Saturday, December 11, 2010
In a course I took a couple of years ago, we discussed the controversy over The Cosby Show in that some people felt that it portrayed an unrealistic image of African American families. At first glance, it seems like a great thing to show that two charming African Americans are just as capable as anyone else to succeed enough in their professions to raise their children in a large home and eventually send them to college. However, some believed that this image creates a false sense that blacks have finally gained their equality and can live out the American dream just as easily as any other racial group. Because this was one of the most popular shows of its time, it showed all of America that blacks can be financially stable, they can move into affluent neighborhoods without a problem, they can pay for adequate education, and they don't need the help of government aid or affirmative action to get ahead. I found it interesting that a show that tries to take away negative black stereotypes could actually be detrimental to the progress of African Americans as a whole.
Although I can see the show as possibly sending a false message that the African American struggle for equality is over, I still feel that it is more beneficial than it is harmful. Because the show appealed to black audiences and was mostly watched by black people, the Huxtable family could serve as an inspiration to black families who haven’t been so successful. The images of successful black students in the show could inspire young African Americans to actually consider going to college, law school, and medical school. The success of the show also created opportunities for more African American sitcoms to be created such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, thus creating jobs for more black actors. Unfortunately, it also paved the way for Tyler Perry’s sitcoms to exist, but that’s a different discussion.
Friday, December 10, 2010
"He put on one glove, pulled his pants up and broke down the color curtain where now our videos are shown and magazines put us on the cover. It was Michael Jackson that brought Blacks and Whites and Asians and Latinos together."
"Because Michael Jackson kept going, he created a comfort level where people that felt they were separate became interconnected with his music. And it was that comfort level that kids from Japan and Ghana and France and Iowa and Pennsylvania got comfortable enough with each other until later it wasn’t strange to us to watch Oprah on television. It wasn't strange to watch Tiger Woods golf. Those young kids grew up from being teenage, comfortable fans of Michael to being 40 years old and then comfortable to vote for a person of color to be the president of the United States of America. Michael did that. Michael made us love each other. Michael taught us to stand with each other."
Amid the seemingly endless news coverage that ensued after Michael Jackson’s death, Reverand Al Sharpton gave a powerful speech that made the memorial worth watching. Sharpton makes the point that Michael Jackson’s music had a cultural impact all over the world. He argues that because Michael Jackson’s music was so popular among people of all races, different people with different backgrounds could come together to share a common interest. The argument is very similar to our discussion about the impact of African American Jazz music in the 1950’s. Sharpton’s speech implies that Michael’s music creates a spark that starts chain reaction that ultimately breaks down racial barriers and brings people together.
For example, when a member of a white family becomes a fan of a black artist, their friends and children are exposed to the music. By inviting music by a black artist into their homes, they could become more exposed to black culture and may even idolize the black artist, thus being even more comfortable with African Americans in general. In fact, Sharpton argues that they could become so comfortable that they would be willing to vote for an African American to be the president of the United States. I believe that this same spark occurred when people saw Michael Jordan play for the first time, or when they saw a young Tiger Woods win his first big tournament, or when white housewives first stumbled upon Oprah’s show and thought, “that black woman gets me!”
Sadly, not everyone receives this spark. Many people are afraid to open their minds to different cultures or simply accept a person of another race for the amazing things they can do. These are probably the same people who still think that Bird is better than Jordan, or that President Obama is a really a Muslim terrorist. These people have also probably never heard Thriller.
Whether he planned to be or not, I do believe that Michael Jackson should be considered as a civil rights icon because of the many barriers that he broke down to gain equality for others. He was a black man who somehow transformed into a white man who was able to sell more records than anyone else to people of all races. If that doesn’t transcend race, I don't know what does.
Activists who participated in Civil Rights marches for integration in St. Augustine, FL in the 1960s were officially apologized to recently. Almost fifty years afterward, state politicians and officials passed a resolution that honors and apologizes to the marchers.
