Thursday, July 24, 2008

CNN's "Black in America" misses the mark

You know, I like Soledad O'Brien’s work. Since she’s joined CNN, she has at least made a concerted effort to give Black lives a seat at the network's heretofore unbalanced coverage table. So I really wanted to watch this special. However, I had no expectations or pre-conceived notions that it would be some groundbreaking, life-changing or particularly edifying commentary on our lives. After all, to quote Sugar over at Sugar-N-Spice, "I already know what it's like to be Black in America!"

I was more interested in filtering out the noise of statistics and “expert” opinions to see if there’d be any signs of change in the coverage we ‘re afforded given our highly touted “post-racial” society. I wanted to see if we’d changed as well, given all this new found, rampant pride in the symbolism that is Obama. In both cases, I saw little if any change. And if we’re honest, in light of an Obama presidency, the possibility of any real change heading down the pike appears fleeting - at best.

Give a carefully crafted, media-hyped speech on race, channel MLK or JFK as appropriate, throw in a Father's Day lecture wherein he fronts like he knows what the Black experience in America is all about and all you end up with (to borrow a phrase from
bell hooks at Portland, Oregon's, Lewis & Clark College back in 2006) is an eager audience of "unenlightened white people worshipping at the throne of Black mediocrity" joined by a group of Black folks for whom the shaming and blaming of their own has taken on an eerie, Stockholm Syndrome-like quality. Man! If he's selected to the Burning House, his presidency will only provide even more fodder for those who insist we “Quit whining!” because slavery’s over.

I'm no shrink, but I believe Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (in our case, Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder) is no less prevalent or debilitating to the souls and minds of our people as that suffered by returning war veterans, battered women, abused children or even - elephants, as it turns out. Yes, I said elephants! For all CNN’s questions and portrayals of dysfunction in the Black community and all the Black participants’ responses to those questions and portrayals, it seems not many people really get, or care to get that fact - which brings me back to the elephants.

20/20 did a segment tonight on
elephants suffering PTSD. And, if as Stossel said, “It may change the way you look at elephants,” then why is it that the same disorder, brought about by the same kinds of brutal circumstances which manifest the same undesirable, anti-social behavior in elephants, has not been connected to what is going on in the Black community? Why doesn't it “change” the way white folks and even some Blacks look at the Black community?

Gay Bradshaw, director of The Kerulos Center, was featured in the segment, so I looked her up. I came across her very interesting essay entitled,
"Elephant Breakdown" and based on what I read, she gets it! She sees how trauma causes depression, separation anxiety and anti-social, often violent behavior. Look, I know people don't want to be compared to animals, but I challenge you to read the essay and NOT find the distinct similarities, not only in the nature of the trauma, but in the response to it.

As I continued to watch, I thought I was losing my damn mind when the segment about paying 4th graders for good grades came on! I get the incentive thing, okay? And I even applaud Professor Fryar, who came from a crack-infested environment, trying to at least find a solution (Talk about pathology! Having a whole family of crack dealers might make one more inclined to understand the "dollar-bill" mentality - but in a legal way of course). I even agree wholeheartedly with his “meet people where they are approach.” To my mind, that is the only chance of getting through to anyone!

All that being said however, I just cannot believe I'm the only person concerned how this little, Black, poor, 4th grade boy is already equating his self-worth only to that dollar bill and what it can bring! Can I be the only person who saw how hard little man was working, trying to help his Dad keep them in their home only to be put out anyway? Can I be the only one cognizant of the lasting and damaging effects feeling helpless and not good enough can have on children? Not to mention fathers! Does nobody else see how our society is helping to perpetuate this cycle? I'm not mad at money, but isn't there something terribly askew here?

Even in the proud moments, I saw pain. The first thing Butch, the Little Rock superintendent wanted the cameras to get as they visited his office was the sign with his name on it saying he was the superintendent. He even said, “A lot of people wait a long time to get their name on a sign.” I don’t know about you, but that's not a lofty goal of mine. But that seemed more important than sharing what he'd been able to achieve in carrying on the legacy of the Little Rock Nine (but then again, after watching the documentary celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, I can see why he didn't want much made of that ).

