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November 2019

Spineless – Why Black Pundits are Failing Colin and All of Us

Spineless – Why Black Pundits are Failing Colin and All of Us 480 285 Corey Leak

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to do this or not, but I am anyway. I’m writing angry. I’ve spent a week off of social media to give myself a break from the back and forth about Kanye, impeachment, and all the white cat memes – though I did miss the memes, they are hilarious. 

I came back to social media just in time for Colin Kaepernick’s long overdue “opportunity” to showcase his talent for NFL scouts. After three years of being denied the right to perform a craft he has proven to be one of the best in the world at doing; he was finally supposed to get his chance. Only, he didn’t. 

Saturday, the NFL proved once again that they are not trustworthy. From the unusual waiver they presented that Colin’s lawyers advised him not to sign, to the prohibition of media – the NFL revealed Saturday that they weren’t interested in dealing in good faith or transparency. So, Colin took matters into his own hands and wielded his own narrative by setting up a public workout, open to the media where he could display his talent, which, incidentally, was never really in question. The NFL seems to have a never-ending agenda to keep Colin and his advocacy for black people away from their product, but that’s not why I’m writing angry. 

I’ve come to expect powerful white people in America to act unjustly. I’m not shocked that the NFL acted in ways that are consistent with their character. They set up a work out that seemed like a valid opportunity that was, in fact, not what it appeared to be. They wanted to appear to be doing the right thing while maintaining the power that allows them the position to continue to do the wrong thing. They behaved just like the powerful white men before them who “abolished” slavery only to create an industrial prison system that continues to incarcerate black men at an inordinate rate. They behaved themselves in an untrustworthy manner and unjustly towards someone whom they have had a history of treating unfairly. Duh.

I will, however, never accept or stop being appalled at the sight of – black people undermining the cause of other black people courageous enough to fight for justice. I watched an Instagram clip of an ESPN personality, well known for his theatrics, yell into the camera of his phone about how disgusted he was that Kapaernick opted to tell his own story rather than leave it to the NFL. That same personality throughout the weekend and into this morning has been promoting the idea that black people need to accept injustice to survive while condemning the young black men at the center of this struggle. He also seems extremely reluctant to center the NFL as the real perpetrators of evil in this situation. 

The sinister result of growing comfortable with injustice is that we start to call evil, good and good, evil. 

We all know that we live in a world where black people don’t receive just treatment. Black people know that there is a certain degree of unfair and unethical treatment that we have to learn to come to grips with. That doesn’t mean that we should EVER look with contempt on the brave souls that refuse to accept the status quo and dare to challenge it. Instead, we should all get behind prophets like Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick. They are not gods and are subject to criticism like anyone else, but they have earned the right to be trusted when they take a stance. And at minimum, we should offer them the benefit of the doubt when something seems strange or off-putting. 

Black people, since day one of our struggle in America, have argued with one another about the best route to our freedom. But history has shown that we have to drive ourselves there. At no time in human history has a revolution been carried to fruition by the very oppressors responsible for the need for that revolution. Why is today different? Why are so many people ready to trust that the NFL was acting in good faith when it came to Colin’s original workout? White people aren’t as interested in black freedom as black people are. Insert Maya Angelou quote here… 

Colin believed the NFL the first time. He saw, as all of us watching see, that the issue has never been about his arm talent, speed, strength, or readiness. The issue has ALWAYS been about his activism. One white sport’s personality said this morning that “Colin is still an activist.” He said it as an indictment. As if the cause for which Colin and Eric are advocating for is no longer valid. 

People keep saying that if Colin wants to play in the NFL again that he should capitulate to the NFL’s terms so that he can continue his advocacy from the inside. The people saying that are missing the more significant point, and therefore failing to recognize the moment we are witnessing. 

THIS IS BIGGER THAN FOOTBALL! I speak for myself when I say: who cares if Colin ever plays football again if it means that he has to betray the very ideals and human beings he stands/knelt for. I’m disappointed that one fifty-year-old sports reporter, in particular, is missing this broader point. What he is either blindly or more dastardly, purposefully overlooked with his comments, is the cost of change. 

