Tuesday, July 29, 2014

That's Not My Baby: Katt Williams in School Dance (Video)

In this Katt Williams clip, the comedian plays a prison inmate named Darren who asks, "Who's goddamned white baby is that?" The clip's been circulating on Facebook without the movie's title but the caption "When a woman tries to put a baby on you that you know ain't yours."

Williams sneaks in a sociopolitical observation, and the scene is so funny that I had to look up its origins. The clip comes from the new movie School Dance, directed by Nick Cannon.  Posted by Lionsgate Unlocked on Youtube, it's simply titled there "Prison Visit."

Complex.com indicated in June that the movie was soon-to-be released, but this is the first time I've heard of it. It was released July 2, says IMDB.

If this clip is evidence of its humor, then the movie should be hilarious, but if the whole thing is as funny as this Katt Williams clip, then wouldn't someone have been talking about it before now?

Paste Magazine says the movie (Cannon's directorial debut) is not funny, but full of offensive stereotypes, so maybe that explains the film's low profile.

The more I think about it, the more I think that I may have heard something about this movie and ignored it thinking the news was about Spike Lee's old movie, School Daze. Last year that movie was 25 years old, and Spike has been talking about a sequel.

Cannon's movie should have gone for a name that didn't sound so similar to Lee's classic movie.

In any case, enjoy this Katt Williams clip!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

We say 'rabid,' you say 'feminist.' Rabid. Feminist. Rabid feminist, brought to you by Oxford Dictionaries

Google's dictionary, the one that pops up if you type a word in the search bar, is fast, convenient, and highly visible. I love the Merriam-Webster site, m-w.com, but sometimes, when I'm in a hurry, I love Google more. It, after all, draws the definitions it displays from a well-respected dictionary company, Oxford Dictionaries at OxfordDictionaries.com. And, of course, since Oxford Dictionaries are quite proper, an example of a typical way to use the defined word appears immediately after the definition. Often, a usage example is very helpful, but last night the displayed usage example gave me pause.

I had looked up the word rabid, and according to Oxford Dictionaries via Google, the first definition of that word is "having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or belief in something." and a typical use of the word would be modification of  word feminist. Yes, "a rabid feminist." Oh, Google's dictionary didn't just come out and say that this usage is common, but it did present "a rabid feminist" as its only example under the first definition's usage phrase.

"A rabid feminist." Just that one example. Hmm. Perhaps in England it's common to use the word rabid to modify feminist. In any case, I found this sole example troubling.

Yes, yes. There are some feminists who are extremely radical out there, but are they so common that "rabid feminist" should be an example in the dictionary? Of all the other possible examples Oxford Dictionaries could have chosen--such as rabid fan which is one of Dictionary.com's examples, or rabid supporter, which is M-W.com's example--why did the illustrious Oxford Dictionary use feminist as the noun rabid modifies?

Do you think the Oxford would have chose any one of the following words as the only noun rabid modified in its example: Christian, Muslim, liberal, conservative, Republican, or Democrat? I don't. So, what the Oxford Dictionary has done then is a form of naming or labeling, and as the Sourcebook on Rhetoric explains, according to theorists, "the process of naming or labeling is never benign or without consequence."

I think that when an adjective is attached to a noun repeatedly or in a permanent record, especially when the more powerful in society have already promoted an image of that noun which the adjective reinforces, then eventually that usage cements to the noun the label that the adjective confers. I mean, Christmas is supposed to merry and supermodels must be thin, right? Both those notions are the result of an adjective being cemented to a noun. Increasingly then (especially since the Oxford's example for rabid gets displayed first and prominently by the number one search engine), the attributes of rabid may increasingly be transferred to the word feminist in human consciousness.

Is this a transference feminism can afford or that it should not bother to combat? Rabid, after all, implies violent and angry, and it's not as though the patriarchy hasn't already been successful at moving the public, even many of today's young women, to view feminist as a dirty word. See "feminazi," see "bra-burning bitch," see "man-hater."

What if under dumb the dictionary's usage example were "a dumb blonde"? Or if under anti-Semitic, "an anti-Semitic German"? Would we say then that the dictionary was showing an unkind bias?

True, some people and institutions strive to be unbiased, especially in use of language, and dictionary publishers are one of those institutions we expect to be neutral. But generally the best any person, group, or company can do is nurture their desire to be unbiased, try to be so, and keep up a facade of neutrality.

Whenever we craft information for consumption, we inject our subjectivity. We inject it through our edits--what we choose to leave in, what we choose to take out, what examples we choose or not choose to use, and our choices can shape readers' perceptions and opinions of issues, situations, ideologies, and what we mean to each other. For example, for years people justified calling black people the n-word because in Webster's dictionary one definition for the n-word was "a Negro." How often have you settled an argument about the correct meaning of a word by whipping out your dictionary?

