Our Identity Rules...
What an Interesting time to be an American, or even a so-called American. We are living through the era of a reelected Bi-racial president whom the country continues to insist is Black; a moment featuring controversy about an Academy Award nominated film about a rambunctious ex-slave who literally kills a whole lot of White folks when not kicking their racist-rears during his effort to reunite with his lady love; an ongoing dysfunctional debate over gun control in the aftermath of one of the most heinous crimes in American history; and a major college basketball coach caught on camera psychologically as well as physically bullying his athletes. What do all these things have in common? They each contribute to informing us about the construction of the American Identity, how that identity construction rules us, as well as the rules that apply in terms of how we respond to the many dimensions of our American Identity.
In terms of his identity is our president Black and not Bi-racial? Once upon a time one drop of Black blood in an American not only forcibly designated that person as Black but also earned her/him a permanent hyphenated American status. To avoid that reality Bi-racial people can cloak the less-than dimension of their identity until they are seen never applying sunscreen while continuing to not get sunburned amidst a plethora of their White friends who bathe in lotion to avoid it. Of course Italians didn’t need racial amnesty because of their olive skin until that damn Quentin Tarantino wrote the scene in True Romance between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken. In that scene the Moors historical impact upon Sicily as a result of war and the victors taking advantage of their spoils was articulated. Supposedly that historical happenstance changed the complexion of Sicilians forever. It is interesting though how the one drop rule only applies to the Black-White racial phenomenon of this country. In America a Bi-racial status does depend upon what the racial mix is too. Black and Latino is less of a problem in most Black communities that I’ve experienced, but can be a problem in some Latino communities from what I’ve seen and heard. For example, there is a racial reaction to darker skinned Latinos probably as a result of the hegemonic culture in America being White. If Whiteness is the standard in general American culture then the lighter you are in any sub-cultural racial group the more status you may have as well. This includes the slavery phenomenon of field vs. house Negroes, though Negro isn’t quite the term that was being used back then.
Speaking of back then and yet somehow now, the historically situated Oscar nominated film Django brought a great deal of controversy over language to the forefront. While I am an avid fan of Tarantino’s work and could eloquently articulate reasons for some of his films to have received Academy Award nominations, Django would not be on that list. The Batman show of the ‘70s could be campy. The Brady Bunch and Partridge Family shows could be campy. Even the Jackson Five’s cartoon could be campy, but not a depiction of slavery that also featured many of its horrors. I applaud Tarantino’s introducing a new generation of viewers to the reasons so many Black people today are still paranoid around Whites, perhaps even giving some Blacks who know little of their history new found reasons to be paranoid. However, telling that tale in one frame and then watching super Negro Jamie Foxx wading through a deluge of bullets unscathed to rescue Kerry Washington is another. Was it just me, or did Jamie look a lot like Clint Eastwood in black face (pre-chair, of course [You have seen the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns I presume? If not, then you missed this reference].
However, Django’s controversy over the word “nigger” is ridiculous. The way we hear the word used today with political correctness being what it is, you’ve got to be kidding me that it was overused in a film that depicted an era where White folks in power could say and do whatever they wanted to say and do to their property. At the same time White folks without power could guarantee themselves status by saying and doing whatever they deemed necessary to avoid being at the bottom of the barrel. Malcolm X’s famous saying (By any means necessary) was probably introduced to Malcolm while he considered these two groups. And filmmaker Spike Lee must realize that if he is truly an admirer of Martin Luther King Jr. then Dr. King’s adage “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” must be considered relative to his challenges against Quentin Tarantino’s usage of the word “nigger” in Django. Spike claims that Tarantino as a non-Black has no right to use language that far too often disparages Black people, even if historically accurate. However, Lee as a male must realize that he can’t logically avoid applying the same rationale to his own projects. To avoid hypocrisy he couldn’t excessively use the word “bitch” in any of his films, right? From my perspective the only controversy justified around Django was the timing of its release in light of the Newtown tragedy. Out of respect for the Newtown families it should have been delayed, though if it had been delayed it may never have been released, you would think.
Campbell Brown’s recent article (Wall Street Journal, 4-3-13) challenging President Obama about the pass he’s given Hollywood and the violence in its films while chastising the NRA speaks truth to power. The necessary conversation can’t just be about the NRA’s role in contesting gun control. If America is to create a culture where our children are safe everyone must be present. His identity as the first social justice president is in jeopardy. He must challenge Hollywood’s power brokers, or leave them looking like Wayne LaPierre and other soulless politicians selfishly trying to spin what just can’t be spun to hold onto their constituencies/jobs. It just can’t be about the box office on this one.
Also interesting is how the bi-identity rules differ if you are gay in America. Homosexuals can ease their way into their full identity by first proclaiming that they’re bi-curious, not to mention pass as heterosexual if they choose to stay in the closet. Women get a pass if they explore dimensions of their sexuality due to men’s dominant status in our society and the male desire to indulge their own fantasies. Men however incur a rare experience with marginalization if they decide to examine the dimensions of their sexuality openly. While a woman can have multiple bisexual experiences and not be framed as gay forever, one such experience for men can have them framed as gay for eternity. The ironic thing about these rules of engagement is that it can be argued that while nature vs. nurture has been the prevailing argument, another dimension of this reality may have been framed by the Robert Downey Jr. character in the film “Tropic Thunder” when in response to a gay rapper’s denial of his homosexuality, Downey’s character says “everyone’s gay once in awhile.” There is a chance that both nature and nurture are right. We may all be born bi-sexual and moved to our sexual predilection by the continual perpetuation of heterosexuality over homosexuality modeled by our parents, sanctioned by religion, our communities, and our society. So, those who gravitate towards bisexuality have stopped fighting their nature and won the battle over their nurture while all the rest of us who live heterosexually or homosexually wage a never ending war against ourselves.
And then there is our infamous Coach Rice. While people are discussing the physicality of his actions I haven’t seen much of a discussion on how his privilege played out. Beyond the fact that he violated the trust he postured while negotiating with parents about how safe he would keep their young men, his modeling of ideal adult behavior was atrocious. First, there is no doubt that many of the young men on his team have family members and/or friends that are gay. Six degrees of separation is always in full effect. However, his use of terms “fairy” and “faggot” were not just an affront to gay people, but to their allies as well. I would not want my children consistently around any adult whose language choices were so abysmal. I always challenge people to try not to be judgmental. Of course to avoid hypocrisy as well as doing the right thing I try not to judge as well. Instead I encourage people when faced with learning moments to learn. However, too much of this type of behavior would drain anyone, even those of us with a heightened sense of social justice. If I had control over such decisions I would opt for another scenario to immerse my athletes in other than one steeped in homophobic rhetoric, as well as overt machismo. What is also worth mentioning is that Rutgers, a NCAA Division 1 program, is not a basketball powerhouse. Many of the athletes playing for this unsophisticated coach did so with insecurities that may have had them enduring his abuse for lack of better/other options. Being dismissed from the squad could mean an end to their basketball dreams and college careers, at least on scholarship. What Rice did do was bring to light a behavior that many people may have thought ended with Woody Hayes and Bobby Knight. The question “Would he do what Woody did?,” is rhetorical because we know that any given night people in power sometimes unfortunately act like Bobby Knight. I wasn’t just steamed, but fried by Rice’s actions.
All of these different considerations of identity should have you curious about just how much these actions and other actions and decisions currently taking place in our so-called land of the free are results of our identity rules, and just how much our identity rules.