Tag Archives: history

What am I supposed to do?

by Guest Contributor Cheryl Lynn, originally published at Digital Femme

Long ago, when I was much younger than I am today, my aunt purchased a VHS tape of cartoons for my cousins and I to watch. She quickly removed the plastic wrapper, slammed the cassette into the VCR, and promptly left the room in order to tackle the long list of chores she had that day.

My cousins were toddlers. I was a small child.

I’m sure that my aunt believed that what she had set us down in front of was harmless. And it initially was. My cousins and I laughed at silly cartoons of goofy animals. The images were dated, but still quite funny. And watching them made me feel good.

Somewhere around the middle of the tape, the images changed. The animals vanished. There were no longer quick-witted bunnies or dim-witted pigs. There were black people. Black people that were designed to look like animals. Gargantuan lips. Inhuman noses. Blue-black skin.

Images all based on caricatures designed to ridicule the features of black people. Images that I saw before me.

I cried. I actually cried until I made myself physically ill. But I wouldn’t tell anyone what was wrong.

A few days later I approached my mother and told her that I didn’t want to be ugly anymore. I told her that I wanted to be white.

My mother looked at me and smiled. She told me if I waited in the bedroom for her that she would make me white. I waited, and after a few moments she entered with a bottle of lotion. She spread the lotion out in a thick layer on my legs as if she was icing a cake. My chocolate brown skin began to slip from view.

She stopped after a few moments and looked at me.

“Doesn’t that look silly?”

I nodded as she bent over to wipe the lotion from my legs.

“See? You’re not supposed to be white! You’re exactly how God made you to be. You understand?”

I understood perfectly. God meant for me to be black. He meant for me to be ugly. And I believed that for a long time. Because that’s what the images I had seen had taught me to believe.

I’m actually terrified to have kids. Because it’s inevitable that my children are going to come across the same type of caricatures that I did as a child. Why? Because comic and cartoon fandoms cling to these caricatures and cherish them. They create new ones based upon the older incarnations. They place these images above the basic human dignity of black people. They tell black people that nostalgia is more important than their humanity.

What am I going to tell my child when he or she comes across these images? How am I going to rebuild his or her spirit when the images break it? Because my mother’s initial approach? Did not work. And fandom simply isn’t going to let these images go. They don’t respect us enough to do so.

So, what am I supposed to do?

Colonization: Fun n’ Games

by Guest Contributor Plasma Rit, originally published at Girl in the Machine

Sid Meier’s Civilization series comprises of turn-based strategy games with a focus on growing a budding nation. Begun in 1991, the games take place in a variety of eras–you can build an empire as far back as 4000 BCE and nurture it long enough to witness World War II. The series has proven to be very popular over the years, gaining a loyal fanbase and even winning a few awards along the way. In 1994, Sid Meier released a game called Colonization: Create a New Nation. Players choose from four European nations–England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands–and set sail for the Americas (or “The New World,” as the game calls it). The object of the game is to foster a colony and eventually gain independence from its mother country. Sid Meier is preparing to rerelease this game in the form of a Civilization IV standalone expansion sometime in 2008.

I was a bit taken aback at the sight of a game about colonization, although I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. The idea of a game about conquering other civilizations and stealing their land is pretty tasteless to me, but unfortunately many Americans don’t view colonization that way. I found that most people tend to see it through an Elementary School History Lens–you know, when you were taught how the plucky, pure future Americans who could do no wrong went on a journey for freedom and were buddy-buddies with the Native Americans?

The original Colonization game handles Native Americans in a very interesting way. Players can choose to either befriend the natives (who in turn teach them skills and help defend the colony) or wipe them out entirely. Continue reading

Write Up: Meeting David Wilson

by Latoya Peterson

Last weekend, while channel surfing, I was flying through my channel line up when my remote paused on a program I had heard about for quite some time – Meeting David Wilson.

The MSNBC site describes the documentary:

David Wilson was a 28-year-old African-American man from Newark, New Jersey. He grew up in a tough, urban neighborhood, but managed to navigate his way out of poverty and into the world of news production in New York City. Now, meet another David Wilson: a 62-year-old white man from rural North Carolina. He grew up in Caswell County, where his ancestors once farmed tobacco. He now operates a small chain of BBQ restaurants in nearby Reidsville. Although they have never met, the two men share more than just a name…

Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., MSNBC premiered “Meeting David Wilson,” the remarkable and inspiring story of a young man’s reconciliation with his ancestors’ history as slaves. The world premiere of “Meeting David Wilson,” was hosted by “Today” Correspondent Tiki Barber and followed by a 90-minute live discussion of racial issues in America.

I had heard of this story on NPR, the black man who tracked down his ancestors and the descendants of the family that owned them. I was intrigued. But Meeting David Wilson is so much more than just a meeting, or just a story of two families – it is one of the few documentaries I have seen able to dig deep into the issues that have resulted from race and slavery in an accessible, humanized way. Continue reading

Reflections on Race at the Opera

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

Last month, I went to the Portland Opera’s production of Aïda, which is shown as part of its “Great Women of the Stage” series. I had wanted to see Rodelinda and Carmen again, but I underestimated how popular the opera is in Portland and had missed out on tickets for these two divas. So I got tickets to Aïda, and my friends and I anxiously squirmed in our not-so-cheap nosebleed seats, waiting for the curtain to rise.

