This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

December 8, 2009

Rinse, Repeat: All (Still) Comes Out in the Wash

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I first posted this back in March. Since that time, I have all but given up on Heroes. A great graphic accompanied this Racialicious post to show just how much characters of colors have lost ground on the program. In fact, the Racialicious rountablers have traded in Heroes for Flash Forward—a series I have seen only one episode of and now feel as thought I may be too far behind to get on board with. I did have a post about Prince alumni Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman’s music for the show. Maybe I’ll get to that, but I’m not holding my breath.

I still have some Nip/Tuck episodes on DVR, but I’m not that enthusiastic about watching them. There’s a new prison storyline with Matt, an older woman-younger man story line with Julia’s mother, and a serial killer wife storyline. There was an especially disturbing episode involving Sean and Julia’s daughter’s  Trichophagia—put me off of my food for the rest of the evening. But no more characters of color and continuing clumsy treatment of LGBT issues.

I’m holding out hope for the new season of True Blood. There will be a storyline featuring a (gay) vampire king. Oh—and it was not Lafayette who was found dead in a car! In the meantime, during my recent trip to San Francisco, my college roommate hipped me to Epitafios. But I have been unable to find the subtitled versions of the first season for rent anywhere. Other than that, I haven’t found any new shows to get excited about, so my TV viewing has been severely curtailed. You’d think that’d mean I’d be getting a lot of work done.

You’d think.

There are only a handful of TV shows that I watch faithfully, week in and week out. For one, I like being in on the start of a television phenomenon, seeing a series unfold in real time. Thus, it is not likely that in mid-series I will start watching, say “Lost” or “The Wire,” even when friends whose opinions I respect assure me I would love them. But mostly, I am kind of commitment phobic when it comes to TV shows, thinking they are bound to let me down as other shows have in the past.

Three of my favorite recent shows have been prime examples of this tendency of TV shows to disappoint.

“Heroes” began with a bang, and I watched it religiously. The concept was great. The cast was a virtual rainbow coalition of heroes and villains. The story lines were engaging. But over time, more and more characters of color either (a) were killed off, or just (b) disappeared from the story lines. (Racialicious has been keeping up with these developments.) This White-washing is all the more troubling because of how often White killed-off characters—but not the POC—have seemed to have the ability to come back to life. Not to mention how the few remaining characters of color have been treated: one gets his memory wiped back to his 10-year-old state; one, after his beheading, appears only as a magical Negro spiritual guide to a White character; one–known only as “The Haitian” (even in Haiti, apparently) just…kind of…falls off the script, but not before being revealed to be less powerful than what he was previously portrayed as.

"I used to have Super Human Powers." Esparta, http://www.flickr.com/photos/esparta/482348262/

"I used to have Super Human Powers." Esparta, http://www.flickr.com/photos/esparta/482348262/

My only hope for Heroes is that the mysterious “Rebel” character is the biracial little boy who can talk to and control machines. It’d be nice, though, if we could see him, instead of just his text messages.

Besides Heroes, there is in my DVR cue the FX network series Nip/Tuck. In this case the offense is not so much “White-washing”—though my favorite character from the past (played by Sanaa Lathan) has never returned despite this show’s tendency to bring back characters from past seasons. Instead, in this case we get a “Straight-washing” of the characters: One of the main female characters who used to be married to one of the male leads finally finds love in a relationship with Ellen’s real-life spouse. But…she ends up back in the bed of the other male lead…then loses her memory…then her partner (played by Portia de Rossi) unceremoniously dies on the operating table. What? Past seasons have also not been kind to sexual minorities: they are frequently mixed-up, conniving, and even (literally) murderous. Can’t just one of these characters be well adjusted?

Well, actually there was one such person. The one character who was a strong, proud lesbian from the start gets sexually and romantically involved with one of the main male leads (the same one who led Portia’s girlfriend back to the straight side—guess his organ really does have magical powers). And, in the season finale—marries him! Perhaps this is meant to be a political statement on the unfairness of California’s Proposition 8. (The series is now set in California.) But if that is the case, they probably needed to be a little less subtle with their statement.

