Friday, October 9, 2009

Oooh, Y'all So Wrong

Outside of President Barack Obama's recent Nobel Prize, one of the biggest stories floating around the cable news networks and the web has been Harry Connick Jr.'s comments about blackface while guest judging an Australian variety show.

Based on the clip I saw, Connick was serving as a guest judge on an Austrailian variety show when an act called "The Jackson Jive" performed. The group was comprised of several white doctors who reprised their previous performance from 30 years ago mimicking the Jackson Five while wearing blackface.

Yep, blackface.

Connick has become an even bigger star because after the group's performance he awarded them a big fat zero for their score, and later talked to the crowd about the way blackface is viewed in America.

Connick added that if he had known he was going to be asked to judge a blackface act, he wouldn't have even come on the show. His response has been lauded by most folks, who also have been blasting the Aussies for the their insensitivity.

So, I'm going to talk about something else.

First, it was quite interesting to watch the response of the Australian audience to the performance, and look at the attitudes of the other folks on the show. From what I could tell, most of them had no problem with a blackface performance and found it to be a smashing success. Hell, the host of the show was damn near giddy with amusement, and one of the other judges awarded the act a 7 out of 10. However, to be fair, another judge did give the group a score of 1.

It was funny watching Connick try to discuss blackface, while attempting to avoid being "the bad guy." Any one who has discussed racism and bigotry knows that the first thing that happens when you call out people for their idiocy, is that they turn on you. They label you a downer or too sensitive, and generally come up with plenty of reasons why you should be ignored.

Connick worked hard to introduce a serious subject on a show that seems built around silliness. It was a daunting task and one I'm sure he wasn't prepared for when he rolled out of bed. So, given the circumstances, I think he did a decent job.

However, it was still galling to watch the contortions he had to make to discuss the topic. I know about Brits and their spoonful of sugar, but it was damn near ridiculous. And his attempts to avoid angering the crowd led to him saying something stupid like "We Americans have worked for years not to make African Americans look like buffoons..."

Like a friend of mine said, it was obvious what he meant. But the way he said it implied that black folks naturally look like buffoons and white people have been carefully working behind the scenes to keep this a secret. As if the problem hasn't been white people selectively portraying black folks, it's really been their inability to hide our egregious faults. Connick's phrasing was just off.

But, what really got me miffed, was how the mainstream media was falling over themselves to congratulate Connick and wag their collective fingers at the British. You would have thought Connick saved a black baby from a burning building, instead of just doing the decent thing. I mean, when you see people making racist jokes it is your job to say something no matter what color you are. It's kind of like that joke Chris Rock said about people wanting congratulations for stuff they're supposed to do. So what if you take care of your kids, you're their damn father, that's your job!

Plus, it was funny how easily the American media could decide that blackface was bad in this instance, but in other instances we get these tepid reports trying to show how the folks in blackface were really trying to make a point. The headlines were like "Connick snuffs out racism" and we know damn sure if he had said the same thing to some college kids in South Carolina, nobody would have thrown around the dreaded "R" word so easily. I guess it's much more comfortable talking about the failures of Australians than discussing our own foibles.

But, I always learned that when you point a finger at someone else, you really point three at yourself.



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10 comments:

macon d said...

I agree -- it's always been a lot easier for the corporate American media to criticize this bit of off-shore racism than that within its own borders, AND on their own programs and commercials. I also agree that, given the circumstances, Connick handled doing the right(eous) thing pretty well.

Black Diaspora said...

This is a well-thought-out blog entry (but then they all are) that hasn't attracted that many posts.

Oh, well: Doing right because it's right is the right thing to do, whether others think you're right, or are quick to praise you for getting it right.

Doing right should not be seen as heroic--but in our world and in this country it's done so seldom that it rises to that stature.

phx said...

I'll bet he did make a lot of contortions to discuss the topic. If you don't want to change people or reach people, then you can just go forward and mow 'em down, just blast 'em like they deserve. But of course, then they just resent you and will resist change that much more. This is an essential truth of human nature.

Black Diaspora said...

@phx: "But of course, then they just resent you and will resist change that much more. This is an essential truth of human nature."

I wasn't going to respond to your post. But then...I changed my mind.

I'm sure that you mean well, so don't take what I'm about to say too personal. It's not intended to counter as much as it is to expand.

First, I'm black. My handle would have given it away, but I wanted to put it out there, so there'd be no doubt.

This may come as a shock to you, but I don't wish to change people. I would have told them (these black-face performers) quite candidly what assholes they were.

I wouldn't have bit my tongue; I wouldn't have demurred.

I would have told them what unmitigated racist pieces of human excrement they were.

And you suggest: I would have erred had I done so, because they would have "resented" me and "resist[ed] change that much more."

And that's where the bone of contention enters in: As a black, it's not my place to change how anyone feels about me.

Connick, being white, on the other hand, may have felt compelled to use the moment as a "teachable moment," thinking that a softer approach might elicit a deeper understanding of the offense. That was his choice.

But not mine. I wouldn't have cared.

This, too, may shock you: I don't care if people are racist, or racially insensitive.

Sure, I care enough to call them out on it, but not enough to seek to "change" them.

If whites are going to change, it's something they're going to have to do for themselves.

I'm willing to assist racist in this effort, if asked, but I don't feel a burden to shoulder their burden.

