As Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o's career prospects seemingly expand by the day, so, too, do the discussions surrounding her, with some fans imagining the sight of her stepping into some iconic franchises, and others side-eyeing the increased attention she’s been getting. Continue reading →
With Father’s Day this Sunday, I’ve been thinking about how fathers have been portrayed on television over the years.
As a child growing up in the Bronx in the 1970s, the TV fathers who I best remember were Jim Anderson, Robert Young’s character on “Father Knows Best,” and Mike Brady, portrayed by Robert Reed in “The Brady Bunch.” Both men were typical of the kinds of men that many expected to be the “head of the family” in 20th-century American society.
Mr. Anderson and Mr. Brady were also in stark contrast to my father and many of the working-class black men I knew in my neighborhood or saw on TV, characters like Redd Foxx’s Fred Sanford and John Amos’s James Evans, Sr., who was much closer in spirit to my own dad.
That all changed in the fall of 1984, when America was introduced to Bill Cosby’s Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, who quickly took on the unprecedented role for a black man as America’s “favorite dad.”
There was a need to celebrate a character who challenged historic stereotypes of black men as fathers — often portrayed as absent, shiftless, unemployed and overly chauvinistic. But was an upper middle-class professional not dramatically different than his white male peers really what black audiences were looking for? Where were the black male characters who represented the complexities of what it means to be a black in contemporary America? Would we even know them if we saw them?
In my recent work researching the intersection of African-American and pop cultures, I have been examining the ways that black men are legible to us in the popular imagination. In the ways that seeing a black man on television with a basketball or on a newscast about crime is terribly familiar to us, more complex images of black men as fathers seem few and far between. Indeed, the recent Samsung Galaxy II commercial–featuring basketball star LeBron James engaging with his sons over breakfast–seems almost revolutionary.
I think I’ve been a bad influence on the R’s Senior Editor Tami Winfrey Harris because I’ve been talking her into watching documentaries for our Table for Two posts. We have another one lined up next week (with a special guest breaking the proverbial bread with us), but I want to hip y’all to some other non-fiction flicks and vids…
…starting off with Youth Speak‘s and University of California San Francisco’s collaboration on this great PSA about Type 2 diabetes. Instead of fat-shaming–as too many food-justice docs do when discussing the links between body size, physical condition, and health–this video gives a structural analysis on who’s to blame and how to hold them accountable to the rest of us. (H/t @newmodelminority)
Dr. Mark Anthony Neal is a professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of five books including Soul Babies (2002), New Black Man (2005) and the forthcoming Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities (2013). He is also co-editor of That’s the Joint! (2011) and is host of the weekly webcast Left of Black. After sitting-in on one of his classes, we paused for a few questions. Read along as Neal speaks quite insightfully on Spike Lee, Nas, Black feminism, and the n-word.
Lamont Lilly: Dr. Neal, in your book New Black Man, you describe how you were first tagged a “Black male feminist” on the BET Tonight Show. Being that you embrace this tag, can you share with us the meaning of a Black male feminist?
Mark Anthony Neal: (Laughing) Well, when I first began graduate school I was introduced to something called Feminist Theory, a body of work that attempted to intervene in both political discourse and everyday realities regarding the notions of equity between men and women. The idea that men inherited a certain amount of privilege from their maleness was a privilege even more complicated when factoring race into the equation. I was taking classes in the English Department and became curious to the question, “Where are all the Black women writing about this?” There I was, reading Barbara Christian and Barbara Smith, and on my own I began to seek out sisters like bell hooks.
I remember purchasing my first bell hooks reading on me and my wife’s first wedding anniversary. It was my first attempt at critically engaging that type of material. Hooks is one of the most important figures out there on studies of gender, sexuality, and race in the last 20 years. She’s written 15 or so books and none of them with footnotes. She was taking this high theoretical language and writing it in a way that was both applicable and accessible to everyday folks. It was under this context that I was introduced to not just feminism, but Black feminism.
After reading her smart essay–and seeing how she dealt with some fooligan respectability-politics criticism in the thread about her post being fluff under the guise of an academic-sounding title–I had to be friends with her. We friended, and I’ve been deep into her brilliantly funny loving-The-Community commentary on vids about gospelizing over chicken, praise leaders losing their shoe trying to be cute and jumping on cheaply made tables, and people doing the Robot at church services (among other ones) ever since. Hanging with Heidi is like hanging with that one wild-ass play cousin whose pithy ongoing social commentary has you holler-laughing for days.
In other words, totally Crush-worthy.
Of course, I talked to Dr. Heidi…but I had to talk about her lively ass, too! Check out what I said to Crush alum Tamura Lomax about our latest one…
Once again, one of my favorite online professor bros, Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, has connected me to some amazingness.
Last week, I shouted him out for letting me that my boyfriend-in-my-head, Dr. Vijay Prashad, is hanging in the Twitterverse. Now, thanks to his Facebook feed, I found this pretty fabulous web series, Black Folk Don’t.
The webisodes starts with riffs from Black people on the streets on the things Black people are stereotyped as, well, not doing: not tipping, not participating in winter sports, not swimming, not going to the doctors, not seeking therapy, not traveling (especially internationally), and other notions before settling in on the topic. Then, award-winning showrunner Angela Tucker and her equally distinguished crew, in response to a call from the National Black Programming Consortium for a web series, sit down with family, friends, and folks in both New York City and New Orleans to see if these stereotypes hold true in their own lives and the lives of people they know.
Please join the Racialicious team in congratulating our Editrix, Latoya Peterson, who was just selected for a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. Latoya will join 12 other Fellows from around the nation and eight international Fellows in pursuing their own proposals for improving the field of journalism, while also taking part in special seminar and independent courses.
Latoya’s studies will cover how to democratize communication and societal participation through the multimedia and text capabilities of mobile technology. She joins colleagues from outlets including NPR, Al Jazeera English (where she has also appeared as a commentator), National Geographic, and The Wall Street Journal Americas, among others. The program, which began in 1966, has hosted almost 800 journalists, and has produced 26 Pulitzer Prize winners.
The big news kicks off a heck of a week for our boss: you can catch her on a panel at ROFLCon this weekend in Cambridge, MA, and she also appears in the latest episode of Mark Anthony Neal’s webseries Left Of Black, discussing the legacy and the lessons of the anger that overtook Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King verdict 20 years ago.
I’m at PAXEast for the day, but tomorrow I’m heading down to Duke for this amazing conference:
Black Thought 2.0 Conference: New Media and the Future of Black Studies
April 6-7, 2012 John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies Duke University 2204 Erwin Road Durham, NC 27708
Sponsored by the Department of African & African American Studies at Duke University, The John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, and Left of Black.
*All Panels will be Streamed and Tweeted Live
Black Thought 2.0 will focus on the roles of digital technology and social media in furthering the mission of Black Studies. The conference will specifically explore how scholars are using such technologies to further their research, do collaborative forms of scholarship and activism, and to reach broader audiences.