Let’s Have A Toast to the Assholes: Leave Kanye Alone….No Really

Google the search terms Kanye West + Asshole, and as you might imagine; you will get a surplus of returns.  Kanye’s manic form of genius combined with a decidedly lax brain to mouth filter has resulted in his name becoming almost synonymous with the insult in certain circles—amongst Taylor Swift fans for instance.

With the recent brouhaha over the Matt Lauer interview and Bush’s claim that West’s infamous black people gaff was the worst moment of  his presidency (apparently worst than Katrina itself, the domestic economic meltdown, Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Valerie Plame, Harriet Miers….I’ll stop in the interest of time), Kanye is back in the headlines again.  And the coverage ain’t good.

Lauer’s interview with West was at best poor journalism and at worst an intentional attempt to create another Kanye moment.  You know Kanye moments: insulting the Commander and Chief by implying he was a racist, interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV movie awards, as well a series of rants, interruptions, politically incorrect pop-offs, tantrums and most recently rogue tweets.  Yet it’s these moments combined with leveraging the most creative musical brain in hip-hop to make hit after consecutive hit that makes Kanye both genius and walking spectacle.

He  has been called the villain,the asshole, the jerk, the douche bag but he is more accurately described as a man in progress.  He occasionally back slides but this understandable for someone burden by an ego the size of the twitterverse. He is admittedly self-conscience and evidently a driven perfectionist—who really does love his art.  Over the years, Kanye has had a series of personal dramas play-out within the pages tabloids and on gossip blogs.  Despite a life threatening car accident, the untimely and tragic loss of his mother, and a series of public break-ups, he has continued to be a prolific and evolving artist.  I believe this is because he is driven first by a desire to create and is more conflicted and quite frankly limited in his ability to manage the fame.

Kanye is  the modern Andy Warhol.  Both aesthetically driven workaholics bound by an excess of personality, they have in common a vision to achieve wealth through their art  and an unfettered desire to see their dreams manifest. In another time, Kanye might be considered colorful or brash.  However, with a 24-hour news cycle largely padded by entertainment news, he provides the  perfect patsy for a world dominated by far less ingenious and productive assholes.  So I’m saying: leave Kanye alone.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for Kanye.  Okay its more than a soft spot.  I date him in my mind and we are in love, but in the interest of a neutral analysis I have put that aside.  Instead I have tried to speak to the madness at the heart of his genius or the genius at the heart of his madness—depending on where you stand.  Suffice it to say whether you love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion of Kanye.

If  Kanye is anything, he is unapologetic.  He is unapologetically Black, unapologetically brilliant, unapologetically flawed, and unapologetically wealthy. “Wake Up Mr. West”, said the late great Bernie Mac in the opening of the Kanye’s classic Late Registration album and I do mean; recall Touch the Sky, Gold Digger, Diamonds From Sierra Leone. Wake up indeed and recently Kanye has woken up.  Sure he is still brash, cocky, fashionable, and manic; yet he has managed to temper his special brand of swagga-dopeness with a swig of humble juice.  He kind of apologized to the president, though he did refuse to perform on the Today show plaza in a return visit.  With an album on the way perhaps this wasn’t the most expedient choice from marketing stand point, but it was aligned to his convictions and you cannot be mad at that.

Wherever you stand, you have to respect Kanye for his what he is doing with music.  I appreciate and salute him for his authenticity even in his most ungraceful moments. My only hope is that the tedium of fame that he both craves and despises does not stifle his creativity or leave him jaded .  I want Kanye to be his irrepressible self.  Hollywood is so celluloid that it is nice to see someone so completely themselves.  Suffice it to say: Kanye I love you—flaws and all.

