Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Whose Streets?

Whose Streets?
An ad for a movie about the protests in Ferguson kept popping up in my feed. So, I clicked on it and found out that there was a documentary on the social unrest in Ferguson following the killing of Michael Brown. The documentary, Whose Streets?, was playing at a theater near me.


Image courtesy of Google
Whose Streets? Did what Detroit did not. Whose Streets? put a face on the struggle for basic human rights in this country. While Detroit  was a docudrama set in the 60s around the events at the Algiers Motel, Whose Streets? Is set in the present day. Both provide an unflinching look at police brutality and we see that not much—if anything—has changed over the last 50 years.

Detroit’s brutalization of Black bodies is void of humanity. We see them beaten and killed. There is no justice for the families. The end. Detroit focuses on the  victims. They are nothing more than bruised and battered bodies some of which are discarded with the ease of throwing out the trash. They don’t exist outside of the hotel.

Whose Streets? Is told from the perspective of the protesters. We not only get to see them taking to the streets, we also get to go behind the scenes. We are invited into their homes. We see them having breakfast, talking about homework. We see them as people fighting for justice while still living day to day. 

Detroit is about helplessness in the face of tragedy; Whose Streets? Is about hope. I’ll take hope over helplessness any day.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Detroit: Black Pain in Living Color





I am a movie connoisseur. I’ll watch movies in any genre except horror, and now because real life is so filled with violent images, I stay away from movies with extreme violence. I watch movies for enjoyment but also for knowledge. Even movies that are purely entertainment contain life lessons. This is a three-part series on movies I’ve seen recently. They are part movie review, part social commentary. Do you agree or disagree with my views? What movies have made an impact on you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. As always, thanks for reading. 


There was a chorus of discontent around the docudrama, Detroit by the Academy-Award winning director, Kathryn Bigelow when it opened. Black folks had issues with a white director and missing Black women. Some call it a horror film, and someone I know left the theater before the movie ended. I decided to see it anyway and form my own opinion. I refused to read any articles or movie reviews because I didn’t want to be influenced by the thoughts of others.
I had seen Bigelow’s Hurt Locker, and thought it was excellent. So, I knew that the movie wouldn’t sugarcoat what happened at the Algiers Motel in July of 1967. Civil unrest plagued the city. There was rioting, looting and snipers taking shots at the police and National Guard who were charged with restoring order.
It was the 60s and racial tensions were at an all-time high. Some young Black people were partying at the hotel and amongst them were two white women. When shots rang out, Detroit police officers thought it was a sniper and rounded up everybody. The sadistic officers were determined to coerce a confession out of the party goers by any means necessary.
It was unflinching unrest and brutality in your face. The only things filling the screen were looting and rioting, burning buildings and brutalized bodies. I was exhausted before the movie ended and was ready for it to be over. It was literally black and white. No slices of life. We got our asses beat and killed. No justice. The End.
The violence against Black bodies was so unrelenting that by the end I was numb. The movie focuses primarily on what happened at the hotel and the trial after. So, all the characters are flat. They are not complex human beings with lives beyond the walls they find themselves trapped behind. The characters are victims which leaves little room for understanding and/or empathy. It's a voyeuristic look at Black pain.
Though we live in the spaces of oppression, we are more than our bruised and battered bodies. We are more than chalk outlines on the ground. There is ecstasy in our agony and pleasure in our pain. Watching the unrelenting brutality of the police officers was too much. After about 90 minutes I had nothing left in me to feel for characters not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t afford to. Disconnecting became an act of self preservation because the movie is 2’22” minutes long and it mirrors what is happening today.
Things happen to us as a result of racism and discrimination. But it is not the sum of our existence. The Soul of Black people is missing from this film. In the midst of our trauma we live. We love. We laugh. We’re not hiding in the shadows; we’re moving toward the light.



Why I Liked Girls Trip



I am a movie connoisseur. I’ll watch movies in any genre except horror, and now because real life is so filled with violent images, I stay away from movies with extreme violence. I watch movies for enjoyment but also for knowledge. Even movies that are purely entertainment contain life lessons. This is a three-part series on movies I’ve seen recently. They are part movie review, part social commentary. Do you agree or disagree with my views? What movies have made an impact on you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. As always, thanks for reading.  



