Further Evidence That Black People Are... People!


(cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics)

If the insightful sociological analysis of Bill O'Reilly wasn't enough to put you on to the idea that we black people are actually people, I'd like to share two stories I found last week which reinforced this theme in two completely independent spheres.

In "Tyler Perry's Money Machine," The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson wrote about the box office-topping "Why Did I Get Married?"

In his plays and movies, Perry shows African Americans as they . . . well, I was about to say he shows us as we really are, but that's not true. Reality is for documentaries; Perry's characters are unsubtle, his humor is broad, and his plots are soaked with melodrama. Among his big themes are love, fidelity and the importance of family, and his movies usually have religious overtones.

What Perry does is depict black Americans as people relating to other people -- not as mere plot devices and not as characters defined solely by how they relate to the white world. The rest of the movie industry would do well to take note.

Thank you so much for saying this! Robinson continues:

In depicting African Americans, mainstream Hollywood still struggles to leave behind the "magic Negro" paradigm -- the idea, epitomized by " Driving Miss Daisy," that black characters exist solely to teach valuable lessons to white characters. We still don't get a lot of films in which black characters bestow their moral wisdom on one another. Even in " The Pursuit of Happyness," Will Smith's character was only secondarily a lesson-giver to his son; mostly, his role was to teach and uplift the audience.

There's nothing wrong with a little inspiration. But African American moviegoers who want to see their own concerns and struggles -- their own lives, even if rendered in broad outline -- projected at the cineplex still aren't getting much love from Hollywood.

True dat. We exist for more than the illumination of white America, and we don't need other people telling us who we are and what our motivations are. This takes me to part two.

In "Clinton-Obama Quandary for Many Black Women," the New York Times' Katharine Q. Seelye did one of the most admirable mainstream media stories about black folks and the Democratic field I have seen. She didn't stoop to reducing black people's decision-making process to a struggle over the fake-me-out meme of Obama's vs. Clinton's "blackness." She did actual research, and in the process, discovered key differences in the campaigns as well as the complex considerations black women are weighing in deciding who they will support.

Seelye writes about the importance of South Carolina's black beauty shops to the campaigns and interviews Clara Vereen:

“I’ve got enough black in me to want somebody black to be our president,” she said in her tiny beauty shop, an extension of her home, after a visit from an Obama organizer. “I would love that, but I want to be real, too.”

Part of being real, said Ms. Vereen, whom everyone calls Miss Clara, is worrying that a black president would not be safe.

“I fear that they just would kill him, that he wouldn’t even have a chance,” she said as she styled a customer’s hair with a curling iron. One way to protect him, she suggested, would be not to vote for him.

Wow. This echoes a column I wrote back in March.

Think about it. America can’t even handle black people in horror movies. We’re still the first to die.

America doesn’t know how to deal with black club-goers on the night before their weddings. America shoots them 50 times.

America even has trouble with fictional black presidents. On 24, they tried to kill President David Palmer three times. Have you ever seen such murderous determination targeting fictional white presidents? The West Wing’s Jed Bartlet seemed pretty safe. 24 finally did assassinate Palmer—on the fourth attempt, when he wasn’t even president anymore.

And what are folks saying about Hillary?

“We always love Hillary because we love her husband,” Ms. Vereen said. Then she paused. Much of the chitchat in her shop is about whether a woman could or should be president.
“A man is supposed to be the head,” she said. “I feel like the Lord has put man first, and I believe in the Bible.”
<snip>
“Hillary’s husband has a lot of wisdom and knowledge, and that will help her.” This elicited another round of “that’s right, that’s true.”

Thank you Eugene Robinson and Katharine Q. Seelye for treating black folks like the complicated human beings we are.