Russell Simmons Apologizes, Working w/ Harriet Tubman’s Family to Do Documentary

Russell SimmonsSo two days ago music mogul Russell Simmons shocked the world when he announced that him and Dreamworks and a number of other media partners had formed a new movie company called All Def Digital... A few hours after that announcement Russell then tweeted that folks should peep a new project that he found ‘hilarious’. That project was a ‘sextape diary’ of freedom fighter Harriet Tubman..

In what was deemed a parody with the actress playing Harriet Tubman,  dressed up to look like Aunt Jemima. Tubman is shown seducing her slave master while another slave hiding in the closet films her having wild and wanton sex.. She then is supposed to Blackmail the slave master unless he allows her to run the underground railroad..Needless to say folks flipped out and went after Russell like there was no tomorrow..

Within two or three hours Russell had all copies of the video removed and has since been apologizing. Yesterday he sat down with TV One’s News One Network to explain his position. You can peep that story at

Russell also announced that he has since been in touch with descendents of Harriet Tubman, personally apologized to them and agreed to work with them on a documentary about her life..Below is the News One Interview..

As Russell gets underway with working on this documentary, folks may wanna familiarize themselves with Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.. Here’s a couple of pieces that folks may find helpful..

Here’s a documentary on Harriet Tubman called Quest for Freedom

4 Movies You Should See & Know About Before You See Django that deal w/ Rebellion

There’s been a lot of chatter about the movie Django and how it touches upon slavery and the resistance to it..Lots of debates have sparked off talking about what’s accurate, what’s fantasy etc etc.. I say use this excitement around Django and the hype machine that director Quentin Tarantino has around him to turn folks onto other projects they may have overlooked, forgotten about or not seen at all..It doesn’t have to be an either or thing.. See ‘m all.. Contrast, compare and build..

SankofaOne film that is frequently mentioned is Sankofa by Haile Gerima  It’s a film that he said took more than 10 years to complete. Hollywood wasn’t interested in financing a movie about;

A self-absorbed Black American fashion model on a photo shoot in Africa is spiritually transported back to a plantation in the West Indies where she experiences first-hand the physical and psychic horrors of chattel slavery, and eventually the redemptive power of community and rebellion as she becomes a member of a freedom-seeking Maroon colony

There have been some who upon seeing the release of Django and its popularity have referenced Sankofa and asked why we didn’t support the painstaking efforts of film makers like Gerima who tried to give the Black community serious information about an institution that is constantly being written out or sanitized in our history books..

If you can’t rent the film here’s one of several copies on line..

Another film which is often mentioned is Spook Who Sat By the Sam Greenlee. It’s a landmark film that came out in the early 70s and was based upon a book with the same titled which was released in 1969.  Although this film isn’t about slavery, it’s about rebellion and fighting oppression which is whats attracting many to Django.

spook who satThe plot of Spook Who Sat by the Door goes as follows.. The CIA because of politics needs to recruit African-Americans to the agency. It’s supposed to be dog and pony show. In other words have Blacks try out for the agency, make it public, but have them fail. However, there was one guy, named Dan Freeman who played the role of an ‘Uncle Tom’ when in real life he was a Black nationalist.. He gets into the CIA, soaks up all their game and then leads an armed rebellion..This fim was so controversial, that it was banned from movie theaters and was hard to get up until recently..

According to Greenlee almost everyone involved in that film from the director Ivan Dixon on down to lead actor Lawrence Cook found themselves outcasted in many Hollywood circles. Cook wouldn’t appear in a major film for almost 20 years after Spook Who sat by the Door.

You can peep the movie here…

Soul of nigger charleyAnother flick building on the Slave revolt theme is the Legend of Nigger Charley and Soul of Nigger Charley featuring Fred Williamson. It focuses on a trio of escaped slaves who are down to fight and win against white oppressors.. Believe it or not when these films came out there were posters all over subways in NYC advertising the film. The N word was not covered or changed.. It was very much in your face.. Legend of Nigger Charley went on to be Paramount pictures highest grossing film in 1972 when it was released.




