commentary

Wakandan Ruminations


I went to see Black Panther this past Friday with my extraordinary and insightful wife of 14 years. As we pulled up to the theater and found a parking spot, we had an interesting exchange before going in. It had to do with perception, assumption, and judgement.

In our two decades of knowing one another – which includes 3 years of dating before getting married – one constant annoyance for us has been the misperception that we are an “interracial couple”. That is, in the commonly accepted sense of the phrase. The reason this is significant is because, at first glance, know one would know – and some may not believe – that my wife is, without question, African American. She is no LESS African American than I am, even though to many I more readily… look the part.

It is common knowledge that the spectrum of African American complexions is wide-ranging, making it nearly impossible for someone to look at anyone else these days and deduce with any certainty that they are, or are not, “black”.

You don’t know, so don’t assume.

But assumption is the recurring theme of our public interactions with people who look askance at the “interracial couple” going to see the “black” movie. Never realizing the two of us are far more alike than we are different. Despite the apparent difference in our skin tones. The truth is that the evidence of who we are, who we really are, cannot be ascertained from a glance. Much like the truth of this movie’s significance can’t be defined by the opinions of professional (or unprofessional) critics.

See, within that truth lies the beauty of what it really means to be… African American. Within that truth is the careful, deliberate, often meticulous navigation through society that takes place daily for every African American, regardless of their shade. Within that truth is also the reason why, after watching Black Panther, this movie, this work of fiction, this stylized drama… why it is a watershed moment.

Let me be clear that I fully understand that this is a “super hero” movie. It is a live-action, film adaptation of a comic book, and as such, has no bearing on real-life events. That being said, my head and heart were all over the place.

Why?

There are several reasons. Far too many to fully convey here. But I will attempt to pinpoint the larger one in the context of my feelings.

The African Nation of Wakanda

Wakanda is a country unspoiled. Unsullied by the invasion – or colonization, as the characters point out – of those who would trample its rich culture, prohibit the expression of its traditions, exploit its resources, and enslave its people. Simply put, Wakanda was free to evolve into a highly developed, technologically advanced civilization, while retaining all of its history, customs and beliefs.

For those of African heritage, nothing like this exists in the real world.

Not.

One.

Thing.

To this day, many African nations are considered third world countries. This label typically refers to economically poor, non-industrialized nations who are often reliant upon foreign aid. But seeing Wakanda on the big screen was like a glimpse into an alternate reality. Even stripping away all of its supernatural elements, it stands as a future that could have been. Could have.

But… it isn’t.

For me, segments of the movie stood out as an extended expedition into an incredibly complex and engaging world established through tribal unity, ingenuity, and intellect. It was the answer to the nagging question… what if? What if there was no slavery? What if there was no colonization of Africa? What if there was no systemic racism? This is Wakanda!

But… it isn’t.

Or rather, it never was, and maybe it will never be. And that… that is heartbreaking.

Because it has nothing to do with the lack of supernatural intervention, or the existence of Vibranium. It has everything to do with systemic racism, the deterioration and intentional disruption of the black family unit… the lack of community awareness and concern as a country, not just isolated pockets of effective collaboration … and a society that seems to have lost its compassion and consideration for others.

Wakanda then becomes a sad reminder of unrealized potential, all that has been stolen, and what now feels unobtainable.

But… it isn’t.

Even without vibranium, the technological marvels of Wakanda are not completely fictional. The unique customs, arts, and social institutions exemplified in the movie are very real. We now have a space and an opportunity to discuss errors of the past and make corrections for the future.

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

There may be some who think that what I’ve said and what I’ve seen… that it’s simply too late for us.

But… it isn’t.

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Categories: commentary, current events, opinion, personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

English, Thou Art Cruel


You may have heard this before. But there is good reason to despise the English language. Especially for non-native speakers! Thing is, I love to write. I really do. So it pains me to admit that sometimes my writer’s block stems from loathing the English language and all of its dysfunctionally absurd “exceptions” to established rules of grammar. Follow me for a moment…

  • WOMB is pronounced “woom” and TOMB is pronounced “toom”, but BOMB is pronounced “bahm”.

Oh, uh… okay. :-/

Image result for wait what

  • A “pair of glasses”, a “pair of scissors” and a “pair of pants” actually refer to one item or article. But a “pair of shoes” refers to two items.  It could be argued that you’d look pretty silly with only one pant leg. But I think you’d also look pretty silly with only one shoe.