One of my friends expressed surprise that I wanted to see Girls Trip. She knows that I like documentaries, dramas and docudramas especially about Black history which is American history. Because I am a strong proponent for social justice and equity, people assume that I’m serious all the time. They don't really know me; I do have a silly side. Being in Fight the Power mode all the time is exhausting. When I have to get out of my head, one of my primary ways of escape is movies.
I like comedy, and I love raunchy (but not vulgar) comedies. From everything I saw in the previews, Girls Trip was the prescription I needed. It was raunchy. It had actors I like and they looked like me. It was a win all the way around. So, I went to see Girls Trip—twice. And I enjoyed it each time. And I’m not alone. Since opening, Girls Trip has made 100 million dollars—the first comedy of 2017 to make that much money. This is phenomenal considering that comedies haven’t done well this year.
Is it cinematic greatness? No. It didn’t have to be. It needed to be fun, and it was! It is a story of friendship, and it is a story of love. Friends since college, Ryan, Sasha, Lisa and Dina reconnect after a five-year gap and take a trip to New Orleans for the annual Essence music festival. A trip that is supposed to solidify Ryan’s brand and rekindle old friendships, is fraught with mayhem when it’s discovered that Ryan’s husband is cheating and Sasha has the incriminating photos as proof of his infidelity. 

Loyalties are tested. Feelings are hurt. Battles are lost—and won. But in the end friendship wins. And love wins. Sounds corny right? But who doesn’t love a happy ending? With the tension and hostility poisoning the atmosphere in the world today, I needed a feel-good story.  And it had some good eye candy, too. So, I sat back, relaxed and had a good time. Everything worked. I laughed and I learned these five things:  

  1. Know your worth. It's not your social economic status. It’s not your material possessions. It’s not the letters behind your names. It’s who you are where you right now and knowing that, that is enough.

  1. Decide what "all" is to you. A spouse, a house and 2.5 kids is not everyone's dream. There is nothing wrong with being married and having children, if that’ what you want. But you have to know what you want and go after it. Success is falling down and getting back up again. You can have it all once you decide what all is for you? Writing a novel? Traveling the world? Opening a restaurant or just living a simple life that brings you unbridled joy? Don’t allow someone else to define your success.

  1.  Know you tribe. We all need a tribe of women who holds us up, but also keeps us grounded. The women we can share deep belly laughs, cry our eyes out and hold secrets like the fat inside a waist clincher. Dina, Ryan, Lisa and Sasha were there for each other even when they had issues between them. Who are the women who are there for you? Are you there for them?

  1. Find balance. Work hard, but not so hard that there is no time to play. Take time away from the duties and responsibilities of life and just be. Make space for family, friends, spouses, but also make space for self.

  1. It's all love. That what it’s all about in the end: the capacity to love and be loved. And not just romantic love, but love in all its manifestations. Love is too big to be contained.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Living in My Skin - Part 3






As a Black woman in a racist, sexist environment living in my skin has been burdensome this lately. It feels heavy and hot like I am walking around on a 90 degree day wearing a fur coat; I am suffocating. The mistreatment of us disturbs me. In light of things happening recently, I had to contemplate what it means to live in my skin. I went back into my archives and found pieces I had written about sexual abuse in the Black community.  The articles go back to 2009 but the issues are constant. Much of what I’ve written has remained the same. I only updated where I thought necessary. It is my goal to disrupt the dominant narrative that exists in our society around the devaluation of Black women and girls. We are not promiscuous gold diggers using our bodies as currency to get ahead. We are not “fast” “hot” “sassy” “thots” “hoes “or any of the other derogative terms used to dismiss us as sexual beings and make us sexual objects. We are not perfect. Like everyone else, we make mistakes.  And like everyone else, we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. We deserve to be valued. We are, after all worthy human beings, too. This a three-part essay series. I will publish a new essay every day for the next three days. Please feel free to comment on any of the essays that resonate with you. Thank you for reading and sharing your most valuable commodity—time—with me.



ESSAY #3 – TODAY
In light of the R. Kelly cult allegations, I'm going to share a personal story that I've never shared publicly before. For years I was ashamed at my response to the situation because of  the message I received growing up. 