"Vampire Children." Shawn Allen, http://www.flickr.com/photos/shazbot/18449204/

"Vampire Children." Shawn Allen, http://www.flickr.com/photos/shazbot/18449204/

Finally, “True Blood.” I have been a sucker (hee-hee) for the vampire genre ever since I was a child and first saw Bella Lugosi’s intense, sexy stare. So, needless to say I had high hopes for a modern-day vampire tale, set in Louisiana, that appeared to be a parable of the Black and LGBT civil rights struggles. And early episodes of the series did not disappoint. In fact, I was hooked by just the opening credits. But. But. More recently we get a combination, double-whammy, twofer of White- and straight-washing. The sexy Creole guy turns out to be the Vampire-lover killer (and, actually, not Creole at all). Okay. Fair enough. But then the strong-willed ironically named Black character, Tara, seems to undergo a transformation that is not making me optimistic about her further development. Oh, and there is the very interesting shy, gay vampire character who gets killed off.

And the biggest outrage: the disappearance of the hands-down most interesting character: a smart, witty, enterprising gay male character, Lafayette. In the season finale an apparently Black character who we only see from the painted toenails ends up dead.

This. Better. Not. Be. Lafayette.

Really, the main story line–a “Twilight”-like romance between a virginal White heroine and a Civil-War era Southern gentleman vampire–is the least interesting. But it is not likely that the writers will drop it, since that is what the novel series on which it is based is all about.

So, will I continue to give my love to TV programs that don’t love me? When the new seasons of these shows start up again will my feelings be spared the disappointment of my failed TV relationships of the past? Will I decide to write a work of fan fiction in which all the deposed characters of color and LGBT characters from my (previously) favorite programs appear together in their own series where they are all the stars?

Stay tuned, boys and girls…

November 11, 2009

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Questionned

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"Ask What You Can Do For Your Country," Randy SOn of Robert, http://www.flickr.com/photos/randysonofrobert/2463004864/

Just in time for Veterans Day comes the question, are today’s military rank and file personnel resistant to serving with openly gay and lesbian colleagues?

A new study about the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy questions the assumption that allowing openly gay and lesbian military personnel to serve in the U.S. armed forces could harm military readiness.

The study surveyed military personnel who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and found that having a gay or lesbian colleagues in their unit had no significant impact on their unit’s cohesion or readiness. The study, by researchers from the RAND Corporation and the University of Florida, was published online by the journal Armed Forces and Society.

“Service members said the most important factors for unit cohesion and readiness were the quality of their officers, training and equipment,” said Laura Miller, study co-author and a sociologist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Serving with another service member who was gay or lesbian was not a significant factor that affected unit cohesion or readiness to fight.”

Since the law prohibiting open service of gay and lesbian military personnel is based on the premise that open integration would harm cohesion and readiness, the findings suggest that the U.S. military should revisit the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” [DADT] policy, said Miller and study co-author Bonnie Moradi, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Florida.

The study found that just 40 percent of the military members surveyed expressed support for the policy, while 28 percent opposed it and 33 percent were neutral—less support than seen in previous surveys.

About 20 percent of those polled said they were aware of a gay or lesbian member in their unit, and about half of those said their presence was well known. In addition, three-quarters of those surveyed said they felt comfortable or very comfortable in the presence of gays or lesbians, according to the study.

The study, “Attitudes of Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans Toward Gay and Lesbian Service Members,” will appear later in the print edition of Armed Forces and Society. The study was commissioned by the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Although RAND has done other research on this topic, this study was the product of a contract directly with the researchers and not through RAND…. [Source]

One caution I have, however: Data like this are important in showing the growing irrelevancy of DADT, and in chipping away at the reasons for it that are often given. But policy change of this nature should not be tied solely to popular opinion. Leadership must lead the way.

Which leads to my second question: did you know that women generally, and Black women in particular, are especially impacted by DADT?

African Americans are overrepresented in the U.S. military, especially in the Army. The percentage of African Americans in the military still exceeds that of the general population: around 17 percent in the military, versus 12.8 percent in the U.S. population.

We also know from the 2000 census data that an estimated 65,000 men and women in uniform are gay or lesbian and are serving on active duty and in the National Guard and Reserves, while there are at least one million gay veterans in the U.S.

