Friday, February 8, 2013

Lights, Camera, Action!

I work at a book store, and yesterday I was setting the top shelves for Black History Month for adults and kids. Top shelves are the one or two top shelves in a section that might have buyer or company recommended books or a publisher may purchase that space to highlight their stuff. I'm not a big fan of Black History Month, if I'm being honest. It's not that I think it's pointless or unfair. Americans, black children in particular, need to know the impact blacks have had on this country because I don't think black kids know they're worth. I don't like Black History month because it's the same old boring stuff every year: MLK, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, or Harriet Tubman. These are important people and we should continue learning about them, but there are more black people in our history than these four. There's more to black people than slavery or the civil rights movement.

If you ever take a film class, whether it's history or appreciation, there are three films you are guaranteed to watch in part or in whole: Citizen Kane, Stagecoach, and Birth of a Nation. Directed by D.W. Griffith in 1915, Birth of a Nation is as three-hour black and white silent controversy that portrays black men as sexual deviants and the KKK as heroes on horseback. I'm lucky; I had to watch the entire thing my freshman year. While the subject is deplorably hilarious and offensive, I loved it. I'm a film nerd; the progression of film over the last 100 years, which isn't very long for any industry, blows my mind, and Birth of a Nation was not only ahead of it's time, but it set the basis for the modern feature film. What does this have to with Black History? Naturally, the film spawned outrage. Cities banned it and the NAACP, just a few years old at this point, protested. One man responded in a different way.

Though he denied it, many believe Oscar Devereaux Micheaux's Within Our Gates is a response to D.W. Griffith's film. Released in 1920, it centers around a woman who travels to the North to raise money for a southern school for poor black kids. She falls in love with a black doctor, naturally causing problems, but it's later discovered she is of mixed race. Born in Illinois and one of thirteen, he wrote seven novels and directed at least forty-four films between 1919 and 1948. Though he never received an Academy Award, he did receive a special award from the Directors Guild of America in 1989 and the Producers Guild of America named an award after him. His films and novels centered around blacks wanting to better themselves and racial tension in America. He had a hard time getting past censors because of his portrayal of lynching in his films and they feared it would spark riots.

Did I mention he was black? Yes, black people were making films in 1919 before Gordon Parks, before Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing and Tyler Perry's mediocre box office boom. Black people were making what were called "race films" starting around 1910 to counter Jim Crow and negative stereotypes, but it was Within our Gates that set it off. D.W. Griffith used white men in black face in Birth of a Nation. Micheaux employed black actors and black crew memebers - he created stars. He was a fearless director using themes and subject matters he knew would make his audience, black and white, uncomfortable. His goal was to educate the masses and empower black Amereicans.

I had never heard of Oscar Micheaux until my freshman year of college when we watched a documentary about Birth of a Nation. Why is that? Before Rosa Parks sat down, before Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, Oscar Micheaux was telling black people, "Yes you can." While Gordon Parks holds title of "First Black Director of a Major Hollywood Studio Film", Oscar Micheaux paved the way as the first black feature film director.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Slavery vs. Illegal Immigration

I don't know if this is the new liberal thing, a way to guilt people into supporting and justifying illegal immigration, but it's a little scary. This guy is the first to say this to me, and I can guarantee you he won't be the last. Just a day or so ago, Democratic Representative Steve Horsford had this to say on the house floor before the Congressional Black Caucus:

February is Black History Month and I can only assume the significance black history plays in our country isn't being taught anymore. The gravity of slavery to the bravery of the civil rights movement, ignorance is spread like wildfire. Slavery, Civil Rights Movement, and Illegal Immigration. What do these three things have in common? A massive amount of ethnic people suffering from one thing or another. That's the extent of their similarities. It's the differences that makes the difference and what makes them different is this tiny little thing called "the law."

As horrible as slavery was, it was legal. It was the law of the land. Men, women, and children were kidnapped by slavers from the Colonies and Europe, enemies from other tribes, and friends. Many were lured with false promises and lies. They were transported like cargo across the Atlantic ocean; many died from disease or at the hands of the crew. A common practice was to chain the slaves together in a line with something heavy in front. They would drop that heavy something in the water and one by one the chained slaves would slide into the ocean. Those who survived the trip were brought to the islands and to the states as slaves. Three hundred years later, Abraham Lincoln and the war happened, and they were granted their freedom. That's American Slavery.

An illegal immigrant is someone who chooses to come here whether by boat smugglers, forged papers, crossing the border, or staying once their VISA expires. Children who are also illegal, brought here as kids by no fault of their own, have schooling and college issues, and many of them don't know why until they're older. Many illegal immigrants come here while their pregnant and give birth to American citizens, anchor babies.

The keyword here is choice. Africans were BROUGHT here, stolen from their home, under an evil, legal system. Illegal aliens chopse to commit a crime and their children suffer the consequences of their actions. Congressman Horsford compared immigration reform to the civil rights movement, which doesn't make any sense. Being an American is either a "birth right" or a privilege. It is not a human right or a civil right. The Civil Rights Movement was blacks and whites fighting for equal treatment under the law, not special treatment and a pardon.

You don't have to be a child to be ignorant, you can be a young adult on twitter or a congressman from Nevada. Using slavery and the Civil Rights Movement to evoke sympathy for or to justify a crime is disturbing. It's ignorance at it's best. The congressman is right, many illegal aliens are waiting to start jobs, start businesses, go to college, or use the college degrees they legally shouldn't have gotten. Who's fault is that? It's not the Africans fault for being slaves, but any struggle or fear the illegal alien experiences is because of choices he made, and it's not the American government's job to bail him out.

This guy, DESH, said "OUR ANCESTORS" as if we come from the same people. As far as I know my ancestor on my mother's mother's side, James Butler, was a slave from Barbados who escaped to Georgia. Where he came from before Barbados, we don't know. My mother's father's father is a Native American from Georgia. My father's grandfather immigrated from St. Thomas to New York City, legally. I have sickle cell trait, so someone came from West, Southwest, or Central Africa, Northern Sudan, South America, Saudi Arabia, India, or the Mediterranean. Like many black people, I don't really know where I come from, but I can guarantee you no one on my family tree came to this nation illegally.