Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pudding Pops and Stereotypes

In case you have never seen an episode of The Cosby Show, it was a popular 1980’s sitcom about the Huxtable’s, an African American family living in New York. The father, played by Bill Cosby, was a doctor in the show and his wife was a lawyer. They had five children, some of which who grew up to attend college and experience success of their own.

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

Michael Jackson: Civil Rights Icon


"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.

Finally Honored

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?

Civil Rights Activists

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.

Voting Rights Act

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.

Trading Black Power for Cash

In 1968 the first black men momentously won the gold and bronze medal at the Mexico City Olympics and defined when Black power went global. On the winner's stand fro teh 200 meter race Tommie Smith and John Carlos put their fist in the air and head to the ground as the celebrated their victory with the black community in America. Unfortunately, the majority of America viewed the homage the ultimate sign of disrespect and betrayal to America. The Olympics committee even stripped the Olympian of his metal to show how deeply their unrest lie. A rally on an international scale erupted soon after; thousands were shocked and upset with the committees decision.

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?


Where Are They Now?

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:, Wikipedia,, and

Are Charter Schools the New Citizenship Schools?

In urban areas across the U.S. charter schools are being built to directly combat the “failing” public school system. Many schools like Harlem Sucess Academy 2 in Harlem, NY redefine school structure to take more active role in their students success. They require a strict dress code, longer school days, and an extended school year. They encourage teachers to work with students until they understand, even if that means staying until nine o’clock at night. The administrators of these schools irrevocably believe that their students can and will succeed. Many students enter the school feeling the exact opposite; their environment has taught them that only the very minimum is possible and dreaming big is for the rich. Several students come from single parent homes, homes where drugs are very present, gang life, and poverty. These schools in many ways are the only opportunity these kids have ever had to break out from underneath poverty and be a successful part of our society.
Citizenship schools founded by Esau Jenkins in South Carolina the schools worked very similarly to Charter schools, it taught and inspired Black people how to be participatory members of society, despite numerous obstacles. The schools taught illiterate adults how to pass literacy tests to vote, pass driver’s license exams, and open a checking account. The schools were extremely private; they held class in the back of a black grocery store to not be seen by white people. The schools were absolutely necessary. The government was using tools such as literacy tests and various stimulations to refrain from allowing black people to vote. These schools provided a direct solution to their barriers. If black people could pass the test they gained their political in 1954. These schools taught the ticket to how to beat the system without lifting a fist.
Charter Schools and Citizenship school speak to how far we come, and how far we still need to go. Both schools are working to empower blacks to “be greater’ despite their environment. The charter schools teach middle and High schools that college is not an option but a requirement and that poverty is not an excuse for failure. The citizenship schools helped adult’s acquire their most basic freedom, despite a mass of people who would do anything to not let It come to fruition. It some ways it’s sad to think sixty years past the citizenship schools, charter school are still very much needed to raise black people out of poverty and awful circumstances. On the other hand, I am extremely impressed and grateful for those who saw a strong need and worked tirelessly to open a school to challenge the status quo.

Source: The Lottery - a documentery directed by Madeleine Sackler.

Morgan Freeman on Civil rights

Source (video):

When it comes to pop-culture influencing movements and the way one can think about race relations Morgan Freeman’s stance on black history month is an interesting topic that I have come across. In his interview with sixty minutes Morgan Freeman states that “black history is American history, why does it need to be regulated to one month.” He also states that the issue of race can disappear if everyone just “stops talking about it.” People shouldn’t be classified b race but by their common name. It is with these short statements that famous actor Morgan Freeman raises a lot of questions. While the civil right movement we learn about in class is extremely important and necessary, is the concept of black power, or Black Nationalism useless to our modern society? And if so , is the best way to get rid of racism to simply just stop talking about it, or making the history, economy, and culture of Blacks separate from that of whites?

In class we learned about the actions that the government took during the civil rights movement to end racism. In particular Brown versus the Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These laws were meant by the government to end racist policies and enforce de-segregation within society. Of course as we learned in class it took a lot more action for these laws to be enforced, but it can be generally said that in today’s society things are relatively equal from a political standard, when it comes voting rights, college admission, and hiring of employees. The part where all of this got tricky was the Black power movement which stood for the end of economic inequalities and the rise of nationalism among African Americans. If there hadn’t been such a big push for Black nationalism would things have gotten more equal slowly, or by not bringing attention to general inequalities that a democratic capitalist federal government couldn’t help would things have gotten better slowly and provided for a more integrated society.

