Squeaky Wheel

There’s an old saying: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

Baltimore Uprising
Baltimore Uprising

In light of what happened in the aftermath of the homicide of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and the subsequent uprising, which brought on all the media attention and national debate, one thing is clear the residents of Baltimore ‘squeaked’ and now folks all over the country are paying attention.

It shouldn’t take an uprising over the obvious problems that the police department has when dealing with it’s “black” residents, note the millions of dollars that have been paid out to settle claims of police abuse of the citizenry that it is sworn to “protect and serve.” And we know from all of the many recent incidents of unarmed “black” folks shot down and treated worse that dogs, this is a national epidemic.

This situation is nothing new. Black folks have been ill treated and dying at the hands of representatives of the power structure since before America was America. No one has more claim to be an American than its “black” citizens. Yet time after time their voices aren’t heard until their righteous anger explodes in some form of “riot.”

Yet we know that “white” folks riot all time for something as innocuous and inconsequential as their favorite team winning or losing a game. And as Time Wise states in his article posted on Salon, “it is undeniably true that when it comes to our political anger and frustration (as contrasted with that brought on by alcohol and athletics) we white folks are pretty good at not torching our own communities. This is mostly because we are too busy eviscerating the communities of others—those against whom our anger is aimed. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Panama, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Manila, and on down the line.”

I would add to that, “whites” really have no reason to have “righteous” anger or “rage against the machine” because by and large “the system” political, economic, social, cultural inures to their benefit. It has been that way since the very beginning of the Republic.

Despite America’s many failings and shortcomings for the most part still as another old saying goes: “If you’re white your’re right.”  So why ‘squeak’ at all because despite how bad the situation may be or how corrupt, unequal or unjust the society is, at least you’re not “black.” Damn, thank heaven for small favors.

However, if in the future we really want to stop so many Baltimores from repeating itself over, and over again, like Watts in ’65 or some other city 50 years hence, America will truly have to be transformed from bottom to top. And that means “white” folks are going to have to give up their privilege.  That is going to be painful indeed. White folks have been “white” for so long ( read How The Irish Became White or Buying Whiteness), it may take burning down Main Street, rather than The Ghetto, before people get the message.

For America to finally live up to its motto: E Pluribus Unum will require sacrifice from all concerned, not just those named Freddie Gray or Emmett Till or Medgar, Martin, Malcolm, or communities like Tulsa, Rosewood, Watts, or East Baltimore.

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Black Film?

This is reprinted from a post which appeared originally on The Gavin Media NU World Blog.

Minstrel
Bert Williams, The Quintessential Minstrel

Trying to define what makes a “black” film, television program, play, book, any form of art has to be analysed from the standpoint of its motivation, purpose and not just whether the participates happen to have a certain hue of skin tone and cultural background.

I’m always struck sometimes as to just how “white” so-called black films, black media really are. In some ways to be very super critical most “black” media (not being a student of media created by black folks throughout the Diaspora, I’m referring to media created by black folks in America) is in many ways an “aping” of white media forms and conventions. Because in many ways that is what we all have been conditioned to expect. Every mode of expression contains two essential elements, form and content. Both should be taken into account when defining what makes a film or any other mode of expression “black.”

the-butler
Poster for Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Most “black” storytelling in the commercial space copies the same “western (white) narrative” form and conventions when it comes to film, television, theater, etc. Anything which strays “outside the lines” is considered “experimental” or avant-garde. Black film/media has essentially been boiled down to stories that have black characters as their protagonists and told by a “black” artist.

The problem I’ve always had with this definition is that it is shortsighted and does not take into account POV, (point-of-view), or motivation, which are the two key elements that truly set a story apart as being “black.” I think for example you could have a “black” film that wasn’t primarily about black people, but about “white privilege,” and its destructive nature.

Black when it comes to African Americans is never just a color, but must always have a cultural component and perspective. Black has to capture the universal as well as the specific. It has to seek to free our minds -to enlighten, inform, entertain, and most importantly, inspire. It must always not just deal with what is, or was, but what can be, possibilities. It must seek to change how we think about ourselves as humans be-ing, not just as “black folk.”

I am reminded of the so-called Black Arts Movement that came alive in the 1960s and 1970s, where poets, writers, playwrights, visual artists, were experimenting with new forms of expression that sought to break the bonds of white convention. Today we have settled in to a place, artistically speaking, that seems less about braking barriers or inventing something new or being creative and more with being popular.

ColtraneBlack media can be both “black” and popular. We only have to look at the history of “black music” as an example. There are no black filmmakers working today (commercially) who can claim the same kind of creative innovation that a Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, had in the musical arena. These “innovators” created a whole new musical genre with that same “raw material” that was available to every musician.