Even as he talked about loving the view from his McMansion in that predominantly white, Little Rock suburb, the pain and anger of having white police question his even being in that neighborhood during the building of his home was evident. (That reminded me of an incident that happened when we put our Texas home, in an all-white neighborhood, up for sale. A white realtor brought a white prospective buyer to see the house while I was in the front yard gardening. She pulled into the driveway, came up to me and asked if she could speak to the owner. I said, "That'd be me and apparently my agent needs to emphasize that "By Appointment Only" stipulation in the listing." I have to admit, like Butch, I was pissed at her assumption, but I sure took great pleasure in debunking it!).

And again, more pain as he avoided the conversation about his middle son, who'd not followed in his prescribed, "I am somebody" footsteps - getting locked up, embarrassing his brother the prosecutor and the entire family. Of course there are kids who never get into any trouble (or never get caught!), but being a mother of two grown sons myself, I know that number is way less than some would have us believe. Yet when it comes to our children, perfection is demanded lest they draw the scorn of the larger society and the shame of their own people heaped upon them for making the same mistakes many children make in the course of growing up.

Our families are constantly measured against the white, "nuclear family" yardstick. And of course in the eyes of those who choose not to see, we'll always come up short - if for no other reason than the fact that, since the days of Kunte Kinte, someone else’s culture has informed what OUR families are supposed to look like, what OUR names should sound like, what OUR language should sound like, how WE should act, how WE should dress, what OUR hair should look like. Not only does the list go on and on, but the indoctrination continues. Really, how many of you have HOAs or Condo Associations to whom you PAY good money to tell you how to act like a grown-up in the house for which YOU ARE PAYING? How many of you have been turned down for jobs because of those dreads or braids? I know I can raise my hand to both of those! I swear, we seem to be the only minority for whom "ethnic cleansing" was 100% successful.

Unlike many people, I see all the huge occurrences in our community of single-parent households, increased HIV/AIDS cases, absentee fathers, disproportionate incarceration and drop-out rates among our youth as symptoms of much deeper, more pervasive problems which are rarely, if ever, addressed in any substantive way by anyone. Unless and until we truly begin to understand and seriously address the causation staring us all in the face, the symptoms will continue to destroy Black communities from within, while our lives continue to only be their “stories” without.

The rampant patriarchy in America only serves to further diminish our efforts to thrive as a people. And we not only have white men to thank for that, but Black men as well. I’m certainly sick and damn tired of whites constantly using Black single-mothers as whipping posts for the ills of this society, but trust me, I’ve also had my fill of people like Obama, the reverends Sharpton and Jackson, Bill Cosby, that Cosby-kid-by-marriage, Joseph C. Phillips and others jumping on that same bandwagon.

With the exception of Obama, I know the others should know better. Hell I’m a South Carolina girl from a large extended family held together by women, so I know Al and Jesse ought to know better! One of the most damning legacies of slavery is the resulting “village” kept together by Black women as their husbands, sons and fathers were sold off as chattel - or while they or their “girl chillun,”as my grandmother used to say, were left to be raped and brutalized undefended. Don’t talk to me about Black single mothers! Stop measuring my sisters against that white, “nuclear family” yardstick! I'm proud of the way our women have stepped up, stepped in and kept moving despite all the obstacles they’ve faced, so don't look for me to wield the overseer's lash.

Two parent families are great – if you have one. But unless both parents stand "whole" in who they are (and considering our PTSD, many do not, phenomenal financial success notwithstanding), abuse, neglect, abandonment and brokenness can be just as destructive in a two-parent home as in a single-parent home. Having a “man” in the house won’t change that.

In our discussion over at Sugar’s place, ea asked: "Is there any substantive or symbolic difference to a child who doesn't know his or her father whether money comes from him or from the state?" I answered, “Good question, but its answer is not a simple yes or no. I think there's a substantive, not symbolic difference to a child who doesn't know his/her father, but where the money comes from has little, if anything to do with it.” And I firmly believe that. To the kid, it’s not about the money, really it isn’t. It’s about filling that hole in his soul with love, acceptance and encouragement – no matter who’s giving it.

