Wednesday, February 01, 2012

In Honor of Black History Month: White People Who Write About Black People

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

You know I'm not a huge fan of Black history month. For all the standard reasons; Black history shouldn't be segregated, Black people's contributions to this country require more than 29 days to discuss, blah blah blah. But since the month exists, despite my and other people's exasperation, we might as well use the opportunity for good not evil. Right?

So in my infinite wisdom and since this is my blog and since I'm all about culture clashes, I thought I'd do something a little different this year for Black History Month. I'm going to use my posts for the month of February to highlight all of the White people who've gotten famous, made a name for themselves or otherwise have benefited by telling Black people's stories. In some ways this may sound jaded or even a little snarky. It is! A little. In light of the recent success of The Help, as well as the drama surrounding getting Red Tails on the screen, I figure, let's take a really good look at the White folks who tell Black folks' stories. Why do they do it? What is the public's response? How come some meet with success and other's meet with scathing criticism? Does their literary and/or cinematic output help or hinder the mainstreaming of the Black experience?

Please note, my goal is not to court controversy. I'm really hoping to highlight an interesting pop culture trend (a trend that pretty much began in the 15th century when this country was first integrated). Will I ruffle some feathers? Probably. But that's okay. If you have some suggestions as to whom I should profile during the month of February, let me know. I'm listening.



Enaye Englenton said...

Okay, so I am hooked on your blog. First, I must identify myself as AA - though i usually do not like this labeling of people. In any case, the reality is that when a black person tries to tell and sell the story it is limited to a black audience and rarely will pick up the viewership or artistic awards it might otherwise. When a white person tells and sells it is somehow taken as "authentic" and "true" or not laced with the bitter black pen. Sad, but true.

Anonymous said...

I thought of you when I saw this.
From NPR
One morning many years ago, a little boy in Brooklyn named Peter woke up to an amazing sight: fresh snow.

Peter is the hero of the classic children's book by Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day, which turns 50 this year. Peter has a red snowsuit, a stick just right for knocking snow off of trees, and a snowball in his pocket. And, though this is never mentioned in the text, Peter is African-American.

"It wasn't important. It wasn't the point," Deborah Pope tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. Pope is the executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

"The point is that this is a beautiful book about a child's encounter with snow, and the wonder of it," Pope says. Peter was among the first non-caricatured African-Americans to be featured in a major children's book. But Pope says Keats — who was white — wasn't necessarily trying to make a statement about race when he created Peter.

"He said, well, all the books he had ever illustrated, there had never been a child of color, and they're out there — they should be in the books, too," Pope says.

Anonymous said...

The area that I grew up in was half white and half black. As a white person, I understand white privilege. I understand that I can live in lala land if I chose to and think that racism doesn't exist. I pick not to have my head in the sand. But, when you grow up in an area where you have exposure to white culture, black culture and southern culture....well things that are "black" are just part of life. Just like things that are "white" are. Many times, I've noticed what folks outside of the south consider "black" is southern, maybe southern poor, but southern nonetheless. Class issue vs. race issue, but I digress.
My point and I think I have one is that if we are truly a melting pot the influence is going to get shaken in and it will go both ways! The weaving of cultures and people and only add to the culture output.
There is a difference between influence and straight conscientiously plagiarizing...well that's messed up.

Anonymous said...

Just some thoughts. Ideally people should write their own story, not just along color lines but everything.

Is it more important that the story get told or that the RIGHT person tells the story?

Those white people who have told stories of the hardships of African Americans maybe should not be so easily dismissed. Unfortunately in history, their voice had the power. With some willing to break past the color line, injustice was lighted and could possibly give voice so that the rightful owners of the story could share it.

Check out these lyrics...
The perception that divides you from him
Is a lie
For some reason you never asked why
This is not a black and white world
You can't afford to believe in your side

This is not a black and white world
To be alive
I say that the colors must swirl
And I believe
That maybe today
We will all get to appreciate

The Beauty of Grey by Live

Powerful song Check it out!

Greyish Beauty

Sharontina Brightman said...

First, I must say that I'm officially hooked on your blog too! So good!--Ok, so upon reading this post I must say that my first reaction was a chuckle... I love your sarcastic "Hey, I'm going to make my point!" voice in your writing, and I think you raised a good point here. It's kind of the thing we always think about, but never really speak on.

Thinking about it, most times I feel like when a white person tells the story of black person that: 1)It means the black person is more accepted across color lines and of greater significance so to speak 2)It kind of gives the white person this vote of cool points to say "Hey, I really do support black people, and 3.The public (in my opinion)seems to "clap louder" when a white person tells the story as opposed to another black person. I'm definitely in agreeance with Enaye on that one.

What also comes to mind are the what seems like hundreds(or thousands) of white celebrities that claim to be philanthropists and go on voyages to Africa to bring the stories of their lives back to America to prove that they care. THAT annoys me, because I don't always feel that it is genuine and rather done for a pat on the back.That's a whole different topic that I'm declaring a trend ;-). In any event, I look forward to seeing who you will profile, oddly enough I can't think of any people off the top of my head.

Looking forward to the posts.


Jen Marshall Duncan said...

Lori, I hope you don't mind but I'm posting a link to this piece on my blog today. Your conversation here fits right in with one that has been going on there about inspiration vs. appropriation. It seems that white folks often call it finding "inspiration" when they tell the stories of others; but the reality is that many people are angered by the fact that they aren't allowed to tell their own stories. I am looking forward to reading your posts this month!

LT said...

Yes, sad, but true.

Thanks for thinking of me. I saw this too.

Anon #2
Thanks for sharing your perspective. I agree that sharing and rubbing off of cultures is going to happen no matter what.

Anon #3
Such a good question: " Is it more important that the story get told or that the RIGHT person tells the story?"

Thanks. And I'm glad you're here reading along!

Of course I don't mind. I'm so glad the conversation is being shared. Thank you!

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