Expert Voices

I Am Not Your Negro Challenges White Americans To Confront An Ugly Truth; Racism

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

James Baldwin spoke from the grave in this searing and poignant piece of storytelling of our American culture and shameful racist history.

This film is not merely an entertainment piece to add to our collection of artful imagery to fill our heads and occupy empty and bored pockets of the mind. No, this piece is to wake our collective conscience that is rooted in a basic understanding of humanity. The difference this time is that the “our” Baldwin and the creators of this powerful piece of historical and cultural storytelling is directly aimed at is white people; American white people to be exact.

I Am Not Your Negro is a soul shaking and profound message. It forces viewers, especially American whites, to face the ugly truth of race relations in our country. It forces them to address the largest elephant in the middle of the cultural room we call our United States. Keep in mind, there are other elephants to content with, like immigration, women’s rights, disability rights, LGBTQ rights and indigenous people’s rights; however, the biggest one—institutionalized racism—is threatening to release a level of aggression like musth across the country. The film’s aim seems to push white Americans, yet again, through more modern and powerful means, to face the truth of life in America for black people, or “Negros” as this film appoints as another searing and thought-provoking label of brown-skinned Americans.

One can’t deny the uncomfortable truth staring, screaming, whaling, hanging, running, begging, pleading, fighting, marching and confronting them…right in front of their eyes. Closing your eyelids, seeking refuge in indifference, won’t change this stark truth. Black people, since the beginning of our country, have suffered tremendously at the hands of white people. Thankfully, not all white people. There are examples in this film of whites entrenched in the struggle for racial justice and equality too. This truth can’t be separated from the black American struggle. Even so, time has yet to heal these wounds as this film so justly brings to the forefront of a national dialogue. The images on the big screen aren’t new. Most of us have seen them before; either in a class room, a movie theater, books, pictures and essentially through all forms of media and communication. Bob Dylan singing of the callous murder of Medgar Evers stings, and moves a compassionate soul to tears. It seems that each new generation requires a different and more impactful way of forcing much needed societal change. That’s what this film represents in many ways too.

I Am Not Your Negro is the incomplete work of the most dynamic, clear, passionate and unapologetic orator of our young culture and democracy; James Baldwin. Baldwin expresses himself in ways that are still stirring in our current society. If America is to sustain its good fortune—if one can call it that—of not having to experience what has been laid out in Baldwin’s other writings in The Fire Next Time, a populous movement coming to a bloody and tragic head, underway even before the days of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., which this powerful film draws upon, than the time for real change is upon us. Baldwin lays it at our feet. His words, and those of Samuel L. Jackson further tattoos it on our conscience, reminding us all of our responsibility and role in creating a new nation that honors its people, regardless of creed, color, or sex. What we do with this forewarning depends on each and every American that yearns for all that this country pretends to be. But first, we must face the ugly truth that despite the “perfect” images of American lives that has shaped our thinking and understanding of ourselves and fellow countrymen, the reality on the ground is completely detached from the true lives and experiences of black Americans.

Baldwin expresses this as clearly as any man can or could, especially when he states that the image of America we grown up with looks ideal in movies and pictures…for white people. Unfortunately, the portrayal of black Americans is not only false, but morally damaging and despicably demeaning to the people that helped built this country through the brutal practice of slave labor. He makes it expressively clear that black people are not the big lipped, lazy sub-human buffoons as consistently portrayed in the old footage shown as a historical reference in I Am Not Your Negro.

This film diverts our attention back to the reality on the ground. And just when you think that the racial narrative of our country placed in front of us in this powerful film is unrepresentative of our current state of being, you’re hit with images of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Philando Castille, Terence Crutcher… the list goes on and on, just like the struggle for equality and basic human rights for all Americans… not just for those who have benefited from oppression, slavery and brutality, to maintain a grasp on the heavy crown called power. Undoubtedly, as it comes across in this film, power equates to might but real power embraces the responsibility of humanity.

America, throughout its short history, has failed to reconcile its racist past adequately enough to settle these burning issues that keep us bound in a discombobulated ball of spaghetti. It’s not a coincidence that the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture only came to fruition in September of 2016. That was 6-months ago… after years of black civil rights leaders and other activists working to persuade mostly white politicians that it’s the right thing to do. There are numerous examples of unjust treatment of blacks, and stark examples of our evolving police state in this film that has primarily impacted black people in America. For this to change, America must change. Specifically white Americans, according to Baldwin and many others like him who have paid the ultimate price pushing for this change to occur.

Throughout the film, this sentiment is expressed eloquently by Baldwin in this uncomfortable but crucial piece of cultural and racial perspective. Baldwin, from the grave, is targeting our collective conscience as Americans. “We’re in this together,” he seems to shout from an impenetrable divide. America is not a white country. America is a multicultural phenomenon brought about by all who built, fought for and shaped her. Black Americans have an equal stake and root in this land and its identity. If white Americans—especially those in powerful positions to shape and govern us as one nation—accept this unyielding truth, we will come together as one people. In our relatively short history, this has yet to happen, making I Am Not Your Negro a reflective piece of art that imitates our real lives. This film is a must see. But, prepare to be confronted with an uncomfortable truth.

