Tuesday, February 26, 2019

We Have a Long Way to Go

As if we needed proof.

We've recently seen both open and explicit reminders and subtle and quiet reminders of how far we have to come regarding addressing racism, racial discrimination, and bias.  

First, much attention has been drawn to Spike Lee's Oscar acceptance speech, with some, including our President, referring to it as racist.

Here's the text of Spike's acceptance speech (included below).  I'm having trouble finding the racism in there.

"The word today is “irony.” The date, the 24th. The month, February, which also happens to be the shortest month of the year, which also happens to be Black History month. The year, 2019. The year, 1619. History. Her story. 1619. 2019. 400 years.

Four hundred years. Our ancestors were stolen from Mother Africa and bought to Jamestown, Virginia, enslaved. Our ancestors worked the land from can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night. My grandmother, Zimmie Shelton Retha, who lived to be 100 years young, who was a Spelman College graduate even though her mother was a slave. My grandmother who saved 50 years of Social Security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me “Spikie-poo” — she put me through Morehouse College and NYU grad film. NYU!

Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who have built this country into what it is today along with the genocide of its native people. We all connect with our ancestors. We will have love and wisdom regained, we will regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment. The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there."

What I see is a reminder of our uncomfortable history and a call to action.  It's not racist to disagree with the President.  It's not racist to say that Trump is on the wrong side of history. There are people of all races who think that.

It is ironic that a President who has trouble identifying actual racists believes Spike Lee to be one.  And also ironic that a President known for having issues with a teleprompter calls out Spike for reading from his notes.

I mean, I get it.  Spike's style is in your face. It's real.  It's visceral.  But that's his point.  BlacKkKlansman, his opus presented last year, opens with bookends of films within the film.  It opens with a long tracking shot from Gone With the Wind revealing the Confederate wounded, showing our twisted vision of a grand noble Dixie.  A Technicolor dream of the Old South.  In the middle, it slips in clips of The Birth of a Nation, a problematic  silent epic that on one hand cemented films legacy, but also was blatant propaganda for the Klu Klux Klan.  It ends with the reality of the live footage of the Charlottesville marches.  All gut punches that remind us of what we've been through and where we are.  How much this truly racist strain is among us.

But his speech Sunday night?  That's a good speech and a relatively restrained Spike.  I shudder how people calling him racist would react to his movies.

Plus, props to him for trying to walkout when Green Book was announced for Best Picture.  I'd have thrown my hands up too.

As a further reminder of how far we still have to go in more insidious ways, New York City, as of February 18, 2019, just passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on hair or hairstyle.  Specifically, the guidelines mention the right to maintain "natural hair, treated or untreated hairstyles such as locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, fades, Afros, and or the right to keep hair in an uncut or untrimmed state."  Workplace bans on any of these specific types of hairstyles would disproportionately affect minorities, specifically African Americans.  And they are surprisingly common.

As the article states, the guidelines are based on an argument that hairstyle is inherent to one's race and can be closely associated with racial, ethnic, or cultural identity, therefor deserving protection under the city's human rights laws.  This is currently something that is protected only at a local level.  There is no legal precedent in federal court for the protection of hair.  Last spring, the Supreme Court refused to hear arguments on Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions (2013, Alabama), in which a black woman, Chastity Jones, had her job offer at an insurance company rescinded after she refused to cut off her dreadlocks.  The lower courts had ruled that the company's actions did not constitute racial discrimination.

This is tied to the idea of "good hair" - visibly loosely curled, wavy, and/or straight hair as opposed to tightly coiled hair.  The idea that somehow one style of hair is better than the other.  That natural hair is not desired.

I mean think about it.  It's 2019 and we have to forcibly remind people that others should be allowed to wear their hair as it naturally comes out of their heads!

We've made great strides, no question.  But we've got a long way to go.  And we really need to stamp out some fires that are coming back that we thought we put out long ago.


No comments:

Post a Comment