In this country, racism is a white burden and not a black burden. I'm not a racist, have never been a racist, and, in all likelihood, will never be a racist.

What I hear often is what blacks must do to appease racists, to make themselves more palatable to the racist heart and mind.

I don't wish to appeal to anyone's palate or change myself so that others may find me more acceptable.

Racism is not my burden.

I won't resist calling out a racist, as a racist, for the racist crap they do, so that a supposed climate for change may be maintained and used by racists for the amelioration of their soul.

Racism is not my burden. Nor do I feel a responsibility for changing the racist, and making him whole. Change is the sole preserve of the racist.

That others strive to make me liable, and responsible, is to put the onus on me rather than the racist.

This I won't tolerate. This I won't bear.

Further, I have never allowed racism to stop me from achieving anything I wish to achieve.

Sure, racist have created barriers, have developed one impediment after the other to stop me or slow me down.

But in no way have they stopped me. I wouldn't allow it. I have gone over, under, around, and through them to achieve, to obtain that to which I'm entitled, by virtue of being alive.

What's that old saying: "I was born free!"

No man on this earth can tell me, 'No.' I won't allow it. My unconquerable spirit won't allow it.

the uppity negro said...

I didn't take the "buffoon" comment that way, but to each their own.

But we need to only think back a coupla years when the east coast ivy league schools were throwing their "Ghetto Parties" and American kids were showing up in blackface and no one called them out for the outright bias and bigotry that went with it. Instead there was parsing of all kinds labeling them really just good kids who made a bad decision and to not label them as such and how they were just trying to have a good time.

Bullshit of course.

I'm glad the media did what they were "supposed" to do and made a big deal out it.

Big Man said...

Black Diaspora

I understand your response to PHX and I'll admit that's pretty much how I've felt for a while.

But, lately I'm wondering if that's positive. Like you, I don't think I can "change" anyone, or that it's my job to try. But, in reading my Bible I've been struck by how often it discusses the fact that calm words can turn away anger and soften hearts.

Ultimately, change is internal, and no matter what I say or do, people have to want to change on their own. But, I am rethinking my philosophy on how I confront people or challenge them when I feel their thinking is misplaced.

It's a constant struggle.

Black Diaspora said...

@Big Man: "But, in reading my Bible I've been struck by how often it discusses the fact that calm words can turn away anger and soften hearts."

I was hoping my words would evoke further discussion.

The situation that Connick faced wasn't openly contentious, the violence was subtle: It cast blacks
as a subject of derision, for the entertainment of other, using that which sets them apart from all others--their blackness.

Those there, with the possible exception of Connick, showed open approval of this violence, this assault upon the image of a people--an assault that's one step removed from action. People respond to others based on their perception of other.

What we have is substance over style.

Jesus attacked moneychangers in the temple. He didn't use calm words, but physically showed his disapproval.

By no means am I equating the two situations, although both took place within the presence and sight of God--one an assault upon God's temple, and the other an assault upon God's image and likeness--black people.

I said: "I would have told them what unmitigated racist pieces of human excrement they were."

This would have been the substance of my remarks, but the style would have fit the occasion, and, although my words would have been delivered with dignity, they would have been seen as an unmistakable rebuke.

And although delivered with love, I cannot be responsible for how they're received. I have only one responsibility toward my fellowman and woman and that's to love them.

How they receive my words, or perceive my words, become their responsibility: they can allow them to soften their hearts, or not; to be angry, or not.

Some things are not my burden to bear.

"But, I am rethinking my philosophy on how I confront people or challenge them when I feel their thinking is misplaced."

Confront them with love--and you will have done all that's humanly and divinely possible.

Big Man said...

Man, that's a good response. Well articulated.

I agree with you, there are ways to express strong disapproval without resorting to anger.

The challenge is in doing that.

phx said...

Hey BD, thanks for the response. No offense was taken, and all respect given.

Understand, I would NEVER lay it on anyone that they have to or should attempt to change anyone. Actually, my entire moral/ethical system has absolutely nothing to do with changing other people. I guess I was just making the observation that IF Harry Connick WANTED to try to change people, he probably chose the best strategy for doing that, and that confronting the foolish audience with anger or telling them quite candidly what assholes they were probably wouldn't result in any positive benefit. Although I guess I'd call it more of a percentage play, and who knows, maybe it would somehow do some good. Nevertheless, I completely respect and have no quarrel with anyone who says, hey, that's not my job, that's not my burden to try to change anyone.

I personally agree if only because I'm responsible for myself and no one else. This works pretty well for me because I'm seldom personally offended or angered by other people's foolishness.

Thanks for letting me have my say on your site.

Black Diaspora said...

"I personally agree if only because I'm responsible for myself and no one else. This works pretty well for me because I'm seldom personally offended or angered by other people's foolishness."

Your personal philosophy serves you well.

I wanted to expound on a subject close to my heart, and your words gave me that opportunity.

And, it gave me the opportunity to share how I approach life's situations where my values may conflict with another's, and what would be the appropriate response, at least for me, as I can't dictate another's behavior.

My language was purposely evocative. Sometimes that's the only way I get a hearing. :)

Thanks for your feedback, and your assurance that you weren't offended.

That certainly wasn't my intention. I look forward to your future comments.

Raving Black Lunatic