 

Is “Trump” The New Synonym For The N-Word?

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

Last week, I stopped at one of my favorite upscale resale shops in Clinton, NY. Dawn Marie’s Treasure’s on Park Row is packed with old, new and eclectic things.  I’ve spent hundreds of dollars there since calling the area home in 2008. During this time I thought I had developed some rapport with the owner and her husband. For example, when we see each other we say hello, and engage in small talk. During the holiday season, I have even brought other family members to the small store to shop.

Unfortunately, my stop-in at Dawn Marie’s Treasure’s didn’t go as expected this time. Her husband was at the register instead of Dawn. I said hello and told him I would be browsing in the back. He was busy talking to two other ladies at the register but greeted me and said, OK. As I’m browsing through the winter coats, and following the departure of the ladies, the owner’s husband walked towards me and started to engage me in conversation. He immediately started asking me about my work. I answered politely but was stand-offish because I wasn’t comfortable with his line of questioning. Not satisfied with my answers, he started asking me about my previous position as a journalist and radio talk show host. A position I had 4-years ago. Still feeling uncomfortable with his line of questioning, his tone and demeanor, I politely changed the subject by asking him how he was doing in his life. He apologized for being controversial in his prying and excused himself when the phone rang. Saved by the Bell! I thought, and kept looking through the winter coats.

As I’m shaking my head internally at the ill-mannered audacity of this man, I naturally made my way towards the other clothing rack in the back. This move to the back rack clearly caused some issue for the man who I then hear say in a rushed tone: “I have to go!” to the person on the other end of the phone call he left me to answer. I immediately thought that it was probably because I was no longer in his view. He couldn’t keep his eye on me anymore when I moved from the coat rack to the rack with blazers. My perception was formed by how quickly he got off the phone when I moved, and his tone in delivering, “I have to go!”

After all my visits to the little shop on Park Row, I was hit with a dose of reality… I am perceived as a villain simply because my skin is brown. It didn’t matter that I had become familiar with the shop owners, spent hundreds of dollars at their store, or recommended their shop to friends and family. It was blatant, painful and thought-provoking. I wasn’t just any shopper. I was a black shopper. Trying to remain dignified in this harsh reality and discovery, I maintained my composure, picked out a few items and made my way towards this man who, after getting off the phone, made sure he had both eyeballs on me the entire time I was in the back of the store.

At the register, he started asking me more of his line of controversial and personal questions. By this time, two other people walked in. I took notice that he didn’t seem concerned about their unsupervised presence in the store. They were white. And besides, he had his villain right in front of him. It was me.  As he’s checking me out he started asking me about my previous job again. He was making a face like he was trying to remember some juicy tale about my personal life but couldn’t put his finger on it. I just kept giving him a look that I hoped would ward him off, but he kept attacking me with his prying. I asked him why he was peppering me with his questions and he laughed it off as if it was all just a big joke. He then started asking me about my son. He said, “How’s your son? You have a son, right? Didn’t he have some problems?” All of these questions were delivered back to back, in front of the other two customers. They were judgments disguised as questions about me, the villain, the black shopper.

I kept looking at him with dumb-founded amazement. When he stopped to take a breath after his line of questioning, I asked him if he knew my name. He didn’t. I then told him for someone who doesn’t even know my name you certainly seem to think you know a lot about me and my son. He apologized, laughed and said: “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m being so negative. It’s just that I thought you were some kind of disgruntled person and that your son had some problems or something.”

The dismayed look that had developed on my face didn’t go unnoticed, I hoped. However, I backed it up with words that I hoped would teach him something about customer service, and the art of decency. Basically, I told him that I didn’t appreciate his line of questioning and that I take offense to his treatment of me. He gave me an insincere apology, as if I had no right to be offended. I took my items and left. I almost didn’t want to spend that $71 in the store anymore but didn’t want to make a scene, as our exchange was uncomfortable enough.

Days later, I couldn’t get the experience out of my mind. I felt so strongly about what happened to me that I felt compelled to bring it up to his wife, Dawn. I thought if I explain to Dawn—the shopkeeper I normally deal with—how her husband made me feel during my last visit, perhaps she’ll talk to him and advice him not to bombard customers with personal and inappropriate questions.

Today, I went back to the shop while I was running another errand in the same shopping strip, Park Row. I politely waited until she finished speaking with two customers, greeted her and asked if her husband told her that I was in the store last week. I purposely kept my voice low because I didn’t want to embarrass her but felt strongly that she should know about my experience. She answered, no and proceeded to listen to me. After telling her that I was very uncomfortable with the exchange she became defensive. She told me her husband was the nicest person on the planet and if he made me uncomfortable it was not meant to be so. I just took it the wrong way. …It was clear that she didn’t care about me. I was the enemy to her too. She made that clear by being condescending, dismissive and excusing her husband’s treatment of me.

