BENEATH THE SPIN • ERIC L. WATTREE
How to Use Fame to Step on Your Brother
One of the readers of last week’s column, “Why are Black People Killing Themselves?”, wrote me a very heartfelt response suggesting that I was being a little hard on Black people. Michele (with one ‘L’, as she likes to remind everyone), a 36 year old Black single mom, a Staff Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, and founder/creator of poeticworks.com, wrote the following:
“We are a community of thriving thinkers We accept responsibility for our actions and focus on community based projects, to ensure that posterity has something when it's their time to take the thrown. We love excelling in life, and independently and intuitively find ways to give instead of take, take, take. We promote and instill pride in our community each day when we walk down the street and give a gracious nod to the passerby. We are beautiful, but this is not to be taken as conceit, because we also realize that we are only one small speck in a beautiful world. This is what I see in our community.”
I fully agree with most of what Michele said, regarding MOST of our people. But we also have a dark and self-hating side that needs very much to be addressed. A prime example of which is reflected in a video that’s making the rounds on the internet, where Jamie Foxx goes out of his way to embarrass the struggling Black comedian, Doug Williams, during a roast for NFL player, Emmitt Smith. Even the name of the video indicates a lack of empathy for the underdog in many parts of a community that’s made up of underdogs–“Jamie Foxx Ruins A Not Funny Comedian.”
Next to the picture of the rotting remains of an infant wrapped in a baby blanket in Iraq, that video is one of the most blatant examples of arrogant inhumanity I have ever seen–not because of any special talent that Foxx displayed in carrying off his awful display, but because of his blatant disregard for his fellow man. I found it so unconscionably disgusting that I will never again support any project that either Jamie Foxx or Monique is connected with.
As master of ceremonies, right off the bat Foxx introduced the Williams as “A person who doesn’t know anything about Emmitt Smith, and you don’t know who the F**k he is. Give it up for Doug Williams.”
After that rousing introduction, Doug tried to make the best of the situation by admitting that he wasn’t a part of the clique, and that he was quite probably the “brokest” person there. He said, he was only there because he was trying get a deal.
Then in spite of the way he was introduced, he began to win over the crowd by telling jokes about some of the celebrities in attendance. But Foxx couldn’t allow that, so he began to interrupt the brother’s routine as “YOUR CONSCIENCE.” Every time Williams would say a word, or begin to tell a joke, Foxx would break in as William’s conscience, saying things like, “We’re here for Emmitt Smith–do you have any jokes for him tonight?” and “I’m your conscience. Man, it sure is getting hot in here. Am I fu**king up? Maybe I should just say something nice about Emmitt and wrap it up.” Now, instead of the celebrities laughing at his jokes, Williams becomes the joke--and in the background you can Monique telling Jamie, “Get ‘em, Dawg.”
But the remarks that got to me, and I thought were most telling regarding these so-called celebrities’ frame of mind was at the point when Foxx began to say things like, “I wish I were in a movie with Jamie. Maybe I should tell them how Black people have to struggle. Yeah, that’ll get ‘em on my side.” And all the while, the Black celebrities in the room are falling out laughing.
At that point, those people weren’t just laughing at Williams–they’re laughing at the Black condition, and struggles of poor Black people in general. While watching their gross arrogance, I couldn’t help being reminded of the very same kind of behavior during the Roman Empire, when the aristocrats would take pleasure in watching the Christians being fed to the lions.
They were having great fun at the embarrassment and expense of one strugglingBlack–who was already feeling nervous and out of place–and who probably had to spend the entire day getting up all of the courage he could muster just to attend this affair in the first place. Then you have all of these Black, so-called “stars” pulling out all the stops to drag him down, and falling out laughing at the audacity of his thinking that he could show up and pull himself up to where they are. As I watched I was thinking, that could have been me, or my brother, or son. It was simply unforgivable.
I also began to think of another time as I sat there watching this public lynching. My mind drifted back to a time when we really had pride in the Black community–a time when what I was witnessing never could have happened. If Jamie Foxx had pulled something like that in the sixties, his career would have instantly come to a screeching end. It would have immediately been seen for what it was–the ignorant behavior of an arrogant brat with no sense of community, and who’s fame had completely gone to what passes for his head.
So again, while I agree with much of what Michele said about the importance of always reminding the community of its beauty, it is also important to face reality, and aggressively address that which is ugly about ourselves.
Efficient thought requires that we first, see life as it is, and only then, as we would have it. So while we should definitely teach our children that they are beautiful, we must also instruct them what they need to do to enhance that beauty. If my kid is out dealing drugs and verbally abusing his girlfriend, neither he, nor the community benefits from my telling him his behavior is beautiful, and he's just a victim of society.
I don't care how badly society has treated you, what you do with your life, and how you treat others, is your decision and not society’s. Yet, we have too many people in our community who are willing to give our young people a pass by telling them that they’re beautiful, and their bad behavior is society's fault. That message is killing us as a people.
We should motivate our children by assuring them--through the way that we treat them, not just with words-- that they are beautiful and exceptional people. Then we should help them to develop their skills and talents to reinforce that belief (because it’s hard to have pride when you can’t do anything). We should also make them aware of the fact that there is a segment of the population that don’t perceive them as the beautiful and talented people that we know them to be, then instruct them in how to deal with the possible adversity attendant that situation.
When my son was a youngster, I pointed out to him that he shouldn’t be surprised if at some point in his life some racist pointed at him and told his son, “See that guy over there–he’s a ni**er.” I advised him that getting mad and acting a fool would just prove the man’s point. I taught him that the best, and only way, to protect himself from such an occurrence was to look, and carry himself in such a way that the little boy would look at him, then look back and assess his dad, and say, “Daddy, I want to be a ni**er when I grow up. That’s the way you overcome adversity.
So the bottom line is, talk is cheap. While we can repeat millions of times that we’re Black and we’re proud, it won’t mean a thing until we can root out the kind of ignorance that Jamie Foxx and friends displayed above–and the world will knows it. Because in the final analysis, we’re not judged by what we say–we’re judged by what we do.
And beyond the judgement of other people, if you have a persistent headache and refuse to address the issue by insisting that you’re Black, beautiful, and in excellent health, eventually you could die of a brain tumor. Because, while positive messaging is a wonderful thing, some things in life require aggressive action, to be rooted out.
Eric L. Wattree
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
BENEATH THE SPIN • ERIC L. WATTREE
Posted by Eric Wattree at 6:42 AM