M1 of dead prez Teams up w/ Nas to Pay Tribute to Denmark Vessey

Loving this new jam called ‘Genocide Highway’ from M1 of dead prez and Nas that pays tribute to Denmark Vesey, who led a slave revolt and became free on November 9th, 1799. This is a dope cut and I get the sense that we have more of these types of songs coming down the pipe.. Props to M1 and Nas as well as Beatnick & K-Salaam on the beat, the hook and the scratch.


Adidas Cancels Their ‘Shackle Shoe’.. But When Will We Stop Being Slaves to Expensive Kicks?

A lot of folks were upset with the proposed ‘shackle’ sneaker designed by Jeremy Scott (JS Roundhouse) ..It was understandable, because the shackles look like a  throwback to slavery or modern-day prison bindings..The sneakers were set to be released in August and retail for $350.00. Because folks were so outraged, Adidas decided to cancel the release of those shoes..I’m not mad at that decision. Even though the designer claimed he was trying to be ‘quirky‘ and off beat, there’s nothing quirky or eccentric about slavery or prison..

With that being said, I gotta be honest and note the irony of folks being upset about this visible symbol of slavery but not too upset about it when its invisible. What do I mean?

Well over the years we’ve seen countless deaths over these and other expensive sneakers.. The outcry over these shackle shoes was the symbol and not the $350 price tag.. We have countless people hopelessly hooked on spending their last dollar on these and other shoes including the recently released kicks sporting rap superstar Kanye West‘s name.. Nike Air Yeezy II. They’re going for $285 a pair.. This wouldn’t be so bad except such über expensive items are marketed to poor people, many who’ve become mentally enslaved to the idea that they must own a pair at all costs. The end result as I mentioned earlier is more than a few deaths. If folks aren’t slaying and robbing each other, then we’re running around with our chest out and basing a lot of our inner self-worth on these shoes..We’ve become enslaved to blinging in the middle of a recession.

Kanye West has $285 dollar sneakers called Air Yeezys

Of course the shoe companies like to step back and take no blame.. They like to kick it back to the parents, churches and schools and hide behind the concept of ‘free market‘ and ‘supply and demand‘.  No one wants to talk about the mindset of kids that feel so compelled to own a pair of certain types of sneakers that they’ll kill or risk death over them.. No one wants to talk about the deep desire to own these shoes even if they are made in sweat shops with slave labor. They must own a pair at all costs.. That’s pretty powerful.

No one wants to talk about the millions they spend in marketing research which results in them honing sophisticated strategies designed to get inside the heads and psychologically hook particular demographics of people, most of them young. many of them poor.  No one wants to talk about how these expensive shoes folks are overly attached to are made for pennies on the dollar. It was this fear of sophisticated marketing and the concern of folks deemed vulnerable and easily influenced that we don’t have cigarette and certain types of alcohol ads on TV..

Yes, I’m glad Adidas got rid of this silly line of sneakers.. We have enough symbols of prison and slavery we don’t need to spend an extra $350 for more conditioning.. I’ll be even more happy when I can wake up and not see folks who can’t identify their mayor or congressperson or the political winds and policy adversely impacting them, who will spend the night in front of the local shoe store to get their hands on the latest $300 kicks that have been deliberately marketed so there are limited amounts.

Food for Thought..

written by Davey D


Could What happened in Egypt Ever happen Here in the US? by Davey D

As we watch the rebellions against 30 years of brutal oppression in Egypt unfold, many are asking when will the Black youth of today rise up and fight for change the way the youth in Egypt are fighting? While on the surface such questions are important, they suggest that the youth are not willing to stand up and “fight the power.” They suggest that we haven’t been in the streets risking it all for social change.

