Category Archives: history

“The Help”: Is it just me or…

…are black people not feeling this movie trailer?  I’ve witnessed a very conflicted reaction to the trailer of the new movie “The Help” recently, in a movie theater that was filled with black folk.  Conflicted is the best way I can describe the mix of disgust and curiosity.  Am I surprised? No. It’s 2011, but the subject matter and images still sting.  Nothing like a dark-skinned black woman serving white folks in a maids uniform…in a period movie…set in the deep south.  Sigh.  Especially when it centers around a classic white savior character.  Since it takes place during the Civil Rights era, I think the author could have done a better job of developing the black lead character.  However, would Hollywood even make such a movie if it didn’t have a white lead?  I don’t know.

Unlike a lot of people I know, I read the book last year.  I can see how the movie trailer is off-putting without the book as reference.  I had some problems with the book, but overall I thought it was a decent read given the full context of who wrote it and the back story presented.  At times, reading it was heart wrenching for me as a black woman whose family is from Mississippi (mom’s side) and who’s great-grandmother was a maid for several white families.  Parts of the story were plain old scary, as racism sometimes is.

I don’t know for sure how this movie is going to be received by the black community.  I think Michele Wallace’s recent review in Essence is dead on (if they post it to the site, I’ll link to it).  In my opinion, this is not going to be a celebrated movie (like “The Color Purple”), but I’m glad that great actresses like Viola Davis and Cicely Tyson are taking on the roles in this film so that they are played with dignity.

One more point that doesn’t help: A Maid Sees Herself in a Novel, and Objects – Yep, a black maid, named Ablene, that worked for Kathryn Stockett’s older brother is suing her.  Dag! At least name the main black character in your book something other than your brother’s REAL, black maid’s name.  Come on!  To add insult, the woman says that part of the storyline was taken from her life.

NY Times | “Ablene Cooper, a 60-year-old woman who has long worked as a maid here, has filed a lawsuit against Kathryn Stockett, the author of the best-selling novel “The Help,” about black maids working for white families in Jackson in the 1960s.

In the complaint, Ms. Cooper argues that one of the book’s principal characters, Aibileen Clark, is an unpermitted appropriation of her name and image, which she finds emotionally distressing.

It is more complicated than that. For the past dozen years, Ms. Cooper has worked for Ms. Stockett’s older brother, Robert, and sister-in-law, Carroll, and still does.

“Ain’t too many Ablenes,” Ms. Cooper said at a law office after a day’s work at the Stocketts, for whom she has helped raise two children. Ms. Cooper also said that she had their support in her legal quest.

“What she did, they said it was wrong,” Ms. Cooper said of the Stocketts, members of a prominent Jackson family. “They came to me and said, ‘Ms. Aibee, we love you, we support you,’ and they told me to do what I got to do.””

Quote from Viola Davis in the August issue of Essence magazine:

”Of course I had trepidations. Why do I have to play the mammy? But what do you do as an actor if one of the most multifaceted and rich roles you’ve ever been given is a maid in 1962 Mississippi? Do you not take the role because you feel like in some ways it’s not a good message to send to Black people? No. The message is the quality of the work. That is the greater message… As Black women, we’re always given these seemingly devastating experiences – experiences that could absolutely break us. But what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly. What we do as Black women is take the worst situations and create from that point.”

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Is it just me or does this “Do away with the 14th Amendment” jazz make you antsy?

On the news last night I noticed a lot of commentators and pundits were discussing the 14th amendment all willy nilly.  Um…was anyone else uncomfortable with the dialogue.  I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and hear that I’m not a citizen.  Don’t follow me…

Background: Anderson Cooper’s show offers the rundown of what’s being tossed about in the halls of Capitol Hill.

Republicans such as Sens. Lindsey Graham, John Kyl and John Cornyn are tripping over themselves to jump on the latest “Dumb Way to Solve the Illegal Immigration Problem” bus by suggesting Congress examine repealing the 14th Amendment, which deals with one way of becoming a U.S. citizen.

The far right has latched onto the idea that the provision in question – which grants citizenship to children born in the U.S. – is being abused by illegal immigrants who choose to come to America to have their children, thus worsening the illegal immigration problem.

Some are even trying to suggest that how it is being used today is counter to the original intent of the Founding Fathers.

