An elder student in my African American Lit course during a recent class meeting uttered the words, "Goats in sheep's clothing, Honey!" meaning those persons (including those Black persons we all know) whom you might expect to support justice and liberation and human freedom (those who even claim that they do) and yet actually support the status quo, the ruling class, and the power structure as is. right: Bill Cosby
She ought to know about that. She's an elder, has life experience, and has seen every wagon train rolling through The Pike since a decade before I was born.
I will never forget the look of truly disorientated shock that passed like a fog across most of my student's faces when one day, in the context of a discussion of James Baldwin's rage,
below: James McWhorter
I mentioned matter-of-factly that Bill Cosby (aka, 'William H. Cosby Jr., PhD-Ed.') is the angriest, most self-hating Black Man in current American celebrity culture. Those who did not look disoriented were certainly befuddled, and a couple even looked hurt. The elder student in class of course, couldn't help but chuckle at this. Her laughter led to even more stricken looks on the faces of the younger Black students. Why in God's name, why, why, in the name of all that is Hostess Twinkies, would anyone say such a thing about the creator of "The Cosby Show"?? (most of the students are of the age that their first recollection of The Billster is not his US intelligence service glorifying turn as a 'spook' on the TV show, "I Spy", nor his stint as 'Chet Baker', ramrod conservative high school 'coach' in the first "Cosby Show", nor as the producer and writer of the bizarre "Fat Albert," blacktoons, nor even as the 'Koolaid.' Coca Cola, or Jello pudding pitchman mugging through a crapload of truly retarded 'poo-ding!' commercials ad nauseum, ad infinitum. Rather, they remember BillCo as the loving though strict, Afro father-knows-best who held Lisa Bonet strictly in training bras and in check until she grew up and he could no longer prevent her from hopping into bed with Mickey Rourke (yeow! talk about a bad first date!) so that Alan Parker could shoot her dancing in a racist voodoo scene in which she has an orgasm while drenching herself in chicken blood--the setting is New Orleans, so this is taken to be normal, I guess--and then shoot her in one of the most explicit and shockingly sadistic sex-murder scenes in the history of American mainstream, wide release film up to that point.
My elder student laughed. Because it looked as if one or two students were about to cry (Disneyland lacks an "Angelheart" ride, it seems), I had to immediately as in pretty damn quick, explain three major aspects of American film and television history to the younger students: the economics, the sociology, the psychosexuality, and politics of racism in the entertainment industry during and after segregation, which had brutalized Cosby's life as a Black man in a public profession, which even he could not protect Lisa Bonet from, and which had marked him as deeply and as surely as it had marked every other Black celebrity from the segregation era, despite the apparent compensation of wealth he and they had managed to earn over the long run. I explained the cumulative effect, even upon wealthy Blacks, of the searing stigmata of segregation. Then, of course, I had to explain segregation! (it's a small world after all!)
The elder student took a little of the burden of detailing the history and effect of segregation off my hands, because she herself lived the prime of her life under segregation, and she talked about the history of the original corrupt, brutal, and completely unregulated Gilded Age; the one Upton Sinclair writes about in "The Jungle" (the one upon which this current corrupt, Gilded Age we live in is based). Though younger students reacted to her with discomfort and even shock as she referred to what they consider to be the 'unsavory' aspects of the Black Jazz Age, and of the working class and gut bucket Blues culture she once was a performer in, she un-apologetically enunciated her memories and point of view about The Real Amerikkka and the real culture of Amerikkka.
Goat, Sheep, Goat
My younger students' discomfort is due to the fact that Amerikkka's real Kulture has been whitewashed by the present day, Herr Waulther Disney cartoon project that generates a fantasy friendly popular Kulture for the 2 thousands. In short, the youth are brainwashed into being upset whenever an elder refers to the past rather than acting like an obedient proctor of multiple choice tests (me) or like some kindly old grandmother character from a Disney-UFA film (the elder student).
Does that sound surly on my part? So be it. I do mean to be a thorn in the side of those who support the project of processing American history to make it a corporate commodity, more palatable to the ideology of consumption (video games that make shooting zombies into a metaphor for white supremacy, fast food made from cow spleens and marketed as if it were really meat while proclaiming the 'value meal' to be an economic breakthrough, stupid TV shows that put people onto deserted islands to compete with each other for money, thus recycling the historically repugnant practice of the "Battle Royal" only this time with high key production values, and the biggest evil of all--the elimination of the national memory of great artists like Nina Simone and Sara Vaughn to replace them with shills such as RoboWoman, Beyonce Knowels and flat footed nitwit, Puff the Magic Diddy).