Too often we think of these figures as mutually exclusive: to paraphrase Gloria Hull, “all the gays are white, all the blacks are straight, and where does that leave the brave?”

According to U.S. Census data, black women with same-sex partners serve in the military at 11 times the rate of women overall. And new pentagon data shows that while women make up approximately fifteen percent of the armed forces, they account for nearly half of all “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) discharges from the Army and Air Force. Pentagon data show that African American women are discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at three times the rate that they serve in the military….[Source]

The recent tragedy at Ft. Hood brings up another important question for me: If a soldier sees an Army psychologist or psychiatrist regarding mental health concerns related to her or him being lesbian or gay, or otherwise through treatment discloses this orientation, will the service member receive confidential treatment? A recent article in the American Psychological Association’s magazine for graduate students addresses this dilemma as part of a discussion on the pros and cons of a military career:

Another tension raised by students is potential conflicts between military orders and psychological ethics, says Lt. Nicholas Guzman, who is completing an internship at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. After a presentation he made to students, several wanted to know if, as an officer, he’d be required to report a disclosure of homosexuality made by a patient. Guzman says psychology’s ethical code compels him to keep such disclosures confidential. Yeaw emphasizes that military psychologists adhere to their state’s licensing regulations and regularly consult with APA’s Ethics Office on questions of confidentiality and privacy.

“As a psychologist, you’re not put in a position where you have to break someone’s confidentiality because of orientation,” he says.

Finally in an only marginally related matter, my daughter gave a phenomenal performance as the narrator in the elementary school’s Veterans’ Day play. Her main fear prior to her performance was that she would pronounce Corps like the rotting thing that rises from the dead on Halloween instead of like the group of Marine troops. She successfully did the latter. Could her mother be prouder?

November 4, 2009

Cranberry Homophobia

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"Cranberries in fudge." villoks, http://www.flickr.com/photos/villoks/34352744/

Good point: Now that marriage equity has been repealed in Maine, will we see the same vitriol against segments of the Maine population as we saw against Black Californians (actually, all Black folks) following Proposition 8? Will Dan Savage write about feeling betrayed by small town and rural voters in Maine, who apparently voted overwhelmingly in support of Question 1?  Will he write,

I do know this, though: I’m done pretending that the handful of racist cranberry- and lobster-hating gay white men out there—and they’re out there, and I think they’re scum—are a bigger problem for African Americans Maine residents, gay and straight [and cranberry- or lobster-loving], than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans cranberry and lobster lovers are for gay Americans, whatever their color [or juice/seafood preferences]… [Original quote here]

Probably not.

At the time of Prop 8 I read lobster-crates full of incredibly racist, stunningly naive, or just plain ignorant commentary about Blacks and marriage equity and responded around blogland until I was cranberry-red in the face and utterly depressed. Eventually I quit reading and quit commenting, concluding that folks just needed to vent and that they were just (unfortunately) using Black folks as a temporary whipping group.

But I am not so sure. It is my belief that that racism never goes away and never will go away. That may be an unpopular and pessimistic view, but it is one that I hold. I do not think there will ever be a “cure” for racism, resulting in its eradication forever. There may be vaccines for uninfected young people. There may be treatments that put the scourge in remission. But it will always be there—virulent as ever in those who refuse treatment, ready to newly infect others with mutated strains, and powerfully rebounding in those who thought they were over it for good.

The fight, then, to manage racism generally and anti-Black racism specifically is an on-going struggle. As is and will be the fight against homophobia. The building and maintenance of ally relationships will have ups and downs. And probably more of the latter than the former. There will be steps forward* as well as steps—like Question 1—back.

But the way forward when we find our chins deep in the cranberry bog is to pick ourselves up, dry ourselves off, and start all over again. (Without pointing fingers at others absent the benefit of facts and context.)

*And there’s at least this look on the bright side from the world of the Chicago Cubs.