When will “black” film artisans do the same for the motion picture, or television program that these black musical artisans did for records?

Above The Law

Steven Segal in Above The Law
Steven Segal in Above The Law

A former Special Operations Vietnam vet works as a Chicago cop and uncovers CIA wrongdoing. -From IMDb Description

“Today, the Department of Justice (DOJ) failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson for racially profiling and brutally killing Michael Brown.1 While the DOJ found Ferguson and St. Louis police guilty of widespread abuse, racial profiling, and brutal misconduct, it’s not enough.

Darren Wilson should have been indicted and made to see a day in court for his brutal action. After all, a young man was killed for being Black. The DOJ’s failure to do so highlights deep-seated structural problems that must be fixed in order to keep our families safe.2 And the reality is Ferguson is America and President Obama must be held accountable. He must do everything in his power — more than speeches and commissions — to stop unjust killings by police, increase police accountability, and expand community control over policing nationwide.”

The above quote is from an email blast from the organization Color of Change. And what the findings of the DOJ’s Civil Rights probe into policing practices in the city of Ferguson, MO bring into stark relief, unlike Hollywood’s fictional characters, for “black” folks (young men in particular), it’s the ordinary “cop on the beat,” who’s “above-the-law” mentality and worldview provides the greatest threat to life and limb.

The DOJ found that The Ferguson Police Department has a pattern and practice of:

  • Conducting stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
  • Interfering with the right to free expression in violation of the First Amendment; and
  • Using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

and of;

  • Focusing on revenue over public safety, leading to court practices that violate the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection requirements.
  • Court practices exacerbating the harm of Ferguson’s unconstitutional police practices and imposing particular hardship upon Ferguson’s most vulnerable residents, especially upon those living in or near poverty.Minor offenses can generate crippling debts, result in jail time because of an inability to pay and result in the loss of a driver’s license, employment, or housing.

In addition the DOJ also found racial bias in both the police department and the municipal court system:

  • The harms of Ferguson’s police and court practices are borne disproportionately by African Americans and that this disproportionate impact is avoidable.
  • Ferguson’s harmful court and police practices are due, at least in part, to intentional discrimination, as demonstrated by direct evidence of racial bias and stereotyping about African Americans by certain Ferguson police and municipal court officials.

Despite these findings Michael Brown’s killer is walking free, above the law. You don’t swim in a sewer and not get covered in shit. Atmosphere, attitude and behavior matters, particularly when it comes to the use of deadly force by an officer of the law against and unarmed citizen.

The DOJ findings demonstrate why ALL shootings by police of unarmed “black” folks need to be brought to trial and adjudicated by juries who can look at the situation and deliver justice. Laws themselves can be and are unjust in many circumstances since they are enacted within and by a corrupt political “law-making” system. In the end it is only WE THE PEOPLE who can deliver justice, “by any means necessary.”

Race Across America

UstreamRAA-1

Race Across America, an intercultural journey, began with an idea back in the mid-nineties. The concept was to travel around the country in an RV ala “On The Road with Charles Kuralt,” and engage people from all walks of life on the subject of “race.” What it is? What it isn’t!

It was the goal of The Gavin Media Institute to have an on-going series of programs throughout the country that would take various forms . One such project was an “installation” hosted by the Capitol City YWCA, in Washington, DC which featured the documentary short, “People Like Me.”

Now Gavin Media NU World is reviving Race Across America as a series of webcasts available via Youtube as well as a broadcast TV series.

Why now? Well even in the age of Obama, and maybe especially now, it seems more than ever that the concept of “race” effects much of our public policy, from Healthcare to Welfare, from notions of “Makers vs. Takers,” from Prisons to Drugs, Housing, Immigration, Education, and remains a hindrance to forming that elusive “more perfect union.” We can’t get past it until we deal with both the Truth & the Consequences. The Racial agenda of privilege and power is promulgated, reinforced everywhere throughout popular culture.

This first installment is called “We The People Are Racists” and features an interview with Anthropologist Nina Jablonski, author of the book Skin, A Natural Evolution on how skin color became racialized, empowering some, while devaluing others.

Everything that America is and isn’t must be examined through its “racial prism,” if we are ever to put that past behind us and move forward. “Racism” is part of the DNA of America. It hasn’t gone anywhere and won’t until folks deal with it from that place. In this case America is guilty until proven innocent. Race-ism in America is always going to be a matter of degree, unless and until folks embrace the notion that “race” is a fiction, but “racism” is very much alive and well.

Walter Harris Gavin is the driving force behind Gavin Media NU World and the author of The Autobiography of Obsidian Dumar