Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My vote for Barack Obama

By Venise Berry

I plan to caucus for Barack Obama on January 3rd in Iowa and I look forward to voting for Barack Obama in the November 2008 presidential election not because he is a black man, but because he is a good man – a good person. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve complained about politicians and how they don’t seem to give a damn about the people they are elected to serve. Now, when I have the opportunity to fight for a change - I’m going to fight!

I even called the Obama campaign headquarters to request that one of their huge OBAMA HOPE signs be placed in my backyard to enjoy access to a major street and lots of traffic. I never imagined how beautiful that sign would be when the eastern sun hits it just right each morning. I’m thrilled to let everyone know that for the first time, in a long time, I have hope that my daughter might enjoy a more positive future on this earth.

For those who want to say that Barack Obama doesn’t have enough experience:
I feel it is actually a good thing that he has not been in politics long enough to be jaded by the power of this warped system. He represents a true change not only for Americans but for the entire world. Many nations see America as a bully on the playground forcing others to do it our way or else. Yes, we need to be strong, however, we also need to be fair because every great civilization in history that did not evolve eventually came tumbling down.

For those who ask is Barack Obama black enough?
That is a ridiculous question because all African Americans are mixed with a little bit of something. And paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his 1963 speech: “…it is not the color of a person’s skin, but the content of their character that matters”. If you define blackness based on what a person does for black culture and community Barack Obama is definitely black. The fact that he married a strong black woman is enough for me to respect him as a strong black man. The fact that he has worked as a community organizer for Chicago’s South Side and as a civil rights activist gives him significant credibility in my opinion. The fact that his father comes from Africa, the land of our ancestors, is also proof for me the he has a viable connection to the race.

Recently, when speaking at the University of Iowa, the esteemed Cornel West discussed the difference between a calling and a career using Barack Obama’s life. He identified Obama’s calling as politics with a purpose and praised the Illinois Senator’s decision made to serve people and communities rather than Wallstreet and capitalist materialism. West went on to explain (a crucial response to Biden’s stereotypical compliment) that the correct description of Obama is actually eloquent not articulate. Articulation, according to West, involves the perpetuation of stereotypical white acceptance while eloquence is the deliverance of a substantive message through the bearing of one’s soul.

I love the fact that Barack Obama is not afraid to discuss his belief in God and admit that his faith plays an important role in his life. On a stage in Greenville, South Carolina he said: “God is with us and he wants us to do the right thing.” With God on his side Obama’s primary goal to break down barriers so that all people can work together will be undoubtedly achieved.

I am so glad to see Oprah Winfrey step out of her comfortable box when it comes to African Americans. During her appearance on Good Morning America she was obviously excited about hitting the campaign trail for the Illinois Senator. She said her vote for Barack Obama was a vote for Barack Obama not a vote against Hillary Clinton (this is an important distinction and one could replace Hillary Clinton with John Edwards or Bill Richardson). How sad and hypocritical it is that people are now suggesting that Oprah’s public support of Obama is somehow racist? When Donald Trump endorsed Hillary Clinton nobody called him a racist.

I knew it was coming, but I hated to see it anyway. Because he’s black, Obama was questioned about his support of affirmative action on ABC’s, This Week. I have to point out how interesting it is that I have heard nobody ask Hillary Clinton about affirmative action, even though white women have benefited more from affirmative action than any minority or other group.

I appreciate that Obama is supporting our troops now that they are stuck in this disaster that is the Iraq War, yet we should not forget that Senator Barack Obama was one of the few Washington politicians who stood up and voted against this devastating war when it was first proposed.

And what is the deal with Andrew Young clowning at Newsmakers live? His ridicule of Obama’s age doesn’t hold up when according to several news reports, Barack Obama is 46 years old, the same age as Clinton when he was first elected in 1992 and older than 43 year old John F. Kennedy when he gave his inaugural address. Plus, Young’s jokes about Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and black women were insulting. Comparing Bill Clinton’s cheating lifestyle with Barack Obama’s solid family lifestyle is simply not funny.