The editors of dictionaries indeed influence human perception of the world and attitudes toward certain objects or phrases. Through examples, it can even shape the meaning of the word feminist when feminist is not the word the reader looks up.

The image of the "rabid feminist" is one conjured and promoted most often by people who don't like feminists. In the case of the word feminist, the potential for damage through this labeling or subtle propaganda is exacerbated by Google's use of the Oxford Dictionary.

I speak here as a Black woman who knows about the power of the same adjectives used repeatedly to re-shape the image of people, places, and activities. For instance, how did the image of Black people being ape-like or bestial take hold? It happened through the process of labeling. And only by objecting and protesting the use of adjectives such as ape-like, savage, and bestial to define Black people that Black people have moved closer to self-determination.

Words create symbols and build hierarchies, establish moral codes and taboos, who may be desirable and undesirable. So, let's think about this: our sons and daughters may google the word rabid. When they do sothe first example for that word will be a frothing-at-the-mouth feminist. Is that what we want for our future? Should we demand that Oxford change its usage example or that Google stop using Oxford Dictionaries or both?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The last post on "Black people are apes and monkeys," I hope

This post has been syndicated at BlogHer.com.

I hope this will be the last thing I ever write about the history of White people portraying Black people as monkeys, but unfortunately, at some point I'll probably have to write something on this topic again. This racist insult repeats, repeats, repeats.

Did you hear about the Just Add A Kid T-Shirt debacle? The clothing company is in hot water over this picture that someone took and shared on Twitter. The picture of the black child placed above a monkey's body with a banana is not on the T-shirt itself, but on the hanger cover used to display the monkey T-shirt. The covers make it possible for any retail worker to match the any one of the company's T-shirts with any child on a cover.

The T-shirt manufacturer is claiming "it's all a misunderstanding," but some concerned consumers are saying that the T-Shirt manufacturer should have foreseen that eventually a black child would be matched with one of the monkey shirts in a sales display, and the fall-out would not be good for the company. So, either they should not have made the monkey T-shirt, or they should have found another way to promote the shirts.

I must say this as clearly as I can: White people who consider themselves “educated” in America and yet claim to not recognize the false, tired, and cruel doctrine that portrays people of African descent to be “more ape than human” either have not been paying attention or are being disingenuous in the fruitless effort to distance themselves from their privilege. The racist equation that monkey or ape=African or of African descent is a centuries-old and well-known Euro-American (and white supremacist) teaching that has been exported to other parts of the world.

This propaganda began to be promoted more aggressively during the so-called "Age of Enlightenment" when African identity began to be used as a foil to European identity. Europe was positioned as the continent of light; Africa was positioned as one of darkness. (This image of Africa was later re-enforced in popular culture via the highly-touted novel Heart of Darkness.)

Linnaues' System Naturae published in the 1700s and long upheld as “scientific” information encoded the message that black=closer-to-ape and did so with images. Even the "great" thinkers of Europe, such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume, and Kant, accepted and perpetuated the doctrine that Black people were subhuman, near ape status (see Elliot P. Skinner’s essay on Black identity as well as other sources).

Later in the 1800s, Charles White of the Royal Infirmary under so-called “scientific race theory” perpetuated this racist message with his classification of races. He designated black people as inferior and more related to apes.

It’s been documented that during World War II, White American soldiers circulated rumors that Black men had tails in their pants in an effort to stem miscegenation. When Black soldiers arrived in Hawaii, the local people ran from them, thinking they were animals.

During attempts to integrate schools, more than one White parent exclaimed, “I don’t want to send my children to school with monkeys and apes.” A little research of the era bears this out.

Since President Obama’s been in office even the national news has covered racist pictures of him portrayed as a monkey. And a quick search in Google images using the key words “Obama and monkey” will support that statement.

So, given that this trope has been perpetuated by science, has bled into popular culture, has been exported to countries around the globe—China included---and has remained active for more than 300 years (it was even used to justify slavery), I doubt that a store clerk matching hanger heads to T-shirts was unaware of it and its implications. Consequently, I agree with any commenters who have said that the manufacturer should have foreseen this.

If someone says that they saw this T-shirt display or picture and did not immediately see the racial implications, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for the sake of civil discussion, but I will not accept an argument that extends that doubt to a corporation. Marketing professionals should know these cultural angles, and if they don’t, they’re in the wrong business.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Leftovers' Promotional Song, Retrograde by James Blake (video), and What is The Rapture?

If you're haunted by the song played in HBO's promotion of its new drama The Leftovers, I'm not surprised. James Blake's Grammy-nominated song, "Retrograde," has that eerie, otherworldly, and soulful wail that may appeal to those with mystical leanings. And the video for the song seems as apocalyptic as the premise of The Leftovers itself. The story focuses on a small town years after the world experiences a "rapture-like" event.