Diamonds are A Girl’s Best Friend: Naomi Campbell’s Blissful, Beautiful Ignorance

Naomi Campbell is a world-famous supermodel with money, power, access, and influence.  Over the span of her career she has clearly lived a life of privilege based on the commodification of her physical beauty and her ability to market that as an asset.   Ms. Campbell has garnered and actually leveraged a reputation as a world-class diva or bitch, depending on your point of view—largely steeming from her tendency to lose her cool and launch objects at “the help”.   The most recent spate of  controversy to hit the glamazon involves her alleged receipt of blood diamonds from ex-Liberian leader Charles Taylor, who is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in Sierra Leone’s civil war.  Campbell was summoned by the  war crimes tribunal to give evidence on the alleged exchange.   Despite her initial refusal to attend, Campbell was subsequently subpoenaed and gave 90 minutes of testimony that bordered between reluctant and blithely stupid.

As a Campbell fan—albeit now wavering one—I was very troubled by the portions of her testimony I saw online and read in the press.  Her appearance at the trial of  the alleged war lord was certainly an odd pairing in the world of pop-culture and international politics.  Yet, to come to such an event on the world stage with such a  callous  and indifferent demeanor was simply irresponsible.   After arriving at the proceeds fashionably late but fashionable in a crème brulee ensemble and perfectly coiffed main, Ms. Campbell stated “I didn’t really want to be here.  I was made to be here. Obviously I just want to get this over with and get on with my life. This is a major inconvenience for me.”

Some are reporting  that there were obvious gasps from the public gallery in response to this statement, no doubt a reflection of her seeming lack of concern for the larger context of the day’s events.  If you watch the video, she generally seemed annoyed and put off by the entire proceedings, and spoke in a tone that suggested that given her beauty, fame, fortune, and status she was really “above” the entire situation.  I suppose strolling down catwalks and jet setting at white parties with Diddy is more appealing that testifying before the Hague, but Campbell should have shown some more dignity and class, as a citizen of the world but also as a person of African decent.  Suffice it to say,  I am quite sure the victims and surviving families of the bloodshed and other indignities of war were at times inconvenienced, as well.

Campbell was born in the UK and had a rather posh upbringing.  Discovered at 15, her quick rise and phenomenal success in the fashion world put her in a social strata that perhaps shielded her from the realities of those struggling with war, famine, and poverty—though she has done work with Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund and other charities.

Throughout her career she has been known to behave like a petulant child, but Ms. Campbell showed a real lack of respect for the people of Liberia, Sierra Leone and those concerned with their plight, with this most recent episode.   Whereas I once regarded her as an icon of Black beauty in an industry that has historically rewarded the more western beauty aesthetic, I now wonder if Ms. Campbell is simply all style and no substance.   During one baffling exchange in her  testimony she stated that she had never heard of Charles Taylor before, never heard of the Country Liberia before, and had never heard the term ‘blood diamonds’.  I mean even Kanye West had a song about Blood Diamond, perhaps he might fill her in on what she has clearly missed; I mean they do move in the same circles.

Now granted my knowledge of world events is grounded in what I can learn reading the Washington Post, listening to PRIs The World, and the second hour of Diane Rehm Friday newsround up, but honestly I pray Campbell is feigning ignorance on these series of  general world news factoids.  While Campbell may have very well not known what the “dirty little stones” being offered to her were, I truly doubt this is the case. I think Ms. Campbell was fully aware of what she was receiving, despite the best impression of an empty-headed ignoramus she gave during her testimony.  I argue pleading ignorance perhaps allows her to keep the attention on her physical person, her bread and butter and keep it off those contents of character, like intelligence, morality, courage in the face of your greatest fears, honesty, and personal accountability.   Ironically these traits so readily describe Nelson Mandela, Campbell’s adopted grandfather and mentor in her philanthropic activities.  So accordingly, I accept that Campbell is not a Rhodes Scholar, and her role in society is not to make insightful world political commentary, but as the fashionista jet sets around the world, she could really benefit by learning more about it.

Now Run Tell Dat ….Home Boy: Antoine Dodson and the Ghettoization of Black Online Identity

Antoine Dodson is a digital Ghetto Superstar. For those living under a rock, video of a news broadcast featuring an interview with the Alabama native went viral over the last week and is now the most downloaded video on YouTube.  In the instantly infamous footage, Dodson gives a rather colorful interview on the attempted assault of his sister.  In recounting the confrontation with the intruder, he does not emote an ounce of fear or intimidation standard for such evening broadcast news fare.  In contrast, Dodson is confrontational.