Before we address any of this, let’s look at history, since it is Black History Month. If you were to pick up any high school text book, from New York to California, you’re likely to find fleeting information about the institution of slavery. In many instances  the brutality and outright horrors have been sanitized. Words have been changed, harsh facts have been softened or omitted and a somewhat happy and hopeful face has been attached to the text. We see that happening now in places like Arizona and Texas where ethnic studies has been removed and there’s been a push to remove slavery and replace it with the words “Atlantic Triangular Trade.” Recently the Tea Party lawmakers in Tennessee have been pushing to downplay and outright remove references of our founding fathers being slave owners.

To have others tell it, slavery was not that bad,” and thus there was no reason for us to be out in the streets. In most text books, even on the college level, there is very little discussion about the rebellions and uprisings that routinely took place during the years we were held captive…Sure, here and there we’ll hear bits and pieces about Nat Turner‘s revolt in 1831. Occasionally there will be a mention of Denmark Vessey‘s uprising in 1822. But both those stories often lack pertinent details. We don’t hear about their strategies or the number of people who were ready to ride with them. We don’t hear about the smack downs they delivered. Even more telling is the lack of information about the absolute fear these two men put in the hearts and minds of white slave owners. All we know is that these uprisings were put down with Turner and Vessey being hung. End of story.

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Let’s Reconsider Celebrating Columbus Day

Christopher Columbus the Killer

Tomorrow many folks throughout this country will take the day off to pay tribute to a man who set the stage for genocide and the slave trade here in the United States. Yes we’re talking about the man they call Christopher Columbus who is still being taught to us in schools as the guy who ‘discovered’ America. Folks need to seriously reconsider.

It’s interesting to note that while many far right tea Party types are hard at work rewriting text books and removing from its curriculum discussion about slavery and iconic figures like Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall and United Farm Worker leaders Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, they are hell-bent on keeping the myth of Columbus going. There’s no mention of any of heinous crimes or the fact that he was an inept explorer who got lost and wound up on this country he supposedly discovered..

The only thing worse then perpetuating the benign myth of Columbus is not talking about how our founding fathers were slave owners.. Thomas Jefferson’s mistress Sally Hemmings was a slave. When the Declaration of Independence was signed with the edicts ‘All men are Created Equal’ those who were enslaved were seen as 3/5th human. Yes we must reconsider Columbus Day.

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Wright: White Supremacy from Bacon to Obama: Are We Finally at the Moment of Reckoning?

White Supremacy from Bacon to Obama: Are We Finally at the Moment of Reckoning?

by Professor Tina Wright

A few months ago, I got into a debate online with a white woman I did not know. She was “scared to death” about the direction of this country and felt Obama and his policies were going to ruin the United States. She was worried about the “new world order” and saw Obama as the face of it. While acknowledging “problems” starting under Bush, she believed things were much worse now under Obama.

Her reasoning epitomized white privilege so I asked her one last question which i had a feeling she would not, or could not answer: When were things “better” in this country? Name one time.

as i suspected, I never heard from her again…

maybe she thought she was being set up for a history lesson…and she was. I wanted to ask her if things were better when the indigenous’ lost their land and lives? or Africans and African Americans were enslaved for hundreds of years? Or maybe during the rule of jim crow domestic terrorism? lynching? the great depression? segregation? crack? 50% youth unemployment in cities in the 80s? For her, today’s “sky is falling doomsday” is for many “just another day in the U.S.A.”.

I’m not sure she learned anything that day….but i know i did. James Baldwin’s Fire Next Time may be upon us.

“But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent.

It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.” – James Baldwin

Before Obama won the election, I knew his presidency would be the opportunity for reckoning. I wrote and said many times that this country was not ready for even the symbolism of a black man as head of state. White supremacists would revolt..and in many ways have (politically, rhetorically, and even in some cases, violently).

While Obama has no real power (or desire) to threaten white supremacy, the symbolism of him being the president is more than many in this country can bare. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have decided to employ the same strategy that has been utilized throughout this country’s existence to protect white supremacy and the status quo power structure: stroke white fears.