Rapture-like means that the event in the television show will not be quite same event as the Christian belief it alludes to, "The Rapture." The Rapture is a prophecy in the New Testament of the Bible that some sects of Christianity embrace (usually sects who believe in a literal interpretation of scripture). But even among literalists or fundamentalist Christians, the Rapture doctrine remains controversial.

If you've ever watched movies about the Christian apocalypse featuring Armageddon and the Antichrist, then you may have already heard of The Rapture. Also, if you're old enough to recall the popular Left Behind book and movies series of the mid 1990s, then you may already be familiar with the concept or belief. But if you've never been to a church that teaches this prophecy,

Friday, June 6, 2014

Bobby Jindal's Big Oil conflict of interest: Louisiana governor signs bill to stop lawsuits against oil companies

Two days ago I rolled my eyes at Gov. Bobby Jindal because of his appearance on Duck Dynasty. The man goes out of his way to identify with the extreme Right. Today I bare teeth at the man as he kisses Big Oil's behind again.

WWL-TV reports, "Despite the urging of the state attorney general, the New Orleans city council and several academicians that he should veto the bill, Governor Bobby Jindal has signed SB 469, which prevents a lawsuit that was filed by the New Orleans levee board against big oil companies. . . . The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association cheered Jindal’s decision."

Really? Really, Bobby.

I knew his initial move to postpone signing the bill to listen to scholars and here from the state Attorney General was mere pacification theatrics. As I wrote in 2010, Jindal loves Big Oil. He loves it so much that as far as I'm concerned his signing SB 469 was a conflict of interests.

It's too bad we don't have a way for governors to recuse themselves from signing bills in some situations. Too bad there's not a way for some impartial official to step in on such matters. However, in Louisiana, when it comes to oil, where would we find an impartial leader?

At the Cenlamar blog, Lamar White also returns to 2010 and the BP spill while discussing SB 469, reminding readers that they should be outraged. He also quotes various legislators and activists who say that BP lobbied against SB 469.

Well, of course BP lobbied against the bill. But they probably didn't have to lobby Bobby. He's been on his knees for them so long that they only blow him kisses.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Man jumps into Lake Pontchartrain, saves Causeway driver

As I drove across the Causeway Friday above Lake Pontchartrain in the middle of a rainstorm, I considered the possibility of my car careening over the rail due to an out-of-control-vehicle (that's a thing here, wondering whether you'll go over guard rail while crossing some body of water), and I thought, "Nobody would rescue me in this kind of weather."

Cars flipping over the Causeway guardrail happens more often than I care to contemplate. Apparently yesterday, a driver's truck went over the side into the lake, and this is what happened. As Alvin Pike was driving to work, "the pickup truck in front of him suddenly hit the [Causeway's] left guardrail and careened back to the right side of the bridge," reports the Times Picayune." So, Alvin stopped his car, halted other drivers, and jumped into the lake to save the man. Great story! Pike's so modest. Like most heroes he says anybody else would have done the same.

According to the New Orleans Advocate, the driver was reaching for his cell phone when he lost control of his truck. Um, I would definitely not reach for a cell phone while driving over the lake. Bluetooth's the way to go.

Maybe I should keep a life vest on the font seat of my car. I was surprised to learn how many of the regular Causeway drivers carry them.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Elegy for Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

For Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

About now, Maya, would be time for me to learn
to write an elegy, a form I've never tried.
You have joined the ancestors.
But even in death you urge a woman to learn.

About now I should write the lofty verse,
place you with Amiri in Heaven,
brown feet deep in Elysian grasses or in the river
near Enkai's hidden hut. I should write
you reciting before the Creator.        You now
have audience eternal with Dunbar,
salons with Hurston, Hughes, and Brooks.
You hug Martin and Malcolm again and again,
grasp why we have been burdened.
Then you see Jimmy Baldwin!
You're greeting, too, those unfamously departed
you made feel famous in their time.
     (That girl behind me in college
      you rushed me to tell her of her beauty.
       Her dark skin, polished copper.
       Her nose like yours.
       Her thick lips, the invitation to life.
       She glowed and glowed.
       What became of her?
       She needed to hear.
       Did I?
       I did not know then who I was or maybe
              you saw how much I knew,
       and for a long time I struggled with how
       you looked through me. Did I resist blessing?)
Maya, you leap again — I should write — dancing
the dance none may rehearse.

But you do not need a poem from me.
My thin voice need not elevate
your memory: the world breathes your legacy.
Everywhere an article.
Everywhere a tweet.
Everywhere your face, your height,
your wisdom words
make books of mourning.

Nordette N. Adams, May 28, 2014

7 Pieces of Timeless Wisdom from Maya Angelou at Mother Jones
Maya Angelou, a daughter of the South, a voice for us all at the Los Angeles Times