Donning a red bandanna, he threatens to go after his sister’s attacker and subsequently dares the intruder to ” now run and tell dat… homeboy”, in the video’s most quotable line.  The video and that particular gem of black vernacular has been remixed, mashed-up, auto-tuned, chopped and screwed and composed into song.   However, as a cultural phenomenon, there is something much more signficant about this video than its platform for comedic improvisation.  It reveals some particular conflicts about how Black people negotiate identity in the broadcast media, online, and within larger society.

The Dodson video is culturally relevant because it adds to a larger narrative about Black identity that is being negotiated right now, particularly in the digital sphere.  Just the previous week, we saw former Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod being taken to tasks for being a racist, after doctored video of a speech she gave to the NAACP was posted to the Internet.  The power of this story was the speed in which it took hold in the public consciousness and the equal speed in which the story shifted course.  Similar to the Sherrod video, the Dodson video has taken on a life of its own, but to what consequence?

I could not help but find the video comedic but at the same time I wondered, who in the news room edited this segment and was there at least one Black person involved in its production?  Many Black people will argue that the portrayals of Dodson’s family and there  living conditions was unflattering and not reflective of   the overall experience of the Black family in America.  The accuracy or honesty of the narrative that this video puts forth is arguable because it is a mediated cultural artifact.  Moreover, your sphere of experience in the world is going influence how you view and understand this video. So for instance, while I can see the humor in this video, I can also understand the real frustration Dodson and his sister have with their living conditions and really the overall social stratification in American society.    Denoting the suspect as “some idiot from out here in the projects”, Dodson’s sister hints at the liabilities that come with inner city living, public housing, and general urban blight.

The problems extend beyond simply lacking that invaluable feeling of being safe in one’s own home, though the importance of this cannot be underestimated.  The  problems run the gambit and extend to any number of socio-economic limitations: from access to healthy foods, good education, safe housing, medical resources, and employment to access to high-speed digital Internet.  The irony of the digital divide is particularly felt when viewed in the context of the Dodson story. While he is an internet superstar, I cannot help but wonder if him and his neighbors have access to the Web.  While fiber may be  laid in many urban areas, unlike many rural environments, inner city Blacks still lack access to high-speed web connectivity, outside of their mobile devices, due to cost and other barriers to entry.

And yet we are still left with Antoine Dodson and what has become a national lampoon of a certain representation of Black identity.  His construction of the English language, his use of Black vernacular, body language, and cultural references are something that a Black person is going to view differently than an outsider.  To be the number one downloaded video on YouTube, it is clear that this video is being viewed, interpreted, and reinterpreted now by persons outside of the Black experience.  This can be dangerous ground because while many of us may be able to laugh at this video, we can still commiserate with Dodson and his sister’s experience.  Because race remains such shaky ground in this nation, it often feels that in these kinds of situation the outsider is not laughing with us but as us. Leading me to wonder to what extent a video like this confirms widely held stereotypes about the entirety of Black identity, and furthermore affirms the exceptionalism that many outside our race assign to President Obama and other articulate, intelligent, and successful Black people.  We cannot simply reduce Black identity to the haves and have nots among us, and we should not let this happen in the larger culture. Moreover, the importance of the attempted rape of a Black woman is seemingly marginalized in this narrative.  It’s almost as if we forgot that a crime against a woman happened.  Where are the feminist on this one or are they laughing, as well?

The Dodson narrative is still unfolding.  Apparently, a T-shirt line and any number of other commercial opportunities are emerging from this cultural moment, leaving me to wonder how Dodson may capitalize on his instant fame.  It would be a shame for his likeness and what amounts to his intellectual capital be appropriated and him not benefit.   This moment remains complex and difficult to negotiate in my mind.  What about you? Is Dodson’s interview simply a humorous cultural moment or does it say something larger about Black identity in the United States?  If so, does what it say reflect positively or negatively on the wider Black community? In an online sphere that has largely been the bastion of the elite and intellectual among Black thought leaders is there any benefit to the ghettoization of Black online identity?