I believe that Morgan Freeman does make some good points. As far as Black history month goes it may have served a great purpose from the seventies to the early nineties but now that the Black experience in America is taught in almost every American history class (or at least all that I grew up with in majority white schools) is it really necessary to bring more attention and special treatment towards the Black race in America when their struggle has become an intricate part of American history. It is also an interesting point that Morgan Freeman makes further to say that if everyone just forgot about race and saw each other as human beings would the problem go away? Or is it even possible for those living within our modern society to not see race? I believe that this development Morgan Freeman speaks with such ease about has a ways to go, because of the later part of the civil rights movement being within our parents lifetime it seems that our society will for the next fifty years or so always see race. But I do believe that as society moves forward and our children are running this country seeing people as just people and no color will be a lot less of an issue than it is today.

Embrace vs. Assimilate

Throughout the Black Power Movement, embracing what it meant to be black was one central theme of the movement. Blacks focused on maintaining segregation rather they continuing to fight for integration like advocates of the Civil Rights Movement. Though it was an effort to create positives images to overshadow the negative images of the black community, a celebration such as Kwanzaa even called for Blacks to embrace their blackness and be happy with who they are. People held their fists high, began wearing dashikis, sporting afros, ceasing attempts to bleach their skin, and other fads that took away from their blackness. For centuries white instilled in the popular culture that being black was a burden. Whites strived to make blacks feel as if they were not a part of the American society and therefore these worthless beings did not belong. While whites used names such as “coon” and “brutes” to define blacks, blacks worked to refine their own image by viewing themselves as children of God and comparing themselves to the people of exodus, giving themselves a sense of value that whites stripped them of during slavery.
Today blacks have completely dismissed the struggle that their people have gone through in order for society to see them in a more positive image. I believe that we have relapse back to the white ideology that black is not beautiful, but something undesirable and deserving of unjustified hatred simply because of melanin content and being different from the popular culture. Some blacks are known to renounce their blackness in order to better fit into society. Unlike during the Black Power Movement where black was something to be proud of, being “too black” is now a problem for society and is labeled as something negative and blacks move towards blending and assimilation rather than embracing their culture. Now again, the image of being black has also relapsed into negativity. People of a different culture would look at a black person strangely if they overly accentuated their African roots or even simply acted naturally as they would around other black people. It seems that blacks will never be publicly accepted for their natural being, and will always have to adjust in order to be seen in a better light by those who they associate themselves with. Blacks even use the word “African” in “African American” to create their own identity separate but similar to the identity of an American. This sense of naming better defined them as blacks but also Americans, but to be the ideal American in America for blacks is to not be a black person who speaks a loose dialect, wears different clothes, and listens to certain music (I want to also not that there is a difference between being a civilized black as opposed to one that misrepresents). I want also point out how many blacks actually name themselves “black” as opposed to “African American”, and why would they identify themselves one over the other?

Superficial Beauty

It bothers me that women use their hair to define themselves as a woman, when physical attributes is the last thing that should be considered when one defines who she is as a woman. The "Black is Beautiful” epidemic brought attention not only to the image of the African American, but it also made women more self-aware and self-conscious of themselves in the public eye. Today, the slogan “Black is Beautiful” does not mean the same as it did in the 70s. Then women who advocated the movement strayed away from relaxers and the ideal image of a woman presented by society of straight hair. Though the “natural” hairstyle is returning to American culture, it is now a fashion epidemic rather than a social stance to assert the belief that black is a beautiful thing and to revisit African roots. Today I believe that women are beginning to reevaluate the meaning of black beauty that doesn’t necessarily mean revisiting Africa or rebelling against the media’s idea of the beauty. To the black woman, beauty has become the image in which she sees herself in the eyes of others, having to look a certain wait that society would approve. Beauty has become a competition rather than a social movement and another form of slavery. They constantly try to keep up with the new wave of fashion polluting the historical element to beauty and the whole idea of seeing oneself as beautiful as opposed to a race that considered them ugly and beastly beings. The media constantly redefines women and women willingly accept that redefinition especially when using products such as weaves and relaxers. Not that either of the two are bad, because I regularly use relaxers, but the media presents an image that defines beauty, and women follow. Now the media has highlighted the natural fad and women are following it once again, not realizing it was once a part of a very powerful movement. Beauty is now a fad rather than a collective race adding meaning to their being. The motive of the “Black is Beautiful” movement was to rebel against the white society’s idea of beauty. Blacks needed to rebuild themselves in their own image rather than settling for the image they were being publicized as, but now women simply follow society’s idea of beauty and leave it at that. Today there is only superficial substance behind beauty.