She went on to ask: “Is there some "vicious cycle" in which the lack of a parental male role model leads to more young men not having any notion of what it is to be responsible for anything, much less a child? If one suggests that answer to this question is the affirmative, does that mean that women are inadequate, or better, incomplete as roles models for male children?” To which I replied: “And my answer to your other question about the "vicious cycle" is also yes. But that doesn't mean women are inadequate role models for male children, just different - with different sensibilities (a reason a woman president would have been a great thing!). The noted paradigm however, requires that the socially acceptable, dyed-in-the-wool sensibilities of "men" be different than those under which most women operate.” I stand by that statement as well, because this is a both/and, not an either/or situation. We've got to consider the whole pot of greens, not just the neckbones!

I’d been invited to participate in an online/call-in discussion to be held after the special ended by a sister-blogger. I was interested in hearing the feedback and offering some of my own. Once we were all connected though, the call was hijacked by one of the most racist white men I’ve heard in a very long time. I cannot even repeat some of the things he said here, though I did record it to play for my husband when he gets back into town. Gotta to let him know his “post-racial” candidate’s still got a lot of work to do!

I was startled at my first gut feeling of rage mixed with pain. Immediately I felt like I’d been hurled back into mid-60s, early 70s South Carolina. It was a feeling of which I thought I’d long since disposed. But old wounds die hard. The moderator ended the call and everyone else hung up - but I didn’t. It took me a few seconds to get past the rage and pain, then I composed myself and calmly asked him, “Why are you so afraid?”

Peppered with "cunts", "bitches" and a lot of "niggers", he railed about how he hated us and was not afraid of us and we would see. After about a half-minute or so, I just laughed and told him, “It must really suck to be you with all that misdirected anger boiling in the pit of your stomach. I’m going to hang up now and you should really go and see somebody about that because it’ll kill you one day if you don’t. Bye-bye now!”

A “post-racial” society we are definitely not, don’t let Obama fool you. That caller is not alone, trust me. There are plenty angry, fearful, hateful people out there just like him and we would do well not to forget that. But, as we hold onto that thought, let’s not forget to hold onto each other and those who aren’t anything like him. Let’s purposefully acknowledge (apologies are nice but my grandmother always said, “It ain’t what you say, it’s what you do!”) and seriously address how we got to this place in all our lives. And please Lord! Let’s stop doing the same things and expecting different results - particularly since that’s not been working for any of us up to this point, if the truth be told.

8 comments:

SUGAR said...

Great post filled with so much. I agree with a lot of what you've written here, but I do have some disagreements with some points, as we discussed in my post about this topic. I appreciate and respect your opinions no less though and I'm always open to hearing the insight of others and even "massaging" (lol) my views when I realize that I've been wrong. I'm still soaking a lot of this in and there is so much more I intend to read in the coming weeks, months, YEARS to continue to educate myself about who we are as a people and where we've been and where we are going.

That being said:

"I swear, we seem to be the only minority for whom "ethnic cleansing" was 100% successful."

Easy! lol Easy. "100% successful"? Now you know better. I give you that we are beholden to "European" standards in places like our jobs, but as I've said a thousand times to anyone who will listen, the power almost always lies with the majority. It's not fair, I don't like it, but that's the way it is. I truly believe that the only way we won't be "beholden" to those standards is if we were the majority.

I don't like that our names are discriminated against at all. Now, I've heard some names that are just ridiculous. No meaning and no rhyme or reason. Just flipped through a magazine and the first thing that popped up was good. I mean seriously, "Chlamydia" for a name????

TLW said...

The only reason we are beholden to these standards is because we choose to be not because we are in the minority. We choose to not assert any sort of self-determination when it comes to these matters such as jobs as you gave an example of. We have chosen to remain in a dependant state. Other groups who are in the minority are not beholden to these standards, Jews, Asians, Africans, Carribean Blacks heck even newly immigrated Latinos because they assert a degree of self-determination which is something that Black Americans have yet to do.

And because of this it has slowly started to creep into our lives outside of work.

Deb said...

Sugar...Chlamydia??!!! Girl, ROFLMAO - you so crazy!!

But seriously. You said, "I appreciate and respect your opinions no less though and I'm always open to hearing the insight of others and even "massaging" (lol) my views when I realize that I've been wrong.

Ditto! I'm so glad we stumbled upn each other's site for exactly those reasons! That's what a clear, critically thought-out dialogue requires and that's all I ever ask - of anyone.

