Documentary: More Than a Month

As we come to the end of Black History Month, the shortest month made longer by a day this leap year, it seems fitting to talk about this documentary. In this film, Shukree Hassan Tilghman, a 29-year-old African American filmmaker, goes cross-country on a campaign to end Black History Month altogether in his film,“More Than a Month.” This short clip (1:56) gives a brief intro:

Watch End Black History Month? on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

In an interview, the Tilghman explains what lead him to make the film:

A growing feeling that African Americans continue to be seen as “Other Americans.” Watching how folks were treated during Hurricane Katrina and listening to pundits refer to those victims as refugees intensified that notion. I thought that this ideal of “other” is reinforced in society by things like Black History Month. That, combined with the new idea that we live in a “post-racial” America, led to an interest in exploring these themes.

You can find the film via PBS’ Independent Lens series.

Documentary: The Loving Story

There are an increasing number of interracial marriages (h/t Ronald Jackson). Until fairly recently (the late 1960s in many states), such relationships were illegal. And, indeed, the fear of interracial marriage among white animated much of the passion around the anti-civil rights movement in the U.S. A new documentary offers terrific insight into the history of the fight surrounding interracial marriage.

The Loving Story, a documentary film, tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple living in Virginia in the 1950s, and their landmark Supreme Court Case, Loving v. Virginia, that changed history. This short clip (under 1 minute) tells a bit more:

The film is currently available on HBO on Demand. If you’d like to read more about interracial relationships in popular culture, I suggest two books by (my CUNY colleague) Erica Chito Childs Navigating Interracial Borders: Black-White Couples and Their Social Worlds and Fade to Black and White: Interracial Images in Popular Culture.

Lewis Black on Whitney Houston’s Death

It’ll be awhile before I can listen to a Whitney Houston song without choking up a little. When she died recently, I followed most of the news of her death on Twitter and avoided the mainstream press because I just knew it was going to be ugly. Sure, enough, it was worse than I’d even suspected. Here’s Lewis Black’s (from The Daily Show) – a short clip (4:45) after a short advert, and contains some mild profanity:

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Celebrating Mardi Gras & Black History

Today is Mardi Gras (French for “fat Tuesday”) is the celebration of debauchery before the beginning of the Lenten season of sacrifice. As it is celebrated in New Orleans, it’s also a fabulous celebration of black history.

 

 

NPR ran a story today (h/t Karen Hanson) about the Mardi Gras Indians who have a rich history, dating back to slavery.

Native Americans often helped escaped slaves navigate their way to freedom and sometimes former slaves lived within Native American communities as free people.

The outfits of the Mardi Gras Indian groups, who call themselves “tribes,” are inspired by Native American ceremonial regalia. Members call these costumes “suits,” and it can take up to a year to create the intricate designs out of thousands of sequins, beads and pounds of feathers.  In this way, the costumes are strikingly similar to those on display at the West Indian Day Festival in Crown Heights Brooklyn each summer.

Both celebrations speak to the power of resilience in the face of oppression and the similarities suggest the ways that diaspora shapes culture.  For more about diaspora, check out Theorizing Diaspora (Wiley-Blackwell, 2003).

New Freedom Riders Take on NYPD

Here in New York, people of good conscience are horrified by the practices of the NYPD that systematically target young African Americans and Latinos. Now, a courageous interracial group of activists is working to take on the NYPD’s racist practices (h/t @CarlaMurphy for this story).

Union Sq subway @ 1am
Creative Commons License photo credit: droolcup

In a recent piece at The American Prospect, Carla Murphy describes the burgeoning movement like this:

This February marks the first wave of trials for a loose-knit group of activists who have been arrested after responding to a call put out last fall by Princeton professor Cornel West and his longtime friend Carl Dix, a national spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party. Inspired by the nonviolent civil disobedience campaign of the Freedom Rides to draw attention to segregated interstate bus travel during the 1960s, West and Dix’s Stop Stop-and-Frisk campaign seeks to raise awareness of what they say is a racist policy that targets and criminalizes black and Latino men.

