“Dear White People” IS Racist. Here’s why.

We live in time of perpetual outrage. From the perspective of the Conservative Right, the anger is often articulated in Daily Mail headlines with capitalised words to emphasise just how OUTRAGEOUS ‘it’ is (whatever ‘it’ is). For Liberal Lefties, taking to the streets waving placards and chanting, is how their indignation is expressed. It is not surprising then, that the announcement of the new Netflix series “Dear White People” was going to enrage some people.

Based on the film of the same name that came out in 2014, the release of the trailer for the show sparked the type of outrage that causes people to take to twitter and start furiously hash-tagging, and threatening a boycott. On this occasion, it seems it is the Conservative White America that has been especially offended, or “triggered”, to adopt an internet phrase. According to the Daily Mail article reporting that the Youtube video of the trailer attracted one million dislikes in one day, the outrage is justified. Having perused the comments section of this article (my go-to when I want to understand the way in which racist people think), it seems nobody really knows what the show is about, but it must be racist against whites because, “you couldn’t get away with a show called ‘Dear BLACK people’ could you?!?”

I find all of this very amusing. Firstly, because when the film version came out in 2014, I do not recall this amount of anger being expressed. In fact, to me, the film trailer seemed very enticing at the time. It seemed a straightforward plot – a black(ish) looking girl using her radio station slot to directly address the micro-aggressions that many black people encounter when interacting with white people on a daily basis. In fact if I recall correctly, the film was made as a response to a real life incident that occurred at an Ivy League university when white students attended a Halloween party dressed in black face as a costume. As I understand it, this type of thing has been reported numerous times across America. I was intrigued then, that it seemed a mainstream film had been made to address this type of ignorant behaviour, and challenge the stereotypes of black people that are so often propagated by the media. When I eventually watched the film, I discovered I was very wrong. Dear White People was ironically slightly racist… to black people. In what can be best described as an own goal, the casting and writing of the film has many stereotypes that are negative as far as black people are concerned. Here are just a few:

Stereotype 1: Only a light skinned/mixed race woman can play a leading role.

The storyline in Dear White People has a convenient “twist” that allows for casting a mixed race woman as the leading role, as is it later revealed that she is actually not “fully black” as she has a white father, despite being so “militant”.

Stereotype 2: Black people, and especially black people who are concerned about racial injustice, are always angry.

In the film, there is an angry black mob, none of whom have any speaking lines, and only serve the purpose to appear every now and then, looking furious and staring black raging daggers at people.

Stereotype 3: Even in a so-called “black film”, a white character must always be the hero.

The Light-Skinned Leading Lady (I cannot remember any of the characters names, and I cannot be bothered to look them up), has a secret White Boyfriend, who sticks by her even though she treats him like dirt, and is ashamed on him. Both she, and all the other characters in the film seem to have deep flaws. Supporting Dark-Skinned Female character is very unlikeable, as is the Leading Black Male character. The Black Gay character is written as complete wimp. The only character that comes out shining and smelling of roses, is the secret White Boyfriend, who in the end, Light-Skinned Leading Lady chooses over her other love interest,  Brutish Black Man.

dear-white-people-2

If the Netflix mini-series is going to be just like the film, then I agree; it is racist. However, to suggest it is racist towards white people is a bit ridiculous. To address the suggestion that it would not be ok to have a TV show called “Dear Black People”; such a title suggests that the show would be written from a mainly white perspective addressing certain behaviours of black people that make white people feel oppressed. The problem with that is, virtually every show on TV already is written from a white perspective, and given that in the US and UK, black people are a minority, it is difficult to see how white people in these countries could feel so oppressed by their behaviour.

I will not be watching the Netflix series because I thought the film was pretty rubbish, but I have no feelings of fury about it. My suggestion to Spitting Mad Conservative White America, is to stop the internet whinging and threats of boycotts, and do the common sense thing whenever something you do not like is on TV or online: simply, do not watch.

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Why Do the British Film Critics Hate The Butler?