Bacon’s Rebellion: The Writing on the Wall

Early slavery was “indentured servitude” for many Africans and Europeans that were brought in bondage (some kidnapped). Many worked for years and then earned freedom. That is why there were free Africans in VA and other areas from early on (some of which even went on to own slaves themselves (but that’s another story). Chattel slavery “for life” as it came to be was a result of this fear of the poorer masses (white and black) coming together and threatening the planter class (elite). Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 was a symbol of their greatest fear and THAT led to “African” based “slave for life” system, and white supremacy as an ideology to keep poor whites supporting a system that never benefited them…they were taught one thing: “at least you are not black”.

And the pattern has been used ever since…Birth of a Nation was the visualization of white fear post Civil-War. Reconstruction time was a very progressive time for the African American community, including land ownership (some of which was seized from confederate former slave owners) education, & political representation (to the point we have not seen since – why you often here preface “first Black _____ since Reconstruction…etc.). Black progress was real and Black wallstreet (Tulsa OK) and Mound Bayou (Mississippi) were models of it … but white America was NOT ready and domestic terrorism as a strategy was implemented (KKK, lynching, white mobs and finally Jim Crow by law for a century). Trust me, history does repeat itself when we do not learn the REAL lesson… these days, I hear talk of repealing the 14th amendment?! exactly…

Obama’s presidency has been about nothing BUT the ongoing racial struggle in this country…it is the latest chapter if you will. I want to take a minute to give the historical context…i will use black history but this can also be done with Native Ameican History, Chicano history, and so on…

With progress made, there is always backlash…

TO secure our freedom:

1. David Walker’s Appeal (calling for enslaved Africans to secure freedom by any means)

2. Bacon’s Rebellion (class based revolt)


1. racialization of slavery (from indentured servitude to slave for life)

2. black codes for non-enslaved African Americans


1. Abolition movement to end slavery (from reform tactics like pressure though press and courts to radical revolts to moral religious tactics)..led to whole free state/slave state – congressional politics of representation 3/5 clause etc.



THEN to secure freedom we:


1. Federal FREEDMAN’S Bureau

2. gains in education, land, and political representation


1. Domestic Terrorism, birth of KKK

2. Legalization of Jim Crow


1. Booker T. – building institutions but not fighting racism,

2. DuBois – NAACP, tried reforming system, holding to its ideals,

3. Garvey – actually inspired by Booker T., self determination, building black institutions and economic empowerment with black money not white donors like Booker T. had


1. J Edgar Hoover hired first black agent to infiltrate UNIA.

2. Black leaders pitted against each other as tactic (Washington v. DuBOis, Garvey v. DuBois)

3. Internal strife (movements brought down from within/tactic used in revolts earlier too)


1. CRM – Emmitt Till, montgomery bus boycott – masses organizing, SNCC, BPP, etc



2. MLK v. MALCOLM,take sides (tactic divide and conquer which Malcolm X later rejected)


hip hop – voice for youth coming of post-CR era


commodfied – frame one dimensional and sell for profit while reinforcing stereotypes..see BAMBOOZLED




1. tea party

2. “liberal” squabbling on politics instead of organizing actions (which i argue is very purposeful and again refer to Malcolm X speech on foxes and wolves..liberals and conservatives)

3. the fear of a brown planet (immigration debate, 14th amendment, etc.)

I write all this to basically point out that we have to make sure we know not only what we are fighting for (freedom, justice, sustenance)…but WHO we are fighting for (people’s class), and who we are fighting against (elite)…because there have been many times in history we have been pitted against each other as a tactic when we could have united and been a powerful force for our own freedom…we can either learn lessons of history, or continue to repeat them…

Ms. Sherrod breaks it down plainly on why understanding and dealing with white supremacy is critical to building class consciousness…it has not only been A strategy but it has been THE strategy of the owning class since before this country formed…back to colonial days..

We cannot be free until they are free – James Baldwin

James Baldwin

For working people to come together (again – see Bacon) they must first recognize the humanity they share…and white supremacy is the roadblock denying that truth. That is what the white middle class has done for this system…people will continue to support a system that only benefits 1% until they recognize that they are not a part of that 1%…they are a part of the 99% masses across the globe of all hues…

so i say all that to say this:

If you really study the struggle of black history and the use of white supremacy to keep iniquity alive, as i have said many times before…even the symbolic aspect of a “black” man being the president of this racist empire and how it is driving white supremacists crazy was change enough for me to believe in…lol.