Here is a list of words that at first glance you would think rhyme. Think again. All of them are pronounced differently. ALL. OF. THEM.

Tough
Trough
Though
Through
Thought
Thorough

  • Colonel is pronounced “kernuhl”. So Colonoscopy should be pronounced “kernoscopy” right? WRONG.
  • It would also stand to reason that “take out” should not be “brought home”, but yet, it almost always is.
  • If one person doesn’t “show up” for a “showdown”, it ain’t gonna happen.
  • A “flight of stairs” involves no air travel whatsoever.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on Contranyms. That’s a can of worms even the most confident native English speaker would find disconcerting. If you dare, here’s a list.

Yet, I persevere. Because my love for writing outweighs my disdain for the words from which I must choose. 🙂

Categories: commentary, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Life As A Decoration


I recently attended an informative and deeply inspiring (read: long) industry conference in Anaheim with my wife. It was held in one of the second-floor ballrooms at the Anaheim Hilton, a hop, skip, and a jump from Disneyland’s front door. There was Magic Kingdom spill over into all of the surrounding stores and buildings that made the whole place feel like an extension of Main Street USA. It’s one of those places where everything feels like a souvenir. 🙂

Anyway, after snaking our way into the parking structure (a process that added at least a good 20 minutes to our overall travel time), we found a parking space and headed toward the venue. We arrived late (because of the crazy parking) and managed to grab a seat in the 5th row from the back. It was a great turn out. All together there were about 350 attendees, with a majority coming from various parts in and around L.A. County, along with a good contingent from Las Vegas I believe, and then a smattering from locations other than the West Coast.

Throughout the program, which lasted from about 8am to 4pm (or as the homeschoolers might call it, first subject to second snack), there were multiple speakers who took to the stage to regale us with their personal stories of triumph over circumstance, the virtues of perseverance, and general advice and suggestions on how to obtain success. All while juggling chainsaws and baking cookies. (Ha! Not really, but it feels like that sometimes.)

In usual fashion, each speaker was given a brief introduction to the audience so that we would have a better understanding of who they were, and would appreciate the experience or level of expertise from which they would be speaking. But in all of what has become very typical of these types of events, there was something that REALLY stood out to me… glaring gender disparity.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not the guy that goes looking for “issues” to champion, or conjures up faux social injustices to expose. But this just sort of nagged at me throughout the day. The part that really puzzled me wasn’t the fact that the disparity was so obvious (at least to me), but that so many people seemed to be completely oblivious to it, or at least indifferent toward it.

Let me explain…

One introduction went something like this, “Mr. such and such is an amazing individual who did X, Y and Z! In addition to being wildly successful, he’s also friendly, humble, and a real go-getter! He lives in a beautiful house in such and such city, has X amount of children, AND AN ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL WIFE. I MEAN, SHE IS DROP DEAD GORGEOUS!

To be fair, in and of itself, there was nothing wrong with that statement. This person was simply offering a compliment to the speaker’s spouse. But there are two very important implications that lie underneath that benign statement…

1) that there was some apparent correlation between the beauty of the speaker’s wife and his success, and,
2) that what was most important to disclose about his wife was how attractive she was.

And these become the ongoing subliminal messages we transmit…

Men, become someone so accomplished that you can snag a drop-dead gorgeous wife.
And women, the most important thing about you, 
and the only thing that anybody really cares about, is how you look.

Now, I must state that there were also several speakers who were female. But not one of their introductions included references to the attractiveness of their husbands. No one mentioned how “stunningly handsome” or “captivatingly good-looking” the men were. It was usually a reference to what he did, such as, “…and her husband is an engineer,” or “…he comes from a military background.”

In an age where being arm candy could easily be the extent of someone’s aspirations, it doesn’t surprise me that no one noticed this pattern of referring primarily to a woman’s appearance, and by contrast, mostly referring to a man’s accomplishments. It seems to happen all the time.

shiksa_evolution_illo

Illustration by: Zohar Lazar (as it appeared in a Hollywood Reporter article dated June 19, 2015)

Next time you’re out with someone, pay attention to how other people refer to the men and women they know, or how they are introduced. There’s a good chance it’ll fall along the lines of “she’s pretty” and “he’s successful”.

I have one daughter. And it saddens me that she’s growing up in a world that constantly reinforces the idea of beauty over brains. Especially when to me, it is a person’s intelligence that really makes them attractive. So I plan to do everything I can to make sure my daughter understands that being smart isn’t a liability, and that her purpose in life is infinitely bigger than simply being a decoration.