I went to see The Butler a few weeks ago, a decision made out of my expectation of a good historical film about the presence of a black butler serving in the White House. I hadn’t seen a trailer, read a review, and in fact I didn’t even know exactly who was in it. But I usually get an instinct about a film I know I will enjoy. I did enjoy the film even if “joy” is not the best word to describe my cinematic experience. There were moments where I did laugh, but I also cringed, winced and felt extremely saddened in a dramatised version of real events that occurred in the history of America, involving the fight for African American civil rights. It brought home to me, just what many African Americans have been through; the shocking maltreatment, the police brutality, and the sheer injustice of living in an unequal society. A society that that still lives in the memory of those alive at the time to witness it. By the end of the film I was in tears, and by the sound of sniffles elsewhere in the theatre, I doubt I was the only one. I thought all the characters were played well, and even Oprah, who I was expecting to be a flop, did a fantastic job of playing the wife of Cecil Gaines.

I went home feeling very moved and inspired, and even feeling a sense that more needs to be done in America for a more equal society, given the stories we still so often hear about racial tensions, and discrimination. I wanted to learn more about the true story upon which the film was inspired by, and went online to see what I could find. I came across a review of the Butler on the Guardian online. The reviewer was eager to point out every departure from the true story that the film had made. For instance, there was no record that Eugene Allen (Cecil Gaines real life name) had been a slave, and witnessed his father killed, and his mother go crazy after being raped by her slave master. Allen only had one son, as opposed to two, as the film depicts, and his son was not involved with the Freedom Writers or Black Panthers. The reviewer also used the word “farcical” to describe the film, and pretty much rubbished it.

 

After reading the review, I toyed with the idea of writing a blog post about it. As the reviewer was a white British person, I wanted to point out, that maybe they did not enjoy the film because he just could not relate to it, as it is a race-themed film. Maybe he just wasn’t all that concerned or moved by how black people have been treated in America. Maybe he thinks that we should just stop talking about all that racism and slavery stuff already. Maybe there was no single character he could relate to because he has not experienced anything similar to the struggles that the black characters faced, or just because, the colour of their skin automatically made him feel detached from the film, and made him to immediately view it as a “black film”.

Well I got rather busy with other things and then forgot about writing the post. Then I read this piece:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olivia-cole/the-best-man-holiday-race_b_4295853.html

by a blogger who took issue with the New York times lazily labelling The Best Man Holiday as a race themed film, and thought that maybe I would write my piece after all, as race and film seem to be a topic of discussion at the moment. I wanted to try and find the review I had read in order to get the name of the reviewer, and carefully pick apart the review, but I could no longer find it. Instead I found another two negative reviews in the Guardian, one by Mark Kemode (a white male), and the other by Peter Bradshaw (who also happens to be a white male). These men both dissect the film in a very cold and deconstructive manner, without paying much attention to the substance. Bradshaw relegated the film with a comparison to Downtown Abbey. Kermode is slightly more generous by giving the film 3 stars instead of 2 as Bradshaw did, but still manages to denounce the film as a “fanciful retelling of contemporary history”. Both men totally miss the point.

The fact that these British film critics have a difference of opinion about the Butler to me (and all my friends who have watched the film), could be dismissed as just that; a difference of opinion. But I remember reading an interesting article about research that had been carried into film critic’s responses to films that have a black leading character being reviewed more harshly than films with a white leading character. If this is correct there is a potential knock on effect of less people going to see the film because of reading the negative review, and the film receiving fewer takings. Even in a small way then, the difference of opinion can be significant.

I’m not saying that the British are wrong about the differences between the film and real life. Clearly they are right. But the film is only “inspired” by a true story, and not based on it. And it is actually quite clever, the way the film weaves into the plot what was going on at the time with the Freedom Riders, and Black Panthers. Even though various things that happened in the film did not happen in Allen’s own life, they did actually happen. Slaves were raped and killed. Freedom Riders were repeatedly thrown in jail, and the segregated society was an appalling affront to the rights of black citizens. Allen did live through segregation to seeing the first “black” president of the United States. That’s the substance of the film that I refer to.

civil rights dog attackcivil rights hosed down freedom rides burnt bus

Maybe critiquing a film is supposed to be a very academic exercise devoid of any heart. If that is the case then fair enough, but perhaps these British Film critics should consider that for many movie theatre goers, The Butler is a touching and sensitive encounter with the past.