You said, "100% successful"? Now you know better. I give you that we are beholden to "European" standards in places like our jobs, but as I've said a thousand times to anyone who will listen, the power almost always lies with the majority. It's not fair, I don't like it, but that's the way it is. I truly believe that the only way we won't be "beholden" to those standards is if we were the majority."

Okay, 100% might be a bit much, but it's sure as hell close! LOL! I see us beholden to those "European" standards in and out of work. And the thing is, we've been so conditioned against our own interests and identities about what's beautiful and proper and acceptable for so long, we don't even realize it.

I agree with TLW (Hey TLW! *waving*) here, well partially. I don't think those in the majority control our being beholden to those standards because we are in the minority, I think the unchecked, untreated PTSD controls it and yes, that coincides with who is and has been in the majority - that's partially why they're the majority.

If we were the majority in power, I truly don't think most Black people would just drop those "European" standards - it's been too long a time and people do what they know. What we "knew of us" has been pretty much erased and replaced with those standards. That's why "Roots" was such a big hit. It gave a lot of us a sense of being something other than what they said we were. I think for many of us, we're still a people searching for ourselves.

TLW...Thanks for dropping in! Like I told Sugar, I agree with you partially. You said, "We choose to not assert any sort of self-determination when it comes to these matters such as jobs as you gave an example of. We have chosen to remain in a dependant state."

I think once a sister or brother has a real sense of self built on a foundation of good self-esteem, it's easy for them to assert the sort of self-determination you describe. It's easy to choose, on or off the job.

But, if that sense of self isn't present in a person, if that self is rooted in what's without versus what's within - that choice, that kind of self-determination you're talking about is harder and definitely more elusive.

You said, "Other groups who are in the minority are not beholden to these standards, Jews, Asians, Africans, Carribean Blacks heck even newly immigrated Latinos because they assert a degree of self-determination which is something that Black Americans have yet to do."

You're absolutely right! Know what my take is on that? Because we are Black Americans descended from and African history and culture that most of us know little if anything about, we are searching.

The common thread among all the groups you mentioned is that they all KNOW from whence they came and not only carried, but were allowed to maintain their cultural "self." Not us. That's what I meant when I said, ""I swear, we seem to be the only minority for whom "ethnic cleansing" was 100% successful."

I just think that's something worth exploring as we try to understand who we are and why. What we've been doing certainly isn't working.

Thanks for sharing, come back anytime!

SUGAR said...

You know, the only question I have is this one. Basically, a new race was created through slavery and we are the descendants of those first "Black" Americans. So, what traditions should we be expected to have? I think that we do have our own identity as "Black" Americans, but I couldn't name a single African ancestor of mine and my mother just told me the other day that both of my grandmother's grandfathers were white. Many of us have similar backgrounds, so what do we do?

TLW, I agree with what you've said, but the problem with it is this. Those jews and asians have more wealth than us and they work to keep it among themselves. Not to mention, are we now not considering the notion that jews are in fact some of the chief creators of those standards? Who do you think runs a great deal of the industries that influence what we buy and such? I don't mean to be derogatory, but the same way the Vietnamese have a lock on the nail salons, the jews have done a fine job of obtaining power in the influence industries...and, we don't have anywhere near the ancestral wealth of jews and asians in this country, but we could still do a much better job of supporting one another. Nobody is making us not do that and while I'm sure Deb would say that is a symptom of our slavery PTSD (see? I'm listening :) that's not the entire cause.

I'll be honest, I'm afraid to really consider who we are, having had our ancestry watered down so much that we don't even know which way is up.

Deb said...

Sugar...But a "new race" wasn't created though. The existing race was just horribly bifurcated. The old traditions remained in those first Black Americans and have been passed down, right along with their response to the trauma - to cover up those traditions (you know how many Catholic saints bear striking resemblances to Yoruba orishas?)- in the hopes of just surviving or surviving better. Advantage slavery & the Crows (Jim and James, Esquire respectively)!

But if those traditions weren't still with us, people like you and me and many, many others would not be bothered by what's going on, a sure manifestation that some of us maintained our self-esteem or at least are recovering it.

Yes, many of us have similar backgrounds - what do we do? We acknowledge the trauma and how it has shaped us, address it substantively and then so armed, move forward as a healed, secure people.

