.

Other podcasts feature Malcolm X on television, the movie The Jackie Robinson Story, full sermons by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes reading his own poetry, a speech by Kwame Nkrumah…In all, over 120 important documents are presented!

The podcasts are paired with the BMA: Black Media Archive blog. The blog provides you with background on what you are hearing or seeing in the podcasts.

Sisterdoc has no affiliation with BMA. In fact, she doesn’t even know who runs the site. However, the resource is incredible. The BMA also needs our contributions to keep this effort alive.

Angela Bassett on Walk of Fame

Actress Angela Bassett become the 2,358th celebrity to earn a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame! Forest Whitaker, Laurence Fishburne, and Rick Fox were among those celebrating the event.

Bassett was born August 16, 1958 in NYC and raised in St. Petersburgh, FL. She earned a bachelor’s degree in African-American Studies from Yale in 1980 and a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama in 1983. She is the co-author of “Friends: A Love Story” with her husband, actor Courtney B. Vance. [Check out this beautiful family!]

Sisterdoc can’t wait to see Bassett play Suzanne Louverture in the coming the film Toussaint.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

21st Century Blackface

Tropic Thunder (opening Aug. 15) is a Ben Stiller comedy starring Robert Downey, Jr. as Kirk Lazarus. Now, try to keep up here: In the movie, Lazarus is a serious, Oscar-winning actor who is cast in a Vietnam War film. The twist is that Lazarus (played by Downey) takes a role in the war film that was written for a Black man. In order to keep the role, Lazarus dyes his skin and pulls on a wig to play the Black character named "Osiris." Stiller promises that Tropic Thunder is a satire of prima donna Hollywood actors. The goal of the film is to skewer actors self-indulgent enough to do really stupid things, to include a White man taking a job that could go to a Black actor.

On this point, let me be clear: I hope Stiller is clever enough to reveal to audiences that it is not unusual for White actors to latch onto meaty roles that could otherwise go to the ever-underemployed Black actor. We’ve seen such casting before: Susan Kohner as Sara Jane in Imitation of Life (1959), Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart, or (again) Jolie as “Fox” (Mark Millar’s comic version of a brown/black Catwoman) for the coming movie Wanted.

But there is another issue here. Downey hopes of his blackface character Lazarus/Osiris: “if done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago.” Oh no! Are we talking the same Peter Sellers who appeared in “brownface” in the film The Party to portray Hrundi V. Bakshi, an actor from India? In The Party, Bakshi is a straight up buffoon who attends a swanky Hollywood party but: loses one of his shoes, speaks gibberish (“birdie num num”) as a stand-in for Hindi, has no understanding of appliances or technology, floods a home with soap bubbles, and develops a relationship with an elephant. To be sure, Sellers’ brownface and his depiction of an Asian as a childlike buffoon is racist. If this is the standard for Tropic Thunder, Stiller should pull this movie now!

It is also notable that blackface is "in" these days in all sorts of odd ways. Jolie “bronzed up” to play Pearl. Equally troublesome was the blackening of Black actors Forest Whitaker and Kerry Washington for their roles in the Idi Amin biopic The Last King of Scotland.

Sisterdoc encourages readers to revisit Watermelon Man starring Godfrey Cambridge as a White bigot turned Black. Good satire, great casting, and (hee hee!) excellent use of “Whiteface.”

(Images: Tropic Thunder; Peter Sellers in "brownface" in The Party; Forest Whitaker in "blackface" in The Last King of Scotland; Godfrey Cambridge in "whiteface" in Watermelon Man.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Black Governor Watch: David Paterson

With the impending resignation of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson, the current NY Lt. Gov., will be only the third Black governor since Reconstruction. He will be the first Black governor for New York. He will make history alongside Deval Patrick (Mass.) and L. Douglas Wilder (VA).

Spitzer is in trouble for frequenting prostitutes. Spitzer's actions rise to scandal level because he has marketed himself as an incorruptiable, virtuous politician who has also been quick to indict others' professional and personal ethics. Spitzer took on Wall Street, attempting to bust up corruption in the financial district. His opponents said he had a "holier-than-thou" attitude.

Paterson, a Democrat, seems to be well-liked all around. He is a Harlemite. He is the son of Basil Paterson, a NY state senator from 1965-1970. David Paterson is a graduate of Columbia University and Hofstra University School of Law. He was elected to the state Senate in 1985, and by all accounts represented districts such as Harlem well. He earned the post of Senate minority leader in 2002. In 2004, he addressed the Democratic National Convention-- the first blind person to do so.

Yes, in addition to being NY's first Black governor, Paterson will also be its first blind one. An infancy ailment took virtually all of his sight. Still, he can memorize and deliver lengthy, highly engaging speeches. He has stored in this memory banks legal references which he can pull up at the drop of a hat during debates. He possesses an incomparable well as wit.

Paterson would serve out the nearly three years left on Spitzer's term.