Black Hair (Part 2): It’s None of Your Business!

I do not mean to cause offence by the title of this post; it is aimed at narrow minded people who judge black women not on the content of their character, but on something as superficial as how they choose to style their hair.

 

With this post I fall in danger of contradicting part 1, in which I sought to argue that it does matter how black women style their hair, in the sense that those who choose to wear it naturally, (knowingly or unknowingly) send a message to the world that there is nothing wrong the kinky textured hair of people of African descent. However I do think that it is also true that how a woman chooses to style her hair is her own personal choice, and as such should not be open for criticism and debate by others.

 

Let me explain what I mean. One day I was sitting on a train when I observed a very disturbing and bizarre scene. A black male starting speaking loudly to a young black female sitting across the aisle.

 

“Excuse me, is that your real hair?”

“No” she replied quietly, head down.

“I didn’t think so. You shouldn’t be wearing weave. It looks fake”.

 

I felt embarrassed for the young woman. Her hair was obviously a weave, and by the looks of it not “human hair”. Maybe she was not in a position to afford a better quality weave. Maybe she just wanted to cover her natural/relaxed hair with a weave as a protective style. Whatever her reasons for having a, not so great, weave, what right did that man have to question her? Whatever the state of her hair, in what way did it affect him?

 

Sadly he’s not alone in his condemnation of black women who do not wear their hair natural. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to stumble across certain Youtube channels of (black) men, dedicated to spewing venom at black women, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. In fairness, it’s not just black men, and it’s not just men. Women too can be very judgmental about what they perceive to be a bad weave or bad hair day. Remember how much stick Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglass during the

How could simple tied back hair cause such a fuss?

How could simple tied back hair cause such a fuss?

2012 Olympics? She was not criticised for her performance – and rightly so as she won two gold medals – but what was her crime? Not having freshly relaxed hair!

 

I accept that criticism of women’s looks is not limited to one race. The picking apart of women’s bodies in national magazines is indiscriminate. But when it comes to hair, there does not seem to be such a fierce debate around what it means if Caucasian hair is straightened or left curly, or if extensions are added in. If you listen to those venomous self-hating Youtube cowards (cowards because it’s easy to be foul mouthed and derogatory behind your computer screen), then a black women who straightens her hair, or gets a weave, does so because she wishes she were white. Of course it can’t be because she feels like a change, or likes the way it looks, or wants a protective style. Even if she does wish to be white, surely it’s only a small minority of people who would actually conclude that a woman wishes she were a different race because of her hairstyle? Or should I suppose that when Cheryl Cole wears cornrows she is expressing her inner desire to be black?

Not sure if this was before or after her alleged racial assault on a toilet attendant

Not sure if this was before or after her alleged racial assault on a toilet attendant

For the record, black hair is versatile. It’s probably the most versatile hair type that exists. Many different styles can be achieved with it. So when black women choose to explore the different styles, why not just leave them be? It’s not hurting you. And in my experience, most people of other races do not quite understand black hair, and so do not even realise that. For example, box braids involve fake hair! How many times have I taken out braids and then been asked by classmates/colleagues “have you cut your hair?” Before I would roll my eyes, and think “how ignorant”, but now I find it liberating. Knowing that my colleagues are not scrutinizing my latest hairstyle and scanning the back of my head for visible tracks, puts me at ease. If only all black women could feel that way all of the time.

Black Hair (Part 1): It’s Political

Sheryl Underwood was not a name I was familiar with until a few days ago. I did not even know that she was black when I first read about the comments she made on American National TV, basically saying that Afro hair is disgusting, and nobody wants it. I initially thought “that’s an ignorant thing for a white woman to say”. I was not overly shocked. I assumed that being a white woman, Sheryl was not accustomed to Afro hair, and by calling it “nappy”, she was expressing in her own way her perception of how it was very different to her own straight hair (so I wrongly thought).

Then I was surfing YouTube and came across a video that had the footage of Ms Underwood making the remarks on the show “The Talk”. To my absolute horror, I discovered that Sheryl Underwood is a black woman. My jaw literally hit the floor!  How could a black woman make such remarks about her own type of hair?

