I don’t think anyone-and I say this with my two white, female AP Literature teachers from high school in mind-can stress this enough. In general, it’s important to immerse oneself in black media because it provides a different view point. And with a different viewpoint comes new thinking. New questions. And, if the audience is lucky, new answers. Here is the reasoning, as I’ve seen and strongly agreed with:
To discuss victimization, one must not only look at the perpetrators.
Now, I’m of the opinion that we can and should look at media that explores the point of view(s) of perpetrators in victimizing themes. And that’s across the board, even outside of race. If we’re talking about Rape Culture, then it’s important to have a point of view from the rapist(s). If we’re talking about the neglect/abuse of children in the [American] foster care system, then it’s important to have a point of view of the abusive/neglectful parents. If we’re talking about the marginalization of women, then it’s important to have the point of view of the people (namely men, as far as I’ve seen) doing the marginalizing.
And so on and so forth.
That is not to say that we, the audience, actually need to sympathize and/or agree with perpetrators. On the contrary, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel an intense dislike, disgust, and fury among other things towards those that hurt others. Heck, that’s kind of good because that means that your own empathy meter as a human being is undamaged. The actual purpose of learning about the perpetrator's side is to educate oneself on how such mindsets work. Society cannot ever hope to root out problems if they remain ignorant of the very sources of those problems. It’s a matter of “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
But on the other side-the side of exposing oneself to the victim’s viewpoint—I’ve heard a lot of puzzling arguments. Arguments that range from saying there’s no need (because students can just look it up if they’re that curious) to saying that such viewpoints should be avoided at all costs (for the sake of propriety). No one really seems to question the very, very realistic backlashes that come with those kinds of ‘solutions’. As Kit paraphrased Jay Smooth, it would appear that America’s ‘solution’ to its history of racism and marginalization is “The less you talk about it, the better you’re dealing with the issue.”
In my opinion, it is this destructive mindset that plagues black media and the widespread knowledge of it. I’m ashamed to say it, but I very much feel that America is a land of Avoidance and Marginalization. We don’t want to face our history of pain, turmoil, and segregation. We don’t want to question why some of those same assumptions, biases, and stereotypes still live today (i.e, “Act Black” or “Act White”). And, most of all, we don’t want to question what we need to do today to make our future racial relations better for our children and our grandchildren.
Hence, many avoid black media…which is exactly the opposite of what we need to do.
I’m of the mind that when we avoid and even discredit victims’ stories, we do a great injustice and disservice to them. The injustice and marginalization they suffered is prolonged because blacks are silenced in this way. We as a society take the human factor from the experience of being black in [historic] America and turn it into a meddlesome subject that no one wants to talk about. That is, we are basically saying that blacks can and should forget what had happened just like the rest of us. We’re saying that if remembering the past means taking critical eye at our present, and that means that we’re less educated, then so be it. We’re saying that we’d rather have the bliss of ignorance even if that means we’re incarcerating ourselves in ignorance’s prison with no bars.
But when we do remember to accept, look at, and analyze black media, then we are respecting the turmoil that blacks have suffered. In addition to that, we are accepting that black media is there—it exists; it is not a separate entity that is only brought up when we want to not be racists.
At the same time, it’s important to note that a certain stereotype needs to be countered. And that stereotype is that all black media is about the struggle and turmoil of blacks solely in the context of their race. With that kind of stereotype in place, it’s not too hard to see why America is in Avoidance Mode; no one wants to bring up a subject that’s going to paint one side of the room as "people who demand an apology" and the other side of the room "people who had better meet that demand." So, what I think that a lot of people miss is that there is black media that speaks of and explores more than just the victimization of blacks in America.
But at the same time, it still doesn’t mean that we need to ignore the media that portrays the victimization. And there are a lot of great examples of all kinds of stories. I can only name a few of my personal favorites and a few of the ones that I’ve heard of with critical acclaim, but have never seen/read.
As far as reading goes, we read quite a lot of black literature in my junior and senior years of high school. There’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, a story of one woman’s failures and triumphs with romantic love by Zora Neale Hurston. From Chinua Achebe, there is Things Fall Apart which is the antithesis to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Both speak of the invasion, rape and pillage of African lands by colonizing white men. In my senior AP Literature class, we studied them one after the other. This was interesting because it showed the opposite sides of the same coin. That is, Achebe showed the point of view of African natives…and Conrad showed the point of view of the white men. A personal favorite of mine (because, I too, struggle to feel beautiful as a young black woman) has always been The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. It says quite a lot about beauty, romanticizing of martyrdom, and the dual society that augments self hatred. I’m not going to go into any more details, but let’s just say that I couldn’t sympathize with Cholly no matter how hard I tried.
As far as movies go, Baby Boy by John Singleton and with Tyrese Gibson, is a bold, bold outcry against ‘hood life’ and the kind of men that it produces. Yes, the story acknowledges that outside racism contributes to the problem…but a lot of life is about personal attitude and the self-perception that comes with it. Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee is quite an interesting take on how the marginalization and racism of blacks affects, well…whites, too. I’ve personally always found all the Tyler Perry movies (especially Diary of a Mad Black Woman) to be both absolutely hilarious and wrenchingly touching at the same time. Another movie by John Singleton, Boyz ‘N the Hood is a poignant look at the dangers and limitations that face young black men all across the nation: the dilemma of choosing between a very, very short-lived street life and a much more rewarding, but anti-masculine, life of education, career and non-violence.
And I’m sure there are many, many more that I haven’t mentioned, much less discovered. But I think it’s extremely important to educate ourselves about the subject…to better understand and appreciate the human beings. Because when we don’t educate ourselves, we lose knowledge. When we lose knowledge, we lose power. When we lose power, history inevitably repeats itself over and over again.
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