Media Culpa: Shirley Sherrod and the Politics of the Public Apology

It seems everyone and their momma is serving up a healthy slice of humble pie to Ms. Shirley Sherrod.  The apologies are coming  fast, frequently, and from on high—as even The POTUS expressed regret for what had to be a demoralizing experience for Ms. Sherrod. In the wake of the initial firestorm and then subsequent reframing, Sherrod has gone from private citizen, to public figure, to vilified public figure, finally arriving at redeemed public servant—all in less than 48 hours.

What is remarkable about this story—outside of the real questions it raises about the progress of race relations in our country—is the speed in which it took hold in the common conscience, garnered largely uniform opinion in the press and then in a matter of media moments was squarely redefined. It is also reframed the notion of the public apology, something we certainly associate with political and public officials—but is so often tied to expressions of regret about personal transgressions, such as infidelity or misuse of campaign funds.

I had not even understood the original narrative in its entirety, before its authenticity was largely being refuted. A conservative activist posts a  video to YouTube of an official with the Department of Agriculture seemingly suggesting blatant racial bias against whites in her handling of farm aid cases.  Within a day the public and the media got a chance to see the speech in context and the narrative is reframed.

We learn the remarks were taken from a speech in which Sherrod shows how she battled feelings of intolerance to arrive at a social justice oriented understanding of how poverty adversely effects quality of life and productivity of all persons, regardless of race. She took this believe to form the guiding mission of her life: helping those regardless of race survive.  Accordingly. the once thought bigot becomes an exemplar of racial transcendence for the nation—all within a matter of a few days.

When The President apologizes to a more or less private citizen for the rush to judgment of an entire nation; one cannot deny that these are new and different times.  Viral videos, social networking, the blogosphere, and really the entire world of new media has changed the game for the conventions of traditional journalism to be practiced.  The trust then verify journalistic model has been replaced by the the trust, publish react, and perhaps verify model.

It is important we try to negotiate the wild, wild west of web journalism in ways that incentivize fact checking, verification, and neutrality. It is equally important that we do not hide the motivations of those forming public opinion, but encourage transparency among thought leaders and political taste makers.

So what do we think? Does Ms. Sherrod deserve the full-court press and  public apology tour that the administration is encouraging or should she should simply retire from public life, after this insane incident and in the interim allow her evolved feelings about intolerance and injustice to become a teachable moment for the entire nation?

Mad Mel: Racist Tirades, Spousal Abuse, and the Media’s Double Standards

Its seems that we—as a cultural collective—should be a bit more angry at Mr. Mel Gibson.  The press was uniformly squared against Chris Brown for beating Rihanna.  Yet, the same media is largely neutral in reporting the recent news surrounding Gibson.  Where is Oprah on this one?  Nothing to say about Mel allegedly breaking a women’s teeth out of her head?

For those living under a rock, RadarOnline—a web gossip rag— has  released a series of vile audio tapes, allegedly starring Mel Gibson spewing  heinous, misogynistic, racist, and generally  hate-filled vitriol at his ex-girlfriend and child’s mother Oksana Grigorieva . 

 If we take the position that this is in fact Mel Gibson, which we do at The Kabosh, after listening to the tapes one can only come to a singular conclusion: the man has simply come unglued.   I supposed we can give Mr. Gibson some credit for being an equal opportunity offender.  In his most recent series of  rants, he manages to insult Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, and women, which I suppose is the big bigot cocktail for Mr. Braveheart.

Gibson has been largely irrelevant in Hollywood since a 2006 DUI arrest in which tape of him  mounting  an antisemitic tirade against an officer  was made public.  Nevertheless, many blogs are already asking , if he can  regain his career after this melodrama plays out.   Other blogs are suggesting that the recent tapes are without context and thus are unwilling to unfairly judge, decry, or condemn Mr. Gibson.   And still  other sites suggests he is mentally ill or an alcoholic or some combination of the two, and therefore needs help to deal with his particular for of mania.  

