Thursday, July 24, 2008

Soledad, This Is What I Wanted

Oh Soledad. Afrodescendiente Soledad. One "o" short of illumination.

Let me preface this by saying I did not watch CNN's Black in America part 1, 2 or any this week. I was busy being black in America.

Whatever that means.

Still, after engaging in a variety of conversations on the special and the general state of black America throughout the day, I did get asked one excellent question that I can answer having watched or not.

So what would you guys have preferred to see in a documentary called 'Black in America', and who would be your target audience?
I'll amend it to "what would I like to see in a documentary entitled 'Black in America.'"

First, I'd like to see 'black' defined. Or, rather, undefined. I want to hear about the daily struggles and triumphs of African Americans from all walks of life. But I also want to hear about the Haitian, Nigerian and Dominican communities and their experiences with that fickle and promiscuous thing we call race. I want to hear about the first great migration of Puerto Ricans from the islad to Nueva York and how they were treated as blacks, how they organized with African Americans, and how they did it while creating the peculiar blend of Afro-Spanglish insurgency we like to call the Nuyorican. I want to hear about those of half n half bi-racial, bi-cultural folks--the black and Latin@, black and white, black and Asian, black and African. I want to know about the immigration and immigrant experiences of those of African descent who have come to live here. And I want to know about the expat experiences of those of African American descent who have left for Paris, for Germany, for Ghana. Blogs already pick up on these communities, including Black Women in Europe and Afro-European Sisters. These ladies keep it so poppin that I wish I were in Amsterdam for one of their conferences.

Then I'd like to see a special that walked black males and black females hand in hand through its narrative. And I am going to steal something Lex said in another discussion:

black women
and their families

which means all types of black women, queer black women, single black women, married black women, YOUNG black women, old black women, immigrant black women, professional black women, black women artists, black women politicians

and all kinds of black families which means families with two mommies, black single mothers of different classes and situations, black women raising their siblings, black women with chosen families of close friends, black women who survived abusive families...etc.
She said it better than I could. All I would add is I would like all types to include queer black men, single fathers, married black men, young black men, old black men, immigrant black men...you get the idea?

Ahh, but here's the trick. I, and I can only hope Lex does not mind me taking liberties with her words, I want to see them spoken and written of without pathology. Which means that a single mother is not a somehow deficient mother. She is not somehow destined to raise a gaggle of violent, abusive, jail-bound brats who are leeches on the System. She is just a single mother. And guess what? She has a name! She has dreams and aspirations. She has pain and loneliness. She also has the strength and determination of Job la Virgen to make shit happen.

And if she doesn't, then how dare you blame her? Because she didn't get up at 6 am to make breakfast because she came home from work at 4 am the same morning after working two jobs to keep her daughters in school? Word? Because a black man hurt her by leaving/hitting/taking/raping/inflicting on her the same pain society has inflicted on him his entire lineage, and she actually has both physical and mental scars? Who are you? What have you lived through? What have you pushed so deep inside your gut that it reappears in cancer/diabetes/obesity/arthritis/heart attacks? I want to see a documentary that takes all of this into account and shows the humanity that my words are unable to express, because this language is trapped in a history that it doesn't understand and there are no letters/words/sentences that I can string together that will properly communicate my absolute, my profound love and respect for every single mother across this world trying to save her own life...

And I want black men treated with the same love and humanity. Even though I also want to hear about the fathers who left their wives/girlfriends/mothers/children because this greedy, materialistic, capitalist society made lose their minds, the same way black women lose theirs--but I want to hear also about how the SEXISM (hello!) in this society and RACIST GENDER CONVENTIONS puts the WEIGHT of their insanity in black women's laps. In their broken arms. In their violated bodies. And I don't want to blame them for the craziness that is in their head but I sure as hell want them to be held accountable for the violence that they have done and continue to do. Women of color are dying. They are dying every day. And black men our dying, and yes I still care, because they are the sons, brothers, cousins, and fathers, and uncles, and grandfathers of black women! And the issue is so complicated we don't even know how to twist our minds around it in a way that says Yes! to our anger and our love.

I'd like to see the grassroots movements for change. And I don't want Obama highlighted, believe it or not. I want to hear about Critical Resistance or Incite: Women of Color Against Violence. I want to hear about really local endeavors like Peaceoholics or Youth Education Alliance or Visions to Peace Project. Or the community that rallies itself against violence. I want to hear about projects that are organized in radical ways, like Broken Beautiful Press or the Ubuntu Project--in the face of hateful backlash. I want to see how the black academy is using technology in new ways, like e-Black Studies. I'd like to hear about the diversity in our music, like Jay Electronica or Janelle Monae.

I'd like to hear about filmmakers like Haile Gerima, Charles Burnett, Aisha Simmons, and M. Asli Dukan.