I’m curious what other people think about this.

Do you believe gender disparity exists? And if so, what can we do to eliminate this type of default thinking?

Categories: commentary, opinion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tragedy In The Second Degree


This weekend I scrolled past a video of a woman being violently ejected from her car during a freeway accident. To say it was disturbing was an understatement.
 
I paused because I was so taken aback by the footage. Questions on top of questions flooded my thoughts…
 
Did she die?
Is she alive?
Were there other people in the car?
Was she married?
Did she have children?
How did her family react?
Was she on her way to work?
 
But the final question, and one that probably troubled me the most was…
 
Why would someone post this video to social media?
 
The answer that seemed to make the most sense was this one:
 
Tragedy has become a spectator sport. We have become so desensitized and accustomed to the idea and reality of tragedy, that in a general sense, we’ve lost all respect for privacy, impetus for prevention, and in some cases, being spurred to action in an effort to assist when tragedy strikes.
 
Content to simply stand back and watch, tragedy has become entertainment fodder, while compassion withers away.
https://i2.wp.com/consciousreporter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/youtube-censorship-conscious-reporter.jpg

We have policies in place to protect the interests of copyright holders and corporations, but misfortune is paraded about like some morbid trophy.

I’d like to believe we are better than that. Perhaps one day it will become the new normal.

Categories: commentary, opinion, personal | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Listen Up Kids, Your Father Is An Idiot


…or so mainstream media would have every child believe. In the recently released, faith-based comedy “Moms Night Out“, audiences are asked to sympathize with the poor, over-worked, stay-at-home-mom’s attempt to have at least one night where, as my wife sometimes puts it, “no one needs me”.

Dumb DadsI get that. I really do. My wife is an AMAZING mother! No, seriously! Look up “Amazing Mom” in any dictionary and I guarantee, you wi… (ahem)

Well, I’m sure you get the point. I’m just saying that the concept of having a Moms’ Night Out is not lost on me. I often encourage my wife to go out with her friends and enjoy a much-needed, much deserved break from the fullness of parenthood that is our home. As a matter of fact, the MOMS Club my wife belongs to has a Moms’ Night Out at least once a month. Sometimes more if the moms are feeling particularly fried.

So when I first saw the title of the movie, I thought, “Cool! My wife really enjoys those each month! I bet this will be a great movie!” That is, until I saw the trailer. It serves up a good portion of cliche’ while attempting to draw you in with the following teaser:

"All Allyson and her friends want is a peaceful, grown-up evening of dinner and 
conversation - a long-needed moms' night out. But in order to enjoy high heels, adult 
conversation and food not served in a paper bag, they need their husbands to watch 
the kids for three hours. What could go wrong?"

Apparently, everything when you involve dear ol’ dad. The sad answer to that question provided in the film’s plot summary. A snippet of which (according to Wikipedia) explains to us that, “… their husbands attempt to care for the children with disastrous results.”

This trailer had the familiar stench of the highly derided “Dad Test” commercials by Huggies. I have no problem finding the humor in parenting. But it shouldn’t be used to downplay the importance and value of fathers.

Over the years there has been no shortage of articles from people who’ve felt the same way about Dumbing Down Dads and the Epidemic of Stupid Men and Useless Fathers. As an involved father of 6, I just find it disheartening that we are still fighting to redefine the role and establish the importance of the father in the home. This movie is one more step backward in this struggle. dumb-dad

In his review of the movie, critic Brian Orndorf says, “Less inviting is the suggestion that all dads are buffoons, unable to keep up with their children. Before the night is an hour old, Sean has a dislocated shoulder and Marco is a rattled mess, unable to juggle the basic needs of fatherhood while tending to a parakeet he’s brought from home. It’s ugly sexism in what’s trying to be a harmless feature, pandering to the female audience with a mean-spirited attitude toward men and their habitual boobery. “

Why are we perpetuating the notion of imbecile fathers who get in the way of moms and embarrass their children? Is it too much to ask that we instead focus on laughter caused by simple everyday folly that doesn’t imply someone is a buffoon who exhibits “habitual boobery”?

Or maybe I should just start posting my own videos of the movie making process that depicts writers, directors and producers as idiots who couldn’t come up with an original thought if their lives depended on it. :-/

Categories: commentary, family, marriage, opinion, personal | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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