Black TV Milestones: Max Robinson

Max Robinson. In 1978, Robinson joined ABC’s World News Tonight to become the first African-American network news anchor. Prior to joining ABC, Robinson was an award-winning journalist for his coverage of the 1968 riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin, for his coverage of antiwar demonstrations, and for his documentary about Black life in Anacostia. He hoped to bring a Black perspective to ABC, but encountered significant racism. In a clip, Robinson can be seen in an unscrambled satellite feed engaged in a profanity-laced tirade in response to a lack of professionalism and a lack of hard work exhibited by his co-workers. In 1983, Robinson left ABC for WMAQ-TV in Chicago. Robinson passed away in 1988, however his legacy can be seen in the accomplishments of television journalists such as Bernard Shaw (CNN-1980), Ed Bradley (CBS’ 60 Minutes-1981) and Bryant Gumbel (NBC’s The Today Show-1982), Deborah Roberts (ABC’s 20/20, World News Tonight, Good Morning America - 1995), and Gwen Ifill (PBS’ Washington Week in Review and NewsHour with Jim Lehrer- 1999).

Friday, March 07, 2008

Sybil Wilkes of the TJMS- Don’t Become Robin Quivers!

Plenty of bloggers out there have called Tom Joyner and his sidekick J. Anthony Brown to the carpet for their coonery and buffoonery on the syndicated radio program The Tom Joyner Morning Show. Cincinnati-based attorney and activist Nathaniel Livingston, Jr. even went so far as to file a complaint with the FCC a few years back. Livingston tired of Joyner and Brown’s “jokes” in which Black folks were regularly referred to as “coons” and “jiggaboos.”

The one voice of reason for many years was “news anchor” Sybil Wilkes. Wilkes offered a “different side of issues”—her contributions were always coonery-free. When Joyner and Brown reduced important issues to the utterly absurd, Wilkes would jump in to remind listeners of the more serious, key debates. When a distinguished guest came on the radio program, it was Wilkes who conducted the interview. Wilkes could be counted on to ask the serious and smart questions.

But no more. Today, Wilkes laughs the hardest and the loudest. She no longer leads the way as the smart, informed, news anchor. Instead, she is often the first one to rile Joyner and Brown up with her own highly questionable jokes. The sole voice of reason and wisdom has ceded to the jokey joke atmosphere of the TJMS. Today, Joyner rarely teases Wilkes for using “big A words.”

There was a time when I had my students tune in to the TJMS just to listen to Wilkes. I held her up as someone who carved out a unique radio career while provided a good community service to listeners. Wilkes has been in radio since 1985 in markets such as Chicago, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Charlotte. She earned degrees in Political Science and Communication Studies from Northwestern University. But I must remind Wilkes of her own motto, “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Indeed, we expect much from Wilkes. The TJMS needs her wisdom and relevancy more than ever—these are very serious times. Soon, one will wonder if there is significant difference between Wilkes’ performance of “news anchor” and that of another famous “news anchor”—that of Robin "selling out women on a daily basis" Quivers of the Howard Stern Show.

Will the old Sybil Wilkes please come back!

(Image: Brown, Joyner, and Sybil Wilkes)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Teeth Stereotypes

When the media wants to “Other” or stereotype someone or some group, it often does so by making them look ridiculous. Sisterdoc has noticed that no body part is left untouched by the media’s caricaturing…not even the teeth.

For example, during World War II, we saw lots of anti-Japanese propaganda which worked to dehumanize through false representations of teeth.

Similarly, the representation of Blacks’ teeth work to reduce Blackness to the irrelevant and the comical.

In the cases of Michael Strahan selling milk, or that of Tony Sinclair, the Tanqueray gin pitch-man, please remember that ad copy is carefully scripted first. Only the “best” images are then released. Even paparazzi come to look for certain images. It is no coincidence that the photos of these Black men reveal not only a wide smile, but also their gap.  While these men are not being presented as dangerous "brutal bucks," it is hardly any better that they are confined to another predominate stereotype-- the smiling coon/pickininny.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

In Support of Our Black Farmers

Sisterdoc is waiting to see what comes of the Farm Bill of 2007. The Farm Bill is legislation introduced by Sen. Obama (D-IL), and if passed it will permit Black farmers to collect their share of a $50 million settlement from the USDA.

According to Black Farmers Justice, the USDA discriminated against Black farmers by denying them government loans and other resources. Instead, the USDA funneled billions of dollars to White farmers, thereby giving them a monopoly on providing food for this nation.

According to a 2004 Washington Post report, in the 1920s there were over 1 million Black farmers. Today, Black farmers are a dying breed at less than 30,000. In a lawsuit brought against the USDA by a North Carolina farmer-- an African American named Timothy Pigford-- the extinction of Black farmers was the government’s plan. Pigford v. Veneman became a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Black farmers… and they won. Any Black farmer who sought and was denied support from the USDA farm subsidy program from 1981 to 1999 could receive a settlement. But then, the USDA cheated.

Instead of paying up, the USDA, with help from the Justice Department, spent 56,000 attorney hours and more than $12 million fighting the first 129 claims alone. In the end, of the 94,000 farmers who sought to collect their settlement, the USDA turned 81,000 away in a spiteful obstruction of justice. Farm Bill 2007 should get Black farmers justice by allowing them to re-file their claims against the USDA so that they can finally collect their money.

In the meantime, the National Black Farmers Association was formed to organize Black farmers who are determined to hold on to their farms and to fight “foreclosure caused by racial discrimination under the United States Department of Agriculture.”

Sisterdoc wishes our Black farmers every success.

(Image from MSNBC: Dr. John Boyd, Jr. Pres. of the National Black Farmers Assoc.)