For anyone unfamiliar with Verdi’s Aïda, it’s a story about an Ancient Egyptian-era Ethiopian slave. Aïda is Ethiopian royalty, and yet she serves Egyptian royalty. When a war breaks out for unspecified reasons between Egypt and Ethiopia, Aïda is torn because her lover is the general of the Egyptian army, and her father is the king of Ethiopia. Spoiler alert: Terribly tragic and dramatic as Verdi is, the story ends with Aïda and her lover, the Egyptian general Radames, dying together in the tomb he is sentenced to for betraying Egypt by trying to run away with Aïda.

The curtain opens and the first act begins. I notice that, even though this is set in Ancient Egypt, the costumes of two main characters (Aïda and her rival, the princess Amneris) look more like they’re from the slave-era south: Amneris wears long, full skirts with what look like small panniers. Aïda had a long-sleeved shirt tucked into a full skirt, with something draped over her left shoulder; it looked sort of like a scarf, but maybe also like something you could carry things in. Their clothes reminded me more of this:

than this: . Continue reading

What We Are

by Guest Contributor Jen, originally published at Disgrasian

In Rwanda, from where I’m writing, it’s illegal for citizens to ask one another what they are. By “what” I mean, Hutu or Tutsi. The reason why it’s against the law to make ethnic distinctions in Rwanda these days is rooted in the genocide that took place here in 1994. That year, Hutu militias, on government orders, conducted a brutal 100-day extermination of 800,000 to 1 million people, most of them Tutsis. In Philip Gourevitch’s account from the survivors’ perspective, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, he estimated that the murder rate during those 100 days was 6 people per minute.

Tutsis were the minority then (around 15% of the population) and now. But the difference between Hutu and Tutsi has always been, from what I understand, a false distinction. There wasn’t a perceived difference among Rwandans between Hutu and Tutsi until the late 19th century, when European colonizers (first the Germans, then the Belgians) insisted on that ethnic divide for their own political gains. In the 1930′s, the Belgians went so far as to issue ID cards to all Rwandans identifying them as belonging to one group or the other. In ’94, Rwandans still carried such cards. And if yours said that you were Tutsi then, it soon became your death certificate, too. Continue reading

OJ Simpson is NOT a Litmus Test For Black People!

by Latoya Peterson

Continuing the Spike Lee/Clint Eastwood Discussion, I received an email from reader Elton alerting me to an exchange on the Hannity & Colmes show.

Leo Terrell, a civil rights attorney came on the show to debate the merits of Lee’s position. The conversation starts out fine:

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST:[...]Look, doesn’t Clint have a point, Leo? He was making about a movie about the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. There were not African-Americans as part of that. There were African-Americans who served in the military, but that wasn’t the focus of the Eastwood film. He was trying to be historically accurate. Isn’t that the issue?

LEO TERRELL, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: No, because he didn’t show one black face during the entire four hours of that movie. I saw that movie.

Alan, there were 900 black men who fought in Iwo Jima. Fourteen of them got the Silver Star. There was a poor depiction — the fact that there was not a single African-American there, in the case that Clint Eastwood did not correctly tell history.

COLMES: But this was about the raising of the flag. That’s what this was about.

TERRELL
: No, no. It was also about who was there, not just the raising the flag. But look at that movie, look at that clip right there. There were black men who served and died in Iwo Jima.

And then, the co-hosts decide to take the argument away from the original context and throw in some background information about the Lee/Eastwood feud:

COLMES: You know, look, Leo, he made a movie about Charlie Parker called “Bird.”

TERRELL: That’s not the issue. Continue reading

Of Race and Historical Dramas

by Latoya Peterson

When events in history are adapted for the silver screen, how accurate do we expect them to be? And what version of history does that present?

Clint Eastwood and Spike Lee have apparently gotten into a tiff about the historical accuracy in Eastwood’s films. New York Magazine’s Vulture blog summarizes:

At Cannes a few weeks ago, Lee blasted Eastwood for not including any black actors in his duo of World War II movies, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. “Eastwood made two films about Iwo Jima that ran for more than four hours total and there was not one Negro actor on the screen,” Lee said. “If you reporters had any balls you’d ask him why. There’s no way I know why he did that — that was his vision, not mine. But I know it was pointed out to him and that he could have changed it. It’s not like he didn’t know.”

Today Eastwood fires back in an interview with the Guardian, in which the director snaps, “A guy like him should shut his face.” He defends his movies by noting that no black soldiers were among the ones who raised the flag at Iwo Jima, which is true, but not exactly the point — Lee wasn’t demanding that Eastwood change a real-life person’s race. Those movies had plenty of soldiers in them, not all of whom were based on actual people (say, Marines 1–4 in Letters From Iwo Jima) — couldn’t one or two of them have been played by black actors?

The actual Guardian article alluded to in the blog post clarifies Eastwood’s position a bit more:

“Has he ever studied the history?” he asks, in that familiar near-whisper. Continue reading

History Has an Interesting Sense of Timing

by Latoya Peterson

Marc Lamont Hill writes*
:

August 28, 1955 – Emmitt Till is murdered in Mississippi

August 28, 1963 – Martin Luther King gives his I Have A Dream Speech

Augist 28, 2008 – Barack Obama officially moves toward the White House

When confronted by these dates, I finally understood the historical significance of Barack’s candidacy. For the first time, I understood how much Barack’s candidacy means to oppressed people around the globe. For the first time, I fully appreciate how the idea of a Black presidency serves to sustain the hope and faith of a diasapora marked by suffering, oppression, and dislocattion. For the first time, I was proud.

He goes on to say:

Does this mean that I support him? No. Do I think that he will help the condition of black and brown people? No. But maybe, at least for today, that’s not the point. Today, I am merely going to bask in the joy of knowing that anything is possible for our people..

Fair enough.

*Pictures added for emphasis.