NewBlackMan (in Exile): Women of Color and the Political Economy of Sympathy

Women of Color and the Political Economy of Sympathy

by Stephanie Troutman and David J. Leonard |

NewBlackMan (in Exile)

“Given the racist and patriarchal patterns of the state, it is difficult to envision the state as the holder of solutions to the problem of violence against women of color. However, as the anti-violence movement has been institutionalized and professionalized, the state plays an increasingly dominant role in how we conceptualize and create strategies to minimize violence against women—Angela Davis.

Words sadly ring true given the daily realities of state violence, and the limited care and concern for the daily realities of violence in our country. What is wrong with us/U.S.? The endless examples (in a long, sad history of violent acts) act of violence against a woman of color to NOT make headlines is beyond devastating. It is pedagogical in pointing to the material consequences of the intersections of race and gender.

This has been all too clear with reports about the horrific circumstances of Glenda Moore, a Black mother who lost her two young sons during Hurricane Sandy. According to The Daily News Moore was “holding onto them, and the waves just kept coming and crashing and they were under,” the mother’s sister told the Daily News at her home. “It went over their heads … She had them in her arms, and a wave came and swept them out of her arms.” In the midst of the storm, Moore knocked on doors searching for help to no avail. As Moore’s sister recounted to The Daily News “They answered the door and said, ‘I don’t know you. I’m not going to help you,’”…”My sister’s like 5-foot-3, 130 pounds. She looks like a little girl. She’s going to come to you and you’re going to slam the door in her face and say, ‘I don’t know you, I can’t help you’?’”

Although there seems to be reticence and an unwillingness to talk about racism and sexism – implicit biases – in this case, the limited (yes there has been some media attention) concern and national mourning for the death of these children, and the pain endured by Moore is telling. While people came together to raise over $313,000 dollars for a tormented school bus monitor, the Moore family is fighting just to raise enough money to bury their children (as of today, there is just short of $11,000 dollars). It is yet another reminder that not all pain, not all suffering is created equal.

While the reports surrounding Sharmeeka Moffitt, who accused several men of attacking her because she wore an Obama t-shirt, proved unsubstantiated, her experiences point to how racism and misogyny is operationalized within contemporary culture. Yet another reminder of the violence besieging the United States and the media’s silence (and complicity) on the violence experienced by women of color; the fact that Sharmeka Moffitt’s name did not initially warrant front-page news, a lead story on the national news, or national conversation is telling. The fact that people required more evidence in this stance is revealing. The fact that people dismissed the initial reports by noting “We don’t know what happened;” “we don’t know the specifics;” “we don’t know if it is a hate crime” is not without consequence.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan (in Exile): Women of Color and the Political Economy of Sympathy.

So You Want to Talk Solutions? White Denial and the Change Question (Part 1)

So You Want to Talk Solutions?

White Denial and the Change Question (Part 1)

David J. Leonard

One of the common responses to discussions about racism and other forms of injustice is the demand for solutions. The commonplace entry into public and private discussions about racism, the efforts to take over comment sections, to silence those who work to highlight inequality with responses like “what’s the solution” does not engender solutions but rather works to derail the conversation. Usually deployed alongside the descriptor of wining and complaining, this disingenuous demand (as opposed to a desire to figure out the path toward justice) for solutions illustrates the manner that white male privilege operates. In my many years of teaching and writing, the majority of those who felt entitled to have answers NOW and remedies yesterday were white men. The “shut up… stop complaining…give me solutions” reframe is the embodiment of privilege.

Recognizing our forms of denial and challenging our social and racial myopia is the solution. Refusing to accept the lies and distortions, the misinformation and stereotypes is a remedy. However, for those who are desperate for solutions, who feel disappointed with our collective failure to provide a road map toward justice you don’t have to look any further, I got you.

Reparations: Given the history of racist violence, evident in slavery, Native American genocide, Jim Crow, forced sterilization, racist immigration laws, the conquest of Southwest and other crimes against humanity, I think reparations are in order. “Sorry isn’t enough!” According to the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCBRA):

A necessary requirement of all forms of reparations is an acknowledgment by the government or corporation that it committed acts that violated the human rights of those making the claim for reparations. Some groups may want an explicit apology; however, neither the acknowledgement nor apology is sufficient – there must be material forms of reparations that accompany the acknowledgment or apology. Reparations can be in as many forms as necessary to equitably (fairly) address the many forms of injury caused by chattel slavery and its continuing vestiges. The material forms of reparations include cash payments, land, economic development, and repatriation resources particularly to those who are descendants of enslaved Africans.’