I then told her in a very calm voice that I would no longer shop at her store. I made the decision on the spot because of how she handled my genuine concern about the experience with her husband. She then got angry and yelled out: “I don’t care! Get out or I’ll call the cops!”  I told her I’m happy to leave her store and will never return. She then started shouting: “Trump! Trump! Trump!” That’s why we voted for Trump! Get Out!”

I turned around, still calmly, and took off my sunglasses, which I had put on as I made my way toward the exit. I told her that I was actually wearing Ivanka Trump sunglasses and that I didn’t care that she voted for Trump. I threw a rhetorical jab back at her by asking her what she thought her vote for Trump really meant?!  …She simply kept yelling “Trump! Trump! Trump!” at me as I made my way out of her shop.

I wondered if she had forgotten about the two customers in her store. I wondered what she thought about me over all these years. I wondered if she ever valued me as one of her regular customers. A lot went through my mind… And then I eased into the comforting feeling that her behavior only speaks of who they are. Not me.

Only a bigoted, racist human-being—in my view—would use Trump as a synonym for the N-word. To describe that moment as shocking would be an understatement. Dawn Marie was yelling Trump at me…because I’m black. There is no other logical explanation for it.

On my drive home the only question lingering in my mind like a bitter after-taste was; Did the word “Trump” replace the N-word?

 

Trump Pushes Political Detritus Into Full Bloom

 

BY COLIN HUBBELL

 

Donald Trump’s candidacy can be summed up as the best reality television performance in American history…were someone keeping track of this type of thing. Unfortunately, the only people that will gain much from his real or staged downfall are those in the Clinton campaign, and anyone else connected to the modern spoils system following her inauguration. “Corporate America” will likely be the largest benefactor of the next Clinton Presidency.
Whether another President Clinton and the efforts to elevate Trump’s exposure were contrived by the DNC, or corporate sponsors and their media outlets matters little—that is what happened. The impact of Trump’s outrageous antics and bullying on undecided voters, and many Republicans, cannot be discounted. The public is now so uncomfortable with the prospects of his crude behavior in the Oval Office that they have largely forgotten about the litany of flaws with Clinton, or the history of lewd behavior from her husband. Frankly, a Manchurian candidate, or covert operative could not have done better at creating empathy for Mrs. Clinton through this phenomena of psychological political polarization; empathy for someone that showed marginal leadership in the Senate (as evidenced by her vote for the Iraq War), or accountability while Secretary of State—each position showcasing a glaring gap in foreign policy acumen. And, from her campaign contributions—or if you can even begin to imagine how money might flow through her foundation—it is clear she lacks much independence from corporate influence.
Not only has Trump made palatable a candidate that has never showed much beyond a lust for power, he has almost pushed the modern GOP toward a breaking point—the type of political party paradigm shift that occurred just a few times in American history. The fracture is deep within the GOP, and establishment Republicans are grappling with a renewed inability to relate to their base. Trump lowered “the bar” of political correctness, and debased political dialog to the point that he completely cast “the bar” off. How else could he have taken the nomination by storm from a field of seasoned politicians? But, this is an opponent that the DNC and Clinton campaign were eager to face. This is what the media sought for their ratings, because Trump is precisely what many Americans wanted injected into the boring old political process: entertainment.
What will follow from this election is a fallout to uncharted depths. If the House of Representatives does not flip, buckle up for four years of grossly contentious partisanship that will make Bill Clinton’s tenure seem tame. With witch hunts reminiscent of Salem, and weekly political stunts begging for media coverage, even more Americans will become disgusted by the lack of progress and process; an ugly tone permeating the nation will turn off more people every step of the way. For Hillary Clinton—with so much real and imagined baggage—the fuel for obstructionist tactics will be almost infinite in a Republican held Congress. But, Hillary Clinton is an ambitious cog in a system that promotes corporate representation posing as governance for the citizenry. She is no more corrupt or self-serving than many politicians—just more talented in many respects, and that is what is rewarded.
As always, the loser in our reductionist, dualistic system is progress. In 2016 America has been played by a willing DNC, and an incompetent, unprepared RNC. We have been forced into accepting a president that will largely maintain the status quo. This is what happens in a system where the population is pushed into partisan corners and divided by a nominating process dictated by fringes. Instead of finding common ground, we stomach continued fighting over wedge issues, even though most know something is amiss, and that this is not the 21st century we imagined. The American dream is most certainly not one where we work hard to subsidize a corporate governance that profits from global instability while outsourcing our economy and maintaining entrenched power. With four more years of lacking cohesion and leadership it will be a wonder if anyone has the energy left to dream of progress in 2020.