One is a horrible tragedy; a young life cut short for no good reason. The other is a wildly popular film about a dystopian future in which young lives are cut short for no good reason.

Unfortunately, the similarities and connections don’t stop there.

As stated earlier, the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, shot dead by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch “officer,” is a tragedy. The actual facts of the case remain murky, with a lot of unanswered questions:

  • Was the shooting a matter of self-defense, as Zimmerman claims?
  • If so, was not Martin provoked by Zimmerman stalking him?

Indeed, it may have been Martin who was “standing his ground,” not Zimmerman. Based on the boy’s last conversation with his girlfriend, he seemed to be afraid of Zimmerman. Apparently, the mutual fear and suspicion exploded into a conflict and it cost Martin his life.

Sadly, we’ll never get Martin’s side of the story, and before the uproar started, the local authorities were all too willing to accept Zimmerman’s side of the story at face value.

The reason is that black people, especially young men, rarely get the benefit of the doubt.

We’re certainly conditioned enough from an early age in this way. Every day on every local newscast we see a parade of black and brown faces and the latest additions to their rap sheets. We overhear the latest thugged-out lyrics of popular rap music. We learn about the latest bad behavior of black athletes and celebrities.

And, unfortunately, sometimes that’s the ONLY vision of black people they get. The normal, non-criminal blacks they know then become the “exception” to the so-called “norm” they see on TV screens and magazine covers.

Cut to “Hunger Games.” [SPOILER ALERT] A well-beloved character named Rue dies about midway through the film. She’s sweet and utterly adorable and dark-skinned.

That last part, as noted in these articles in The New Yorker and Jezebel magazines, brought some fans of the original novels short who missed that part of her character description in said novel.

What brings me short is that for some of these young fans, Rue’s tragic death literally didn’t seem as tragic to them any more because she wasn’t the innocent white girl they’d pictured.

As though a young black girl couldn’t possibly be innocent and lovable. Their reaction to the character and her fate on screen shows a shocking lack of empathy for black people as people.

This is honestly the most discouraging revelation of how far we still have to go in race relations in this country. These aren’t hardened, older racists making the Tweets cited in the news stories. These are the young. The ones who don’t have any memory of Jim Crow or the institutionalized white supremacist attitudes that used to be commonplace in America.

Somehow, they’ve adopted those attitudes anyway.

My hope is that once the initial shock of Rue’s ethnicity wears off, some of these Hunger Games fans will adjust their preconceptions and bring a new awareness to their own lives and how they relate to black people. Then, maybe, fewer Trayvon Martins will be viewed with automatic suspicion and more real-life Rues will be cherished as the innocent young girls they are.

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Last night, I attended the world premiere of this very indie documentary with a most-provocative title: “Fear of a Black Republican.”

It’s evocative of the title of Public Enemy’s 1990 album “Fear of a Black Planet” (the first P.E. LP I ever bought, incidentally) and, like that song, it’s not afraid to point a finger at both halves of the problem.

Indeed, one of the marketing taglines is that it’s “the film neither party wants you to see.” Being a card-carrying political moderate and independent voter, I knew I had to see this.

——————–

Filmmaker Kevin L. Williams, white and a self-described RINO* (Republican In Name Only), turns his camera on the effectively one-party system of many urban (read: majority-black) municipalities. That system, his film argues, is largely ineffective for the urban constituency. After all, despite our (black people’s) overwhelming support for the Democrat Party, our communities continue to crumble.

But, as the white Williams uncovers in his filming and interviews, the Republican Party isn’t much help, either. Though they give lip service to the idea of increasing black participation in the GOP, the follow-through is sorely lacking.

Nowhere is this more starkly illustrated than in a sequence midway through the film during which a struggling grassroots black Republican manages to get a hallway plea with then-Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman for some party support for her campaign. No sooner is she done trading business cards with him than he is deluged by about a half-dozen more candidates who’ve also been looking for even this brief meeting.

Little appears to come of any of it.

Unlike Williams, I can’t say I was at all surprised to see how marginalized black Republicans appear to be both in their own ethnic communities and in the GOP. What really struck me, though, was how black Republicans merely reflected the increasing marginalization of black people as a whole.

See, we’ve been in such lock-step with the Democrats (and, before President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Republicans) that they feel they no longer have to court our vote at all beyond repeating the same few scare tactics of Republicans trying to “turn back the clock” on civil rights.

