Black White Man

My mother is black, and my father is white. I walk among you.

Archive for the ‘Movies TV & Books’


James “Rhodey” Rhodes, War Machine, as the “best” (aka worst) example of a Black superhero

I’m not just a Black White Man. I’m also a father, a web designer, and a big comic book nerd. Of course, that gives me a keen interest in family blogs, geek parenting, online comics, and every other combination of my interests — including the portrayal of people of color in comic books. I came across this interesting article about Iron Man’s sidekick, James “Rhodey” Rhodes, aka War Machine. At first I had the wrong impression of the article, since it calls Rhodey the “ideal” Black superhero. I thought it meant that he was the best possible Black superhero. But, it was actually correctly using the term to mean the best example of a Black Superhero — in other words, Rhodes has all the qualities that we consider to be typical of the Black superhero. In fact, I think the article is fairly scathing of Rhodes, and I would agree, that’s he basically a side-kick, and an “angry Black” outsider type. The comments further the analysis by arguing persuasively that Storm is the best written Black character in comics, and therefore the worst example of the type. Good article all around, both for comics literary analysis, and for an analysis of Blacks in the media.

An interesting take on ‘objectification’

David Schraub over at Carleton college has written a very interesting paper exploring the concepts of ‘subjectivity’ and ‘objectivity’ as it related to race in America, and in particular the Black relationship to the White majority.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1032263

He basically argues that while the history of America is one of exploitation of Black people, which he categorizes as ‘objectification’, the current problem presented to us is that mainstream America doesn’t objectify the Black community enough — that is to say that mainstream America doesn’t appreciate the usefulness of the Black community, the amount to which we can contribute.

My years working in market research certainly find this to be true.  Outside of movie-related or military research, I saw very little interest in what Black people had to think.   This was mainly because of income; so I might argue that America is equally un-interested in what poor white people have to say.    But I think that the point is a good one.   Like Henry Ford did for the industrial era, I think we need people at the helm who understand how everyone can benefit by allowing poor and disadvantaged people to participate more fully in the economy.    Charity and big-heartedness are good things as far as they go; but ultimately a truly colorblind and fair society will create equality in the workforce, not just in the extension of non-profit and government work.   And the workforce has to be built on mutual objectification — the employee is good for the company, and the company takes care of the employee.

Comic strips: the same old struggle on a new page

Funny Business on the Funny Pages

As some of you who read this blog know, I’m a huge fan of the Boondocks, both the original comic strip, and the current cartoon.    So, I read this link about “Black” cartoonists with great interest.

Lying within this post about the representation of Black artists and subjects in a traditionally white media is a broader and more important principle — that Black artists writing about Black subjects need not be typified as “Black” art.    As much as I have mixed feelings about the Cosby show, it’s the perfect example of what I’m talking about: that a Black family can tell stories that appeal to everyone.   The idea that ‘hyphenated Americans’ can’t appeal to the ‘mainstream’ belies the seriously disturbing assumption that the definition of mainstream America includes being white!   If you can get around that for a minute, then you can see that a cartoon like “Curtis” is really not much different than “Dennis the Menace”.   Neither of them are particularly funny, but that has nothing to do with race.   And I would hope that the people who find the one funny would also find the other funny…

What kind of a card is race?

During the whole tear that I took a few weeks ago on the concepts of “real racism” and the “race card,” there was one link that I was thinking of and trying to find and trying to remember, so I could quote it.    Well, better late than never I suppose, but I finally found it, here:

http://www.critcrim.org/node/159

I think that my overall emphasis in that thread (beyond rambling) was that a lot of America is locked into an endless cycle of, “there’s racism” “no there isn’t” “yes there is” “no there isn’t”, and that the best way to deal with a situation like that is to take a step back and try to show your work by bringing up real statistics (not just anecdotes).    I think that Randall does an excellent job of citing some of the relevant statistics that there’s a real situation going on here.

My favorite line, and the one that I was trying to remember:

This is the conclusion of Tim Wise in an article called “What Kind of Card is Race?” (To view this, go to his web site: www.timwise.org). The reality, he says, is that the race card is “not much of a card to play,” sort of like playing the two of diamonds.

That’s rhetorical gold.   For now when someone mentions “the race card” I am going to point out that the race card is not much of a card to play, sort of like the two of diamonds.

“The Race Card” vs. “Real Racism,” part two: starting at the beginning, a book called “The Race Card”

A couple of days ago, I was watching the Colbert Report and saw an interview with the author of a book called The Race Card, about how ‘race scandals’ are actually hurting civil rights in this country.  Something sat poorly with me about that argument, and I wasn’t really able to distinguish it until a couple of days ago.  Now, let me clear at the beginning before I really get into it, that I haven’t yet read Mr. Ford’s book.    I am basing most of my argument on the interview I saw with him, a couple of reviews I’ve read since then (mostly from lawyers), and the title + blurb.    I do think that a discussion about the marketing of the idea is useful however, and to that extent I think it’s fair for me to blog a bit about my impression of the book.    It may be that my impression is far off base, but I would then say that the marketing collateral around the book was off base.   I value the concept of the pre-review, but I want to be as fair as possible to Mr. Ford in being clear that that’s what this is.