No change that humankind has ever witnessed was without brave men and women refusing to play by unjust rules.  

I’ve watched a perilous trend recently. I’ve seen people conflate common sense and acquiescence – comparing what black parents have to tell our children about encounters with police to Colin doing whatever the NFL asked of him to get his job back. 

I hope that seeing the two written out side by side can help you recognize the problem. Life is precious. Every human living in a world that threatens their existence should learn to do what they must to keep living. But what is life without freedom and equality? We black people are encouraged to keep our hands at “ten and two” when in the presence of the police so that we can live to see or bring about total justice for our brothers and sisters of color. We aren’t alive to continue to beg “Massa” to grant us our freedom and dignity. 

Colin proved once again that he can play. Professional sports are supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy – where the best talent gets the opportunity to compete every day to stay employed as athletes. He shouldn’t bear the additional burden of laying down his deeply held mission of advocating for the rights of black and brown people to get his shot. 

“A civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.” – James Baldwin

Why “Harriet” Is Epic Story Telling

Why “Harriet” Is Epic Story Telling 737 491 Corey Leak

Last week my family and I went and saw the movie, Harriet. I LOVED it. But, I was surprised to learn how many black people felt some kind of way about the movie. I walked out of the theater convinced that black folks would almost universally love that film. The story features a black screenwriter, a black director, and black leading actors. How could anyone not like it?

After leaving the theater, I saw black folks on twitter talking about how historically inaccurate it was as well as people griping that it featured too many white saviors. But the critique I’ve heard most prevalently is the complaint about the movie presenting a black bounty hunter who helps round up runaway slaves.

I understand the criticism, and I know that there is a distrust of Hollywood when it comes to getting black stories right, but there are three tactics that Harriet used to tell this story that I believe are incredibly compelling. They are why I spent half the film with tears in my eyes, and why we all clapped when it was over.

History

Image result for harriet tubman

Harriet undertakes the monumental task of telling the story of a beloved historical figure for the black community. I consider it a win anytime I can watch a giant screen that’s featuring the images of black women doing iconic things with my daughters – especially if that story is about a historical figure like Harriet Tubman. 

The film is set in an actual place and time in American history. It doesn’t do a deep dive into the horror of slavery visually, but I like that. I felt like the focus of the movie was on the heroic actions of Harriet. We have seen plenty of movies that show the graphic horrors of slavery like 12 Years a SlaveAmistad, and even Django Unchained, to name a few. The use of slavery as a contextual background for Minty’s epic speeches and actions in the film served this particular story very well. 

Legend

Image result for harriet tubman art

Documentaries are supposed to be strictly based on verifiable historical facts, but great storytelling utilizes more than facts to get the message across. Great stories, the stories we remember and tell other people about emphatically, use legend.

The tall tales of our heroes – the epic tall tales that we repeat to each other over and over are all stories of legend. They aren’t meant to be factual. They are just meant to help us understand the character, challenges, and ultimate victories of our heroes.

Legend is also what gave a lot of people tension about this movie. The criticism I’ve seen universally of the film is that it’s historically inaccurate. People were up in arms about the use of a black bounty hunter and other characters that were made up to serve the story. I chalked those things up to legend. They could be the offspring of stories told about Harriet by people who never met her and didn’t know her, but to them, she was larger than life.

When was the last time you heard a great fishing story that used the actual weight and length of the fish the fishermen caught?

Myth

Image result for harriet tubman visions

While the use of legend will make a two-foot, seven-pound fish ten feet and seven hundred pounds, myth makes that fish a sea monster that has terrorized the sea for thousands of years. Harriet uses myth to move the story forward by overdramatizing her visions. 

It is legend that she prayed and God gave her visions of the future. It’s myth that she was alerted to danger like Peter Parker when the Green Goblin is near. Still, the use of mystical power and supernatural imagination served to give the audience an image of Harriet Tubman that centered her as the iconic hero she is.

I don’t intend to minimize anyone’s feelings or objections to the movie. As I said, I loved it. And again, the movie’s screenwriter, director, and lead actors are all black.

Criticism is fair game for any content put forth for public consumption, but I think it’s vital that black folks are less bullish on publically tearing down our own stories.