Category: Black History

Hiplet by the Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center

These movements look so cool, and SO DIFFICULT. As one of the dancers breezily says to describe the hiplet style, “If you got rhythm and you can groove en pointe, you got it.”

I cannot grove en pointe. I do not got it. I don’t think many people do. But the ones who can – wow.

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Trump/Zuma FBI/Scorpions comparisons

Behind the Scenes: Trump’s Dictator Tendencies” isn’t a Daily Show bit; it’s Trevor Noah chatting with the audience while a shot is set up. He compares and contrasts Trump’s firing of the FBI director with his memories of South African president Jacob Zuma’s 2008 dismantling of the South African equivalent of the FBI, the Scorpions.

Still-Vital Radical Black Queer Poetry

For the final day of black history month 2017 (I’ll miss you, black history month 2017), I’d like to share a couple of poems by Pat Parker, an African-American Texan lesbian feminist who died of breast cancer at age 45 in 1989. (Hooray, being black and being lesbian are both factors that make it likely you won’t get appropriate early medical intervention, although I can’t say whether that was the case with Parker or just bad luck.) She was amazing. There’s a poetry award named after her.

Even though her poems are 30 and 40 and 50 years old, they feel completely contemporary. The glass half empty side of that is: we haven’t come far enough in confronting the problems she railed against decades ago. The glass half full side is: sometimes you can write a poem that is truthful and unswerving and it still cuts to the heart of someone many years after your death, confronting a problem that needs your knowledge.

This one is called “For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend” and it is from 1978 (from a collection called Movement in Black) but lord if it doesn’t sound like it could be on a blog talking about the women’s march or cultural appropriation, with perfect concision. It’s cutting and funny and kind.

The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.

You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don’t play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven – don’t tell me
his life story. They made us take music appreciation too.

Eat soul food if you like it,
but don’t expect me to locate your restaurants
or cook it for you.

And if some Black person insults you,
mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,
rips your house, or is just being an ass –
please, do not apologize to me
for wanting to do them bodily harm.
It makes me wonder if you’re foolish.

And even if you really believe Blacks are better lovers than
whites – don’t tell me. I start thinking of charging stud fees.

In other words – if you really want to be my friend – don’t
make a labor of it. I’m lazy. Remember.

Yes.

The other poem you should read today, the day of President Trump’s first address to Congress, is “Where Will You Be,” also from Movement in Black (1978). It’s long, and so I will link to an external site. It includes the stanzas:

Citizens, good citizens all
parade into voting booths
and in self-righteous sanctity
X away our right to life.

I do not believe as some
that the vote is an end,
I fear even more
It is just a beginning.

Future Utopias

We’re nearing the end of 2017’s black history month, so why not simultaneously look backwards AND forward by reading a marvelous essay by SF author Phenderson Djèlí Clark about early African-American utopian speculative fiction and the ways it tried to help readers and authors process and move forward from historic racial trauma?

I am particularly intrigued by Clark’s description of a serial which Pauline Hopkins wrote and published in 1902-03, Of One Blood; Or, The Hidden Self:

“Raised on the racism so pervasive in America, Briggs has come to believe in his own inferiority and has little concern of the black past. This changes when he travels to Ethiopia and finds the lost 6000 year old ancient city of Telessar, which uses futurist technology based on crystals, suspended animation and a means of telepathy.”

Sounds pretty great.

Ralph Bunche Ran the World Excellently

It’s Oscar night! Let’s throw popcorn at the screen for…the first African-American recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize! (Curveball!) You’ve probably never heard of him! (Another curveball!) And there will probably never be a movie about his life, not because it isn’t interesting but because he did WAY too much. You couldn’t get it narrowed down.
 
(Or I should say that I can’t get it narrowed down. Could not adapt it to a two-hour runtime. Just trying to summarize it here is daunting.)
 
Ralph Bunche was a political scientist and anthropologist who (in roughly chronological order):
 
1. Helped write the landmark study of American racial dynamics, “An American Dilemma.” (Incidentally, he was the first African-American to get a PolySci doctorate from an American university, specifically Harvard, but he also did postgrad stuff at the London School of Economics and the University of Cape Town.)
 
2. Worked in the OSS (precursor to the CIA) during WWII, a fact which was only recently declassified. He worked closely with Algier Hiss, the maybe Soviet spy! Also he was chief of the Africa division. He was in charge of interpreting the intelligence on an entire continent, and was by all accounts brilliant at it.
 
3. Was in fact so brilliant that the State Department grabbed him and made him the first African-American desk officer. He helped draft the UN Charter. He worked closely with Eleanor Roosevelt to create (and lobby for) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 
YES. THAT ONE. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After SETTING UP THE UN.
 
Surely that was enough to get a Nobel prize. But no – it was for something else! (Curveball again!)
 
4. This is the Nobel part. As so many have before and after him, Bunche tried to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict as a mediator. As so often occurred, things seemed to be moving forward and then there was an assassination (in this case of the Swedish count who was supposed to be Bunche’s superior). Bunche pursued the very brilliant strategy of playing a lot of billiards with the Palestinian and Israeli neogiators while talking all casual and clever and suave. (Total better-than-Bond move.) They signed a vital armistice agreement. NOBEL PRIZE.
 
5. Was in the Civil Rights movement, obviously. Was present at the March on Washington. Did the Selma to Montgomery march.
 
6. Simultaneously spent that era serving on the boards of a bunch of universities, and also negotiating the ends of violent conflicts in the Congo, Yemen, Kashmir, and Cyprus.
 
7. Became undersecretary general of the UN in 1968. Took them long enough. He obviously already had the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then.
 
That’s just the high points. This guy, I am telling you. He is exactly the kind of guy I want in charge of the world, and fortunately he was.

Bradford Young’s Arrival

It’s day 25 of black history month, the day before the Oscars. One of the films I’m rooting for is Arrival, a meditative, gorgeously-shot piece of science fiction. (If you haven’t seen it, see it.) As it happens, the cinematographer, Bradford Young, is African-American. As it happens, he’s the first African-American ever nominated for Best Cinematography. Ever.

(There was one previous black nominee, ONE, in 1998, Remi Adefarasin, for Elizabeth. He’s British. He also shot Sliding Doors, About a Boy, The English Patient…)

In an interview with Variety, Young, who also shot Selma, notes that most of the African-American cinematographers he respects and references didn’t graduate from well-known film schools. They mostly went to Howard University, where among other things they focus on how to expose for black skin tone – an area the rest of us who’ve studied film lighting (like me) need to catch up on.

We already know that, and we already discuss it – but we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Per Young, we need to look at what the Howard grads are doing. In particular, he points to Clockers. (Spike Lee film; cinematographer Malik Hassan Sayeed.) I think you’ll find the rest of Young’s reference list intriguing.