While the media is dealing with this story well, giving it the coverage and spectacle such a sensational story warrants, there something very measured in their calculus of trying to portray Gibson as a troubled and washed-up star, who perhaps may even deserve our sympathy for his mental debilitations.  We have this gem from, Whoopi Goldberg:

I know Mel, and I know he’s not a racist,” Whoopi on ‘The View’ on Monday, seeming both earnest and cautious to weigh in. “I have had a long friendship with Mel. You can say he’s being a bonehead, but I can’t sit and say that he’s a racist having spent time with him in my house with my kids. I don’t like what he’s done, make no mistake.”

Okay Whoop, what to you constitutes a racist?  Suggesting to his girlfriend that she would be raped by a gang of the “n-words”  given her selected attire, suggests to me…I don’t know, at least some notion of  bigotry in this man’s make-up.   Similarly, his remarks against Jews and now Hispanics show a similar disdain for minority communities.   Just because he may break bread with you Ms. Goldberg does not mean he is not a man with some deep-seeded issues around race and ethnicity. 

It’s strange to me that  the media was much less forgiving or open-minded just a year ago when photos of a battered and bruised young pop-princess emerged, the injuries inflicted during an altercation with herthen R&B crooner boyfriend.  By no means and I suggesting Chris Brown did not deserve to be taken to tasks for his actions, but I find that he was not given the benefit of the doubt in the same way Mel Gibson is.  Folks were not stating anything about context, they wanted Brown’s head on a platter.

The extent to which this different media treatment has to do with race is questionable.  I think photos of Rihanna’s swollen face heightened the level of spectacle and resulting public outcry, as compared to the audio tapes serving as evidence in the Gibson case.  A visual artifact of the abuse would likely tip the scale less favorably  in the media coverage.

Charlie Sheen, Robert Downy, Jr., Roman Polanski have all been smeared by controversy for irresponsible if not dreadful acts over the years, and they emerge unscathed and redeemed under the glitz of the Hollywood lights.  This time around Hollywood, the press and the public should uniformerly condemn what Gibson’s behavior.  He has shown a disdain and disrespect for women that can be called nothing less than misogyny.  His actions are deplorable and should be regarded as such.

Hair Today Gone Tommorow…The Boldness of Baldness

Chrisette Michelle '"For Freedom, Not Beauty"

I did not exactly shave all my hair off  last year, but I came really close.  I was going through a period of transition and I hastily decided everything needed to be simplified.   So I rushed to the barbershop and asked the wonderful barber, who remains my guy ’till this very day, to just shave it all off.   He is so cute; I think I keep it low just to see him sometimes, but I digress.   Cutting my hair  was a harrowing experience, but very freeing.  I looked at my little boy bald head and thought wow,  no hair.  Sitting in the barber chair, staring at my now huge eyes and prominent nose, I began to questioned myself:  is this the same me?   Can I be pretty without hair?  Will men find me attractive?  The latter concern was of course reinforced after  my dad protested my decision, saying ” Why would you do that?…Men don’t like  women without hair”.

I’ll have him know that much to the contrary, I’ve found many do.

When I shaved my hair, I was not making a political statement or seeking to adopt any trend; it was more about a personal journey.  Taking off your hair, as a woman is like removing a security blanket.  Society is so hair obsessed that opting out can be viewed as revolutionary, even if one’s motivations are purely economical.

While I was not out to subscribe to a particular counterculture beauty aesthetic, I got to tell you not having hair is truly liberating.  There is real freedom in not having to go the hair salon and sit under the dryer  for hours, or fuel the cream crack economy.   Yet, I am now facing a real conundrum: to grow back or not to grow back that is the question.   My confidence journey is well-played out now having been hairless for close to a year and I want options, but at the same time options can be costly in time and treasure.  Plus I love the way a new shave feels on my scalp. However, I tired of men rubbing my head at public events.  I am short and I think they feel warranted to do so.  Yet I am stating unequivocally that it is not endearing, but instead, very jarring; so please stop it!