For their part, Republicans seem to think that, at best, courting our vote is an utter waste of time and resources. Early in the film, Williams tries to get 1,000 doorknob hangers from his local Republican office to ask for his urban neighbors’ vote for then-President Bush’s re-election. He’s handed far fewer.

Republicans refuse to even so much as ask for the black vote, confident that they can’t get it. They’re scared to even try. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Meanwhile, Democrats don’t have to ask for the black vote.

Both parties court the Latino vote, the Asian vote, the gay vote. We, alone, are the exception. We’re utterly taken for granted or given up on.

——————–

Williams’ film isn’t a perfect work, having been obviously completed well before Obama’s milestone election to the presidency. It could use some tighter editing to get the 111-minute running time down a more svelte 90 or so. But it’s a valuable conversation piece that, in showing that most marginalized and often despised political being, the black Republican, is emblematic of the marginalization of black people in general.

 

*[8/8/11 EDIT: Williams stresses that some conservatives would call him a “RINO” simply because he lives in a more moderate area of the country, not that he considers himself one. That’s an important distinction that I understood but failed to communicate.]

 

Trailer for “Fear Of A Black Republican”

Day 25-a song that cheers you up when you are feeling blue

From its first few whistled notes, this song can’t help but make me smile.

http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/x1xeko?width=320&theme=none
Shanice – I Love Your Smile by Hakunamatata67

“I Love Your Smile” by Shanice

However, this song also long represented — for me — something sick about race in America. Note that in the video, the singer is a medium-toned, unmistakably black woman. But in this album cover:

…she appears to be a shade lighter. Her hair is straighter. Even her nose seems smaller. Less African.

Whiter.

Looking back now, I’d like to say that this was more my own perception than reality. She really isn’t a full shade lighter on the album cover. This hairstyle is just more flattering than the one she’s rocking in the video. And her nose is just the same.

Sure, there was probably some early-version Photoshop airbrushing going on there, but that wasn’t new even then.

Unfortunately, my conspiracy theory gains credence in 1999.

Lighter still. Sigh.

I still love her “I Love Your Smile.” No matter how the marketing and image people try to airbrush away certain things.

Day 16-a song that reminds you of your significant other

I have no S.O., current or former, that I ever attached a song to. But I had my first stomach-churning crush in 6th grade, and this song really spoke to me…

But the “she” in the song was me, and the subject was a tall, white-skinned long-haired brunette named Susan. (Goodness. I still see her face now.) I was the new kid in school and one of probably less than 10 black kids there, but she always smiled and said hello to me.

Nothing ever developed between us — this was the early 1980s and interracial dating was still rather taboo. More to the point, I switched to a new school in mid-year, so that was that. But no…I’ve never forgotten Susan. Wonder where she is now…?

Day 08-a song from your prom or your senior year of high school

Funny how this subject follows on the heels of the story of my non-first-kiss. It’s a wonder that I even got a date for my senior prom at all!

Interestingly, I wasn’t at all shy about asking girls to prom. It’s probably because I asked my best friend first, so I wasn’t intimidated about it.

  • But…she already had a date.
  • Then I asked the cute sister I sat next to in that class I can’t recall. Some elective of some sort. She was taken, too.
  • Then my favorite blonde. But she was going to another school’s prom that week.
  • Then I asked my crush from art club. I think she was so shocked that she didn’t think I was serious. (Plus there was the whole black guy/white girl thing that was still a little bitty bit taboo back then. *I* didn’t care, but other people *did*.)

That pretty well exhausted my candidates. I had determined to go stag — ’cause I was GOIN’, dagnabit! — when someone suggested a gal I hadn’t seen in years because she’d moved to another school.

Ever had one of those moments that’s part lightbulb, part facepalm? This was one of those. Of COURSE I should’ve asked her! Should’ve asked her first!

I called her up and she was only too glad to go.

Anyhow, at the actual prom there was a moment when I was walking to get drinks when this song came on:

For some reason I felt like the coolest dude in the world at that moment. (It wouldn’t last.)

 

The whole story is here, but the short of it is this:

In an effort to get her daughters into a better public school, Akron, Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar claimed the girls lived at their father’s residence instead of the projects. Apparently, this is quite illegal in Akron, as the woman was jailed for 10 days, sentenced to 3 years of probation and, worst of all, could permanently lose her opportunity to realize her dreams of becoming a teacher herself due to this felony conviction.