Finally, in his inspiring book, The Audacity of Hope (p. 8), Barack Obama explains that his focus is not a focus on race, gender, sexual orientation, victimhood or any other limiting notion. His focus is on being a true American. He writes: “…at the core of the American experience are a set of ideas that continue to stir our collective conscience; a common set of values that binds us together despite our differences; a running thread of hope that makes our improbable experiment in democracy work. These values and ideas find expression not just in the marble slabs of monuments or in the recitation of history books. They remain alive in the hearts and minds of most Americans and can inspire us to pride, duty and sacrifice.”

I’m inspired by the powerful vision of this humble person who wants to make life better for us all and, if you keep an open mind, you too might see that Barack Obama offers a source of inspiration and hope for a brighter tomorrow, and join me as I support his candidacy for President of the United States of America.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Parents Just Don't Understand

Parents Just Don’t Understand

by Venise Berry

I was on vacation. I was supposed to be relaxing. I wanted to enjoy a much needed break. But instead I found myself agitated and concerned. My mood eventually moved from sad to ready to scream! What happened?
I saw twenty-year-old women in bikinis, 16-year-old teenagers in bikinis, ten-year-old girls in bikinis and five-year-old babies in bikinis. I saw twenty-year-old women wearing pants or shorts with words like princess, sexy or gators sprawled across their butts, sixteen-year-old teenagers wearing pants or shorts with words like princess, sexy or gators sprawled across their butts, ten-year-old girls wearing pants or shorts with words like princess, sexy or gators sprawled across their butts, and five-year-old babies wearing pants or shorts with words like princess, sexy or gators sprawled across their butts.
Apparently parents just don’t understand because if they did surely they wouldn’t purposefully put their five-year-old in the same type of bikini worn by a sixteen-year-old or let their ten-year-old wear a pair of pants with the word juicy on the butt like a twenty-year-old inviting all eyes to focus on their behinds.
I actually noticed the trend some years ago when Daisy Duke shorts were popular. I went to ten different stores trying to find a pair of shorts that did not show the cheeks of my six-year-old’s bottom. I finally gave up and bought her shorts over in the boys department that summer (thank God she wasn’t old enough to complain).
I was recently surprised to discover that the process is called tweening I came across the term in a book by Juliet Schor called Born to Buy that I chose as one of the texts in the Media and Consumers class I teach at the University of Iowa.
Many industries, including fashion have developed marketing programs using what they call “age compression”. Schor explains it as the practice of taking products and marketing messages originally designed for older kids and targeting them to younger kids. Tweening through age compression has become prominent in TV shows, movies, advertisements, fashion, video games, everywhere we look.
Many of us knew there was a problem, but we just didn’t understand. Whenever I got together with other mothers (and some fathers too) we fussed and worried about it. How young kids seem to be too grown today. How concerned we are about the change in our kid’s attitudes. How ridiculous it is to have to deal with the typical rebellious teenage behavior at eight, ten or twelve years old. How sad it is that kids are not encouraged or even allowed because of societal influences to enjoy being kids anymore.
There is actually a fear among many of us that the whole world has gone sex crazy, especially with the 24/7 smorgasbord of sexual images and messages offered by the media. Research has not found a direct link but there has to be consequences. A 1997 U.S. Department of Justice Research Report on child sexual molestation suggests that sexual crimes against children are commonly underreported, yet kids are at greater risk and they experience levels of victimization that far exceeds those reported for adults.
Now that I understand I am constantly trying to balance concern with paranoia. I pay close attention when it comes to my child; where she goes, who she spends time with, what she watches on television, which movies she sees, the video games she plays, and what she wears. I hate the fact that life is a constant struggle between us, but I do it anyway because I believe babies should be babies, kids should be kids, teenagers should be teenagers and women should be women.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I used to be a rap music fan by Venise Berry

I Used to be a Rap Music Fan

by Venise Berry

I used to be a rap music fan, but I’m not any more. I'm tired. Tired of butt shaking hoochie mamas and arrogant bling blinging, baby daddies. Tired of problematic words and images being honored by multimillion dollar sales and undeserved awards. Tired of the big business and greed mentality: “I don’t give a damn about anybody else, get out of my way, so I can get me some more.”