Chrisette Michelle, who recently decided to go low, has a wonderful poem entitled “For Freedom Not Beauty” on her website .  The poem is about her choice to shorn her locks.  In the poem, she asked the question, “Since when is creativity subject to criticism?”  In response to Michelle, I would argue since the invention of “the critic”. However, I too  was floored when Solange Knowles was berated in the and blogosphere last year for her choice to shave off  all her hair.

I found it odd folks were not happy with her “personal” choice.  Magazines accused her of doing a “Britney” and blogs were even more cruel.  Perhaps the criticism was because the original cut was such a hack job,or because she was seen in a wig at a public shortly after the bold move was made, or simply because there is just a lot of Solange resistance out there (methinks misdirected anti-beyonce sentiment?) .  In response Knowles stated:

“I guess you just go through different phases in your life. I was pretty much at the point where I needed the change and I needed to focus my energy on more productive arenas. I was putting too much into my appearance and I needed to make this about growth and going to the next stage of my life. I felt like I was being distracted by something as simple as hair.”

Here, here Solange.  Ironically, Solange’s sister, Beyonce is responsible for a lot of what is going on with hair culture now in my opinion.  As pop-stars and celebutantes like the Kardashians, Ciara, and Ms. B get these larger than life weaves, it sets unrealistic beauty standards in the real-world.  Women are getting all kinds of lace fronts, wigs, weaves, extensions to replicate this idealized hair aesthetic and even it isn’t real.  It is certainly not a realistic beauty standard for a lot of Black women, who are so often told to embrace and emulate western standards of attractiveness, if they want to be accepted.

Last year, I saw Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” shortly after getting my haircut off and it made me feel even more empowered.  Watching the film, I learned hair is a big business and it is a business whose revenues are seen largely outside of the Black community. I try to support “Carol’s Daughter” and other black vendors with that thought in mind.  However, I need hair to buy black hair products — it is a predicament indeed.  So what should I do?  While I make my decision, its comforting knowing I have at least one fan.   On the blog Beautiful Black Woman – Thoughts of a White B’woy, a site dedicated to uplifting and honoring the beauty of Black women around the world, blogger Andreas post:

Fact: The only women that looks good in shaved/bald hair/head are the black women. This fact is strictly subjective and reflect only my view. But hey, black bald women can be really fine! 🙂

Hair today or gone tomorrow? I need your help.


Black Babies=New Birkin? Thoughts on the Transracial Adoption Uproar

I sincerely wanted to stay out of the overblown transracial adoption fray presently rocking the blogosphere.   I am of the belief that adoption is a personal choice; I am grateful whenever a child who needs a home finds one.  Yet, when news broke that Sandra Bullock secretly adopted  a precious little black baby from New Orleans, I started thinking about this issue at a cultural level.  What does it mean in the age of Obama, when white celebrities adopting black babies is suddenly en vogue?  A pattern of celebrity transracial adoption  is emerging that rightfully deserves critique.  So while CNN is asking, “Transracial Adoption: Big Deal or Not?” I am left asking, when did Black babies become the new Birkin bag?

Angelina Jolie and Madonna, who  of course got their Black babies overseas, are part of this apparent trend.   However, as the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun.  Celebrities have had a penchant for Asian babies for quite some time and decades ago Jospehine Baker adopted a dozen multi-ethnic orphans; she dubbed her rainbow tribe.  However, there is something unique about this cultural moment— bi-racial President, Precious, tea partiers, militias, and inane immigration laws—that makes the current trend of  transracial adoption slightly more compelling.

The story of Bullock’s secret adoption broke several weeks after her Oscar win.  Ironically, she won for a role in which she played surrogate mom to an emerging African-American football star.  I guess the cynic in me cannot help wondering if this adoption is at least to a certain extent life imitating art?

Unfortunately, Bullock announced the adoption not long after the equally compelling, but not so triumphant news  of her  marital problems surfaced.  Bullock managed to deflect most of the negative press emerging from the tawdry spectacle, as the gossip rags were largely sympathetic to the beloved actress.  Several weeks later, during what had to be the zenith of her publicist’s carrier,  Bullock appeared on the cover of People delightedly lifting a cherubic little Black baby in the air; the cover headline reading  “Meet My Baby!”.