America's history is rich with villainy and with criminal activities, as historian, Howard Zinn has proven with a series of well documented books; so much so that our popular culture wants to deny the truth of these activities (such as American foreign policy, which has murdered scores of democratic leaders in the Third World in order to install dictators who serve the neo-colonial interests of America). This is presumably why we have silenced history in our public education system, in our universities, and in our news media and replaced it with flimsy lies and myths that our children have swallowed and believe enough to march off to occupy other people's countries and to commit war cries in the name of 'patriotism'. Rich with crimes, yes, but nevertheless, American history is rich: because our educational system, our media, and our commercial culture erase, censor, and deny the villainy and the crimes, we are also deprived of the reality of our own courage and the reality that the power that dominates our lives can be and has been successfully challenged, for villainy is offset by the reality of courage (the US committed genocide against Native peoples, but the the heroism of Geronimo is part of the story), solidarity (America has a tradition of vicious racism, but during the Civil Rights Movement there existed some of the most admirable and effective coalitions between races that America has ever seen), triumph (the union movement, bloody with workers who were martyred, murdered and abused by Pinkertons--the assassins who were corporate grandparents of Blackwater, was also successful at breaking the absolute power of bosses over our lives, and our children's lives), and courage (at the height of the class war men and women, Black and white were willing to and did march into gunfire and truncheon blows to demand the five day workweek and an end to child labor).
The great sin, when American history both past and current are watered down, is not just the loss of truth but the loss of all vitality and passion; of curiosity and imagination among our youth, and ultimately the loss of courage for them. Thus, the peculiar malaise they exhibit--the silence, disinterest, cynicism and detachment. It is the anomie and cruelty of a generation of Americans, young and old, who don't know, remember, care about, or in some cases never did get taught, their own history. the long cavalcade of robber barons, cannibalistic corporate magnates (maggots), and the self hating women and Jews, the traitorous Tories, the opportunistic Black celebrities and mouthpieces (such as the Black politicians Adam Clayton Powell would insult, the Black professors Malcolm would humiliate on network TV talk shoes, and the Black 'performers' Dick Gregory would attack in his night club routine--the 'Toms' of America) are all a malady that means the loss of drama, purpose, struggle, and thus the loss of real meaning in our lives. No wonder hordes of us are lost in the mediocrity of 'Facebook' (a seemingly, purely social melange of obsessively nested, slogan length 'twitter' type messages fired off between 'friends' many of whom are actually friends of friends of true friends and those friends of true friends that their friends made into friends. It is like a snake swallowing itself. Several of my students have exuberantly assured me that thanks to "Facebook" they have "almost three hundred friends!"
Which brings us to the two goats: Bill Cosby and John McWhorter.
"A few days ago I found myself watching C-Span. I know what you're thinking "what the could you be watching on C-Span" but hear me out first. If you are an avid reader, as I am, then you know that books cost and you have to get a feel for a writer and their books before you buy them. In watching, I came across this author/scholar John McWhorter and his views on the problems that face the Black community.
By problems I mean things like poverty, crime rates, etc. McWhorter's opinion is that the problems of Black Americans are based in our culture and not a racist system. He argues that Blacks have fallen into a "cult of victim-hood" that sells ourselves short and leaves us as victims. This is the same bullshit that was being spewed by Bill Cosby a little while ago and I'm still not buying it. As a young Black man who grew up in the hood and is now excelling in college and professionally, I disagree.
Don't get me wrong I am the first person to push accountability and self reliance because I've built my life on those ideas, but you cannot ignore the systematic barriers that are set in place that keep Black people in this state. It is ridiculous to me that he attributes niggas on the corner to Black culture. All though Blacks stay in our own lane, I wouldn't define that as a culture completely separate from American culture being that it had to develop in America under slavery, jim crow laws, etc. The same behavior that you find in "urban ghettos" can be found in poor white neighborhoods.
It would seem to me that he draws false correlations based on race when it has more to do with class. He points to the history of Blacks to show a decline in morality from the 60's to the present. He also argues that there has been a decline in racism (which I laugh at. Just because people tolerate my existence doesn't mean that they see me as an equal). Furthermore, we have more educated Black professionals than ever and if he wants to "fix" Black people then he should stop chasing cultural ghosts that can not be legislated and think more about the conditions under which we are supposed to rise above like shitty schools and an unfair justice system."
Sheep, Goat, Sheep
Now, I'm fairly hard on youth culture, I know, I know. But there are two reasons I am, and no, the fact that I am a professor is not one of them, because I'm just as hard on professor culture, frankly. Some of the stupidest people I have ever met are professors--some of us should not be turned loose by ourselves in the streets, because some of us can barely cross the street, and many of us have no idea how to catch a bus, or choose a good bagel (although here in the goyishe kup midwest, there are hardly any real bagels to be found anyway, nor decent gefilte fish). The worst thing of all about us, quiet as it's kept, is that some of us have not read a book since we were awarded our degrees. Textbooks don't count. Books are what I mean. Too many professors haven't read anything since "Fear of Flying" and "For Colored Girls". No offense intended to Erica Jong or to Ntozake Shange, its just that a few things have been published since then.
