Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Sad Truths of Straight Out of Compton

I left the movie theater heavy-hearted after viewing Straight Out of Compton. I allowed the positive buzz around the movie to suck me into seeing it even though I’ve never been a fan of NWA. While I loved Public Enemy, NWA was a bit over the top for me. I didn’t then and still don’t like music with explicitly sexual and/or violent lyrics. Words are things. Words matter. So, I’m mindful of the words that fill my head. I detest music that refers to women as bitches and hoes, and NWA lyrics are full of such references. I cringed as I sat in the theater listening to some of their infamous songs about life in the hood.

So, why did I want to see Straight Out of Compton? I was curious: Who was NWA? I wanted to know their story. I wanted to get an inside look at the men behind the music. I’m not the same person I used to be, and I wanted to see if they were different than I thought them to be. I went seeking understanding; I went looking for redemption. I wanted to be sympathetic to their plight as young Black men in urban America; I wasn’t. 

There’s a scene in the movie Doubt where the nun, played by Meryl Streep speaks with the mother of a student at the school who the nun suspects is being molested by the priest. Streep’s character wants the mother to say something. But the mother, brilliantly played by Viola Davis, refuses. The mother wants to keep her son free from the wrath of her husband who rejects his son’s perceived sexuality. Never in my life did I think that I would be ok with not revealing the identity of a suspected child molester! But she made understand why she was willing to look the other way if her son was being molested if she thought it would save his life. 

In Nathan McCall’s book, Makes Me Wanna Holla, there is a chapter called Trains that is very difficult to read, but so insightful into the psyche of some young men. McCall explains how the young men in the hood looked up to the old heads, and how the old heads were disrespectful of women. The chapter explains how the boys would trick girls into compromising situations and gang rape (run a train) them. Later in the chapter, McCall goes into detail about having a girlfriend and taking her to a friend’s house for sex, but learns that his boys have set her up for a train. He ends up getting into a fight trying to defend her honor. But a couple of the guys take the girl to another apartment to finish what they started. McCall does an excellent job of demonstrating the warped view many men held of manhood and the roles of women and girls in their lives. He also shows a maturity that I found lacking in characters in Straight Out of Compton.

It has been said that members of NWA were revolutionaries, but there was nothing revolutionary about their music or about their movie. It was a bio pic—based on real life events, and they had the right to tell the story that they wanted to tell. And they did. The only one who was really “about that life” was Eazy-E. Both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre came from stable home environments. It was a well-cast film that left me cold. I couldn’t wrap my head around glorifying what I saw as a destructive force in the Black community. Every time a movie about slavery or the civil rights movement comes out, there’s a chorus of Black folk complaining that we keep telling the same stories of victimization. Well, we’ve seen this story a thousand times as well.  I didn’t find anything revelatory in the nearly 2 ½ hours that I sat and watched.  Here are five sad truths that I gleaned from Straight Out of Compton.

1.       We’re still oppressed—some of us more than others. I was disappointed in how easily Eazy-E fell for the okey-doke. He allowed their manager Jerry to swindle not only the group out of money, but Eazy was also taken advantage of because he trusted this White man that he didn’t know, to do right by him. Even after Ice-Cube and Dr. Dre tried to tell him, Eazy still believed in Jerry. Yea, even the so-called hard-core members of keeping-it-real, fuck-the-police NWA were still looking for a White Savior.

2.       Consumption and greed continues to be our downfall. As soon as the money started rolling in, so did the wild parties, the drugs and the excess of material goods. There was never any mention in the movie of them giving any money back to the community or doing any type of charity work. It was all about how much they could get and spend. Though Dr. Dre and Ice Cube managed to escape the downward spiral that so many of our athletes and entertainers succumb to, Eazy Ended up being a casualty of never having enough.

3.       Colorism is alive and well. Not only did the members of NWA end up with light-skinned women as partners in real life, there was a color caste system used to hire girls for the movie. When the casting call went out, the request was for girls who were classified as A’s B’s, C’s and D’s with the brighter complexions and straighter hair being A’s and B’s, brown girls with weaves were C’s, and dark skinned, poor girls were D’s. I can’t make this up! Here’s a link to the story: And this is what we saw play out on the screen. Most of the women in the movie were light skinned. Early in the film, Eazy E was the only one who had a brown-skinned woman, but she was also “upgraded” for a lighter model. Some of the “blackest” men we know adhered to a Eurocentric model of beauty. Kathleen Cleaver, member of the Black Panther Party and wife of fellow Panther, Eldridge Cleaver spoke of being told to go inside during times of conflict so as not to mess up her pretty light face.

4.       Misogyny was and still is an issue. NWA objectified women. They were boys with toys to be discarded at will. Though they come off as decent guys in the movie, their lyrics and their lifestyles show their disdain for women. Ice Cube married his girl and they’re still together. It’s inferred that Dr. Dre’s desire to pursue a relationship with a woman who didn’t want drama was partly why he left Death Row Records. And Eazy-E was also married in the film, but their references to women as bitches as hoes seemed to also reflect how they felt about women. An abuser doesn’t call his woman honey or babe before he hits her; she’s probably a bitch, or a hoe. Maybe that explains Dr. Dre’s abusive past and Ice Cube’s recent interview with Rolling Out in which he reinerates why some women are bitches and hoes, and only women who fit into those categories should be concerned. When Dr. Dre brutally attacked journalist Dee Barnes, members of NWA thought she got what she deserved. It was only with the release of Straight Out of Compton that Dr. Dre saw the need to apologize for his past transgressions.