Of course, the 14th Amendment was not in the first U.S. Constitution as drawn up by our framers. It was adopted on July 9, 1868, to prevent Southern states from denying citizenship to former slaves and their children, since they didn’t choose to come to America. They were brought here for the purpose of the vicious and dehumanizing free-labor plan that helped build the nation – slavery.

There were no immigration laws as we know them in 1868 so this is just crazy talk.

The problem is enforcement of the existing laws.  The 14th amendment can’t change anything that the government is not going to enforce.  The problem in my opinion is that we have neglected our own immigration laws and the enforcement of them for so long that now the elephant in the room is that there are millions of people who would have to be rounded up for the law to really be followed to the letter.  Many of these people have children who are by law American citizens.  Combine this with the fact that we’ve allowed whole industries to benefit from the labor of persons who are in this country illegally.  If all of the “illegal” aliens were forced to leave, the impact would be felt on various levels of our society.

In addition, NO ONE is going to take away the 14th.  One good reason?  All the Italian, German, Russian, and other european immigrants who came to these shores.  You see, no one is going to want to have to prove that their great, great grandma from England or Cicely became a citizen naturally.  Remember people, we are a nation of foreigners.  The only people who’ve “been” here are the Native Americans.

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Grand Isle and the Oil Spill: Karma is a Bitch

They say that what you do unto others will be done unto you.  Now, trust me…I have compassion for the people currently effected by the oil spill.  People are losing their livelihoods and some have lost their lives.  However, I just have to say that I just see an irony in this mess.  A very, very sad irony.  Jefferson Parish officials refused to help people suffering during Katrina and now, parts of the parish are in need.

“And despite constant warnings from Jefferson Parish officials about oil approaching Grand Isle late last week, the boats needed to stop it weren’t around when they were needed. As a result, oil washed up on beaches and authorities in Jefferson “commandeered” shrimp boats from BP in order to get booms out to the passes near the island.” source

One of the most compelling during the Katrina disaster came from two white paramedics from San Francisco who were among those trapped in the city after the hurricane.  They were turned away on a bridge by Jefferson Parish police:

“”The police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge to the south side of the Mississippi, where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the city…We organized ourselves, and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched past the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group, and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few belongings, and quickly, our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, as did people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and other people in wheelchairs. We marched the two to three miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the bridge…

As we approached the bridge, armed sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and the commander’s assurances. The sheriffs informed us that there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move. We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the six-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans, and there would be no Superdomes in their city…All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away—some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the city on foot. (Bradshaw and Slonsky 2005)”

When questioned about these incidents later, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff confirmed that his office closed the bridge, explaining that his Parish did not have the resources to care for thousands of needy people.” source

Other Accounts:
Evacuees Were Turned Away at Gretna, La. : NPR

Jefferson Parish Sheriff
asks to be taken off of lawsuit | – NOLA.com

I wonder what the citizens of Jefferson Parish thought about the events on that bridge back then?  I wonder what they think about the responsiblity of all of us to care for the needy now?

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NAACP: Don’t Just Criticize, Become a Member and Effect Change from Within

I just have to give my 2 cents on the Wells Fargo, NAACP, and Boyce Watkins drama.  I’ve listened to all the points given.  I think there are a lot of valid points on both sides.  However, the thing that stands out to me is that the NAACP as an organization is not the same organization that I read about in the history books.  It’s not the NAACP of the time of W.E.B Dubois or in the 60s with King.  This is a different time.  A time that calls for different tactics and is full of different concerns.  The very fact that such an institution is now being challenged from within the black community is interesting.  The NAACP is a holy grail organization historically.  What this whole conflict has make me consider is the future of the organization and how African Americans can best influence it.

The best way for people to influence and ensure its future…JOIN.  For just $30 you can join and actually help this historic organization.  Money talks. If you really care, pay your dues and get involved with the actual governance of the organization.  Sure, you can affect it from outside, but if you really cherish what the NAACP has meant to the African American community, wouldn’t you want to see it refashioned for future survival?  If you have answers and know what direction the organization should do in, why not share them?

Sponsorship means money.  Perhaps if there was an infusion of new member revenue, the amount of sponsorship revenue needed for the conference would have been reduced.  Perhaps they could afford to be more choosy when selecting sponsors in that case.

Just my 2 cents.

Background: Recently the NAACP came under fire by bloggers for having Wells Fargo as a leading sponsor for its annual convention this July. Dr. Boyce Watkins wrote an op-ed for theGrio questioning why the NAACP would partner with Wells Fargo – a company accused of predatory lending practices — so recently after the civil rights organization dropped its lawsuit with the bank. Click here for the response to Dr. Watkins’ inquiry from NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous.