September 25, 2009

OSF Tribute to a True Musical Maverick: Meshell Ndegeocello

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It’s Tribute Week here at Old School Friday! And here is mine:

It was a hot summer day, Washington D.C., at some outdoor urban fair celebrating some thing or another and featuring overpriced bottled water and free concerts. It was a homecoming of sorts for Meshelle Ndegeocello, a relatively new artist on the scene. Though she was an Army brat born in Germany—she had spent some childhood and college years not far from where she was now jamming on stage. I was impressed with how tight her band was, how they changed chords at her merest nod of instruction and took it to the bridge one more time with the merest thump-signal of her bass. Somewhere in this enjoyment of the concert, the woman standing next to me said “Sweet Jesus, it’s like I wandered into a meeting of the dyke mafia.”

I experienced a moment of confusion. Perhaps she had assumed I was Family and was sharing a wry in-joke observation with me. In which case I would be flattered. But perhaps she had assumed I was a fellow homophobe and was sharing a hateful condemnation with me. In which case I would be outraged.

Probably for the sake of this blog post all these years later I should make up a story of a witty response on my part and a funny resolution. But as happens in most such ambiguous encounters, I said nothing. The moment hung there and then dissipated, leaving the sounds of Meshell and her kick-ass band going through another number for the crowd.

But I do recall then noticing for the first time that the audience was filled with almost all women. Some seamed just to be jamming and enjoying the music. Many, though, seemed to be silently dissecting Meshell and her lyrics: Here she is talking about “if that’s your boyfriend he wasn’t last night…wassup with that? Is that Black woman up front her partner? How well does she know Madonna? I thought her stuff would sound more like John Mellencamp. How the hell do you pronounce her name, anyway? So, is she a rapper or what?

OK. So I know I was probably imagining what these women were thinking. And I understand that most people—regardless of mafia membership—probably had to work a little at fitting Meshell into a neat box. She was funk and hip hop and spoken word and R&B and jazz and rock. She was an openly bisexual woman singing songs about loving men and loving women. She played an instrument that was a tall as she was. What the hell was she?

A maverick, that’s what.

How fitting, then, that she was recording on Madonna’s then-new label, Maverick Records.

Since that first album, she has continued to evolve. Themes of the the often-time painful exploration of spirituality and sexual and racial  identity have taken more space on her albums. Themes of sexual and romantic longing infuse her lyrics in ways that are honest and blunt and familiar to anyone who has ever loved and not-gotten or loved and lost. She has explored jazz instrumentals that—in an ideal world—would have critics talking of her ushering in a “neo-fusion” movement as they have talked of her jump starting “neo-soul.” She has collaborated with some of the most talented artists in the music world.

She is a staple on tribute albums and movie soundtracks, with her ability to so expertly study and reinterpret the music of her predecessors and to so beautifully  paint music-mood pictures.

Despite being—still—highly unpackageable in a heavily packaged musical world, she has managed to produce a steady output of music that is greedily gobbled up by a strong, if somewhat small, fan base.

And I hear that she will be releasing a new album!

I hope that this means she will also be embarking on a tour—a major one that will pass through my small corner of the universe. The Meshell Ndegeocello experience is not complete without seeing her in concert. I saw her one more time after the free D.C. concert—this time indoors, in Montreux, Switzerland at the famous jazz festival. Again, she was absolutely amazing. Again, her band was tight. Again, she took us through all sorts of genres and moods and grooves. She, obviously, takes performing seriously, as she had been no less professional and serious about her performance at her early free D.C. concert than on this international stage.

I can only hope—and wait. And in the meantime offer up this Old School Friday Tribute to a True Musical Maverick, Meshell Ndegeocello. As always, have a great OSF and a wonderful weekend. Enjoy!


Dred Loc (Sly and Robbie Edit)


Who is He (And What is He to You)?


Leviticus: Faggot


Fool of Me


Picture Show

*******************

As always, a big thank you to OSF hostesses, Marvalus at Conversations with Marva and MrsGrapevine.

Please check out the rules for joining and list of other OSF participants here.

July 16, 2009

Do Ask, Do Tell: the Military Readiness Enhancement Act

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On March 3, 2009, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. Today, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), now lead sponsor, is joined by 161 bipartisan cosponsors and counting. SLDN is working with key allies to introduce parallel legislation in the U.S. Senate.