When I saw the cover, I was at once delighted and yet filled with a bit of cognitive dissonance.  Given Bullock’s recent spate of bad luck, I admittedly or perhaps cynically, found the timing of the People cover odd, if not convenient.  It’s a good news story with perfect timing, and fits nicely into the American sweetheart narrative Bullock has forged for herself.

Since the story broke, CNN.com and other news organizations have been stirring the transracial adoption pot.   I only find it interesting because of what it says about  characterizations of Black motherhood in cultural sphere.  Many comments on blogs and news website at once celebrate her choice to adopt a Black baby as selfless, and malign the ability of the Black community and particularly Black mothers to properly raise their own children.

I think these bigoted comments reflect an ignorance of what Black motherhood is and the historical struggle it represents.  I am not sure mainstream America gets a realistic picture of the Black family and particularly Black motherhood.  Instead, they get a continuum of constructs and caricatures: Claire Huxtable, Florida Evans, and Nikki Parker, for example.  Ironically, the reality of  Black motherhood is probably closer to the human reality of motherhood;  it has diverse incarnations.  It’s too bad more diverse and positive representations of black motherhood are not seen in Hollywood.

The film Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire, was heavily lauded this year for its gritty, realistic portrayal of the Black experience.  The mother character, Mary Johnson, was nothing if not  nightmarish. She mentally, sexually, and physically abused her daughter and apart from that was largely a degenerate do nothing.   It’s a shame that no foil to Mary Johnson emerged in cinema this year.

The characterization of black motherhood in this film Precious connotes early cinema’s caricature of the Black mammy, who was portrayed as loving, maternal, and docile to her slave master’s children, but cruel and unloving to their own.  Accordingly, it’s hard to conceive that 200 years later that the social baggage of slavery and its modern day effects on the construction of Black families is in a way shifting this largely erred, but oft stated narrative.  In this case, Caucasian women are playing the loving maternal role.  What is not stated is that the need for the Caucasian surrogate, emerges from the degeneration of the Black family, which many argue is in turn due to the impacts of the peculiar institution that was American slavery:

In “The Ethnic Myth”, Stephen Steinberg writes, “ghettos are nothing less than the shameful residue of slavery.” Many scholars blame slavery for the pathologies in the Black community such as homelessness, single-parent households, and youth violence. Views that are more radical claim, “Slavery is a constant reminder of what whites in America might do.”  There is a belief that slavery stole their African culture. (The Effects of Slavery TodayDenisesArt).

I would argue that it is this idea  that gives some credence to those critical of White celebrities adopting Black babies both domestically and abroad.  Yet,  the statistics for Black children needing homes, and Black families stepping up to adopt them are deplorable.

The social baggage of slavery and its effect on the black family, as well as the construction of Black identity are certainly at play in this transracial adoption debate.  The extent to which you believe race matters and colors our perception  and reception in the world will contribute largely to where you come out on this debate.  Bullock named the baby in the center of  all this Louis, after Louis Armstrong the pioneer New Orleans Jazz musician.  What this says about cultural appropriation of Black jazz music is still up for speculation.

At the end of the day, Sandra Bullock is America’s Sweetheart.   Her down home good looks, humble spirit, self-deprecating humor, and perpetual smile has endeared Ms. Congeniality to a nation.  Suffice it to say, we—America—love ourselves some Sandra Bullock; she is right up there with Apple Pie and Rock & Roll.   We cheered when she won the Oscar, deserved or not; and given her recent spate of bad luck, this adoption and yes the magazine cover play like a narrative in American resilience.  Her against all odds come back is the stuff of fairytales.

I want to put The Kabosh on all those who denigrate Bullock for her selfless seemingly pure act of service; I am not prepared or inclined to question her motivations for adopting a Black child.  I can only bear witness to the fact that a child’s life will be made better, at least materially, by means of her decision to adopt him.  Kudos to Ms. Bullock for her brave choice.

..and for all those women who do “Motherhood”; God bless you and Happy Mother’s Day.


  • Calendar

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