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How to Get Away With Character Assassination

Viola Davis Bill Cosby

It seems altogether coincidental that on that day that most of the blogosphere has been continuing to come to terms with the growing, controversial specter of truth behind the myriad rape allegations leveled against Bill Cosby — a day so full of bittersweet reverie that the term “throwback Thursday” seems so wonderfully appropriate despite such quaint understatement — that I ended it by watching the fall finale of the ABC hit drama, “How to Get Away With Murder.”

It seems that way because, well, it is, mostly, a coincidence.

I happen to like the show quite a bit, actually. I started watching mostly out of curiosity, and also because Viola Davis has been far and away the best thing in pretty much everything I’ve seen her in since The Help. And since I was also a fan of Shonda Rhimes’ second megahit “Scandal,”  and because I try to support quality black entertainment with my clicks and views, I figured I’d give it a shot.  It’s been kind of uneven, and there’s been too many tawdry sex scenes, but I am still enthralled with the central premise, which, like Snakes On A Plane, is neatly encapsulated in the title.

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Dear White People, I’mma Need You to See This Movie

DWP logo

DWP1One of the great ironies of Justin Simien’s masterful directorial debut, Dear White People, which released in theaters nationwide this last weekend, is that although it’s aimed at white people, it’s not about white people.

And just now as I was writing, I was tempted to use another, less weaponized-sounding verb, but truly, “aimed” is the right choice, because Dear White People is relentless in its depiction of white people as alternately clueless, ambivalent or calculatingly sinister regarding the racial issues on display at fictional ivy-league school Winchester University. And I mean that as a compliment.

In ways both obvious and subtle, it makes Big Important Pronouncements about race, and then uses those pronouncements both as occasional comedic sketch premises, but also as plot devices to flesh out the emotional development of its main characters, all of whom are either black or biracial. The combination of the two, the thematic heavy-handedness modulated by a playful tone of nimble vignettes with varying emotional intensity… it’s quite a balancing act to pull off, akin to performing surgery with a shotgun.

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Black-ish Is the New “Orange”

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Okay, so let me fess up, right off the top.

That is a horrible, clickbaity title, a ridiculous, derivative and obvious reference, comparing two TV shows that couldn’t be more different if one of them were set on a different planet.

But they have one thing in common, that thing that most successful TV shows manage to pull off with some level of success. They can take a specific cultural situation and make it broad and relatable enough for people outside to appreciate and understand it, and by the same token, take basic and timeless themes and filter them through the lens of a specific perspective and worldview. They make the specific general, and the general specific.

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For My Birthday, Help Me Make Facebook A Little Less Racist

uncle remus

Okay, that sounds bad. It sounds like I’m saying that Facebook is a racist place, which is bad because Facebook is filled with all manner of people, many of whom are not racist, and plus… it’s not even a place.

Although that makes me think of this R-rated Chappelle’s Show sketch imagining if the internet were a real place.

 

I’m sorry, where was I?

 

Oh, right.

 

Perhaps I should start over.

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Stop Columbusing. Lecrae Didn’t Invent Christian Rap.

Lecrae_-_Anomaly_Album_Download

Okay, so this piece may sound like I’m trying to criticize Lecrae, so before I go any further, let me offer a few disclaimers.

 

I like Lecrae.

 

I really, really like Lecrae.

 

As an artist, as a person — as far as I can tell — he seems to be the real deal.

 

I have defended him in my writing plenty of times, most recently for collaborating with — *** GASP *** — secular artists, mostly because the sacred vs. secular dichotomy is generally unhelpful and really no longer exists, anyway.

But generally, I like his music, and I think he’s taking a great approach to his music career in general, which, by all accounts is growing to incredible heights. It is not at all an exaggeration to say that Lecrae appears to be enjoying a level of critical acclaim and professional exposure that most Christian rappers can only dream about. He’s appearing in a feature film, his new album Anomaly just shot to the top of the Billboard charts, and just this very evening (it’s probably airing as I type this), Lecrae is making an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, performing his new single “All I Need Is You” with The Roots.

This is all a Really Big Deal.