There were certain expectations to be upheld, and you did not do anything to embarrass yourself your family and your race. And then there was gender. There were good girls and bad girls. I was good and that meant that if I followed the rules, nothing bad would happen. 

It’s mind boggling how much of the responsibility to remain safe is put on the backs of girls. We are told that boys will be boys, and we learn early not to do anything that will make a boy be a boy. It is only as I have grown that I’ve learned how dangerous this type of thinking is. This is a disservice to both girls and boys. Girls cannot control the action of boys, and it’s hell on earth when boy and men are not responsible for their own actions.

If boys will be boys is always the answer when boys (or men) do harm, then who is there to protect girls (and women)? 

What seems like eons ago, I went to visit my friend in Atlanta. She is 12 years older, and at the time she bartended on the weekend. I was in my early 20s, so people in their 30s or beyond seemed old. So, my friend asked a guy friend of hers (he was older than me, but younger than her) to take me somewhere with a younger crowd. He said he had to go home and change his shirt. The club where we were going had a dress code. Men had to have shirts with collars. He was wearing a t-shirt. 

Me? I was dressed to go out. I had on a form-fitting black dress with the shoulders out—much like the current trend in ladies tops and dressed. I had on black high-heeled pumps and my hair was on point. I looked good if I have to say so myself.

Riding in the car talking, out of nowhere he says, “How do you know I won't rape you? There is a baby-past the due date pregnant pause in the car as I gather my thoughts. 

“Cause I lift weights,” I reply.

“You bi sexual?” 

“Sometimes.”

I can't say I even understood what bi sexual means or why I say it. My sexual experience is very limited. It sounds silly as I think back.

 “You just a shit talker from Chicago.” 

We laugh and continue driving. I push How you know I won't rape you? down in my mind. My friend knows him. She wouldn't let me go out with a rapist. Would she?

This is the time before cell phones. I don’t know the name of the club where she works nor do I know her phone number to the club. We get to the house. I don't even think to just stay in the car. I'm safe . . I think.

We go in. He asks if I want to come in the back while he irons his shirt. I decline and sit on the couch in the living room. A few minutes later, a key turns in the front door and three men walk in. They look at me and me at them. We exchange hellos and they go into the back. 

How you know I won't rape you? plays on repeat in my mind and I cannot move. My heart thumps loudly in my ears. I hear my date saying that he and I are going to a club. How you know I won't rape you?  When faced with fear the fight, flee or freeze reaction seizes me. And I am frozen where I sit. They talk for a couple of minutes and then they leave. He and I leave and go to the club. We have a decent time, but I don't forget his words. They hang in the air. 

Only by the Grace of God did I not end up raped and or murdered. I trusted my friend but she couldn't vouch for this man's character. How well did she know him? Had something horrible happened to me, fingers would have pointed at me. I would have been judged for what I was wearing. Judged for being out with a man I didn’t know. Judged for being young and na├»ve. Judged for being a young Black woman.

I'm reminded of incidents over the years with girls and women whose story had a different ending. There was the young woman who shared her story in a workshop. She was standing on the bus stop and a guy she knew pulled up and asked her where she was going. He said he'd drop her off, but he had a stop to make first. When they arrived, she said she'd stay in the car. He said it was too cold for her to sit in the car, she went in with him. There was a group of men waiting in the apartment. She said about 10 guys took turns raping her. At some point, she said it was as if her spirit left her body and watched the horror happening to her.

There is the young woman who came to talk to my students about rape. She was a survivor and was willing to tell her story. My students sat in silence as she relayed not 1, not 2, but three instances of acquaintance rape, and each time she blamed herself. There was the mother of one of my students who was raped twice. She believes that if you don't get the help you need when you are sexually abused, you open up the door for it to happen again. When she was seven, she was raped by her friends' brother. She said she didn't have words to explain this man's penis inside her. She didn't tell. One day, she and the girls--his sisters were playing--and one of them said, "Tell him you got your period." The next time he came for her, that's what she said and he never bothered her again. He was a predator. His sisters, and their friends and God only knows who else were his victims.

I don't share these stories to for shock value. I share these stories because I want you to know what Black women and girls are up against in this world.