You told TLW, "Those jews and asians have more wealth than us and they work to keep it among themselves. Not to mention, are we now not considering the notion that jews are in fact some of the chief creators of those standards? Who do you think runs a great deal of the industries that influence what we buy and such? I don't mean to be derogatory, but the same way the Vietnamese have a lock on the nail salons, the jews have done a fine job of obtaining power in the influence industries..."

The fundamental difference there is that most (not all)of the other ethnic groups living here were invited by that big girl in NY harbor. Native Americans, though rounded up and reservation-ized,did not have to cover up or pretend about their culture (small consolation?). They all KNOW and always have known who they were despite the trauma inflicted. And another difference I think, is they tend to do what they are, unlike us who, because we mostly lack that healthy sense of "self" - are what we do.

Jews have been "peddlers" since biblical times, nothing's changed. They SHOULD be expert at it by now (still working on the Vietnamese angle of that example)! But you're right Sugar, lack of ancestral wealth (in dollar bills that is) notwithstanding, we could still do a much better job of really supporting one another. Meeting each other where we find us is a hard, but great start for all of us - Obama included.

The only people making us not do that, are the broken people in our heads and that's what PTSD is all about - the broken people in our heads. Glad you're still listening! :-) I am too.

Don't be afraid to consider who we are, that's the only thing that will help us all become whole.

ea said...

Sorry for being so late to the party here, and thank you, Deb, for the acknowledgements in the post.

A few points, in no particular order:

1. European Standards. This goes back a little bit to the discussion at Sugar's about the pre-civil rights era Black communities, where all strata of society were filled with African descendants. These were separate versions of "white communities", where they not? So does one say that with personal and communal African histories erased, these communities developed because "that's the way they do it here"? Or does one say that there was a realization, acknowledgement and repudiation of the African tribal model that allowed one tribe to make another tribe slaves in the first place? If there were to be a "New Africa" in America, would it be one of tribal groupings with an inherent "our tribe is stronger/purer/better than their tribe" sensibility? Would the groupings be based on some other factor but lead to a competition for resources? Would it have mattered if any model would allow divisions of labor based on a psuedo-caste system that would then allow a maldistribution of the wealth created by the community en todo? Or because some group goes and sells out another group to the larger white society? I doubt that anyone would deny that there was a social hierarchy within the Black communities that was based on skin colour: light skin good, dark skin bad.

2. First Peoples. The history of Native Americans is not a simple narrative. Again, some tribes were enemies. Some tribes collaborated with the Spaniards against their enemy tribes. Today, for example, Diné and Zuni still have animosities toward each other that date back centuries. Ignorant white people (sorry can't help myself) showed up on the eastern coast of North America and assumed that since males were the decision-makers in Europe, the males were the people to talk to on these lands also, totally bypassing matriarchal structures. Depending on the type of society each tribe had, the "reservationization" had different effects. The pueblos in New Mexico, for example, are still in the same locales with many traditions in tact, but concurrently making use of concepts of commerce that, in my view, will hurt the pueblos in the long run. (That sentence is too general to be of much use, but I specifically had in mind water rights and the uses to which they are being put--different topic.) The tribes that followed herds (or raided) completely lost their ways-of-life. The adjustment was much greater.

Even though tribes have land, i.e., reservations, when the tribes are unable to grow crops or keep herds, because the upstream river is diverted so people in Pheonix can have air-conditioning and golf courses they completely lose the tentative grip on self-sufficiency they might have had.

This point was supposed to push back against what I perceived to be a generalization regarding Native Americans, but I diverged onto water issues.

3. Human Nature?. Both of the above points and the issues of sexism and misogyny (I did not even get into the potential transfer of practices such as genital mutilation to a "New Africa".) can be bundled under the umbrella of competition for resources or power. If indeed, there is a finite amount of resources, whether organic, inorganic, tangible, intangible, or human, there will be a struggle between individuals for them. Individuals then will seek an advantage, leading to groupings and strength in numbers. Groupings may be based on anything, real or artificial. Some obvious ones are sex, skin color, ethnicity, and belief system. So my question is now, can there ever be equity or justice or peace in the world? Or is it simply human nature that keeps us from attaining these things as a species?

Anonymous said...

Oh, my contribution to funky names (true story). Kid named Pajamas, pronouned with the accent on the first syllable. Education, my sisters, education.

ea said...

The previous anonymous was from me.

ea

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