I’ve been feeling this way for some time. Long before Imus brought the wrath of black folks down with his “nappy-headed hos” comment. I felt this way when Viacom bought BET and immediately dumped all of the positive programming like the news, BET Tonight, Lead Story and Teen Summit, then added more rap videos, specifically the uncut versions. I felt this way when the song "It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp" was given an Oscar over the more positive nominees in that category. I felt this way when several black female students in my spring class were upset with Imus, but claimed that rappers calling black women bitches and hos was somehow different.

I don't think we understand why Tupac and Biggie Smalls are dead. I don't think we understand that in the midst of this post-modern society filled with visions of excessive capitalistic success we are losing our humanity. I don't think we understand what it really means when these negative images and ideas no longer have to be force fed by an "unfair system” because we are willing to create and feed them to ourselves.

In Africa, music is considered a Godlike, magical force. It is associated with spirituality, healing and life. It is an essential form of communication transforming energy and emotion. In the beginning, rap music touched this powerful African tradition reaching way back into the African roots of Lampoons, rhyming contests called Boasts and Toasts, and word games like the dozens and signifying.

Black music in America has always followed this rich tapestry of ancestral communication reflecting the struggle for identity, self-awareness, and strength. During slavery, spirituals and slave songs took on a meaning and depth that enabled survival. Black musicians spawned avant-garde jazz as a protest to western musical domination. Soul music was interwoven with black consciousness fueling the Black Power and civil rights movements, promoting pride and advocating national unity.

After a number of years of being lulled into complacency by pop music and disco, rap re-introduced a powerful black consciousness movement. Female rappers such as Queen Latifah offered pride and self esteem to young black girls through songs like “Ladies First” and ‘Who you callin' a bitch?" Chuck D of Public enemy urged us to "fight the power" through increased knowledge, self-affirmation, and resistance. The educator, KRS One, implanted wisdom from the Universal Mother, explaining: "she will give you the gift, but use the gift to uplift".

Of course, I’m not suggesting that all early rap songs were positive and all current rap songs are negative. My issue is how only limited images and messages seem to get promoted today as representative of black culture. Through a process called 'commodification' cultural products are assimilated into our commercial system. An appropriate context is needed for interpreting and evaluating these images and ideas because once they blend into the continuous media flow they become normalized.

From a historic perspective, stereotypes like the black man as violent and the black women as sexually erotic have been perpetuated by the media to such an extent that they are recognized norms not only by those who are not black, but too often among black people themselves. So, why are we so surprised when young black girls don’t know what respect is and young black boys are feared by everyone?

Unfortunately, we don’t understand that there is a thin line between entertainment and reality. We don’t understand that we are hurting ourselves and especially our children when we accept this kind of negativity. We don’t understand that if WE don’t change things, things will probably never change.

I believe in freedom of speech and artistic expression, but I also believe that with freedom comes responsibility. Mediated images and messages are an important part of how people see the world. Too often representations of black people in the media are created within a subjective framework that ultimately produces certain racial representations as more realistic and acceptable than others. Stereotypical ideals and attitudes have been formed and solidified over decades into accepted ideologies about African-American culture. In today's twisted world a dynamic and positive black man like Denzel Washington becomes the exception, while problematic rap stars like Ja Rule, Snoop Dog and 50 Cents are the norm.

I know I can't blame it all on rap music. These kinds of negative images and ideas can be found in a lot of places: movies, books, television programming, real black criminals in the news, in fact popular culture in general has taken on a more sexually and violently pervasive nature. But as a rap music fan loyalty and support are important and I just can't be loyal and supportive anymore.