“We’re always hearing about post-racial America, but if you look at the criminal-justice system, you know that race is still with us,” says Derek Catsam, history professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and author of Freedom’s Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides.

It’s long past time for a coalition of activists to work on changing the stop-and-frisk policies of the NYPD.

The stop-and-frisk policies are notoriously racist in their implementation, if not their design. According to the NYCLU, only 10 percent of stops led to arrests, or even tickets. The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers stopped and frisked by the NYPD were engaged in no criminal wrongdoing.

Of those stopped in a given year, approximately 55 percent of the stops were of black people – more than double their percentage of the population – and 30 percent were of Latinos. Stops of whites amounted to only 2.6 percent of the stops.

Returning to Murphy’s piece, she raises the question of whether these protests will bring about actual change in the NYPD policy. But for onlookers along the march’s route through the South Bronx, though, public demonstrations on this issue matter a great deal—and so does the participation of whites. She writes:

Besides the kumbaya imagery of many races working together for racial justice and modeling the Freedom Riders’ integration ideal, there is a practical and strategic element to expanding the stop-and-frisk protesting ranks to whites.  Alicia Harrington, a 24-year-old African American Bronx resident, helps to plan Stop Stop and Frisk civil-disobedience demonstrations but has three months left on probation and worries about an arrest for protesting.

“A lot of young black and Latinos have prior convictions or are on parole, and it intimidates them from acting,” Dix says, admitting that the population most targeted by stop-and-frisk is also the least able to demonstrate against police brutality.

But, “as a white man,” says 29-year-old social worker Nick Malinowski, “I have the privilege of being able to get arrested for civil disobedience when other people might not.” Malinowski, who the last six months has organized five stop-and-frisk demonstrations in every borough except Staten Island, has one arrest for protesting.

I agree with Murphy that it’s not clear whether these protests will bring about real change.  But, the fact that they’re happening at all is very good news for social justice.

 

Jeremy Lin: Basketball Sensation, Target of Racism from ESPN

If you follow basketball at all, you’ve no doubt heard about Jeremy Lin, the basketball sensation currently playing for the NY Knicks.  Lin’s story is one of a classic underdog.  No NBA team drafted Lin out of Harvard. The Golden State Warriors signed him and then waived him after one year; the Houston Rockets waived him after two weeks. Until just a few weeks ago, he was sleeping on his brothers’ couch.  Once he got the chance to play with the Knicks, scoring an astounding 38 points (against Kobe Bryant’s 34 points), Lin became a sensation, puns abounded (“Linsanity!”) and remarkably, almost no one – hardly an NBA coach, general manager, scout or fan — saw it coming.

 

Jeremy Lin is also Asian American, and the NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. So, in the white-dominant culture of the U.S., this necessarily means that race is central to Lin’s story.  As David J. Leonard point out, Lin’s success has energized many in the Asian American community who see in Lin a role model, while at the same time, highlighting the persistence of racism.

The most recent, and high profile, form of racism directed at Lin has come from ESPN, the sports network, which ran the headline, “Chink in the Armor” on Friday, under an image of Lin in action, on its mobile website:

 

 

ESPN has now fired the employee responsible for an offensive headline.  In a statement today, ESPN says it conducted a thorough review and dismissed the employee responsible for the headline “Chink In The Armor” about Lin’s nine turnovers during Friday night’s game.  ESPN says it removed the headline 35 minutes after it was posted.  The term “chink” is a racial slur, used to denigrate people of Chinese descent.

But this is not the only racism toward Lin from ESPN. A similar incident went mostly unremarked upon.  On Wednesday, an ESPN anchor Max Bretos asked Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier: “If there is a chink in the armor, where can he improve his game?”