Obama’s presidency is an opportunity for this country if we seize it..Before Obama rattled white supremacists awake, they were able to hide behind institutional racism and now they have to come from behind the Bushes (pun intended), show their true color (pun intended) and let the fall out begin (AZ, tea party, 14th amendment now etc)…which will FORCE US to do what we have to do to …FIGHT FOR OUR FREEDOM…and THAT is what i’ve been waiting for…The Fire Next Time… it’s time and i’ve been ready..

as my son would say…LET’S GO!!

original story:

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Henry Louis Gates pens Article Absolving White People For Slavery-Wants us to Blame Africans

Wow this is a two page story that the New York Times is running…You’d think Henry Louis Gates would’ve learned a few things after his confrontation with Cambridge police last year when they accused him of breaking into his house and jammed him up… Apparently not.. All I can do is shake my head and note that this article appears the night after ABC Nightline ran that story about Black Women not finding suitable men.. As author Bakari Kitwana pointed out, Yes today we all need to highlight and celebrate Black pathologies…

So this article basically says Africans helped white slavers capture us.. Duh.. We’ve been known that. Hell it was Black slaves that usually ran to master and told about slave insurrections. It was Black slave that were sometimes made to be overseers. None of that absolves the horrific institution of slavery which here in the US was rooted in the strong belief that our ancestors who were forced to work those fields were less than human and forced to endure unspeakable horrors. The hatred for us because of skin color remained long after slavery into Jim Crow and as we can see in recent days continues..We wont even get into a discussion of colonialism and the racialized politics around that especially as African nations fought to be free. Meanwhile while this Gates article appears, the state of Texas is erasing and downplaying the harshness of slavery in its history books.

This article is akin to pointing out that there were Jews who helped the German during the height of Nazi Germany.. Not for one minute would one ever think of absolving germany for her role in the holocaust and nor should we be absolving those Europeans who gleefully played roles in Transatlantic slavery, no matter what Africans helped out.. What took place in this 2000 x 3000 land mass we call America rest on the shoulders of ‘Mr Charlie’. He gets no pass on what was done..He was caught holding the bag.. and to be honest if there was some nutcase on the continent who “Helped” sell us into bondage they can be dealt with as well.. But in the meantime it was Mr Charlie of European decent who was all up in here raping our mothers, sisters and grandmothers, snatching up kids and separating our families, beating our people to pulps and basically using and abusing human being stolen from their land.  I dont care how many Henry Gates articles are published by the NY Times..He (Mr Charlie ) gets no pass..nuff said

-Davey D-

Ending the Slavery Blame-Game

by Henry Louis Gates

Henry Louis Gates

THANKS to an unlikely confluence of history and genetics — the fact that he is African-American and president — Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to reshape the debate over one of the most contentious issues of America’s racial legacy: reparations, the idea that the descendants of American slaves should receive compensation for their ancestors’ unpaid labor and bondage.

There are many thorny issues to resolve before we can arrive at a judicious (if symbolic) gesture to match such a sustained, heinous crime. Perhaps the most vexing is how to parcel out blame to those directly involved in the capture and sale of human beings for immense economic gain.

While we are all familiar with the role played by the United States and the European colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Portugal and Spain, there is very little discussion of the role Africans themselves played. And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. These included the Akan of the kingdom of Asante in what is now Ghana, the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin), the Mbundu of Ndongo in modern Angola and the Kongo of today’s Congo, among several others.

For centuries, Europeans in Africa kept close to their military and trading posts on the coast. Exploration of the interior, home to the bulk of Africans sold into bondage at the height of the slave trade, came only during the colonial conquests, which is why Henry Morton Stanley’s pursuit of Dr. David Livingstone in 1871 made for such compelling press: he was going where no (white) man had gone before.