I’m tired. Tired of butt shaking hoochie mamas and arrogant bling blinging, baby daddies. Tired of problematic words and images being honored by multimillion dollar sales and undeserved awards. Tired of the big business and greed mentality: “I don’t give a damn about anybody else, get out of my way, so I can get me some more.” And you should be tired too!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Hustle & Flow on DVD: The Good, the Bad and the Lord Have Mercy

The Academy Award nomination for the song, It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp by Three 6 Mafia and the subsequent Oscar win gave the movie Hustle and Flow (2005) a surreal presence in American society.
It may be hard out here for a pimp, but it is even harder for those of us who are tired of black movies and music drenched in stereotypes and negativity concerning African American culture. Images of black men as pimps, thugs and drug dealers and black women as hoochies, hos and prostitutes were already haunting us as we slept, yet, the powers that be bestowed one of the greatest honors possible on our nightmares.
While Crash (an outstanding movie in my opinion) won the Best Picture Oscar that yer, the nominated song from crash, In The Deep, lost to the rap song from Hustle and Flow, It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp. At the awards ceremony when Queen Latifah read the winner it signaled the continued damnation for anything good that might come out of black urban communities. While Crash encouraged us think about the intricate connection between race and humanity, specifically how we need each other to survive. Hustle and Flow encouraged us cheer for the redemption of a Memphis Pimp whose life in poverty becomes an acceptable excuse to use prostitutes toward the financial realization of his musical dreams.
As hard as I have tried, I still can’t figure out why this song won. Even a cursory look at the overall messages from those songs that were nominated gives us ample reason to wonder.
The lyrics for In The Deep from Crash tell us that life keeps tumbling our hearts in circles, we have to shed our pride to climb to heaven and even though we may think we have all the answers anything can happen and we can end up swimming or spinning in the deep.
The lyrics for Travelin’ Thru by Dolly Parton from the movie, Transamerica, talk about trying to make the most of life’s journey. Positive phrases abound concerning our purpose on Earth which the song suggests is to learn, make a difference in the world and trust God for direction and support.
The lyrics for It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp from Hustle and Flow tell us all about bitches talking shit, hoes working on street corners, pimps making change off these women, duckin and dodging bullets, getting paid, seeing people killed, and seeing people deal.
I also listened to the music for each nominee and I could find absolutely nothing special about this particular rap song. You can turn on BET almost any time, night or day and hear a song with similar lyrics, a similar beat, and similar images of black men with negative attitudes, thugged out, bobbing and strutting in front of a camera.
Finally, the storyline for the movie itself was not unique in any way either. As part of DJay’s effort to succeed with his music, the movie still offered the usual stereotypical images of black men dealing and pimping, and women, black and white, as sex objects.
In our politically correct society today, I have to add that it is sickening to see how many of the mainstream critics support such problematic images and messages when it comes to African American culture. Bob Westal, Film Threat, called the film “an involving and fun tale of redemption” (FUN FOR WHO?), Bill White, Seattle-Post Intelligencer, said it was “a sensitive low-keyed drama that values human life” (WHAT KIND OF LIFE?), Christian Toto, Washington Times, wrote that the movie “showed even pimps believe in the American Dream” (A TARNISHED AMERICAN DREAM), and Matthew Turner, View London, explains that DJay “makes you root for his character, despite his pimping, drug-dealing ways” (WHAT A HERO!).
Ultimately, I’m concerned about the impact of this thug-rap-pimp-hero’s acceptance in movies like Hustle and Flow. While the audience routes for DJay’s rise the lives of Lexus, Shug and Nola, his prostitutes, become tolerable. Even scarier, we are tempted to buy into the notion of Shug sharing his success as she belts out the chorus of the popular song, until he hits her because she’s not singing with enough soul. And is it possible for us to believe that Nola, his unlikely business manager, finds some sense of empowerment when she manages (we can only imagine how) to get DJay’s record played on the radio during his imprisonment – NOT!
My mother says that I should always try to find something nice to say - so here goes: Terrence Dashon Howard is an awesome actor and he is gorgeous.