segregation sign

Moonlight and Racism

So, I decided to read some comments on different articles for Moonlight, which I instantly regretted because people are shitty. 

But there were comments that caught my attention. There were lot of people (who identified as gay, or black or POC, or whatever) who simply couldn’t understand, or relate to the story at all, and believed that it detracted from the overall film. 

But, that’s kind of the point of Moonlight. 

One of the things I loved about Moonlight was how it handled race as well as sexuality. If you’ve seen it, you know it has an all black cast. So, there isn’t a white (or nonblack) character around for audiences to project onto. And because all of these people are of the same race and live in the same conditions, they don’t need to translate any part of their experience for one another. The characters are black people living in an impoverished neighborhood in the American south (Miami Florida). Drugs are a natural part of the environment, and for many people it’s the only way they can make a living, because business in America don’t want to invest or place high end jobs in black neighborhoods. The people use AAVE without stopping to translate it for anyone. There are after school activities for kids to go to so they don’t get into trouble. Many kids spend time at home while their parents are away working. Hell, I remember taking a bubble bath with dish detergent.   There is the rough language that black boys constantly use (even when they’re with their friends) to make themselves to seem bigger, tougher and stronger. There is a run down feel to everyone in this movie (from Juan to Chiron to Teresa) and this comes from over work, constantly worrying about dangers in your neighborhood, and looking over your shoulder for cops or gangsters. The same run down feeling is shown in the setting as well. It’s obvious this town is in a constant state of construction (take the old house Lil’ hid in at the beginning of the film).  

And then add this with the main character’s sexuality, and how he (and the movie) navigate that. Despite Chiron’s sexuality, his experiences are strictly structured through an African-American lens. He doesn’t stop being black just because he’s learning about his sexuality. He doesn’t stop using AAVE just because he’s attracted to a man. He doesn’t stop going through the world as a black man, conditioned to be hyper masculine in a poor town just because he falls in love with Kevin. This film makes no apologies for its blackness. And the racism it deals with? It’s subtle and systematic.. 

When people think of racism in the movie, they think of something that’s easily recognizable (think slave movies, white people with whips, or segregation signs). But what’s interesting about Moonlight is that the racism these people deal with (the town that’s in constant construction, the drugs on the streets,) are all real aspects of systematic racism that black people have to live under. It’s not an easily identifiable constant that can be punched out, or reasoned with. It’s in the fabric of Black American life, and most people miss it unless you’ve lived under it.  And let’s be real, many white people (white gays included) wouldn’t pick up on it. 

And it’s so funny that people in the black community believe that once you come out as gay, suddenly you’re no longer black. It’s like…no. Our skin color’s still the same. We still lived under the same racial conditions that ya’ll lived under. We still dealt with the same white washed history, and have the same distrust of the American legal system. And with white gays, a lot of them expect us to stop being Black when we come out. We’re supposed to somehow shun our Black heritage (or at least downplay it) when we enter LGBT spaces. We’re not supposed to talk about race in the LGBT community because “We’re all gay!!!! Race doesn’t matter!!!!!!” Or we’re not supposed to question why so many white gays have no problem saying “I’m not into black guys.” And when we do interrogate them further on it, all they can say is “It’s just a preference” and expect that to be the end of it.

So yeah. This movie is beautifully authentic, and I love it for that reason. 

One thing I liked in Hidden Figures (Well, I liked a lot of things in Hidden Figures, but I’m talking about this one point) is how they portrayed the character of Al Harrison, the “moderate white” supervisor: ‘Colorblind’ in his personal treatment of  Katherine Goble, yes, but not attempting to make any changes in how she is treated until he began running into problems himself.  Content to let the segregation stand because he can tell himself “I’m not treating her poorly”.

That ‘Colored’ coffee pot was in the work room from the second day of Katherine’s service, he must have seen it every time he walked through the floor, but he never peeled off the label.  He never even noticed that there wasn’t a ‘Colored Ladies Room’ in the building, and if he did notice he didn’t consider just what that meant for Katherine.  It wasn’t until he realized just how long it was taking Katherine to go to the bathroom, until he saw that he couldn’t get the full use out of her as long as the facilities remained segregated, that he made any changes.  That scene of him hammering down the segregation sign which was used in all the trailers, and which did occur in the film, didn’t happen until her problems became his problems.

Because that’s often (Even primarily) how it is in the real world: People of privilege who say “This is wrong” and “I disagree” but who don’t makes waves because “this is the way things are”.  Who shake their head and make consoling noises and say “I’m with you”, but don’t make any kind of effort.  Who, ultimately, tell oppressed people of all types to “wait your turn” because their stability and comfort and ease is more important than upsetting the status quo.  Al is not demonized, the film doesn’t say “See, he’s actually THE BIGGEST RACIST OF THEM ALL!”, but it just leaves it laying out in the open that he wouldn’t have taken these steps if he wasn’t forced to.