How did slaves make it to these coastal forts? The historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University estimate that 90 percent of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders. The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred.

Advocates of reparations for the descendants of those slaves generally ignore this untidy problem of the significant role that Africans played in the trade, choosing to believe the romanticized version that our ancestors were all kidnapped unawares by evil white men, like Kunta Kinte was in “Roots.” The truth, however, is much more complex: slavery was a business, highly organized and lucrative for European buyers and African sellers alike.

The African role in the slave trade was fully understood and openly acknowledged by many African-Americans even before the Civil War. For Frederick Douglass, it was an argument against repatriation schemes for the freed slaves. “The savage chiefs of the western coasts of Africa, who for ages have been accustomed to selling their captives into bondage and pocketing the ready cash for them, will not more readily accept our moral and economical ideas than the slave traders of Maryland and Virginia,” he warned. “We are, therefore, less inclined to go to Africa to work against the slave trade than to stay here to work against it.”

To be sure, the African role in the slave trade was greatly reduced after 1807, when abolitionists, first in Britain and then, a year later, in the United States, succeeded in banning the importation of slaves. Meanwhile, slaves continued to be bought and sold within the United States, and slavery as an institution would not be abolished until 1865. But the culpability of American plantation owners neither erases nor supplants that of the African slavers. In recent years, some African leaders have become more comfortable discussing this complicated past than African-Americans tend to be.

In 1999, for instance, President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin astonished an all-black congregation in Baltimore by falling to his knees and begging African-Americans’ forgiveness for the “shameful” and “abominable” role Africans played in the trade. Other African leaders, including Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, followed Mr. Kerekou’s bold example.

Our new understanding of the scope of African involvement in the slave trade is not historical guesswork. Thanks to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, directed by the historian David Eltis of Emory University, we now know the ports from which more than 450,000 of our African ancestors were shipped out to what is now the United States (the database has records of 12.5 million people shipped to all parts of the New World from 1514 to 1866). About 16 percent of United States slaves came from eastern Nigeria, while 24 percent came from the Congo and Angola.

Through the work of Professors Thornton and Heywood, we also know that the victims of the slave trade were predominantly members of as few as 50 ethnic groups. This data, along with the tracing of blacks’ ancestry through DNA tests, is giving us a fuller understanding of the identities of both the victims and the facilitators of the African slave trade.

For many African-Americans, these facts can be difficult to accept. Excuses run the gamut, from “Africans didn’t know how harsh slavery in America was” and “Slavery in Africa was, by comparison, humane” or, in a bizarre version of “The devil made me do it,” “Africans were driven to this only by the unprecedented profits offered by greedy European countries.”

But the sad truth is that the conquest and capture of Africans and their sale to Europeans was one of the main sources of foreign exchange for several African kingdoms for a very long time. Slaves were the main export of the kingdom of Kongo; the Asante Empire in Ghana exported slaves and used the profits to import gold. Queen Njinga, the brilliant 17th-century monarch of the Mbundu, waged wars of resistance against the Portuguese but also conquered polities as far as 500 miles inland and sold her captives to the Portuguese. When Njinga converted to Christianity, she sold African traditional religious leaders into slavery, claiming they had violated her new Christian precepts.

Did these Africans know how harsh slavery was in the New World? Actually, many elite Africans visited Europe in that era, and they did so on slave ships following the prevailing winds through the New World. For example, when Antonio Manuel, Kongo’s ambassador to the Vatican, went to Europe in 1604, he first stopped in Bahia, Brazil, where he arranged to free a countryman who had been wrongfully enslaved.

African monarchs also sent their children along these same slave routes to be educated in Europe. And there were thousands of former slaves who returned to settle Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Middle Passage, in other words, was sometimes a two-way street. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to claim that Africans were ignorant or innocent.

Given this remarkably messy history, the problem with reparations may not be so much whether they are a good idea or deciding who would get them; the larger question just might be from whom they would be extracted.