Financial restitution, especially given the amount of wealth generated through white supremacy, because of enslavement, genocide, and exploitation, is a necessary step of racial reconciliation. White financial and political success has been predicated on white racism. Malcolm X rightfully destroys the myth of meritocracy, bootstraps, and the white protestant work ethic as reasons for success:

If you are the son of a man who had a wealthy estate and you inherit your father’s estate, you have to pay off the debts that your father incurred before he died. The only reason that the present generation of white Americans are in a position of economic strength…is because their fathers worked our fathers for over 400 years with no pay…We were sold from plantation to plantation like you sell a horse, or a cow, or a chicken, or a bushel of wheat…All that money…is what gives the present generation of American whites the ability to walk around the earth with their chest out…like they have some kind of economic ingenuity. Your father isn’t here to pay. My father isn’t here to collect. But I’m here to collect and you’re here to pay. (From By Any Means Necessary, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970, 123.)

Prison abolition: The history of America’s prison systems and the criminal justice system as a whole is wrought with racism. As Angela Davis remarks,

In order to imagine a world without prisons — or at least a social landscape no longer dominated by the prison — a new popular vocabulary will have to replace the current language, which articulates crime and punishment in such a way that we cannot think about a society without crime except as a society in which all the criminals are imprisoned. Thus, one of the first challenges is to be able to talk about the many ways in which punishment is linked to poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other modes of dominance.

America’s addiction to incarceration requires dramatic intervention. No reform will suffice given the entrenched nature of the criminal (in)justice system within every institution, from the political to the educational, from the cultural to the economic. The systemic incarceration of people of color, of the poor, represents an assault on families, communities, and a betrayal of the principles of equality, fairness, and democracy.

via Dr. David J. Leonard: So You Want to Talk Solutions? White Denial and the Change Question (Part 1).

Cinematic Politics and Passion: ‘The Black Power Mixtape’ As Timeless | Urban Cusp

Cinematic Politics and Passion: ‘The Black Power Mixtape’ As Timeless

By David J. Leonard

UC Columnist

Eye on Culture: Movie Review

In a recent New York Times article, Nelson George identifies an emerging group of promising black filmmakers that are challenging both the hegemonic representations and the recent scarcity of black-themed and black-directed films. Focusing on Dee Rees’ Pariah, while noting also Rashaad Ernesto Green’s “Gun Hill Road,” Andrew Dosunmu’s “Restless City,” Alrick Brown’s “Kinyarwanda” and Victoria Mahoney’s “Yelling to the Sky”, George offers an optimistic examination of the state of African Americans within Hollywood.

George describes Pariah as “not simply … a promising directorial debut, but also as the most visible example of the mini-movement of young black filmmakers telling stories that complicate assumptions about what ‘black film’ can be by embracing thorny issues of identity, alienation and sexuality.” Noting the ways in which these films challenge conventional notions of black authenticity and the hegemony of the “ghettocentric imagination,” George argues that these films move beyond the politics of respectability, beyond blaxploitation, beyond binaries, and beyond presenting narratives that reaffirm black fitness for assimilation and acceptance. Accordingly, he writes,

This current mini-movement has none of the certainty about black identity that defined previous periods. Identity — the search for it, the limitations of it, its fluidity — is at the core of all these dramas. Such themes speak to a sophistication that previous generations of filmmakers didn’t possess or rejected since rigid definitions of racial identity are much easier to market. Then again, none of these films have made a substantial dent at the box office.

Celebrating the great potential here, George misses an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which documentary films, which in recent years have been some of the most popular and widely circulated black films (minus those of Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels). These films have filled a gap left by a Hollywood increasingly unwilling to support black filmmakers (and those other films that don’t replicate the proven blockbuster strategies; that don’t have overseas potential; that don’t appeal to white suburban audiences). While there are countless examples in this regard – When the Levees Broke, Good Hair, The Black List, Letter to the President and Troubles of the Water – one of the most prominent examples from 2011 was The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975.

Directed by Göran Hugo Olsson, a Swedish filmmaker, The Black Power Mixtape brings together footage from prominent Swedish television journalists and other individuals. Sampling from the idea of a mixed-tape, Olsson does not try to chronicle the definitive history of the black power movement, but instead pieces together the myriad of images and footage found buried in the archives of a Swedish television station. Instead, he uses interviews with Huey Newton, Angela Davis, Louis Farrakhan and countless other activists involved in various black power organizations and movements to highlight a sense of identity, political purpose, and ethos that emerged during the late 1960s and 1970s.

