Monday, May 26, 2008

A Deeper Black by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I officially want to be Ta-Nehisi Coates when I grow up. I've been reading his blog for about a month now (and can't wait to read his new memoir) and find him consistently thoughtful and spot on on contemporary culture and politics. Plus, his prose is a great pleasure to read. (He also outs himself as a gamer in this piece, and I'm always happy to find another afrogeek.)

In a recent post I attempted to articulate some thoughts about Obama' blackness. In a "A Deeper Black," Coates does a much better job of making the same point:

This is the blackness of Barack Obama. It is an identity that asserts itself without conscious thought. It has no need of marches and placards. It rejects an opportunistic ignorance of racism but understands that esoteric ramblings about white-skin privilege do not move the discussion further. It does not need to bluster, to scream, to hyperbolize. Obama's blackness is like any other secure marker of identity, subtle and irreducible to a list of demands.

If this election has taught us nothing else, it's taught us that we have very little language to talk about blackness in this country. The absurdity of the Wright controversy, the ceaseless sexism vs. racism debates, the descriptions of Obama and his campaign as post-racial all point to how little the mainstream media actually knows about the actual lives of real black people. Coates's piece is great because it not only grants black people complexity, as individuals and as a group, but also because he treats that complexity not as a great revelation, but as a matter of fact. He writes of his time at Howard, "From their unspoken variety, from the Alphas and Omegas, from the buoyant Afros and long dreads, from the night-blacks to those who were almost passing, I drew the great lesson that black was a country, a broad, beautiful America refracted through a smoky lens."

And maybe, just maybe, as black people waited and listened and deliberated as Obama made his appeal to them, they saw that he got that. A lot is made of Obama's avoidance of race or his unwillingness to play the race card (can we officially put that term out of its misery?) in this campaign, but maybe he gets what the pundits don't--to speak to black America about race alone is to speak to us about very little and to demonstrate that you don't know very much about us.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Spoilers follow)

I wanted to like this movie. I really did. I love the other Indy movies--the old-fashioned premise, the artifacts full of mystical powers, the impossibly over-the-top yet still rooted in reality action sequences. I especially love that Indy's success isn't due to his fearlessness or physical strength (though he does manage to draw on those qualities when necessary), but rather his ability to solve riddles. Smart and sexy--there is a reason why I've long had a crush on Indiana Jones. (I also have a wildly inappropriate crush on 21-year old Shia LeBoeuf, so I was doubly excited to see this movie.)

Parts of "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" worked. It was great to see Marian Ravenwood again and she and Indy have just as much chemistry as ever. The movie had great and convincing fun with Harrison Ford's age. I also like that more screen time was given to Indy-as-college professor, though that may simply because I think college profs are cool. (By the way, where does Indy teach? The movie is set shortly after WWII, in the 1950s. There were women and black students on his campus.)

So much didn't work. The artifact in this movie, the crystal skull, which so obviously belongs to an alien (the movie pretends there is suspense around this fact, but there really isn't at all) is wildly out of place in the Indyverse. The last 30 minutes of the movie are like some weird parody of an Indiana Jones movie. The tone is cmpletely off and the very presence of aliens and their history with ancient people (they teach them how to farm, how to build pyramids, blah blah blah) undercuts much of the magic of the first three movies. I blame George Lucas. I have no particular reason to blame him, but I feel confident this is somehow all his fault.

Seeing the hat and the whip in action again was a thrill, but the movie was ultimately a disappointment.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Little House on the Prairie

Now that Frances (who played at her first coffeehouse at Hungry Monk last night and was absolutely adorable) is 7 and more tolerant of longer stories with fewer pictures at bedtime, Brian and I have started to read to her books we loved as children. Brian read to her The Book of Three (thereby passing along yet another geeky joy to our child--fantasy) and for the past couple of weeks I have been reading Little House on the Prairie.

I remember loving this book, remember happily reading through all the books in the series and watching the show after school on TBS. What I didn't remember was how horribly racist the book is. It seemed like every other page had some character saying, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" or bitching about the government moving settlers out of Indian territory. And Pa Ingalls's desire to live as far off the grid as possible (they end up on the prairie after Pa moves the family out of the little cabin in the big woods because the big woods was getting too crowded--they saw a wagon pass by everyday) verged on the pathological. It was all very disappointing and sad.

Frances loved the book, though, even if she did think the Ingalls were wrong to build their cabin on land that belonged to someone else.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Smart Negro Round #2

Ta'Nehesi Coates: On persistent claims that sexism is worse than racism
Do something that will prevent you from speaking on evils you've never had the privilege of dancing with. I beg of you--just stop it. You aren't qualified to speak on this. And the more you talk, the more we know.

Angry Black Bitch: on the "rift" between white feminists and feminists of color
Anyhoo, this rift ain’t new and it is layered with issues of class, race, orientation and identity that all play a role in our goals and tactics. The reason it may seem new is because we haven’t had a happening that demanded an unavoidable examination of our values and our goals in some time.

Mark Anthony Neal on the R. Kelly child pornography trial:
While we all can criticize the shamelessness of mainstream media and celebrity culture in the coverage of "events" like the R. Kelly trial, we should all feel a little shameful that the incident depicted in that much-downloaded videotape, did not incite our anger and vigilance--regardless of whether Robert Kelly was in the room.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Smart Negro Round-Up

I've given up blogging about politics, but I still read plenty of political posts. So let's start a new tradition here at Afrogeek Mom and Dad: Smart Negro Round-Up Thursdays. Here's what caught my eye this week:

Ta-Nehisi Coates: There is No Black Working Class
The surest sign of someone being an effete latte-sipping liberal is their acceptance of Hillary as an ambassador the white working class.

Bikari Kitwana: Steal This Election
Pay close attention as the pendulum slowly swings away from silhouettes of the angry Black man to the kinder, gentler, smiling face of Senator Clinton, praise songs focused on her experience, high fives to her toughness, and one story after another (from CNN to Fox) that unashamedly adopted Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy as their news angle of the day.

Mark Anthony Neal: Bigger Than One: Some Reflections on the "Franchise"
As I walked into the voting booth on Tuesday, I was clear that I was not simply voting for myself, but voting for my father--who passed two weeks after the February 5th round of primaries--and my two daughters, who both anxiously await their opportunities to fully participate in the franchise.

Angry Black Woman: On Feminism
And, quite honestly, I am tired of the burden being on us to fix this mess. I’m tired of having to decide if I want the label of “Feminist”, not because someone might think I hate men, but because someone might wonder why I would want to associate myself with people who think my voice and experiences are less important because I refuse to put my gender ahead of my race.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell: Dear Governor Dean: Are You Ready to Lead?
Let's be clear. When black folks switch parties, we do it decisively. After nearly a century of unwavering commitment to the party of Lincoln, it was Republican Barry Goldwater's presidential bid in 1964, designed to appeal to entrenched American racism, which led to an increase in black Democratic Party identifiers from 59 percent to 86 percent in a single election. Despite Obama's call for unity in his North Carolina victory speech last night, black Americans will not stand behind a candidate who deploys a Goldwater strategy within our own party. Our opposition to the war will not allow us to vote for McCain, but we can choose to exit the coalition, withhold our votes, to protest a Clinton candidacy. This is not a threat. It is an observation based on historical evidence.