THE STATE OF BLACK SCIENCE FICTION 2013: Countering Negative Images of Blacks in the Media
From posters that advertised slaves for sale in the 1500s, to the lumping of Zane’s erotica with Charles Saunders’ Sword and Soul on the same shelf in the bookstore today, there has been an unrelenting, powerfully persuasive and seeming purposeful, effort to promote black inferiority in the media. For every positive image of African-Americans, there are 100 negative stereotypes; sadly, many of them perpetrated by Black people.
Images and words combined are very powerful, and have been used, quite effectively, to convey this whole idea of African-Americans being “less than”; “not as good as”: the myth of Black inferiority.
And the concomitant myth of white superiority.
Black inferiority is a myth that had to be created in order to justify slavery within a democracy. These two contradictions – slavery and democracy – had to be reconciled, and the only thing the good old U.S. of A. could come up with was the declaration and substantiation that slaves were not human.
We must realize that we are not talking about ancient history, either. We have slave narratives that were written in the 1930s. The tragedy and horror of chattel slavery happened only a few generations ago. And the inferiority that was drummed into us through the media – through propaganda – has passed down from generation to generation just like a favorite family recipe.
This sickness must be addressed.
If you have a malignant tumor, you cannot just wait for it to dissipate. It will not just go away. It will spread. The disease of institutionalized racism in the media has been a cancer that we have hoped would just go into remission, but it has spread and now, the whole planet has bought into these myths.
We have become insensitive or desensitized to the point we are unconscious of what we see, hear and what is going into our minds. We have become a party to our own brainwashing. We have joined in and become our own victimizers.
In the old days, you had white comedians putting on black cork and basically humiliating and ridiculing Black people. Fast-forward a few years, when we were given this illusion called “progress”. Black comedians said to the white comedians “Hey, you don’t have to ridicule and humiliate us, we’ll do it. We’ll take it from here, boss.”
And they took it from there…and carried it straight to Hell.
Let’s take the use of the word “nigger”, for example; so talked about now because of its use 110 times in the movie Django Unchained. Black comedians took this wicked, destructive word and took ownership of it as if to call ourselves a nigger was empowering, as if it was a term of endearment and still vehemently defend its use to this very day. And no, saying “the N-word” is no better. It is just foolish.
The historian Carter G. Woodson said that African-Americans have been basically conditioned to go around to the back door, and if there is no back door, we will insist on one.
If you can get a Black comedian to show up on a late-night talk show and act the clown, it’s comforting to those people who say, “See they are a happy people. They aren’t angry with us for five hundred years of slavery and oppression.” It is like approaching a dog you have abused, neglected and chained up in your kitchen for a week, thinking “Boy, I sure hope it doesn’t bite.” And if, instead of tearing out your throat, the dog starts wagging its tail, you breathe a sigh of relief and say “Whew, good dog.”
It is a toxic mix – white supremacy, white superiority, and black inferiority.
Why we expect so little of ourselves and of each other
For starters, lower expectations mean fewer disappointments.
We have become comfortable with negative behavior; with poor performance.
Recently, my students and I met at a local, Black-owned vegetarian / vegan restaurant for a meeting. The restaurant, scheduled to open at 11:00am, was closed. It was noon when we arrived. This was not the first time this had happened and I suggested we go somewhere else, but everyone – except yours truly – was set on eating at this place.
Time crept on. 12:30pm…12:45pm…1:00pm.
Finally, at 1:15pm, the owners drove up, walked by us without even a “Hello”, let alone an apology for their extreme lateness, and entered the restaurant.
My students and I followed. I asked if they had anything already prepared that we could eat and they informed me that they prepare their food daily, so I would have to wait. I informed the owner that we had already been waiting for an hour and that they were supposed to be open at 11:00. The owner shrugged her shoulders and said “We have lives outside of this restaurant. Don’t you have a life outside of your job?”
As a business owner who goes above and beyond to satisfy my students and those who read my books and watch my films, I was shocked and furious. I told my students that I was leaving and would never spend another dime with those fools. My students all said that we need to give Black businesses second, third and forth chances. And that as “conscious” Black folks we must be even more forgiving.