The Military Readiness Enhancement Act would repeal the federal law banning military service by openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The bill would replace this ban with new provisions prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in the armed forces. Current regulations regarding the personal conduct of military members would remain unchanged as long as they are written and enforced in a sexual orientation neutral manner. Persons previously discharged on the basis of sexual orientation would be eligible to apply to rejoin the military. The Military Readiness Enhancement Act would not create a right to benefits for same-sex partners or spouses, because under current federal law such benefits would violate the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would strengthen military readiness, retention and recruitment across the board.

Repeal would enable the military to attract and retain critical personnel. Nearly 13,000 service members have been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since 1993, and strong evidence suggests that countless others have made the choice not to join the military or have left military service at the end of their commitments rather than serve under this discriminatory law. According to a 2005 GAO report, almost 800 persons discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” had skills deemed “mission critical” by the military. Discharging linguists, doctors, nurses, mechanics, infantrymen and intelligence analysts for no other reason than because of their sexual orientation weakens readiness and undermines unit cohesion. Allowing all qualified Americans to serve regardless of sexual orientation will make every branch of our military stronger.

Repeal will also save millions of taxpayer dollars every year. According to the GAO report, it has cost more than $200 million to replace service members fired under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” GAO admits that this is an incomplete estimate; the true cost is even higher.

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” reflects American values. Polling shows that at least 75 percent of Americans support allowing gays to serve openly in our nation’s military. And Americans care deeply about treating our service members and veterans with the respect and thanks they deserve, not as second class citizens. It is estimated that more than 65,000 gay Americans serve in the military now, and that our country is home to more than 1,000,000 gay veterans. (Source, h/t Electronic Village)

Does your congressperson support the MREA? Ask. Then tell them to (continue to) do so.

May 27, 2009

Read It, and Don’t Weep

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The decision by the California Supreme Court upholding last November’s Proposition 8 outcome is on-line in its entirety. It is 185 pages long, but not too complicated to understand.

The gist of the decision is not nearly as dire as some reports are making it out to be. This is not an against-marriage-equity thing; It is a procedural thing. Further, it is a California thing.

California is a funky place to do democracy. From the decision transcript (available here):

In considering this question, it is essential to keep in mind that the provisions of the California Constitution governing the procedures by which that Constitution may be amended are very different from the more familiar provisions of the United States Constitution relating to the means by which the federal Constitution may be amended.  The federal Constitution provides that an amendment to that Constitution may be proposed either by two-thirds of both houses of Congress or by a convention called on the application of two-thirds of the state legislatures, and requires, in either instance, that any proposed amendment be ratified by the legislatures of (or by conventions held in) three-fourths of the states.  In contrast, the California Constitution provides that an amendment to that Constitution may be proposed either by two-thirds of the membership of each house of the Legislature or by an initiative petition signed by voters numbering at least 8 percent of the total votes cast for all candidates for Governor in the last gubernatorial election, and further specifies that, once an amendment is proposed by either means, the amendment becomes part of the state Constitution if it is approved by a simple majority of the voters who cast votes on the measure at a statewide election.

As is evident from the foregoing description, the process for amending our state Constitution is considerably less arduous and restrictive than the amendment process embodied in the federal Constitution, a difference dramatically demonstrated by the circumstance that only 27 amendments to the United States Constitution have been adopted since the federal Constitution was ratified in 1788, whereas more than 500 amendments to the California Constitution have been adopted since ratification of California’s current Constitution in 1879.  [Emphasis added; Citations removed for ease of reading]

Get that? Twenty seven versus 500+—in a much more expanded time frame, even. What happens now is that the fight will go on. And that fight must be, in my opinion, also on the procedural front and settled as a matter of constitutionality. I respect that many people are fighting the battle to change hearts and minds. But that can take a loooong time—if it ever happens fully at all. The dissenting opinion frames the way forward as a matter of the principle of  equal protection:

The equal protection clause is therefore, by its nature, inherently countermajoritarian. As a logical matter, it cannot depend on the will of the majority for its enforcement, for it is the will of the majority against which the equal protection clause is designed to protect.… [Emphasis added]

In other words, the rights of a minority group, who is discriminated against by a majority, cannot be decided by the decision of that majority. The dissenting opinion concludes:

…Proposition 8 represents an unprecedented instance of a majority of voters altering the meaning of the equal protection clause by modifying the California Constitution to require deprivation of a fundamental right on the basis of a suspect classification.  The majority’s holding is not just a defeat for same-sex couples, but for any minority group that seeks the protection of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.