I’m not really going to defend her actions or cry racism (yes, Ms. Williams-Bolar is black)…plenty of other people doing that for me. And while part of me wants to join in, the truth is that she still broke the law, and it’s not quite as light a matter as it looks at first glance.

This particular school system is set up so that it’s directly funded by the local tax base.  Consequently, the state’s position on the case is that Williams-Bolar effectively defrauded the system to get a better education for her kids.

I can see the state’s point. But I’m certainly not going to defend that point, either, because in this system the result is that poor districts are considerably less well-funded than wealthier ones. Added to the myriad of social issues faced by such schools, it’s hard to fault a parent for gaming the system.

There are a few lessons here to ponder:

  • Two “wrongs” still don’t make a “right.” Too often, people try to take ethical shortcuts to get what they want. Even if it’s a noble goal like getting your children better-educated, the ends don’t justify any amount of cheating to get it done. Just because “everyone does it” doesn’t make it right.
  • This goes double for black folks. Eventually, the system will reassert its authority. When an example is then made, it’s the poor and the minority who are likely to take the brunt of it. We need to walk in excellence and integrity so that we are beyond reproach.
  • School choice should be a given! Why should poor families be utterly locked by law into underperforming public schools? Why do teachers’ unions fight so tooth-and-nail against choice-based reforms? (And, even under the current system, why can’t a split-residence family like Williams-Bolar’s claim a preferred district? The taxes are still being paid by the students’ parents.)

The judge who sentenced Williams-Bolar is getting personally involved to try to ensure the mom won’t be barred from starting her teaching career, so maybe there’ll be an eventual happy ending to this bit of unjust justice.

The greatest American...?

This week, a few North Georgian school systems intended to make up one of last week’s snow days by holding classes on the national observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, sparking controversy. It’s emblematic of a cavalier, even resentful attitude toward this man who, in some minds, doesn’t rate the treatment.

They don’t understand that MLK Day is the most important national observance we have. Period.

It’s more important than Veterans’ Day.

It’s more important than Memorial Day.

It’s more important than even Independence Day.

No, I’m not backing off from this. I can defend it completely on any grounds you choose to argue from.

I can certainly hear the sputtering, outraged arguments against my statement, most of which boil down to this:

“Why, without the efforts of our veterans or the founding fathers, we wouldn’t have a NATION, much less a MLK Day!”

To that argument, I say a wholehearted “Amen.” Much blood was shed to establish this, the greatest country in the world, and to maintain its freedom.

But I add this cogent fact: Despite all that sacrifice and the great ideals of the founders that set America into motion, it was not until Dr. King that Americans truly became free and the ideals of this nation were actually begun to be realized.

To wit: America did not actually become the home of the free until sometime after the Bicentennial (1976). That’s about the time when not only were the last vestiges of Jim Crow finally swept away from American law, but people were finally allowed by society at large to interact with each other as equals…if they so chose.

More importantly, the first generation to have no memory of segregation were entering our formative years. And we indeed grew up to realize at least a large portion of Dr. King’s dream.

Most importantly, and the reason why I hold up MLK Day above all other patriotic holidays, is that it’s through his inspirational leadership that this change was effected without violence. I don’t think people realize how many lives were saved by his efforts.

You see, my parents’ generation was going to be the last generation to grow up under Jim Crow laws. Make no mistake: by the 1960s, even the most peace-loving of young black Americans were ready to die for their freedom. And I have to believe that our will and resolve in the resultant race war would’ve been far greater than that of the white majority.

Far greater. Blood would have run in the streets, and not nearly all of it ours.

I also have to believe that a protracted civil war against its own (second-class) citizens would have been absolutely disastrous for America and the world at large with the Cold War still in full swing. America would have lost that war and the entire world might be under Communist rule now and there simply wouldn’t be a free nation strong enough to protect its freedom.

So. The next time you think this is just a “black” holiday honoring one of “our” heroes, think again.

MLK saved America. Not only that, but he called her into her true greatness.

And I have to think that the founders are well pleased.

(Oh, and those N. GA schools? They closed on MLK Day anyway due to the persistent ice. I think God knows what He’s doing, too.)