She has since issued an apology which is good to hear (though I do not accept that she was misconstrued, seeing as she clearly makes a distinction between “curly nappy beads” and “beautiful long silky hair” of white people) but I’m not so concerned about her apologising. I don’t say that because I’m outraged at her, and feel that an apology won’t suffice. Rather, I’m saddened for her. I’m saddened that this 49 year old woman, who would no doubt have memories of an America only just forced to abandon a society of segregation, has through her life’s experiences and understanding of what is acceptable, come to the conclusion that Afro hair is undesirable.

It’s a very sad thing that Sheryl should feel that way, but I can just imagine why. Would America accept the First Lady if she were to leave her Afro hair as it is? How readily available are images in the media of black women with afro hair? I suspect that all her life, Sheryl has been taught that Afro hair is unacceptable, and she has come to believe it. In a shameful way, there is no satisfactory answer to the question she posed “who would want to save Afro hair?” or simply put: “who wants  Afro hair?”

Michell Obama

The fashion houses don’t appear to want it. That’s why you have a supermodel like Naomi Campbell (one of the rare success stories amongst black models) with no hairline left, because she has been forced to wear styles that hide her Afro hair, for decades. A friend of mine who models, was once axed from a job because the stylists on the shoot could not work with her “Afro hair”.

naomi campbell bald

Hollywood and TV producers do not seem to want it. When a black actress does appear in a film, you can just bet she’ll be wearing a wig or a weave. And it’s not always because that is how the actress would wear her hair anyway. I’ve read interviews of some black actresses who would prefer to wear their hair natural, but have to put in a weave in order to get the part.

The printed and televised media don’t want Afro hair either. Even on the front cover of black hair magazines, you’re more likely than not to see the model wearing a European weave or wig. Black newscasters who air on various news stations (with the exception of Al Jazeera), all have their Afro hair tucked away, or chemically processed away, out of sight.

It’s not fair to direct anger at Sheryl alone. We should question the society we live in that seems to dictate that Afro hair should not be seen. I am very encouraged though, that more and more often now, I see black women daring to bare their natural hair. I know that women wear their hair natural for all kinds of reasons, and many are not seeking to make a political statement by doing so. However I can’t help but feel that with every woman that starts to go to work, especially in the corporate field, with natural hairstyles, it takes down another brick in the wall that stands in the face of black women being free to be who they are, without fear of judgment.

Innocent Until Proven Black?

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In the past 72 hours, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of charges of 2nd degree murder and manslaughter following the killing of Trayvon Martin on 26.02.12. Protests have taken place in various cities across America, and many have expressed outrage the outcome of a case that has received a lot of media attention. Trayvon was a 17 year old unarmed black boy, who was followed and shot my Zimmerman, a Hispanic neighbourhood watch volunteer, who thought that Trayvon was acting suspicious.

One of the reasons the case attracted so much attention is because of what followed. Zimmerman was not arrested and questioned following the killing. His account that Trayvon had attacked him, and that he was acting in self defence, was unquestioningly believed by the police. Then Zimmerman’s 911 call was released. He had called 911 when he spotted Trayvon walking through a gated community in Sanford Florida, wearing a hoodie, as he thought he looked suspicious. Here is an excerpt from an unofficial transcript of the 911 call:

Zimmerman: These assholes. They always get away.

Zimmerman: He’s running.

Zimmerman: ‘F-ing coons’

Dispatcher : Are you following him?

Zimmerman: Yeah

Dispatcher: OK. We don’t need you to do that.

Trayvon’s parents started a petition that eventually garnered 2,278,988 signatures, calling for Zimmerman’s arrest. After President Obama commented on the case the US Justice Department launched an investigation into the case. Only then Zimmerman was arrested and charged, 6 weeks after the killing.