This could not have been the intent of those who devised and enacted the initiative process.  In my view, the aim of Proposition 8 and all similar initiative measures that seek to alter the California Constitution to deny a fundamental right to a group that has historically been subject to discrimination on the basis of a suspect classification, violates the essence of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution and fundamentally alters its scope and meaning.  Such a change cannot be accomplished through the initiative process by a simple amendment to our Constitution enacted by a bare majority of the voters; it must be accomplished, if at all, by a constitutional revision to modify the equal protection clause to protect some, rather than all, similarly situated persons. I would therefore hold that Proposition 8 is not a lawful amendment of the California Constitution. [Emphasis added]

So the beat goes on. I have said elsewhere that this is the time for marriage equality. I think that there is a momentum, an arc of history, that is bending toward it. And I think that those who oppose same-sex marriage—no matter how passionately or sincerely they feel it—are on the wrong side of history on this one.

Time will tell. But I am not weeping.

May 16, 2009

“Don’t Lie; Don’t Hide; Don’t Discriminate”

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"12,000 Flags for 12,000 Patriots." dbking, http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootbearwdc/2081490619/

"12,000 Flags for 12,000 Patriots." dbking, http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootbearwdc/2081490619/

Dear President Barack Obama,

The time has come to end discrimination in our armed forces. We, the undersigned, ask you to stop the discharge of Lt. Dan Choi and any other soldier as a result of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. We ask that you uphold your pledge and push Congress to quickly put a bill on your desk to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

April 17, 2009

Old School Friday: Sounds of Silence…and Promise

Filed under: Old School Friday — Tags: , , , — pprscribe @ 9:41 am

I am so relieved that today’s theme for Old School Friday leaves the choice up to us bloggers. I would like to dedicate my selections today to the memory of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.

Had he not taken his life, today his mother would be waking him up with a welcome to his last year of childhood before his teen years. He probably would have had a nice breakfast, maybe one last look at the mail to see if any other relatives had sent him a birthday card with a five or ten dollar bill in it. His mother would have told him the embarrassing story, for the umpteenth time, about how he used to cross his eyes when he was a baby and giggle so hard he passed gas. Or about how he used to hate wearing a diaper as a toddler and once streaked through the living room, bare-bottomed and free, where Pastor and several other church members were seated. He would have rushed at the last minute to locate his math book or his science homework, and been ushered back into the bathroom to wash a bit of toothpaste from the side of his chin. He would have left his house with a big smile on his face.

But then, likely even on the anniversary of his birth, he would have gone to the New Leadership Charter School and would have once again been taunted for not conforming to other kids’ strict narrow ideas about what a 12-year-old Black boy should look like and be like.

Besides what would have been Carl’s 12 birthday, today is the 13th Annual National Day of Silence:

The National Day of Silence brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. Each year the event has grown, now with hundreds of thousands of students coming together to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBT behavior.

day_of_silenceMany bloggers have been following the story of this young man. I know I am missing many. (I’ll update as I come across more.) But a few posts I have seen:

play-ville-de-lumiere-by-goldPlaylist:

“To Be Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone

“Bridge Over troubled Water” by Aretha Franklin

“God Bless the Child” by Billie Holiday

***As always, a big thank you to OSF hostesses, Marvalus at Opinionated Black Woman and MrsGrapevine.***

March 22, 2009

All Comes Out in the Wash

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There are only a handful of TV shows that I watch faithfully, week in and week out. For one, I like being in on the start of a television phenomenon, seeing a series unfold in real time. Thus, it is not likely that in mid-series I will start watching, say “Lost” or “The Wire,” even when friends whose opinions I respect assure me I would love them. But mostly, I am kind of commitment phobic when it comes to TV shows, thinking they are bound to let me down as other shows have in the past.

