Friday, January 22, 2010

Part II: Art as a Reflection of Ourselves

(In photo: Author Micheal Eric Dyson who wrote a book critical of Bill Cosby and his speaking out against black parents who teach their children values counter to his beliefs)

Part II: Art as a Reflection of Ourselves by Guest Blogger Kethia Clairvoyant

Through art, we're able to better come to grips with the complexities of human emotion, as the legacy of our experiences. As a people (African-Americans, African Diaspora) we have an amazing story to convey and share with the world. It is our duty to not just put forth a blank canvas, but to dutifully and honestly create those images: myriad scenes, people, culture, history.

Bill Cosby VS. Poor Black People
After he had given “The Pound Cake Speech” in May 2004 at an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, Bill Cosby was met with harsh resistance for bringing to light some of the problems facing us as a people. He criticized the use of African-American vernacular English (or “Ebonics”), the prevalence of single-parent families, the emphasis on materialism at the expense of necessities, lack of responsibility and various other social behaviors. The speech was featured and set to cartoon visuals in the landmark 2005 African-American documentary 500 Years Later by MK Asante and directed by Owen “Alik” Shahadah.

Combating Cosby’s claims, Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson wrote a book in 2005 entitled Is Bill Cosby Right or Is the Black Middle Class Out of Touch? Dyson wrote that Cosby was overlooking larger social factors that reinforce poverty and associated crime; factors such as deteriorating schools, stagnating wages, dramatic shifts in the economy, off-shoring and downsizing, chronic underemployment, and job and capital flight. Dyson suggested Cosby's comments "betray classist, elitist viewpoints rooted in generational warfare." I believe that a man with Cosby’s background and upbringing understands first-hand the origins of the plight of a large sector of black people; that’s the very reason that he demands for us to be accountable and demand better for and of ourselves.

Shuffling in Hollywood
Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle for me was the antithesis of what some have come to embrace as the stereotypical, myopic view of the “black lifestyle”. In the 1987 film, Townsend plays an actor limited to stereotypical roles because of his race and ethnicity. Though Townsend’s character is an articulate and educated man with a respectful demeanor, the white establishment that runs the business of film-making cannot divorce themselves from their long-held ignorance and beliefs about African-American men. As he makes his rounds in Hollywood in the hopes of making it big as a highly respected performer, we see a director coach him on how a real black man would react in a given situation, we see him satirize a commercial for the “Black Acting School”, and we see him run lines (the way a “real black man” would speak and gesture) in the bathroom with his young son. They are all hilarious.

Though we are making greater strides in some areas, we seem to be complicit in regressing in others, much to our detriment. In the coming weeks I’d like to journey along the path that has led us to where we are today. I'll go further in-depth, decade by decade, to dissect the evolution of art in the African American community.

Cowards falter, but obstacles are overcome by those who dare. Are we courageous enough, determined enough to stand naked and vulnerable within our own community first?

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