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Was Your African American Studies Class Ethnically Chauvinistic?

By now most of you have heard about the new bill that Arizona is taking heat for that bans some ethnic studies courses.

Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, already under fire for approving the nation’s toughest illegal immigration law, has again run afoul of liberal activists, signing a bill Wednesday that targets ethnic studies programs in schools that critics say unfairly demean white Americans.

The law, which takes effect Dec. 31, would prohibit courses that promote resentment toward one race; that are designed for students of one race; that promote ethnic solidarity “instead of treating students as individuals;” and that encourage “the overthrow of the United States government.”

The proposal was the brainchild of Tom Horne, Arizona state superintendent of public instruction, who has long battled with the Tucson Unified School District over its Mexican-American studies program, contending that it promotes “ethnic chauvinism” through the use of textbooks such as “Oppressed America” and at least one guest speaker who said, “Republicans hate Latinos.” – source

As a HBCU grad who loved all of the African American studies classes I had, I was disturbed by the language in this bill.  The measure prohibits classes that advocate ethnic solidarity or that promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group.  I feel that legally, some of the points in the law would be very hard to define.  CNN did a great job of bringing this out.

What do you think?  Would your African American studies class be banned under this bill?  What is wrong with ethnic solidarity?  Couldn’t one argue that American history as it is traditionally taught could easily promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group (ie. “Cowboys and Indians”)?

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Happy Easter: Martin Luther King’s Last Sermon

Today, many will celebrate Easter Sunday.  They may not realize that today, April 4, 2010, marks the 42nd anniversary of the assassination of Civil Rights Leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He spoke these words on April 3rd, 1968.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

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A Day in DC, Part 1: Michelle’s Jimmy Choos and Black Indians

What a day I’ve had!  I learned about African Native American history.  I saw First Lady Michelle Obama’s Jimmy Choos on display.  I took pictures and video of the Tea Party protest of Health Care Reform on the steps of the capital and was told about the 2nd Revolution on the way.  I witnessed a very moving anti-war demonstration near the Washington Monument.  And…I found out that the protesters are really bold and don’t like the fact that you can’t take protest signs into the Smithsonian buildings [duh!!].  I wasn’t there when the Tea Party crowd was shouting “nigger” at Rep. John Lewis by the way. I’m going to have to break this post into a few parts.

It all began as a usual day just hanging out on the National Mall.  I was very excited to visit the The National Museum of the American Indian for the “IndiVisible” exhibit.

Within the fabric of American identity is woven a story that has long been invisible—the lives and experiences of people who share African American and Native American ancestry. African and Native peoples came together in the Americas. Over centuries, African Americans and Native Americans created shared histories, communities, families, and ways of life. Prejudice, laws, and twists of history have often divided them from others, yet African-Native American people were united in the struggle against slavery and dispossession, and then for self-determination and freedom. For African-Native Americans, their double heritage is truly indivisible.

It is a beautiful exhibit and I’m so glad I got to see it. If you’re in DC, check it out.  Before we got to NMAI, I went over to the American History Museum to see Michelle Obama’s Inauguration Ball dress.  Lovely!  Here are the photos I took:

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Once Upon a Time, You Were Not White

Once upon a time in America; Italians, Jews, and Irish people were not considered White.  Yes, it’s surprising.  Some people who are classified as White may not consider themselves Caucasian.  Many people consider the concept of race to be an illusion, a construct to be defined and re-defined.  For example, you may consider yourself white until you find out that your great-great-grandfather was a Louisiana born Black Creole who passed for white in the north.

Last night I saw author  and Princeton professor Nell Irvin Painter was on “The Colbert Report” discussing her new book  “The History of White People” [Read some of it for free on Google Books].  She talked about how race is not permanent, how definitions of race are affected by education, class and sex, and the history of the definition of whiteness.  The interview was a lot of fun, but I [like Colbert] had no idea what the book was really about at the end of the segment.  Her interview with NPR provides A LOT more information.