5.       Hypocrisy at its best. NWA may have made music that was raunchy and edgy, but at the end of the day, they were entertainers shuckin’ and jivin’ for the master. Their gangster rap wasn’t for the people in communities like Compton; it was for the masturbating voyeurs in the suburbs who played out the racist fantasies of hood life in their minds. NWA exploited what was happening in urban America for material gain. These are the sad truths straight out of the book of conformity and status quo.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Bitter Taste of the Rainbow

My early childhood was spent on the segregated west side of Chicago—Jackson and Leavitt before gentrification. It is the near west side now because of its integrated population unburdened by its former ghetto association with the blighted areas of the real west side. It was a magical time in my life. Unencumbered by race because I interacted primarily with other Black people, I didn’t know racial prejudice. The only other race of people I came in contact with were White. They were the teachers and administrators at my school, and the old couple who lived next door, but their Whiteness was overshadowed by their age. I was more concerned with the fact that they seemed really old than I was that they were a different race.

I come from a proud family. And my mother was definitely a no-nonsense woman who commanded respect. We were taught to be respectful, but not to kow-tow to anyone. I was a sensitive child (which sometimes carries over into my adult life), so it was important for people to like me. I have painfully learned the hard way that it’s fine to be liked, but it’s better to be respected. I live the by the saying: You teach people how to treat you.

The summer I was nine and my niece Rhonda was seven, my oldest sister, Julia (Rhonda’s mother) wanted to broaden our horizon by enrolling us in a summer day camp program. Opposed to the idea from the beginning, I was content to run up and down the street playing Tag, It, Rock Teacher, Hide- and-Go Seek and other childhood games with my friends on the block. My sister had paid for us to go, so off we were shipped to Day Camp.

It was a life-changing experience that brought me face-to-face with the ugliness of racial prejudice. The first blow was that Rhonda and I were separated for most of the day because we were in two different age groups. Our groups were also gender-based. Did I mention that we were the only two specks of pepper in a sea of salt? Later in the summer two other Black kids—a brother and sister joined the camp. At least Rhonda had a Black counselor; her name was Phyllis. Me? I was doing the best I could to keep from drowning in cultural supremacy.

My counselor was a wimpy, White woman named Terry. The girls in my group were such mean brats that they made Terry cry every day. When she stopped crying long enough to lead us in some activities, it was disastrous for me. If it was Duck, Duck Goose, I waited patiently as the girls went around touching everyone’s head, duck, duck, duck. . . goose. I was never tapped. When it was Red Rover, I never heard, Red Rover, Red Rover send Stephanie on over. I managed to get through the mornings because I knew that after lunch all of the groups came together and I could escape the Mean Girls and find my way back to my niece and a sense of knowing.

I liked to braid hair, and Terry liked her hair braided. So, sometimes she’d let me braid her hair. The other girls liked to play in her hair because it was really long, but I was the only one who knew how to braid hair. I eventually adjusted to life at camp, and I actually thought things were getting better, but I was wrong. The Mean Girls had simply taken a couple of days off. One day, one of the girls in my group had some Skittles. I liked Starbursts; I had never seen Skittles and I wanted to taste the rainbow. “You want some?” she offered. But before she gave me the candy, she smashed it up first. She handed it to me, and I took it, tasted it and felt like someone punched me in my stomach. I chewed on the bitterness of the rainbow of racial prejudice.

It was a long time before I ate Skittles again, and a long time before I forgave myself. To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t throw that candy back in her face or simply decline. That people-pleasing little girl is gone. She’s been replaced by a woman who loves rainbows because she knows that a rainbow is not a rainbow without its variety of hues. It is the colors of the rainbow that makes it beautiful. And the bitterness of the rainbow that I tasted as a child has shown me that life is so much sweeter now that I know my worth.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Annoying People in the Office

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The Golden Rule states that we should treat people the way we want to be treated, and though that seems easy enough, it doesn’t always happen. In a perfect world, we would all treat each other with dignity, respect, kindness and consideration, but in the world we have to deal with imperfect people not only in our daily interactions, but also in the workplace.  We can all identify colleagues who make can make the hair on our neck stand on end with their antics, but the funny thing nobody knows that they’re driving everyone in the office down the high of no return with some of their antics. Do you recognize any of these people from your workplace?

First up is Talking Ted. He never shuts up. No matter what the subject matter is, he has opinion, and not matter who’s talking, Ted is talking, too. He suffers from verbal diarrhea because he mouth never stops running, and when you see him you want to run and hand him a bottle of Keopectate to see if that can help.
Next is Fidgety Fiona. She’s the tapper—pencil, pen, tips of her nails. She’s also a shaker. Sitting next to her in a meeting is like sitting next to vibrator. She can’t stop moving and as much as you’d like to shake her to make her sit still, you know that it won’t like and she’ll probably like it!

Messy Marvin thinks he has a personal maid or butler, but he thinks he does. He’s the one who takes advantage of the free coffee in the morning, adding cream and sugar, but leaving empty sugar packets, granules, and cream ups in his wake. Cleaning up behind himself is akin to sin. 

Negative Ned never has anything good to say. Makes you want to shoot yourself with a water gun and take yourself out of the misery of his company. When you see him coming you just want to stick your fingers in your ears, close your eyes and just make stupid noises to drown out his negative commentary.

Let’s face it; we don’t always love the people we work for, or the things that they make us do, so the last thing we want to do is hear from Rah Rah Reese is the company cheerleader. No matter how ridiculous something sounds, it all sounds good to Rah Rah Reese. Rah Rah Reese is such a suck-up that every time you see him, you just want to hand him a pack of straws.

The workplace is a very interesting place with a cast of colorful characters. Do you see any of your co-workers or maybe you see yourself? Which member of the cast do you most hate or relate to?