Law enforcement was asked to official eradicate all charges against the marchers. News sources reported that many of the now senior citizens had tears in their eyes from the unexpected gesture.
I don’t know if I would have cried as well. But fifty years after I’d been arrested and threatened, I might call the actions to be unexpected.
One of the men honored, Mr. Hayling, recalled from his experiences, ``My home was shot up. My family dog was killed within the house while my pregnant wife and two daughters were still in the house.'' Looking at how things have changed in his country and his state, he added, ``Even though we blazed a trail, there's still much to be done.''
The protesters honored included Purcell Conway, now age 62, of Palm Coast, who was 15 when he was beaten in his native St. Augustine. He grew up to become a New York City police lieutenant, and is now retired. He was one of the few on hand who was never arrested.
When asked why he had decided to protest, Conway stated, “I was just fed up with the way I was being treated. The segregation, the bigotry, the disrespect,” Conway said. He believes that the government and legal acknowledgements are “long overdue.”
I have to agree with Conway and Hayling. First, the honor is long overdue. These men protested nonviolently in order to bring about positive change in a segregated and racist southern community. What they did was not illegal. In a post-Civil Rights movement area with remnants of high tension and racism, it would be understandable that such tribute would not be offered to marchers. However, it would seem that fifty years later is a few decades past due.
Secondly, Hayling, who appreciates the government action, also notes that “there is still much to be done.” I wonder that if it has taken this long to pay tribute to and erase the legal troubles of the Floridian marchers, will other states in the Deep South follow suit and clear all charges? So many areas in the Deep South are still ridden with racism and marked heavily with ugly memories of the Civil Rights Movement. Just how far are we from acknowledging all Civil Rights activists as national heros?
Throughout the civil rights movements, many black activists have been arrested and charged with miscellaneous crimes during their protests and sit-ins. Although most people currently now disagree with the manner in which law enforcement treated these situations, many African-Americans who were subject to this treatment still have not been exonerated of their crimes and to this day do not have clean legal records. Recently in Tallahassee, Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist and his cabinet formally asked law enforcement to expunge the records of a group of protesters arrested throughout their movement during the 1960’s. The St. Petersburg Times stated, “aging marchers, who called themselves the ‘Freedom Fighters’, recalled being spat on and assaulted with water hoses, cattle prods and police dogs for trying to integrate America's oldest city in 1963 and 1964 with the aid of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was invited in to lead the protest, which was timed to coincide with the rigidly segregated city's 400th anniversary celebration.” These arrests did not serve solely as a disrespectful inconvenience but also affected these individuals in the long run. The St. Petersburg Times also stated, “Some said the arrests blocked their efforts to find work, or made them afraid to apply for jobs, mistakenly thinking they had felony convictions.” Although very progressive, Florida is not alone in this idea. Memphis recently honored 30 civil rights activists for their efforts by expunging their records.
This situation also leads one to question whether the time has come for America to address this issue nationwide. Also, with the first African-American president in the history of the United States, this situation begs the public the ask themselves if American culture has made it to the point where the government and the people can understand its faults and are willing to correct them honorably. In my opinion, I think it is wrong for protesters similar to the ones in Florida to be plagued with a criminal record for a cause that has widely been regarded as a revolutionary cultural renaissance and movement. Although I do not feel that any restitution should be given, I do think that this situation should be addressed for with regards to other “criminal” protesters nationally.