I said “Consciousness has nothing to do with it! We have to demand excellence from Black businesses and cease this acceptance of Black mediocrity or we will remain mediocre!” I then hugged everyone and left. I have never returned to that restaurant. And never will.
From kindergarten through fourth grade, I attended Sol R. Crown Elementary School in a poor neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. At Crown, being smart and working hard was interpreted as acting white. Because to be smart, was also to be different. And to be different meant that you were trying to be better than those who were not striving.
When I was in kindergarten, one day my class was counting from one, through ten. My voice seemed to stick out from the rest of the group for some reason. The substitute teacher – a Caucasian woman who appeared to be in her early forties and mean as a junkyard dog fed a steady diet of gunpowder and guinea peppers – seemed to notice too and she singled me to count by myself. “Won…too…th-REE…for…” I said, pronouncing the words carefully and correctly, as my mother and sisters taught me. “…fiv…” The students laughed at the way I properly said five. They also laughed at my “nin” and my “tehn”, saying “It ain’t ‘fiv’, it’s ‘fahv’; it’s not ‘nin’, it’s ‘nahn’; and it shol’ ain’t ‘tehn’, it’s ‘tin’.”
I challenged them and said they were “talking country” (“talking country” means to speak in an unsophisticated manner, usually associated with the drawl of the rural American South) and asked the teacher who was right. The teacher told them I was wrong and that the “country” way they said the numbers was the “proper way for your people to say it.”
And no, this was not in Yazoo, Mississippi in the 1800s. It was 1972 in Chicago, Illinois.
The media is directly responsible for this. The perpetuation of stereotypes is always done through print, television, film, radio, music and, now, the internet.
Flip the channel or turn the page and there are the “baby mamas” and “baby daddies” so ubiquitous in common American culture that they become plot points or titles for mainstream comedies and movies.
The syndicated television program Maury, hosted by Maury Povich, is known for its “Who’s Your Daddy?” segments. Much of the content is based on issuing paternity tests to teens and young adults in hopes of determining fatherhood.
Many of Maury’s guests are black, and the sheer number of these cases is damning. Shows like these, along with court television shows that promote the same dysfunction, are very popular.
Millions of viewers are indoctrinated by these images of black family chaos. And we watch these programs like a gory highway car wreck because they involve so many people who look like us.
And we accept and share these perceptions without question, qualm or quarrel.
At a very young age, Black men and women are inundated with messages that they cannot trust or depend upon one other. Children see images of – and hear comments and jokes about – lazy, greedy, irresponsible, or otherwise flawed Black adults.
Black characters have appeared in American films since the beginning of the industry in 1888, but Black actors were not even hired to portray Black people in early works. Instead, white actors and actresses were hired to portray the characters while in “blackface.”
In addition, Black people were purposely portrayed in films with negative stereotypes that reinforced white supremacy over Black people. Since motion pictures have had more of an impact on the public mind than any other entertainment medium in the last ninety years, this has had a tremendous effect on society’s view of Black people.
The media sets the tone for the morals, values, and images of our culture. Many people in this country believe that the degrading stereotypes of Black people are based on reality and not fiction. Everything they believe about us is determined by what they see on television. After over a century of movie making, these horrible stereotypes continue to plague us today, and until negative images of Black people are extinguished from the media, we will be regarded as second-class citizens.
1915 is a significant date in motion picture history because D.W. Griffith released The Birth of a Nation, which supported the Ku Klux Klan and is possibly the most anti-Black film ever made.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) worked very hard to try to ban the film due to its vicious portrayal of Black people as subhuman compared to the glorified Ku Klux Klan. The Birth of a Nation was important because it led to the creation of a new industry that produced “race films” for African-Americans. These films portrayed us in a positive light and addressed many social concerns of the community.
Before “race films,” Black people were nothing more than shuffling, shiny-faced, head-scratching simpletons with bugged out eyes who leaned on brooms and spoke bad English, but after the introduction of “race films,” we were depicted with more dignity and respect.
In order for Black people to ensure that they would have positive roles and stop reinforcing negative stereotypes through film, we had to make our own movies. The same holds true today.
I am asked, quite often, if there is such a thing as a Black Science Fiction movie. Supposing by “Black Science Fiction movie”, they mean a science fiction or fantasy movie that features a Black protagonist and majority Black cast and deals with issues that strongly impact Black people, I tell them that Black Science Fiction movies began in 1939, with the release of Son of Ingagi and that filmmakers continue to make quality Black Science Fiction movies today.