In repelling a traditional narrative, even as the film offers a linear presentation of the black power movement, The Black Power Mixtape relies on audio commentary from a host of individuals (Talib Kweli, Questlove, Erykah Badu, Robin Kelley, Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis) to bind the footage together. Commenting on the history and the footage itself, the voice-overs provide needed depth and analysis; yet don’t function as an intrusion into the footages, the images of New York or Oakland in the late 1960s, or the sounds that emanated from this era. As a DJ might, they facilitate and remix, yet they never overwhelm and disrupt the visual representations available in the film.

The Black Power Mixtape starts with Stokely Carmichael describing black power, its relationship to the mainstream of the Civil Rights Movement, and the dialectics between identity formation and the politics of the late 1960s. In one of the films most dynamic scenes, Carmichael interviews his mother about their experiences growing up in New York and how racism limited opportunities for each member of the family. Stokely methodologically asks questions of his mother, leading her to share the profound and violent impact of white supremacy. Here, we see Carmichael’s brilliance not as a speaker but as an analytical thinker. Describing Carmichael as a “regular dude,” Talib Kweli captures the power of this scene in that it, like the larger film, challenges narrative that depicts the movement only through rhetoric and not the people involved in the movement.

Continue reading @ Cinematic Politics and Passion: ‘The Black Power Mixtape’ As Timeless | Urban Cusp.

Marc Robinson: Priceless Footage, but Limited as a Teaching Tool: Black Power Mixtape (2011)

Priceless Footage, but Limited as a Teaching Tool: Black Power Mixtape (2011) – Film Review

Marc Arsell Robinson

Special to No Tsuris

Black Power Mixtape (2011) is a documentary about the Black Power Movement that uses footage taken by Swedish filmmakers between 1967 and 1975.  It is the latest in a string of documentaries about the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements released in the past few years.  These include Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power (2005), Neshoba: The Price of Freedom (2008), Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968 (2009), and Soundtrack for a Revolution (2010).  The archival footage in Mixtape contributes priceless visual imagery of 1960’s and 1970’s Black politics, but the film itself lacks a coherent or engaging narrative.

The film does provide exceptional moments, such as when Stokely Carmichael interviews his mother about their family’s struggles during Stokely’s childhood.  Best of all is an impromptu speech given by Angela Davis about White repressive violence and Black self-defense.  As David Leonard wrote in another review of the film, “Humanizing the movement and focusing on the interpersonal dynamics in a core theme of the film.”

However, as a historical text, I found the film disappointing.  Undoubtedly, the movie was limited by the footage available; and it even opens with the following statement, “This film…does not presume to tell the whole story of the Black Power Movement, but to show how it was perceived by some Swedish filmmakers.”  Thus, its creators deserve credit for recognizing Mixape’s shortcomings.  Yet, although the documentary’s weaknesses can be forgiven, they unfortunately limit the film’s use as a teaching tool.

At times Mixtape presents an inaccurate chronology, like when it introduces the Black Panthers in its 1969 section, even though the organization was formed in 1966.  In addition, the latter section of the film, on 1970-1975, becomes increasingly unfocused as the film shifts to concentrate on Black ghetto life and drug usage.  The narrative further breaks down when the War on Drugs is discussed, which did not begin in earnest until the 1980’s.  While the introduction and promotion of drugs like heroin, and later crack cocaine, certainly deserves a place in the story of Black Power, here it undermines the films coherence.

Moreover, the section on the 1970’s leaves out other notable developments such as the proliferation of Black cultural nationalism in the form of fashion, food, entertainment and culture.  Also left out is Black Power’s increasing presence in electoral politics such as the Black Panthers’ bid for offices in Oakland and the Black Political Conventions of the early 70’s.  Other topics that could have been address were the proliferation of Black Studies and Black Power’s impact in education, as well as the issues of masculinity and gender within the movement.  Unfortunately, Mixtape ends up perpetuating the erroneous notion that the Black Power Movement was effectively over by 1971, save the Angela Davis trial.

Therefore, Mixtape would not be best for 100 or 200 level students, or as an introductory source on the Black Power Movement.  Certain sections might be useful, but other films like Eyes on the Prize: Power!, Eyes on the Prize: A Nation of Law?, Negroes with Guns, and Scarred Justice are better suited for introductory purposes.  However, for advanced students and scholars of the period, the film provides invaluable imagery of the 1960’s and 70’s Black Freedom Struggle.

Marc A. Robinson is a PhD candidate in the American Studies Program and teaches in the Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies Department at Washington State University.  His dissertation is on the Black Student Union and Black Power in the late 1960’s.  Follow him @MarcARobinson1.