Three of my favorite recent shows have been prime examples of this tendency of TV shows to disappoint.

“Heroes” began with a bang, and I watched it religiously. The concept was great. The cast was a virtual rainbow coalition of heroes and villains. The story lines were engaging. But over time, more and more characters of color either (a) were killed off, or just (b) disappeared from the story lines. (Racialicious has been keeping up with these developments.) This White-washing is all the more troubling because of how often White killed-off characters–but not the POC– have seemed to have the ability to come back to life. Not to mention how the few remaining characters of color have been treated: one gets his memory wiped back to his 10-year-old state; one, after his beheading, appears only as a magical Negro spiritual guide to a White character; one–known only as “The Haitian” (even in Haiti, apparently) just…kind of…falls off the script, but not before being revealed to be less powerful than what he was previously portrayed as.

"I used to have Super Human Powers." Esparta, http://www.flickr.com/photos/esparta/482348262/

"I used to have Super Human Powers." Esparta, http://www.flickr.com/photos/esparta/482348262/

My only hope for Heroes is that the mysterious “Rebel” character is the biracial little boy who can talk to and control machines. It’d be nice, though, if we could see him, instead of just his text messages.

Besides Heroes, there is in my DVR cue the FX network series Nip/Tuck. In this case the offense is not so much “White-washing”–though my favorite character from the past (played by Sanaa Lathan) has never returned despite this show’s tendency to bring back characters from past seasons. Instead, in this case we get a “Straight-washing” of the characters: One of the main female characters who used to be married to one of the male leads finally finds love in a relationship with Ellen’s real-life spouse. But…she ends up back in the bed of the other male lead…then loses her memory…then her partner (played by Portia de Rossi) unceremoniously dies on the operating table. What? Past seasons have also not been kind to sexual minorities: they are frequently mixed-up, conniving, and even (literally) murderous. Can’t just one of these characters be well adjusted?

Well, actually there was one such person. The one character who was a strong, proud lesbian from the start gets sexually and romantically involved with one of the main male leads (the same one who led Portia’s girlfriend back to the straight side–guess his organ really does have magical powers). And, in the season finale—marries him! Perhaps this is meant to be a political statement on the unfairness of California’s Proposition 8. (The series is now set in California.) But if that is the case, they probably needed to be a little less subtle with their statement.

"Vampire Children." Shawn Allen, http://www.flickr.com/photos/shazbot/18449204/

"Vampire Children." Shawn Allen, http://www.flickr.com/photos/shazbot/18449204/

Finally, “True Blood.” I have been a sucker (hee-hee) for the vampire genre ever since I was a child and first saw Bella Lugosi’s intense, sexy stare. So, needless to say I had high hopes for a modern-day vampire tale, set in Louisiana, that appeared to be a parable of the Black and LGBT civil rights struggles. And early episodes of the series did not disappoint. In fact, I was hooked by just the opening credits. But. But.  More recently we get a combination, double-whammy, twofer of White- and straight-washing. The sexy Creole guy turns out to be the Vampire-lover killer (and, actually, not Creole at all). Okay. Fair enough. But then the strong-willed ironically named Black character, Tara, seems to undergo a transformation that is not making me optimistic about her further development. Oh, and there is the very interesting shy, gay vampire character who gets killed off.

And the biggest outrage: the disappearance of the hands-down most interesting character: a smart, witty, enterprising gay male character, Lafayette. In the season finale an apparently Black character who we only see from the painted toenails ends up dead.

This. Better. Not. Be. Lafayette.

Really, the main story line–a “Twilight”-like romance between a virginal White heroine and a Civil-War era Southern gentleman vampire–is the least interesting. But it is not likely that the writers will drop it, since that is what the novel series on which it is based is all about.

So, will I continue to give my love to TV programs that don’t love me? When the new seasons of these shows start up again will my feelings be spared the disappointment of my failed TV relationships of the past? Will I decide to write a work of fan fiction in which all the deposed characters of color and LGBT characters from my (previously) favorite programs appear together in their own series where they are all the stars?

Stay tuned, boys and girls…

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

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