Fashionable Michelle has a new, beautiful baby girl who sleeps well, leaving Michelle a little time each day to keep her friends abreast of important goings on on the NYTimes magazine. She sent me the link to the article on PRECIOUS.
Good reading. Interesting article. I could riff on so much in it. I’ve never read the book “Push” on which the movie is based. The reviews are compelling. It does sound like a remarkable literary achievement and profound social commentary.
But I’m not sure that I’m up for reading it.
I have a hard time with stories that depict the pain, suffering, harsh reality of being poor, black, oppressed and desperate and all the fallout of that life lived.
I still haven’t gotten through season 4 of the Wire, given to me as a graduation gift from a smart, socially-conscious friend. I couldn’t watch the Middle Passage scene in Amistad (and I know someone who was an extra in that scene and she said playing a bound slave thrown overboard was as harrowing as it appeared. Everyone cried and the screams were real). It took me years before I had the courage to read Beloved.
And I believe ‘courage’ is the right word here.
It is so comforting to see positive, mainstream images of ourselves. “We’re just like everyone else.” It is absolutely necessary, as well, not just for us but for any minority group. I firmly believe Barack Obama owes some of his success at the poles to Bill Cosby and the Huxtables. Images of Black folks in expensive sweaters, with professional careers, having homes with art on the walls and having the same concerns over children and their messy rooms, made us accessible. Made us not the “other.” We can all bleed the same middle-class blood. Dr. Cliff Huxtable made electing such a person as president of the free world not so scary for white people.
However, to say that there are many in our community who suffer is to state the obvious. Those stories should be told, as well. By telling these stories we give voice to the voiceless. Those stories keep us honest and remind us that we must continue to stand up against injustice and bigotry. The power to reflect the full breadth of our reality validates our sense of self and self-worth. I am proud that stories like Precious are talked about in the mainstream media. I want to support our artists who fight to get the stories out there. Yet, I remain uncomfortable with the mainstream consumption of these stories.
I completely understood Dave Chapelle’s explanation to Oprah about why he had a breakdown and walked away from his show suddenly. While portraying a character who was superficially stereotypical he suddenly became acutely aware that the white people on set were laughing a little too hard. Like they were entertained by this portrayal of the stereotype that, deep down, they believe to be true.
To every white person who tells me how great the Wire is, I want to remind them that people actually live that way. That even some of the actors have actually survived that experience. I want to make them aware that if my parents hadn’t chosen to immigrate to Toronto but moved instead to Baltimore, because of my skin I would have had a great probability of living, hustling, being oppressed, desperate and conflicted in the same way as these characters they find so entertaining.
I remember when my parents came home from the movie theatre after seeing The Color Purple. My mother thought it was disgusting. She hated Danny Glover’s hateful character. When I later saw the movie, I understood how she could feel the way she did, though it is a valuable movie that portrays Antebellum African-American history (and, like Precious, also features a young woman who is twice made pregnant by her own father).
Part of what is so difficult to watch or read stories of the troubled lives of my people is that so much of the pain comes via our own. The intra-oppression turns my stomach. Such intra-group conflict is rarely seen in the popular presentations of other minority groups. Also, such conflict is not usually part of the nightly news. We see Black-on-Black crime. We see stories of despots in Africa hurting their own people. We see Black fathers hurting their sons. We see Black mothers turning a blind eye to their children hurting otherBlack children. It forces us to ask, if we don’t value our own lives as brothers and sisters, how can we expect anyone else to see us as valuable?
My friend who gave me season 4 of the Wire told me to stay with it. She said that I will cheer for the righteous who are all my black people who triumph in small and large ways despite the overwhelming odds. I certainly felt that way after watching The Color Purple. As I felt after reading Beloved, the Book of Negroes, and What is the What.
My desire to support efforts to bring powerless, minority voices to the front of the discussion should trump my shame that we are not perfect. There will always be racists who expect us to be in the gutter, regardless of the fact that so many of us have reached beyond the stars. What they think shouldn’t matter. This story is for me. FUBU indeed. The fact that I empathize so deeply with people who look like me should only inspire me to keep on standing for equality.
Upon this reflection I will go support my black actors, producers, directors, screenwriters and storytellers. I will go see Precious.