No, the reasons are related to the issue of some people thinking I'm surly for being so critical of The Youth.
1. The first reason I'm so critical of youth culture is because when I was young my mentors kicked my ass daily, hourly, sometimes by the minute, they kicked my young ass, telling me, "You need to study, Young Brother! You can't get this because you haven't studied enough!" and ""Better go off and woodshed, some, Young Brother!", and, "You don't say anything, just listen!" and they did this to me because that was what had been done to them, and thank the gods they did it to me, because it was a gift--the gift of mentorship and knowledge. On top of it they loaned me their rare, out of print books, they took me into their homes and played me their phonograph records, and they took me to art museums and showed how to understand visual art, not just look at it. And there is an equivalent of this process in every racial, ethnic, national, regional, technical, and artistic community in this country.It had been that way in America for 200 years. Otherwise, pipe fitters would not have passed on their skills to new pipe fitters, musicians would not have taught apprentices the secrets of playing the scherzo in Beethoven's second piano concerto; Mothers would not have taught their daughters how to cream butter and eggs properly for a pound cake; the griots of the Black communities of Brooklyn would not be able to pass on family histories from a hundred years of migration from Alabama to Pennsylvania to New York to their granddaughters, the next griots of their families; and I would not have been able to pass on to my daughter Lena my love of American film. The major reason for American dumbness, and the obstinacy of youth who don't give a damn about listening to their grandparents' stories and want only to kill a thousand child hours a month on Nintendo playing "Resident Evil", is the intervention of commercial mass advert culture, which has thrust itself between generations to enforce alienation and separation between the elders and the youth, creating unrealistic expectations and false hunger for needless consumption in the youth, and demonizing the elderly through a superficial projection of manikin standards of beauty and of physical appearance at the heart of youth culture (a culture produced, ironically, not by youth at all, but by advertising executives who are my age!). My mentors told me that if I wanted to understand my present I had to study the past, and so I didn't whine about it or beat my chest about how pretty I was (and I was pretty back then, believe me--and strong, too), but I got busy reading books, listening to music, and studying film, architecture, languages, geography, economics, and history. I got to know the artists, writers, musicians, philosophers, and of course the actors of the 30's and 40's so that I could apply what I knew to the 80's and 90's. When I was twenty four I listened to Evelyn 'Champagne" King, and Devo, The Clash, The Time, Prince, Echo and the Bunnymen, "Songs from the Big Chair", Men at Work, Andre Simone, "Miami Vice," and I liked to play "Frogger" at the now defunct video arcades. I loved "Star Wars," "Billy Jack," and "Airport 77," but I was ALSO able to see the continuity between Camu's Existentialism and the film noir of Humphrey Bogart, because I had studied. What do I mean about 'continuity' between existentialism and film noir? Well, check this out:
Eerie, isn't it? Is Camus the real life version of Bogart, or is Bogart the cinematic version of Camus?
2. The second reason, is that if the bloggers and gaming geeks such as the reviewers at "gametrailers.com" who review video games and most of whom are in their twenties, can manage to pony up at least an attempt to be analytical about race in response to the ugly racism of the new Capcom game, "Resident Evil 5" (which takes Haiti as its setting and which features a white protagonist shooting Black zombies whose race seems obviously to be a major aspect of what makes them so monstrous), then why can't my students be bothered to put at least a little effort into thinking about literature? Obviously, it isn't impossible for their generation to do. While many of the gamers who have addressed the issue of racist imagery in "ResEvil5" have simply minimized it, mocked the seriousness of the question of racism, or worsened the issue by responding in a frankly racist manner (even mainstream media sources such as Newsweek and Los Angeles Times have featured ham-handed reviewers who have truculently declared that since Haiti/Africa is the 'birthplace' of voodoo and of zombies in the first place it only makes sense that ResEvil5 should go to a Black setting and encounter Black zombies.
But more damning are the subtle details that frankly have always been part and parcel of ALL American media and film portrayals of Black people, zombie or not: a wailing, 'Africanized' woman's voice singing (no, more like warbling mysteriously) in what sounds like your standard Hollywood African lingo on the game soundtrack; the buck-eyed, skulking looks of villagers who prowl in the shadows and look frightening, even though they are NOT zombies; the shuffling, stoop backed gait of some of those same unzombified villagers, and the overall sense of unclean, uncivilized, impoverished squalor in the setting design of this game that, again, has ALWAYS been a MAJOR aspect of media and film images of Africans, the very ubiquity of which, is probably why Anglos have such a difficult time seeing it--they are surrounded by it in their daily lives, each time they read a newspaper or watch a stupid episode of "CSI," so why should they be expected to suddenly see it in a game design simply because developers took already typically racist images and turned them into zombies?