On Thursday, February 7, 2013, we will explore this topic in-depth and present solutions at the Black Science Fiction Film Festival during the panel discussion entitled The State of Black Science Fiction: Countering Negative Images of Blacks in the Media.
This amazing discussion includes:
BALOGUN OJETADE, Co-Moderator
Balogun is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/.
He is author of four novels – MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) (Steampunk); Redeemer (Science Fiction); Once Upon A Time In Afrika (Sword & Soul) and the Sword and Soul anthology, Ki-Khanga. In February, 2013, Balogun – with Co-Editor Milton Davis – will release the Steamfunk anthology.
Balogun is Master Instructor of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute and Technical Director of Martial Ministries of America, a non-profit organization that serves at-risk youth. He is also a traditional African priest, actor and conflict resolution specialist, who works and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, his seven daughters and his son.
MILTON J. DAVIS, Co-Moderator
Milton Davis is a chemist by day and a writer/publisher by night and on the weekends. He writes and publishes uplifting science fiction and fantasy stories from an African-American perspective because he feels that there is a lack of positive black characters in the speculative fiction market.
Milton is the author of four novels: Meji Book One, Meji Book Two, Changa’s Safari Vol. 1, Changa’s Safari Vol. 2 and two anthologies: Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology, for which he is a contributing editor, along with sword and sorcery living legend – and founder of the fantasy subgenre, Sword and Soul – Charles R. Saunders and co-author – with Balogun Ojetade – of Ki-Khanga: The Anthology, a book based on Ki-Khanga: The Sword and Soul Role-Playing Game.
A man who wears many hats and wears them well, Milton is producer of the Steamfunk film, Rite of Passage: Initiation, which is based on his short story, Rite of Passage.
In February, 2013, Milton and Balogun team up again, releasing the highly anticipated Steamfunk anthology worldwide.
All of Milton’s works are self-published through his company, MVmedia, LLC.
Filmmaker extraordinaire Donnie Leapheart is the award-winning writer, director, producer and editor of the hit web series, Osiris, winner of the coveted Best Web Series award at the prestigious American Black Film Festival.
Osiris is an independent science fiction thriller with gritty elements of crime fiction, espionage and the supernatural.
Donnie has also edited and / or produced several documentaries and films, including The Walk, starring Eva Marcille (Pigford); the Soul Train Awards; and Paul Mooney’s Jesus is Black-So was Cleopatra-Know Your History.
Donnie creates his films and web series through his production company, Pyramid Pictures.
She has taught acting and producing at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Hollywood and was the first Program Director of the African American Heritage Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities at the University of Virginia.
An accomplished professional photographer and author of poetry, stageplays and short stories, Terésa is the creator of the bestselling book of poetry and reflections, Hot Sauce & Honey and the coffee table book, The Box 69: A Photo Blog Series…a Photographic Chronicle in Verse, Song, and Crayons.
She is the writer, director and producer of Genesis: New American Superheroes, a feature film that is now in production and that is to soon cross-over into a series of novels and a video game.
Terésa can be reached at Diva Blue’s Blog.
Tommy Bottoms, an Indiana native who now resides in Atlanta, GA, is a cultural and media critic as well as an HBO Def Poetry Jam alum. His 10 year career in spoken word and writing has garnered him critical acclaim in poetry and academia circles from Los Angeles to London. Because of Tommy’s ability to dissect complex topics in a witty and frank manner, he has been invited to speak at various universities around the country, including Penn State Law School and Harvard University.
His The Tommy Bottoms Report provides breaking news and in-depth analysis of politics and culture from an urban perspective.
Tommy is producer of the popular web series, Eternal, appropriately described as True Blood meets The Wire.
Tommy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eternaltheshow.
LaRon’s feature film, blackhats – an action-packed science fiction thriller, already described by many as “an indie mini-blockbuster” – is slated for an early 2013 release.
LaRon can be reached at http://blackhatsmovie.blogspot.com/.
So, walk, crawl, bicycle, or rent a blimp…whatever it takes to make it out to the Black Science Fiction Film Festival at GA-Tech. You do not want to miss this!