America's Eagerness to Accept
"African Americans have allowed the loud, the aberrant, and those who do not mean us well to establish our public image and perceived character. The repeated negative depictions of Black people have sunken into the fabric of the nation and also into many of our minds."
"No one can stand the continuous bombardment
of negativity about him/herself and not be affected by it."
"Why is it so crafted that whenever there is a good, noble, smart guys and girls cast that person seemingly is always light skinned Black persons? What happened to the Black, dark skinned Black? Doesn't he/she have beauty, goodness, nobility, intelligence, etc.?"
must get beyond the idea that white means right or good. It is a construct
that is Euro- centric, and it has harmed African Americans and non
white people all over the world. We have an obligation to establish
the concept that Black people have goodness, nobility, intelligence,
etc. That is done through our institutions and our intellectuals.
The institutions and intellectuals of a society depict the norms and
values of that society. That is why it is so important that we perceive
the subtleties of the form and exploit the form to recast our image
as it is reflective of the reality of the majority. The Corner
does a disservice to that image, yet it is touted as brilliant
because there is a eager receptive of America to accept negative stereotypes
about African Americans."
There was something very disturbing about The Corner,
on HBO. I had that same feeling in some parts of He's Coming
Back. As I watched The Corner, I was feeling
that there are too many depictions of Blacks as drug users, dealers,
abusers, thieves, liars, and just dumb, and not enough honest depictions
of who we are. Also, when Black characters are rightly depicted (in
good roles) there seems to be a deliberate use of light skinned Blacks
to portray the good, romantic, honest, intellectual, the noble of
us. There is nothing wrong with a Black person because of his skin
hue, light or dark. Blacks come in all shades and we are just as Black
regardless of the shade. I know I tread upon sacred ground that
seems to characterize a writer as soon as he/she moves into this area,
but there should be no subject closed to intellectual discourse if
it is an area of problem. And this is a persistent problem that represents
the remnants of oppression and slavery in our symbols, when we deliberately
use skin tones for certain attributes. With that said, why aren't
dark-skinned Blacks placed as good, honest, noble, intelligent, etc.?
Blacks have allowed the loud, the aberrant, and those who
do not mean us well to establish our public image and perceived character
too long. The repeated negative depictions of Black people have sunken
into the fabric of the nation and into many of our minds--the arrest
of the Black female student at the University
of Iowa indicates this latter position.
No one can stand a continuous bombardment
of negativity about him/herself and not be affected by it. I see students,
FOB's, as it were, who have stereotypes and negative images of Black
people; I see this same perverse notion that Black people are as they
are depicted on the TV and in the movies in business. Some years ago,
a worker of mine said to me, as we discussed business and investing,
"You're not like other Blacks, you talk about business."
He had no knowledge of Black people other than the negative stereotypes
he had from media. So as he experienced me, he thought that I represented
the exception and not the rule--the rule for Black people was the
negative stereotypes he had acquired.
Why are there no characterizations of Black people as the majority of us know ourselves? Why are we so negatively stereotyped and cast, even by Black movie makers, while other races have their drags, we see few of them on the screen?
As an administrator in the court system
and an administrator of two treatment centers for neglected, abused,
and delinquent children, I have seen the world there--every race and
color, all with the same human frailties. But frequent depiction of
Black human frailty seems to be an attempt to normalize it as the
behavior of the majority of African Americans.
This badge of dishonor and free stereotyping
of Blacks won't seemingly cease, and sadly for us, many young, untutored
Black movie makers have focused on this genre of negative stereotypical
Blacks on drugs, beating their wives, having babies and sex all the
time, and always dropping out of school. These images sell, and the
makers sell them to make a dollar and break into the movie making
business. But why hurt the many for the few? How is this different
from the drug dealer who will kill Black people with his drugs so
that he can become rich?
Some young urban Blacks will say, "This
is real life, man!" Of course, it is real life to some. But that
some does not constitute the vast majority of Black America.