Day-to-day media portrayals of Black people in newspapers, on TV news, and in advertisements, for God's sake, are RACIST. Caribbeans, Africans, and African Americans alike. The truly overwhelming white psychosis about African peoples betrayed in the murky, filthy, horrific set designs of the film, "Blackhawk Down," which was obviously a strong influence on the developers and design imagery of "ResEvil5," either consciously or unconsciously, is an example of the fact that the problem lies not inside the game design but outside of it, thus influencing it, and everything else Anglo society fabricates, produces, distributes, and profits from that features depictions of African peoples. As usual, the half hearted, befuddled, and clueless denials of the overwhelming racism of the images from this game, are symptomatic of a deep seated sickness in this society that is only circumstancially revealing itself in the transitory forms of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and xenophonbia, These social ills are not the CAUSE, they are merely the EFFECT.
You can check out a gameplay trailer from Capcom for yourself and see what you think:
My real point, however, is that I find reason for hope even in the midst of all this racism embedded within racism, embedded within racism, embedded within classism, with a blind and stupid chaser added to wash it all down, the shameless insensitivity it takes to ask Black people to quaff the whole thing without a complaint, is an old American sickness. There is reason for hope even if the new wrinkle in all this is our failure to educate a new generation of Blacks AND Anglos, who are uncertain how to approach or even to articulate this issues, because they simply lack the critical apparatus and lack a critical language to orient them in a critical analysis of society, politics, economics, and the vagaries of power. My hope remains, because I did find comments in the media from a few young gamers willing to try at least, to theorize and to talk honestly about the issue of race in video gaming environments:
The depiction of race in games may be an uncomfortable conversation for some, but I’m interested in sharing my honest and evolving opinion and to provide closure to this site’s coverage of the topic in regards to this game. Those expecting blanket statements, vilifications of the game … or apologies or backpedaling or anything else without nuance will be disappointed.
I agree with reporter Geoff Keighley, who closes the USA Today piece by calling the fact that games have reached the level of artistic achievement that a discussion about race and games can even be held as “a positive sign.” He’s right.
* * *
...There were plenty of moments where I felt uneasy after shotgunning a path through a crowd of feral Africans. Even though "RE5" makes some points about colonialism and capitalism... the racial imagery is more loaded than its creators probably realized.
Judged purely as a game, "RE5" is undeniably entertaining. But many players are going to find it disturbing for the wrong reasons.
-Lou Kesten, Gaming critic for Associated Press (see )
* * *
'Racist' is a big, flammable term to be throwing around, especially with regard to something as trivial (in theory) as entertainment, but we regret to reveal that it's sometimes applicable to Capcom's upcoming Resident Evil 5.
Our argument focuses on one scene in particular:
"At one point you and Sheva glimpse a woman struggling with a group of Majini on a balcony overlooking a street. She's a white westerner - prominently, unmistakeably so, with waist-length platinum blonde hair, idealised Anglo-Saxon facial features and a skimpy black lace night dress. She screams for aid, but is overpowered and dragged back into the building. When you eventually reach her, she has been impregnated with the Los Plagos virus and must be destroyed. As our chums at Eurogamer have pointed out, the scene dovetails smoothly with that classic racist trope of the brutal black male 'corrupting' the white man's womenfolk. There's zero justification for the woman's appearance in the plot - the scene exists, as far as I can see, purely to outrage and titillate players whose cultural background is saturated with such unwholesome ideas."
The article qualifies this somewhat by observing that "a game in which you, a white American special forces agent, shoot down hostile mutants who happen to be non-white peasants is not racist per se" - the trouble arises when Capcom "deliberately uses loaded discriminatory imagery for dramatic effect."
We conclude by hoping that the scene mentioned is the worst instance of prejudiced imagery the game has to offer, as "Resident Evil 5 deserves to be remembered for more than the unpleasantly black-and-white Africa it occasionally paints."
-Kikizo Video Games Review Staff (see )
Much of the awkwardness of these analyses is due to the youth of the game designers, developers, producers, distributors, marketers, and reviewers who, in a country that has historically been in denial about the reality of racism and of racist images of people of color anyway, are even worse for being young, lacking a clear grasp of the details of their own country's history, and often therefore even more callow, even more flippant and detached from a sense of responsibility for all this than their parents might have been before them.
But, my whole point is this: some among them, nevertheless, are at least trying to talk about race and are at least admitting that something is wrong with the imagery you just looked at in the above trailer. There is at least some residual sense of a power relation between the oppressed and the ruling class still at work at te corners of popular cultural awareness, and a recognition that all this is not the sort of thing one can go eat a cup of 'poo-ding', have a coke and a smile, and forget about.
With apologies to Bill Cosby and to John McWhorter.