Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Good black men - Identity politics

Bear with me, many thoughts, tentative connections....

I went to see a movie this Tuesday [shot out to free Tuesdays at Clearview Cinema], it was called Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom. For those of you unacquainted - the movie is an expansion of the 'gaybopra' [let the record show - I was the first to use the term] Noah's Arc sitcom that premiered on Logo about three years ago.

It follows the lives of four black gay men in various states of relationships, very much in the vein of Sex in the City, with Noah serving in the Bradshaw role, all the way down to the plaid cape adorned suit with knee boots that opened the movie. Let me just say - I am a fan.

The reason for the adoration has sparked the subject of this blog. One reason why I follow this show is because of its exploration of a side of black men that we women know exist but is never shown on television and rarely sees the light of day in the real world. These men are vulnerable, they cry, they search for love, they get taken advantage of, they take advantage of, they care about clothing, they are violent, they are weak, they are unsure, they are sweet and confident, they are arrogant and caring - in other words - they may be the most full expression of black masculinity as I see it. In popular culture, there are so many one dimensional cartoonish depictions of black men and the injustice of it drives me crazy - regularly.

Now to pass along a conflict that my mother mutters to the television - the liberal, and may I add racist, media seems to allow only black gay men to have the full range of emotional expression. For example, the black guy in the Starter Wife, the first episode. As soon as I saw that he was successful, classy, and hiring an interior decorator I knew he would later be revealed a gay. Fair disclosure - narrow emotional representations may betrue for men across the board but with so little alternatives for black men the rigidity carries a greater weight in its effect on the perception of what and who black men are.

Anyway, listening to these men discuss how these narrow, and ultimately false, archtypes of black masculity affect their daily lives got me to thinking about identity politics and what it would mean for black men to have a black man in the white house. Ideally, in popular media everyone's stories are told. Everyone can look to our culture and see themselves, but in reality only certain stories are told, and thus only those people 'exist'; and the rest of us must force ourselves into whatever archetypes are presented to us. The results of that are obvious to us who content with not being 'it' but are obscure to those who do not have to recognize it. Much like the way that certain white people say racism doesn't exist anymore, while few blacks would agree ( I would say none but every group has an asshole - what cha gonna do...?) - in other words, if you don't experience it you can deny its existence.

Can I diverge and give you an example of being reminded that you aren't 'the main charactor'? My friends and I were visiting Philly last year and there was a promotion bus for the Spiderwick movie that was coming out in the spring. They had this little round black girl standing out in the freezing cold asking tiny soccer moms and their chlidren if they wanted to come in and get their face morphed into a character from the movie. It was freezing, somewhere in the 20s, so we took out 28 year old behinds in the truck. They had two options; a tubby brown ratty knommy looking thing, or a beautiful elf-like fairy. Well dam it if we didn't all want to be the fairy, I mean who doesn't want to be a fairy [insert irony]? Have you been in the girls aisle of KB toy store lately? You would think its was our life goal to be dressed in pink glitter frilly plastic everything. Anyway my friends and I wait the requisite three days to receive our pic - the results...

Now upon seeing the pic it occurred to me that in the larger society I would never be the beautiful fairy. My fat nose and big lips -here to fore referred to only as luscious - were meant for the little fat knommy ratty furry looking thing!

I revisited all the work I had to do to love who I was and be comfortable with who I was and came out on top, but shit if it wasn't a shocker. Do you remember the comedy skit where Whoopy, as in Goldberg, puts the white shirt on her head and pretends to have long white girl hair? I thought I was the only one who did that - apparently it is a wide spread practice of girls with short nappy hair trying to be the "white blond girl main charactor"... enter round peg and square hole. What it means is that you are never the main charactor, never the person who deserves a side kick to help you through your angst. It means that outside of your surrogate role you have no meaning - unless you somehow convince yourself in your mind that you are the blond white girl main charactor or....the fairy.

My point, long ago, was this - having Barack and Michelle in the white house means that our story, to some degree, will finally be told (I said some!). America will be forced to content with our existence on a daily basis, force to deal with our intelligence, our success, and our competence every single time they look to popular culture. We will be able to fit in, to say that this is mine too; a round peg AND a round hole...snicker.

The black male Psyche will be able to look to popular media and see a new archetype with which to aspire; whether he wins or not. We have all been remarking how black men have so much of their personal identity tied up in this race and this why. I surmised that now they don't have to be the 'gangsta', or the successful but arrogant and emotionally unavailable doctor, or the perfect all around man who must be homosexual, or any of the other 'comfortable and non-threatoning' depictions of black masculinity. They now can be the hard working, intelligent, emotionally available father who takes care of his family, oh, AND has a strong black women beside him to close the deal.

Hold your head up good black men - I always knew you existed and now everyone else will too.

Update: Another irony tidbit - see how little they actually discussed the movie in this article whose title indicates the article is about the movie on

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