However, there is a shadow side to all of this attention.

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Let’s Not Martyr White People For Speaking Honestly About Race

bruce levenson hawks owner

So it just hit the news today that businessman Bruce Levenson has voluntarily agreed to sell his ownership stake in the Atlanta Hawks in response to an internal NBA investigation over a racially insensitive email he sent to Hawks staffers in 2012 — which he voluntarily disclosed to the league office himself in July.

Now, I’ve seen and pondered a lot of different theories about this strange story. Some people think that he was being blackmailed by someone who had the email and decided to get in front of it. Some people think he saw how much money Steve Ballmer paid for the LA Clippers and voluntarily blew the whistle on himself in order to facilitate a huge payday.

Regardless of why, it’s clear that Levenson, after having stated emphatically on the record during the Sterling mess that the league needs to have a zero-tolerance policy about racial discrimination, needed to go to avoid being labeled as a hypocrite. He said so himself in his notice to league commissioner Adam Silver.

But there’s something I’m worried about, buried under the avalanche of Sterling comparisons.

I don’t believe his email was racist.

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Reconciling My Opposite Perceptions of Joel Osteen & Israel Houghton

osteen houghton isolated question mark

Life is full of irony.

For example, one of my favorite worship musicians that I respect tremendously, happens to serve the congregation of a church led by a pastor that I have very little respect for. Because they are both very prominent personalities, and because their ministries are often recontextualized for purposes that extend far beyond Lakewood Church itself, it’s easy to forget that Joel Osteen and Israel Houghton are, in a very basic sense, ministry coworkers.

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When Passive Aggression Turns Deadly

yall gon make me crochet up in here

Okay, so let me be up front about something.

Many of my pieces originate with me ranting about something that annoys me, and this is no exception. It’s hard to write this without coming off as self-serving, because on a basic level, this is about me being annoyed with people who are passive-aggressive.

I’ve often heard it said that the things we hate the most are the things we dislike about ourselves, and for me, this is true! In general, I hate passive-aggressive behavior, and I hate it even more now because I find myself surrounded by it enough that it’s starting to affect me.

Which is really janky, because black people… we don’t usually do passive-aggressive. It’s not what we’re known for. But Portland is a very passive-aggressive place, and living here, it’s like I can’t even help it.

True story…

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The Truth Bucket Challenge (Sponsored by Ferguson, Mo.)

APTOPIX Police Shooting Missouri

EDITOR’S NOTE:

The sad irony is that, by virtue of the many friends and allies I have who are white and who understand the racial injustice involved in the whole Ferguson saga, that this article will probably be shared a lot — but probably not by the people who need to read it most.
But I’m writing anyway, in part because I’ve received valuable confirmation, in the form of several friends and allies confiding that my articles on the subject have helped them to initiate conversations with friends and family members who don’t get what all the controversy is about. To these folks — and you know who you are — I say wholeheartedly: thank you. I write with the same conviction that many tent-revival evangelists had back in the day: if it makes a difference, even for just one, then it’ll be worth it.

 

In the response to the many articles about the travesty that unfolded in Ferguson, I’ve seen certain trends in the comment sections. Particularly in the ones written by and toward evangelicals, like this excellent guest-blog series facilitated by Ed Stetzer on Christianity Today, the sentiments of (presumably white) dissenters usually include one or several of three common responses aimed at African-Americans or other people of color (paraphrased, but only slightly):

  • Regarding the “militarized” police response: with all the rioting and looting, what did they expect would happen?
  • Regarding protest: why don’t they protest the black-on-black violence in Chicago every weekend?
  • Regarding the shooting itself: We shouldn’t pass judgment if we don’t know all the facts.

These ideas are as ubiquitous as they are problematic. And they all stem from three problems that, by and large, are preventing more black and white people from establishing common ground in the wake of this tragedy.

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Whaddya Mean, About Race?

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This is a response I see a lot… all the time, in fact.

I saw it in response to the Ferguson shooting, but honestly I’ve been seeing it for years… decades, perhaps. It’s  a common response from white people who don’t understand why everything is always about race with you people.

So I thought I’d write about it.