So how could President Obama untangle the knot? In David Remnick’s new book “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama,” one of the president’s former students at the University of Chicago comments on Mr. Obama’s mixed feelings about the reparations movement: “He told us what he thought about reparations. He agreed entirely with thetheory of reparations. But in practice he didn’t think it was really workable.”

About the practicalities, Professor Obama may have been more right than he knew. Fortunately, in President Obama, the child of an African and an American, we finally have a leader who is uniquely positioned to bridge the great reparations divide. He is uniquely placed to publicly attribute responsibility and culpability where they truly belong, to white people and black people, on both sides of the Atlantic, complicit alike in one of the greatest evils in the history of civilization. And reaching that understanding is a vital precursor to any just and lasting agreement on the divisive issue of slavery reparations.

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Why Is the Media So Obsessed With Horrifying Images of African-American Mothers?


Why Is the Media So Obsessed With Horrifying Images of African-American Mothers?

By Melissa Harris-Lacewell, The Nation.

With Michelle Obama in the White House, I expected a resurgence of the Claire Huxtable stereotype. Instead, hideous depictions of abusive, irresponsible black moms are everywhere.

Bad black mothers are everywhere these days.

With Michelle Obama in the White House, consciously and conspicuously serving as mom-in-chief, I expected (even somewhat dreaded) a resurgence of Claire Huxtable images of black motherhood: effortless glamor, professional success, measured wit, firm guidance, loving partnership, and the calm reassurance that American women can, in fact, have it all.

Instead the news is currently dominated by horrifying images of African American mothers.

Most ubiquitous is the near universally celebrated performance of Mo’Nique in the new film Precious. Critically and popularly acclaimed Precious is the film adaption of the novel Push. It is the story of an illiterate, obese, dark-skinned, teenager who is pregnant, for the second time, with her rapist father’s child. (Think The Color Purple in a 1980s inner-city rather than 1930s rural Georgia)

At the core of the film is Precious’ unimaginably brutal mother. She is an unredeemed monster who brutalizes her daughter verbally, emotionally, physically and sexually. This mother pimps both her daughter and the government. Stealing her daughter’s childhood and her welfare payments.

The mother of 5 year old Shaniya Davis

Just as Precious was opening to national audiences a real-life corollary emerged in the news cycle, when 5-year-old Shaniya Davis was found dead along a roadside in North Carolina. Her mother, a 25-year-old woman with a history of drug abuse, has been arrested on charges of child trafficking. The charges allege that this mother offered her 5-year-old daughter for sex with adult men.

Yet another black mother made headlines in the past week, when U.S. soldier, Alexis Hutchinson, refused to report for deployment to Afghanistan. Hutchinson is a single mother of an infant, and was unable to find suitable care for her son before she was deployed. She had initially turned to her own mother who found it impossible to care for the child because of prior caregiver commitments. Stuck without reasonable accommodations, Hutchinson chose not to deploy. Hutchinson’s son was temporally placed in foster care. She faces charges and possible jail time.

These stories are a reminder, that for African American women, reproduction has never been an entirely private matter.

Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison, chose the stories of enslaved black mothers to depict the most horrifying effects of American slavery. In her novel, Beloved, Morrison reveals the unimaginable pain some black mothers experienced because their children were profitable for their enslavers. Enslaved black women did not birth children; they produced units for sale, measurable in labor contributions. Despite the patrilineal norm that governed free society, enslaved mothers were forced to pass along their enslaved status to their infants; ensuring intergenerational chattel bondage was the first inheritance black mothers gave to black children in America.

Alexis Hutchinson

As free citizens black women’s reproduction was no longer directly tied to profits. In this new context, black mothers became the object of fierce eugenics efforts. Black women, depicted as sexually insatiable breeders, are adaptive for a slave holding society but not for the new context of freedom. Black women’s assumed lasciviousness and rampant reproduction became threatening. In Killing the Black Body, law professor, Dorothy Roberts, explains how the state employed involuntary sterilization, pressure to submit to long-term birth control, and restriction of state benefits for large families as a means to control black women’s reproduction.