Contrast him with Karl Zielinski, the engineer who encourages Mary Jackson.  Zielinski supports her because he’s suffered his own discrimination–different from hers but very much present–and so he knows both the obstacles she will face, and that she can overcome them.  He knows that things won’t just get better by themselves, they need to bull forward every single step, and so he uses his position to encourage and help because now he has the position.  Being a Polish Jew has taught him the need to never allow ‘the way things are’ to serve as an excuse for inaction.

Al Harrison only stepped up and did the right thing after he realized that not doing the right thing was causing him problems.

Travelling Book Project: The Handmaid’s Tale

I’m very excited to be running my first Travelling Book Project, with The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. 

Here is the copy we will be using!

What is a travelling book project? A ‘travelling book project’ is when a group of people get together to read one copy of a book. The book is sent from reader to reader, and participants are encouraged to annotate, highlight and write in the margin any and all comments. 

About the Book:

Written in 1985 by acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian fiction novel set in a totalitarian theocratic United States. It focuses on themes of gender subjugation, inequality, and segregation.

How to participate:

Keep reading

Today in history: February 5, 1994 - More than thirty years after the fact, open white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith is convicted of the 1963 murder of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers. 

De la Beckwith had been arrested soon after Evers’ murder, but two all-white male juries in Mississippi failed to convict him. The assassination of Medgar Evers was a pivotal moment in the development and radicalization of the civil rights movement. 

(picture: Medgar Evers holding sign, protesting segregation in Jackson, MS in June 1963, just days before he was killed)

Via Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Fight Back!)
From Chocolate City to Latte City: Being black in the new D.C.

It made news a few years back when we learned that Chocolate City, as majority-black Washington had long been known, wasn’t so chocolate anymore.

And the news today? Not only is the city’s African American population shrinking — almost half of the District’s 650,000 residents are white — but it’s getting harder to be black in the nation’s capital.

The city that had long been a beacon for the nation’s African American population — where slavery was outlawed nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, where segregated public schools were the first in the nation to be integrated after Brown v. Board of Education — has gone through more than just a huge demographic shift.

It is a change in the attitude of the city, the culture, the way we view and treat one another.

This week, Jason Goolsby, a student at the University of the District of Columbia, stopped at a bank on Capitol Hill with a couple of friends. The 18-year-old was pondering whether to withdraw money from the ATM when he held the door open for a mom with a stroller, then left after deciding not to get cash.

The woman called 911 to report a possible robbery and told the dispatcher that “we just left but we felt like if we had taken money out we might’ve gotten robbed,” according to a transcript of the call.

But didn’t she do the same thing: go to the ATM, then leave?

And how about those shopkeepers in Georgetown who — as my colleague, Terrence McCoy, discovered — alert one another about “suspicious shoppers” on an app they share.

Is it a coincidence that about 90 percent of the photos they took and posted of shoppers they thought to be “suspicious” were black?

[The surveillance of ‘suspicious’ blacks in one of the nation’s poshest neighborhoods]

This in Georgetown, which was nearly 40 percent black back in the 1800s. Now, the African American population in that part of the city is about 3 percent. It’s so white, folks have a hard time figuring out what black people are doing when they go there. Um, shopping?

In the new Latte City, it’s hard to shop while black. Or decide not to get cash at the ATM while black. Or how about staying in your home town while black?

The disappearance of affordable housing is making it increasingly difficult for the poor, who are overwhelmingly African American, to remain in the District.

Now developers want to turn a complex of low-income, rent-controlled housing in Congress Heights into one of those insta-villages — you know, the gleaming new condos, a chain restaurant with $12 salads, a fitness studio, a CVS, an (organic) dry cleaner — that seem to pop up, out of nowhere.

And, yes, that part of town — Southeast Washington — has been starving for investment and development. But it will come at the expense of the residents who have been rooted there for decades. They’ve put up with landlords who have neglected the property so horribly in an effort to drive the old-timers out.

Abandoned, trash-filled apartments, lack of working toilets, vermin. The owners of the properties are just letting the apartments rot, waiting for folks who didn’t take a payout to leave.

Across town, at a rent-controlled apartment building on Kalorama Road in Northwest Washington, we see a renter success story. A new owner bought the building, but there was no move to demolish it and build something hotter. Instead the mostly white tenants — many elderly and fixed-income types — banded together to form a tenants organization, used the laws put in place to protect them and secured their controlled rent.

Even when the economics are similar, the results are totally different, depending on your skin color.

So many of the things that make Washington one of the hottest cities to live in — our grand monuments, the elegant housing stock, the culture — were created, constructed and nurtured by its African American residents.

How many newcomers crow about the diversity they love in the District?

Some of this is a policy issue. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) faces some challenges in fulfilling her promise to make a city affordable for all Washingtonians. She can help do that by engineering deals with developers that have realistic accommodations for low-income and fixed-income residents.

But the other stuff? Residents and business owners racially profiling their neighbors? That’s an internal fix. All of us need to recognize the times when our actions don’t match our words.

Chocolate City, after all, is more than a population number.