Toward that end, I think that the book has an unfortunate title.   I think I’ve blogged about this previously, but I believe that the race card is a myth.    The title of the book seems to indicate that minorities ‘playing the race card’ hurt the struggle for equality by obscuring the real issues.   I would agree if Mr. Ford said that “sometimes race scandals only create straw men which can later be used against us”; but invoking the concept of a “race card,” to me, insinuates blaming the victim.    I don’t think that there’s an enormous problem with minorities getting advantage by decrying racism.   In my life I’ve never known it to happen, and if it does happen to some small extent, it must be overwhelmed by complaints against real racism being largely ignored, which myself have seen over and over again.

Yesterday I spoke briefly about how the concept of “real racism” diminishes certain crimes, and the concept of the “race card” minimizes the victims of those crimes.   Well, I think that the real problem with this book (or at least, the thesis as I understand it), is that by positing that people who “play the race” are in fact creating harmful background noise which minimizes efforts to combat “real racism,” what the author ends up doing is conflating both concepts into one and blaming the victim not only for the crime that victimized them… but for other crimes as well.

Needless to say that I’m going to have to read this book.   And I will, once I get a little more money.   I tried to resist commenting on the fact that Mr. Ford is a Black man, but I do have to point out the irony that Amazon is offering a discount if you order both his book and a book entitled “Sell Out”.

Classic Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase: “Word Association”

I love Richard Pryor for doing this kind of edgy, relevant comedy; and I love the 70s and early 80s SNL for letting him (and Eddie Murphy) do stuff like this. Of course, Chevy Chase is no slouch either.

What really strikes me about this piece, and the reason I think it transcends merely “funny” and actually makes a good point, is that Pryor runs out of words before Chase does. The number of derogatory words that are specific to women versus specific to men is something I’ve talked a lot about with my wife, and I think it’s true of almost every oppressed group. There are only so many racial slurs for rich white folk, and even the ones that are there aren’t that bad. But if you want to lay into a brother or a sister, you’ve got a whole arsenal at your disposal, don’t ya?

Bruce Leroy: the Last Dragon

I have a little tradition. Every year, I celebrate MLK day by watching Black movies. Usually I choose something light; in the past I’ve done Shaft or Posse, because part of the point is to invite my white friends over to encourage them to celebrate the day, and I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. Still, next year, I think I’ll do Spook Who Sat By the Door.

In any case, this year was Bruce Leroy: the Last Dragon. I hadn’t seen it for year, and I remembered it as being excellent, but, dude, I had no idea. The thing is genius. It’s possibly the last great Blaxtoitation film, and a Berry Gordy joint to boot. It’s everything that’s excellent about Blaxtoitation films, everything that’s excellent about kung fu flicks, and everything that’s great about 80’s movies, all in one! Truly you should check it out.

Synopsis: Leroy Green is a young student of kung fu growing up in Harlem in the 80’s. His master can teach him no longer, as he has achieved the sixth level of mastery. He must search all over (Harlem) in order to find a master who can teach him how to reach the seventh level, where mind, body and soul are one. Along the way he must battle Sho’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem, protect his family’s pizza restaurant, dress like a ninja, and learn the “moves” needed to win the heart of Vanity, a popular pop singer in the area.

It’s golden. I think I myself achieved the seventh level while watching a kid escape being tied up by doing the robot. Brilliant.

Here’s the trailer, courtesy of YouTube:

Law & Order episode, “Blood,” featuring a light-skinned Black man who passes

After a couple of hours of Googling, I finally found the info on this episode. It’s “Blood” and it stars Stephen Mendillo as a light-skinned Black man (like me) who joins a law firm in the 60s. Since equal opportunity laws hadn’t been written, yet, he made the choice to start passing when he applied to the firm. It gives a very interesting, and I think balanced, view on the topic. I said it yesterday, and I’ll say it again. I think that anybody these days (and they do exist) who is passing needs to buck up and stand up for their ancestry. But I can’t say for sure what decisions I would have made when there was apartheid in this country, and I can say pretty confidently that I would have passed if I had been born in slavery. The situation as presented in this episode of Law and Order reminds of something that I often forget, and that my Mom has to remind me a lot: segregation in this country was not that long ago. Anyone over 50 in this country remembers it. That’s hard for me to wrap my mind around, but there it is. And so, I’m sure, that there are lots of people in that generation and older whose friends, family and co-workers all believe that they are white. And if they had to do it all over again now, they would do it differently, but they started the lie in a more difficult time…

Anyway, it’s got me thinking. If you do get a chance to see the episode, do.

The moment you decide to pass – a clip from “the Human Stain”

A few days ago I saw a very good episode of Law and Order, featuring a light-skinned Black man who started passing in the 50s so that he could make his way up to partner at a law firm. I was Googling just now for a link, which I didn’t find. But I did find this great clip from “the Human Stain.” I have very mixed feelings (no pun intended) about people who passed during the days of slavery and apartheid. Now, I think there’s no excuse for it, and I’m glad my momma raised me better. But I can’t say I wouldn’t have bowed to what must have been an enormous pressure. This clip shows me the counter-argument. I don’t think I could bear to have this conversation with my Mom.

Sanford and Son

When I grow up, I want to be like Redd Foxx. He’s such a bitter, funny, mean old man, on the surface. But whenever push comes to shove, he’s so sweet and giving. Why aren’t there shows like this on TV more? Sanford and Son is such a far cry above all the various WB black sitcoms; even so far above the Cosby Show. It’s just like Nas says, “What ever happened to Weezy, the Redd Foxxes? / Never got Emmies, but were real to me.