Links Roundup 12.13.12

It is not the definitive, ultimate film about slavery, and it was never intended to be that. It is, after all, a Hollywood studio movie made for the main purpose of entertainment. What it is, is a fantasy of sorts. A sort of wish fulfillment of what one wishes might have been, of black avengers righting wrongs. A black hero who goes through hell and high water to save his damsel in distress. There have been a million movies like that with white characters, so what’s wrong with having a black one doing that for a change? When was the last time you saw a black man on the screen going through the gates of hell and back again with one single purpose in mind, to save the women he loves? I’m think like, never. Some have called Django a “black revenge” film and there’s nothing wrong with that, though some have complained about it. I don’t recall anyone complaining about Jewish revenge films like Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, Spielberg’s Munich or Edward Zwick’s Defiance. Didn’t hear a peep. No one had a problem. But seeing a black men getting payback against slave owners and suddenly people, lots of them who were black, were getting hot under the collar.

But Nelson Mandela is mortal. He’s also old. He is 94 and in obviously very frail health. It might be 10 years from now, 5 years, in 2013 or even in the next few weeks, but he is absolutely, unequivocally, unavoidably going to die, as are we all. Moreover, most very old people begin to lose their mental faculties. It’s by time someone said it publicly. After all, most of us talk about it privately: Madiba is losing his mental faculties. Only those closest to him know how seriously he is losing his faculties but we all know, from several public clues, that there is some loss and it appears to be quite serious. It is sad, but there should be no shame in this and no embarrassment. It does not tarnish his legacy. What’s happening to him is a natural part of life and death and it’s by time we said and accepted it, openly, publicly and without euphemism. The currently living Nelson Mandela no longer has any substantial influence on South African politics. On the other hand, his lifetime’s work and our memories of what he has achieved have a profound influence on South Africa and the world. They will continue to do so long after he has died. The myth-making about Mandela, the continued suggestion by the ANC that he’s infallible and superhuman and the pretence by the DA that it carries his mantle, coupled with the failure to critically discuss and debate his lifetime’s ideas, actions, successes and failures, does him a disservice. It reduces his life to feel-good quotes and excuses all kinds of bad behaviour done in his name. This dehumanises Mandela and actually means we fail to learn from his achievements.

In early November, introduced The Ebony Collection, an online shop that sells framed prints of 2,000 photos selected from the magazine’s million-image archive. Reprinted from the original negatives stored in a climate-controlled room, the images were selected by Ms. Johnson Rice, who spent months poring over her father’s original commissions. “We kept everything,” Ms. Johnson Rice said. “Every major event that’s happened to African-Americans since 1945, with Ebony as a repository for all those photographs and as a voice for all that happened.” Paying respect to history is a theme repeatedly invoked in the Johnson Publishing offices, so much so that it was no surprise running into Henry Louis Gates Jr., the director of the Harvard W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, in a conference room. Professor Gates was there with a film crew shooting a PBS series, “Many Rivers to Cross: The History of the African American People,” and was being shown images from the archives by Ms. Johnson Rice for an episode that will cover 1940 to 1980. “My family got Ebony,” he said later. “Every family subscribed to Ebony and Jet if they were black. “They still have cultural resonance among all classes of African-Americans,” Professor Gates said. “Very few organs of journalism reach a wider swath of the African-American community than Ebony and Jet.”

Ravi Perry and Paris Prince appeared in the Dec. 10 issue, which announced the couple’s August wedding in Massachusetts, the first state in the country to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “President Obama has evolved [on marriage equality], and now we can add JET magazine to that,” Prince said on MSNBC Tuesday morning. He and Perry spoke with Thomas Roberts about the historic moment in the magazine’s history just as the Supreme Court announced its decision to take on two same-sex marriage cases next year. “The Supreme Court has had a history of equality cases before its docket and they’ve sometimes erred on the side of caution and has embarrassed the country,” Perry said, “but they’ve also done the right thing when it comes to equality…so we’re hopeful they’ll do the right thing again with the marriage equality cases that they’ve taken up.”

I can’t get into Cory Booker’s weeklong food stamp challenge the way I’d like to, but it’s important to remember that all of the caveats about this exercise really matter. Because when we’re talking about poverty — especially long-term poverty — the devil really does dwell in all those inconvenient footnotes and qualifiers. You can’t neatly partition off hunger from stuff like inadequate housing or electricity or health care or safety or education. All those things are happening in concert and informing each other; their effects are cumulative. It’s hard to look for work or pay attention in school when you’re malnourished. It’s hard to keep food refrigerated if you can’t pay your electric bill. It’s hard to keep your food your food if you live with other people who are hungry too and who maybe can’t be trusted. My ex-girlfriend’s mother, a retired assistant principal in Detroit, once told me that school attendance would jump in the winter months; it was the only place the kids knew for sure that there would be food and heat. Booker did this for a week and complained about the hunger pains. And that’s some real ish. But the accretion of poverty’s psychic costs doesn’t end when your belly is full. We know now that poverty saps people’s abilities to do effective cost-benefit analysis in all types of decisions; poor people already have to make too many of those least-terrible-option decisions each day, which means they simply choose not to make some decisions at all. Booker is a Rhodes Scholar and the mayor of a major American city. It’s hard to overstate how much it matters that there was always a discrete end to this for him, that he waded into the tunnel with the light at its end clearly visible, and that there were constraints on the tolls it could exact on him. Poverty isn’t just economic. It’s existential.

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