At the turn of the century many public reformers held African American women particularly accountable for the “degenerative conditions” of the race. Black women were blamed for being insufficient housekeepers, inattentive mothers, and poor educators of their children. Because women were supposed to maintain society’s moral order, any claim about rampant disorder was a burden laid specifically at women’s feet.

In a 1904 pamphlet “Experiences of the Race problem. By a Southern White Woman” the author claims of black women, “They are the greatest menace possible to the moral life of any community where they live. And they are evidently the chief instruments of the degradation of the men of their own race. When a man’s mother, wife, and daughters are all immoral women, there is no room in his fallen nature for the aspirations of honor and virtue…I cannot imagine such a creation as a virtuous black woman.”

Decades later, Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” designated black mothers as the principal cause of a culture of pathology, which kept black people from achieving equality. Moynihan’s research predated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but instead of identifying the structural barriers facing African American communities, he reported the assumed deviance of Negro families.

This deviance was clear and obvious, he opined, because black families were led by women who seemed to have the primary decision making roles in households. Moynihan’s conclusions granted permission to two generations of conservative policy makers to imagine poor, black women as domineering household managers whose unfeminine insistence on control both emasculated their potential male partners and destroyed their children’s future opportunities. The Moynihan report encouraged the state not to view black mother as women doing the best they could in tough circumstances, but instead to blame them as unrelenting cheats who unfairly demand assistance from the system.

Black mothers were again blamed as the central cause of social and economic decline in the early 1990s, when news stories and popular films about “crack babies” became dominant. Crack babies were the living, squealing, suffering evidence of pathological black motherhood and American citizens were going to have to pay the bill for the children of these bad mothers.

Susan Douglass and Meredith Michaels, authors of The Mommy Myth explain that media created the “crack baby” phenomenon as a part of a broader history that understands black motherhood as inherently pathological. They write: “It turned out there was no convincing evidence that use of crack actually causes abnormal babies, even though the media insisted this was so…media coverage of crack babies serves as a powerful cautionary tale about the inherent fitness of poor or lower class African American women to be mothers at all.”

This ugly history and its policy ramifications are the backdrop against which these three contemporary black mother stories must be viewed.

Undoubtedly Mo’Nique has given an amazing performance in Precious. But the critical and popular embrace of this depiction of a monstrous black mother has potentially important, and troubling, political meaning. In a country with tens of thousands of missing and exploited children, it is not accidental that the abuse and murder of Shaniya Davis captured the American media cycle just as Precious opened. The sickening acts of Shaniya’s mother become the story that underlines and makes tangible, believable, and credible the jaw-dropping horror of Mo’Nique’s character.

And here too is Alexis Hutchinson. As a volunteer soldier in wartime, she ought to embody the very core of American citizen sacrifice. Instead she is a bad black mother. Implied in the her story is the damning idea that Hutchinson has committed the very worse infraction against her child and her country. Hutchinson has failed to marry a responsible, present, bread-winning man who would free her of the need to labor outside the home. Hutchinson does not stay on the home front clutching her weeping young child as her man goes off to war. Instead, she struggles to find a safe place for him while she heads off to battle. Her motherhood is not idyllic, it is problematic. Like so many other black mothers her parenting is presented as disruptive to her duties as a citizen.

It is worth noting that Sarah Palin’s big public comeback is situated right in the middle of this news cycle full of “bad black mothers.” Palin’s own eye-brow raising reproductive choices and parenting outcomes have been deemed off-limits after her skirmish with late night TV comedians. Embodied in Palin, white motherhood still represents a renewal of the American dream; black motherhood represents its downfall.

Each of these stories, situated in a long tradition of pathologizing black motherhood, serves a purpose. Each encourages Americans to see black motherhood as a distortion of true motherhood ideals. Its effect is troublesome for all mothers of all races who must navigate complex personal, familial, social, and political circumstances.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, is completing her latest book, Sister Citizen: A Text for Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Isn’t Enough.