Painter is the author of Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol (1996) and several other scholarly works on the history of slavery and race relations in America, most recently Creating Black Americans (2006). Her latest selection examines the history of “whiteness” as a racial category and rhetorical weapon: who is considered to be “white,” who is not, what such distinctions mean, and how notions of whiteness have morphed over time in response to shifting demographics, aesthetic tastes, and political exigencies. After a brief look at how the ancients conceptualized the differences between European peoples, Painter focuses primarily on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There, the artistic idealization of beautiful white slaves from the Caucasus combined with German Romantic racial theories and lots of spurious science to construct an ideology of white superiority which, picked up by Ralph Waldo Emerson and other race-obsessed American intellectuals, quickly became an essential component of the nation’s uniquely racialized discourse about who could be considered an American. Presenting vivid psychological portraits of Emerson and dozens of other figures variously famous and obscure, and carefully mapping the links between them, Painter’s narrative succeeds as an engaging and sophisticated intellectual history, as well as an eloquent reminder of the fluidity (and perhaps futility) of racial categories. –Brendan Driscol, Booklist

Video – ColbertNation.com

Here is part of an awesome documentary that aired some years ago on PBS that deals in detail with the evolution of race

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The Black and the Irish: My 4 leaf clover is covered in bling

LOL. Moving on…

In honor of St. Patricks day, I looked into the connections between the Black and the Irish.  Here is some interesting info I’ve found.

  • A white buddy of mine had this to say about St. Patricks day:  “The history of Africans and Irish goes back much further than most people think. When the Roman Empire fell, Irish Christians preserved the last bit of Christianity in Western Europe for centuries. Irish monks actually kept in contact with Egyptian monks (by way of voyages on the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar and the North Atlantic). It is thought that the Celtic Cross was derived from the Egyptian ankh. “These would be the Egyptians of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
  • TangledRoots @ Yale.edu: Tangled Roots is a research project about the shared history of African Americans and Irish Americans.  They share some very interesting information about Africans and Irish in Barbados.
  • During the 1600′s, African slaves and Irish natives shared a common fate on the island of Barbados. Slaves first arrived on the island in the 1620′s with the first white settlers and continued to be brought there as the need for labor created a new market for the international slave trade. By 1645, the black population on the island was 5680, and by 1667, there were over 40,000 slaves on the island. In the early years of the colony’s growth, Barbados also became a destination for military prisoners and Irish natives. Oliver Cromwell “barbadosed” Irish who refused to clear off their land and allowed other Irish to be kidnaped from the streets of Ireland and transported to Barbados. Those who were barbadosed were sold as slaves or indentured servants, to British planters. They lived in slave conditions and had no control over the number of years they had to serve. The number of Barbadosed Irish in not known and estimates very widely, from a high of 60,000 to a low of 12,000.
  • The Healy Family : A question of Racial Identity
    An Irish immigrant and a mixed-race domestic slave raised children who became priests, including the fist African-American Bishop in the United States, a President of Georgetown University, a religious sister and a Coast Guard officer. These site documents the family history and consider the question of their racial identity.  Prologue: Racial Identity and the Case of Capt. Michael Healy

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Are Ultra Conservatives in Texas Deciding What History is in Your Child’s Textbooks?

In a 10-5 party line vote last week, the BoE rammed through a vast number of changes to the Texas state history standards, all of which conform to the über-far-right’s twisted view of reality. In these new standards, Hispanics are ignored, Black Panthers are added to provide balance to the kids learning about Martin Luther King, Jr., and get this, Thomas Jefferson was removed*. discovermagazine.com

If you’re a parent, you should be aware that a movement is going on that is dedicated to changing your child’s textbooks.  Most parents trust that their local school districts are buying books that accurately represent american history and social studies in a way that is not significantly biased by any view, let alone ultra-conservative or ultra-liberial.  Well, that may not be the case.  You might be very concerned if you look through your child’s history books.  I would encourage you to take a look at this news and then find out if your child’s textbooks have been affected.  Watch this Video from CNN for details.

Articles:

From AC360 - In Texas today, the state’s board of education approved a new social studies curriculum that conservatives say is meant to correct for a liberal bias among the teachers who initially drafted the standards. The vote came after days of charged debate.

Out: Calling the U.S. government “Democratic”.  In: Calling it a “Constitutional Republic.” Also out: too much talk about Thomas Jefferson and the enlightenment, which stressed reasoning and science over blind faith. Also In: More recognition of the contributions of religious leaders, like Moses.

All of this matters, because with almost five million students in Texas, the state buys a lot of textbooks that could determine what publishers put out for America’s other school children. Though, in this digital age,  that is not as big of a concern as in past years.

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