Having some experience of conducting criminal trials, I tried to imagine how present the case if I were Zimmerman’s defence lawyer. Zimmerman did sustain some scratches and bruising to the back of his head and face. I would run with that. In my closing speech I would describe how Zimmerman followed Trayvon, as he was acting suspiciously. Trayvon realising that he was being followed, and his criminal activity about to be interrupted, attacks Zimmerman, knocking him to the ground, throwing punches, and slamming his head on the ground saying “you’re going to die tonight”. Zimmerman, fearing for his life, pulls out his gun and shoots Trayvon dead.

I also thought about how I would run the case if I were for the prosecution. Trayvon was on his way to his father’s house, having just bought a packet of skittles and a bottle of iced tea from a shop. He realises he’s being followed by a large man. This man has assumed that because Trayvon is black and wearing his hood up, that he is up to no good. Race is certainly a reason that Zimmerman reaches this conclusion, as he refers to Trayvon as a “f-ing coon”. Trayvon is on the phone to his girlfriend and tells her he is being followed. Zimmerman continues to follow Trayvon even though the 911 dispatcher tells him not to. Zimmerman, thinking that Trayvon is about to commit some crime, apprehends him, and that’s when Trayvon starts throwing punches. Zimmerman pulls out his gun and shoots Trayvon dead.

I did not follow the trial, so I do not know whether each side put their case quite that way. I noted that the prosecutor Angela Corey in her statement following the acquittal, made the following remarks:

This case has never been about race, nor has it ever been about the right to bear arms, not in the sense of prosecuting this as a criminal case. But Trayvon Martin was profiled, there’s no doubt he was profiled to be a criminal. This case was about boundaries and George Zimmerman exceeded those boundaries

I’m sorry what? This case has never been about race? Then why did Obama feel the need to state that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin? Ms Corey contradicts herself in her statement. What does being profiled mean, if it is detached from the word “racial”?

I also do not know what she means by saying it was a case about boundaries. I have no knowledge of US law, but can someone please explain whether a person can plead self defence, if they pursue somebody because they have racially profiled them, and then the person who is wrongly profiled and being followed, acts in self defence?

Zimmerman was instantly believed when he told the police he acted in self-defence. That means that, unless the answer to my question above is yes, the police would have instantly come to the conclusion that between Zimmerman, who was armed, and Trayvon who was unarmed, Trayvon was the aggressor. How could they come to that conclusion so quickly, without first carrying out an investigation?

In the UK, there is an important principal that justice must be done, but also, justice must be seen to be done. There is a possibility that the jury actually came to the correct verdict, and that justice has done. But this case has provoked so much outrage, because of the lack of due process involved, which results from assumptions that have been made, based on race. It should not be the case that if you’re a black man and you get shot, it’s automatically assumed that it’s somehow your fault.

Zimmerman profiled Trayvon because of the colour of his skin. The police did not investigate because Trayvon was a black boy. And reading some of the comments being left on various news websites, many members of the public have made many assumptions about Trayvon too. It emerged that Trayvon has been suspended from his school, because he had an empty “baggy” that had contained weed. “Trayvon was not squeaky clean.” “why do they keep showing a picture of him when he was younger. He now looks like this”:

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So what does that mean? That he deserved to die, because he smoked weed, and because he took a picture wearing grills over his teeth? If you follow that logic, then Miley Cyrus deserves to die. Check out her profile picture on her twitter account. But you wouldn’t assume that Miley was a thug would you? Why not? Because she’s not black.

For some reason it makes people very uncomfortable when you point out that someone has received different (adverse) treatment because they are black. I even read comments to the effect of, how could Zimmerman be racist – he’s Hispanic! Well a Hispanic friend of mine tells me she would be disowned by her grandma if she ever brought home a black guy, and I believe her. Of course it’s possible to be racist towards black people if you’re Hispanic! And it’s not just different treatment that is a problem. Making negative assumptions when you see the word black, or see black skin colour is so dangerous, and this case proves it.

As for due process in the trial process? I cannot even confidently say whether it was a fair trial or not. All the news reports carefully omit to mention what the racial make up of the jury was. Were they 6 white women? If so where was the representation? This is why it is too simplistic to say, as many have, that the jury have made their decision, therefore justice has been done.

I have posed the title of this post as a question. I want to open up a discussion. I am hoping that, as the matter is being looked into again, justice will truly be done, and be seen to be done.