Most African Americans know this reality from afar, indeed, the majority
of Blacks are working class, middle class, and upper class, not the
ones who are laughed at and depicted as in The Corner.
As Blacks once protested that they wanted
to see themselves on TV and in movie beyond the buffoon characters
that were typical, we need to now protest again, even to
those new Black movie makers who are doing the casting that we
need to see ourselves, our true selves, on TV and in
movies--we have seen our drags enough, now everyone believes that's
who we are.
Today, we have a new type of Blaxploitation
Movies made by young Blacks who mischaracterize an entire class of Black
people by the underclass because that's what America has a receptivity
to, and that may be these young film-makers' only reality. But
away with these underclass movies! [And please do not tell
me Waiting To Exhale was about middle class Black people.]
Bill Cosby's fictitious Dr. Huxtable
and his fictitious attorney wife were not as fictitious as many Americans
believe. Where are those movies in greater numbers, configuring
proper images of Black people? Toni Morrison’s historical characters
in Beloved are good, but we need present
day movies that show Black people have gone into medicine in mass
numbers, they have gone into law in mass numbers, they are CEO's,
administrators, Chancellors, Presidents, Police Chiefs, Judges, Congresspersons,
politicians, and all that America is. We need to show each other,
FOB's, and those who have been here a little while longer that Black
students do not get high in college and go through the binge drinking
to the extent that's popularized by Whites. We need to show each other
that pictures, such as The Corner, represent aberrant
behavior for Blacks, not the "real life, man" stuff
that a number of young toughs seem to think is everybody's, or the
majority of Blacks' reality. The majority should not be bound nor
characterized by the limitations of a few.
The stories of the many Black
administrators, college presidents, CEO's of corporations,
entrepreneurs, thinkers and brilliant legal minds are not being told,
and many young Blacks and a majority of America think that there are no
such stories to be told. Only in America, about African Americans, do
we allow the least to set the image for the most, or allow the
aberrant behavior of our minority to stand for the normal behavior of
It seems that those making movies, Black
and White, are in some type of tacit conspiracy to continue the stereotypical
derogatory casting of Black people that has been a part of the movie
industry as long as that industry has existed. Could it be they simply
don't know that the stories of our upper class and middle class are
worth telling? If that is the case, they are telling their own
story, and a storyteller who can not go beyond him/herself should
cease telling stories.
It is important to remember that the slanted movie-making
about Blacks is by those young Black movie makers who came up to this
business through the drug user, dealer, hustler route, and that is
the only thing they know. To them it seems to be a reality that encompasses
the majority of African Americans. If such is their perspective,
these movie-makers need a quick and thorough education.
Finally, why is it so consistent whenever there is a good, noble, smart guy or girl casting that person seemingly is always a light skinned Black person? What happened to the dark skinned Black? Doesn't he/she have beauty, goodness, nobility, etc.? That particular aspect of He's Coming Back disturbed me, although I enjoyed the negritude of the musical/play. The Jesus character casting was with the most light skinned Black in the play. This corresponds to the many white Jesuses we have in our churches, which has nothing to do with real Christianity but more to do with Euro-centic idealism. To many, I know that this statement pushes the edge of blasphemy, but think about it awhile--the skin game has been played long enough, we are all of value!
African Americans must get beyond the idea that white symbolizes right or good. That is a construct that is Euro-centric; it has harmed African Americans and non white people all over the world. We have an obligation to establish the concept that Black people have goodness, nobility, intelligence, etc. That is done through our institutions, our intellectuals, etc.
The institutions and intellectuals of a society depict the norms and values of that society. That is why it is so important that we perceive the subtleties of the form and exploit the form to recast our image as it is reflective of the reality of the majority of us. The Corner does a disservice to that image, yet it is touted as brilliant because there is a eager receptivity of America to negative stereotypes about African Americans. Frank A. Jones