In recent news, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has proposed that the state should be exempt from the redistricting laws of the Voting Rights Act of 1964. This portion of the act requires that certain southern and western states must go through a review of all redistricting plans by the Department of Justice before they can be applied in order to ensure that the districts are fairly divided both racially and socioeconomically. Cuccinelli’s reason for this proposition is that Virginia has “outgrown” its previously notorious institutionalized racism. Despite his questionable reasoning, Cuccinelli is not alone on this proposition. Other conservatives have brought this idea to the Supreme Court in the case Namundo vs. Holder in which the court ruled 8-1 against the proposition. Virginia and the other states that face Federal review have a long and detailed history of racial discrimination in application and enforcement of voting laws, which is why they are subject to Department of Justice oversight. Congress passed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act specifically because of that history. It's impact is undeniable and to lose those protections would have the effect of sending this country backwards into Jim Crow era voting laws where minorities faced little opportunity to participate in democracy. The most disturbing part of Cuccinelli’s argument lies in his claim that Virginia has “outgrown” institutionalized racism. The fact that any politician could even suggest that possibility raises suspensions itself. At this point no state can remotely make that claim due to the fact that there is no concrete evidence to support that argument. Also, if Virginia has outgrown racism, then why worry about a nearly 40 year old procedure? It leads one to believe that there are other motives behind the change. Although American has made significant strides regarding race relations, it seems irrational to abolish one of the main pieces of legislature that got us to this point.
That year, 1968, in particular was full of racial and social turmoil. it was in the thick of the non-violence and black power movement. Stokely Carmichael was still extremely active in the movement he had spoken at a host of rallies. He also spoke out against the assignation of Dr. King in April of that year. The infamous trial of Huey P. Newton rounded out the year. In the midst of all this, all the way in Mexico City, México two Olympians had earned a huge victory in the world arena and raised their fists to show thanks and support to all that had happened in 1968 and the years previous.
In October of this year Tommie Smith, reported by MSNBC, auctioned off the gold Medal and red and white stripped puma’s he was wearing during the 1968 Olympics. The bids started at $250,000. The money raised from the historical memorabilia is going directly into Mr. Smith’s pocket. His actions reflect his greed and contrast the ideals for which he raised his fist for 42 years ago. I understand the medal was his to do what he pleased, but there are so many racial inequities still today I wish he would have donated to a group that works to solve these problems. Black Power is about the power, resilience, creativeness, strength and love of black people. Mr. Smith did not exhibit any of these characteristics when he pocked the funds of such an item that epitomized Black power. He made a capital gain from a medal that stood for anti- capitalism. What does this say about the importance of black power and racial inequality today?
After spending the whole semester learning about the organizations which were formed during and assisted the Civil Rights Movement, I was curious about their activity now. I cannot recall ever hearing about any actions the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee have made recently, and only vaguely remember hearing about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Here is where the organizations stand now:
In 1997 Martin Luther King III was voted as the director of his fathers organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Although the election was unanimous, within months King fell under criticism for idleness. He was not rising up to protest issues that typically would have been addressed by the SCLC. Under his leadership the organization remained uninvolved and uninterested in the AIDS crisis, Florida ballot recount and interacting with the President of the United States. In June of 2001 King suspended from his leadership role, but was reinstated a week later under the vow to be more active. He continued to serve as head of the SCLC until his resignation in 2004, and was replaced by Fred Shuttlesworth, who only lasted a few months. Shuttlesworth claimed that the once honorable SCLC was now corrupt and lacked moral fiber. Next came Charles Kenzie Steele, Jr, and in 2009 Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., took the role as head of the SCLC. With assistance, she is still serving.
The SNCC, formed in the 1960’s, had it’s 50th anniversary in April of this year. Stokely Carmichael took over leadership of the SNCC in 1966, and slowly transformed the organization into the foundation for the Black Power Movement. The SNCC eventually dissolved into the Black Panther Party, and much of the community equality that had been a main value of the movement was lost to male dominance of the BP Party.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has remained active since its formation in 1908. They have continued to have conflict of interest with leaders of the United States, including George W. Bush in 2004. The NAACP now has over 30,000 members, including high school and college divisions which are very active. The President and CEO of the NAACP is Benjamin Todd Jealous, who has served with Amnesty International and many other human rights organizations. They now fight for the social, economic and political equality for all minority groups, not just Blacks.
Sources: http://ibiblio.org/sncc/, Wikipedia, http://www.sclcnational.org/, and http://www.naacp.org/content/main/.