I would not like to see Jesse "them N----rs" Jackson or Al "Where's My Photo Op" Sharpton. I would like mainstream media to find new black "figureheads" to turn to. Because, again, what is black?

I would like to pee my pants with excitement because mainstream media discovered that those heads are cut in the figure of a woman of color.

There is so, so, so, so much more.

But don't say it is too much or ask how can all of that fit in one documentary? The details may be too much because they can't be compartmentalized. Because our lives, as human beings, are messy but inchoate, and constantly evolving.

I would like to see a 'Black in America' that understood that. A film that was focused not on stereotypes and tropes but on the humanity of people of African descent. That didn't try to name, categorize, or sort out our lives on some pre-defined track of mammy, Sambo or N*****r.

And the truth is, if I can't see that, if I can't have a documentary that gives all the blessings and praise and frustration and angst and rant and rave I heap on the black community...a community I claim...which claims me and doesn't like to share me....which has given me more than my share of trauma....which is the reason I am in the business I am in...which is life to my breath and breath to my life....

...if I can't have that...

...then I'd really rather have nothing at all.

The mainstream doesn't need any more help making up myths and fantasies about poc. They have plenty of their own.

And we--black peoples--need to do a better job recriminating our own myths and fantasies, and joining hands across ethnicity, nationality, language, sexual orientation, religion, and political affiliation.

Because, with Obama as the presumptive Democratic nominee, we've got plenty of "friends" who are so, so, so, SO ready to believe that we've got 99 problems....but race ain't one.

All that said....Soledad? I really hope you did a good job.

X-posted at YBP

4 comments:

ThummyB said...

Very nice, my friend.

Ummm...don't watch the series b/c it's definitely not all of the above.

The thing is...I don't know if a documentary produced by a mainstream, American, cable show can ever be all of the above (unless it is spear-headed, funded and supported by Blacks in America). I just don't know how well anyone else would be able to understand and interpret all of what you just said unless they had lived the experience themselves.

You know what that means, don't you? Coming to a theater near you...20XX...written, directed, produced and narrated by Kismet & Co..."The Black American Experience: Take that Soledad!" Of course, I am available for interviews ;-)

Kismet said...

LoL -->

"You know what that means, don't you? Coming to a theater near you...20XX...written, directed, produced and narrated by Kismet & Co..."The Black American Experience: Take that Soledad!" Of course, I am available for interviews ;-)"

HOLLLA!!!!! I love that...and yeah, I'm all over it.

Actually Lex saw the Black Women episode and is already all over a filmic antidote. I'll keep you posted :)

T said...

"The thing is...I don't know if a documentary produced by a mainstream, American, cable show can ever be all of the above (unless it is spear-headed, funded and supported by Blacks in America)."

@ thummyb, I just saw this and it's crazy that I said a very similar thing on the fb message. It's funny how in each other's head we are (sometimes, LOL)

"I want to see them spoken and written of without pathology. Which means that a single mother is not a somehow deficient mother."

Aw man. I was JUST thinking about this. I was thinking about all of the criticism of the piece and how people said it was 90% negative or some high number in the 90th percentile negative. Then I saw like 6 minutes of it, talking about a single mother of five kids, how she got to where she was (undiagnosed depression, looking for love in all the wrong places, unprotected sex with a man she loved and she thought loved her), what she was doing now (working a whole lot, trying to figure out which bills have to be paid, and which can wait) and that's about all I got in six minutes.

My point is, I wonder if that's a negative representation of being "Black in America" or that's just real a real representation. I wonder how that woman would feel, doing her best and trying her hardest, if she knew we were calling her part of the special "negative."

I wonder if folks, when putting this together, where like let's show some real stuff, instead of saying, let's show some negative stuff. And we, because we're so effing critical, just picked it to pieces and decided that stories about men in jail and single mothers were a negative representation of our race.

I wonder, if as blessed people, we've forgotten about others who are struggling to the point that we don't even want to talk or showcase them, like they're the problem.

I'm just wondering.

And yes, I agree with your suggestion for what it should have looked liked.

Still haven't seen the special, though. Womp.

Kismet said...

My point is, I wonder if that's a negative representation of being "Black in America" or that's just real a real representation. I wonder how that woman would feel, doing her best and trying her hardest, if she knew we were calling her part of the special "negative."

That is an EXCELLENT point!

I would say that the answer is in the portrayal and the kind of context clues that are provided or highlighted, the subtext, the intertext, the visuality, etc.....


And if I'd come out of my ignorance enough to watch the show, I could give an informed argument as to which I thought it was--human and empowering or victimizing and degrading.

But I'm comfortably ignorant right now. Maybe that will change in a few days.

STILL, that is a most awesome and excellent point to keep in mind, that is, the images and subtext we already have in our heads versus what is really on the screen. Thumbs up, T.