In a statement, ESPN says that Bretos has suspended for 30 days for his comment.  Kevin Ota, the director of communications in digital media for ESPN, posted a message today that reads, “We again apologize, especially to Mr. Lin. His accomplishments are a source of great pride to the Asian-American community, including the Asian-American employees at ESPN.”

More than apologize, it seems that ESPN needs to review its internal policies and beef up the corporate diversity training on the use of racial slurs.

Slavery By Another Name: Devastating History, Epic Research and Media Project

The Pulitzer-Prize winning book by Douglas Blackmon Slavery By Another Name (Doubleday, 2008), has also become a documentary film (and Sundance Film Festival selection). In this epic research and media project, Blackmon and his collaborators bring to light a period of time when slavery had officially ended, yet a new form of was being reinstated. Under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests. With no means to pay these ostensible “debts,” prisoners were sold as forced laborers to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations. Thousands of other African Americans were simply seized by southern landowners and compelled into years of involuntary servitude. Government officials leased falsely imprisoned blacks to small-town entrepreneurs, provincial farmers, and dozens of corporations—including U.S. Steel Corp.—looking for cheap and abundant labor. Armies of “free” black men labored without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced through beatings and physical torture to do the bidding of white masters for decades after the official abolition of American slavery. In the following (long for the web at just over 8 minutes) video clip, Blackmon describes how he came to write the book and why he thinks it’s important history for everyone in the U.S. to consider today:

In addition to the devastating historical account of the brutal oppression of African Americans by white overlords, there is a meta point to be made about the project as well. What Blackmon, along with filmmaker Sam Pollard and unnamed web production staff at PBS, have created here is a triumvirate of knowledge production in the digital age: a book, a documentary film, and an interactive website with additional materials. This, my scholarly friends, is the wave of the future in knowledge production. Doctoral students in the social science and humanities, take note: time to begin forging those collaborative working relationships with your friends in visual media, art and interactive design (and/or, cross-training on skills).

Interestingly, Blackmon has done this innovative scholarly project as a journalist and with the largess of his employer, the Wall Street Journal. One of my graduate school advisors used to say that “sociology is slow journalism,” but the reality is that really good journalism takes a long time – Blackmon says he thought this project would take him 2 years, but it ended up taking 7 years (the average length of time to complete a PhD dissertation). It would be great if more PhD-degree granting institutions began to recognize the potential for such cross-platform forms of knowledge production.

You can watch the entire film, “Slavery By Another Name,” along with the “Making Of…” on the PBS website, here.

Documentary: Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

Continuing our Black History Month series about documentaries, the recently released “Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975″ is an important film that serves as an introduction to the Black Power movement in the U.S. as seen through the lens of Swedish journalists. This short trailer (1:59) explains a bit more about the film:

Watch Looking Back at the Black Power Movement on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

The film features archival footage from the period with voiceovers from contemporary artists. While I didn’t find that the voiceovers added much of value to the film, some of the archival footage – particularly the clip of Angela Davis responding to an interviewer’s question about ‘violence’ – is compelling and makes the film worth watching.

The film becomes problematic in the last half when it locates the demise of the Black Power movement on the rise of drugs in the Black community, both of which it seems to suggest is the fault of Black mothers. This is a serious misstep on the part of the filmmakers as it feeds into dominant narratives about Black pathology.

An excellent companion text, and one that offers a much more nuanced analysis of the Black Power movement, is Professor Alondra Nelson’s Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). While the film brackets the Black Power movement off to a bygone historical era, Nelson’s work extends that lens to the present day and demonstrates how that struggle continues, and does so without resorting to tropes of Black pathology, but instead focusing on empowerment within the Black community in the face of ongoing discrimination.

The film is available on most PBS stations on the Independent Lens series (check local listings), and is currently streaming on iTunes and Netflix. Nelson’s book is available from University of Minnesota Press, at the usual online retailers, and of course, independent book stores (good reminder, @Joyce!)