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Black People Ruin Movies. Or Something.

1 Apr

Redundancy, repetition, redundancy. That’s what it feels like to blog about sexism and racism and, you know, all the other stuff, anyway. I keep repeating myself – and it’s not only I because I seem to have a tendency to do that, but because the world is not changing as rapidly as one might wish. Like, not at all… Did I say it’s not changing?

I have read the Hunger Games series last year while travelling. Apparently, it’s the New Hot Thing right now, and, despite the fact that it is a bit of a slightly altered version of other, more profound dystopian classics and, basically, teenage literature that is somewhat gloomy and yet, not gloomy enough for a scenario like this (for the sake of the kids, I get it), it also has all the mechanisms of pop literature that make you keep reading the books and entertain you well. Moreover, the one thing I really enjoyed about the books, is that they have a female lead for a change, that this female lead is described as having “olive skin”, “dark” hair and grey eyes, that there are multiple people of colour introduced as actual real characters (stereotypically portrayed in some cases, yes, but more endearing in others), and that things aren’t completely good v. evil, but more complex than that.

Now that we’ve entered the movie trilogy stage, guess what happened? We couldn’t possibly have a female lead that is also a woman of colour with “olive” skin, dark hair and grey eyes, so, naturally, the casting directors have given the role of “Katniss” to a white, blonde, blue-eyed actress who had to dye her hair brown to remotely resemble the actual protagonist. I thought she did a good job in the movie, but that does not change the fact that, again, characters have to be literally stripped of their colour to make them “majority-accessible”, and to make a film or book or whatever successful (and not an “ethnic” piece of art, whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean… oh, wait, I know what it means…).

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All Just A Little Bit Of History Repeating.

28 Jan

I have only recently (re)discovered the “Brothers Keepers #1” record, “Lightkultur”, buried somewhere in a box of old CDs. Apparently, Brothers Keepers is still an official association, mostly by german people of colour, most of them musicians. Their most prominent track, “Adriano”, composed after the murder of Alberto Adriano by german neo-nazis in 2000 (which led to a massive and then massively quick forgotten outrage by the media and some politicians), even made it to the top 5 of germany’s music charts that year.

Listening to it again, I felt a mixture of melancholy, indignation and exasperation, because, basically, it seems that nothing substantial has changed within the past decade. The discovery of years of right-wing terrorism by the so-called “national socialist underground”, aided and abetted by a network of right-wingers all over this country, has not led to any consequences. The fact that this group’s murderous “success” was supported by money of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz) for alleged informants (who did not pass along much information regarding their own community…) that has then been (and continuously is) handed over to neo-nazi groups and, thus, helped and helps to finance diverse projects, be it the production of a new album of racist “music” or paying for the explosives to execute bomb attacks, seem to be just part and parcel of such an institution and had no consequences for their self-conception or work “ethic” whatsoever. What the Brothers Keepers have extensively rapped and sung about in 2001, the pervasiveness of racism in “everyday” interactions and social conceptions and structures that underlies violent excesses like the murder of people of colour, is still german normalcy.

Listening to it again, I also realized why I always favoured their song over the project of Sisters Keepers, somewhat of a female* counterpart. There is a fine line between intra-group criticism and mere unsolidarity, so I would like to clarify that I presume that both projects had specific intentions and audiences, and that I think that both projects were unique in their conception and well done in their execution for the empowerment of Afrogerman people.  Nonetheless, I’d pick “Adriano” as my favourite any day.

For one, “Adriano” is an aggressive, blunt and empowering track, whereas the “We are the world” rhetoric of Sisters Keepers’ “Liebe und Verstand” (“Love and Reason”) was and continues to be slightly off-putting to me in a situation where – officially – 150 people have been killed since german reunification because they were not identified as german. I am actually quite happy about the line in “Adriano” that explicitly states that this track is not a hand reaching out, quite to the contrary; “Liebe und Verstand” is, in my view, advocating premature reconciliation with… whom, actually? I guess it was aimed at a mainstream german audience, and if that was indeed the intention, it is well done in delivering a basic message of anti-racism.

What I don’t understand, furthermore, is why these had to be gender separated and highly gender stereotype conforming projects: german women* of colour were – surprise! – in charge of appealing to people’s sense of humanity, whereas german men* of colour had to fulfill the role of living up to a masculinist rhetoric and a rhetoric of outrage and potential revenge. Obviously, there are long-standing traditions of white supremacy undermining every notion of the full humanity of people of colour, particularly either belittling Black men* and Black masculinities or defaming Black men* as bestial rapists (as opposed to stereotypes of Black women* as either docile “mammies”, mannish “Sapphires” or exotic, highly sexualized “Jezebel”), so not only the US Civil Rights Movement laid an emphasis on the phrase: “I am a man”, not a boy. I do understand the aggressiveness in masculinist terms, then, that “Adriano” conveys, and I believe that aggressiveness is entirely appropriate and encouraging (and would have wished for more on the part of the women’s* project – more on that in a sec -), although I find Denyo’s part, for example, unnecessarily and exhaustively chauvinistic and think that basically using the Shoah as a rhetorical tool, despite his aims,  is unacceptable.

What bugs me, besides this gender separation of people of colour when reacting to racism, is what I understand as an effort to avoid any allusion to the “Angry Black Woman” with the softer Sisters Keepers project. We are talking about the murder of a person, killed because of his skin colour, and about some white german people’s reactions that basically boiled down to “Why was he out at night anyways? He should have known better…” There is nothing not to be angry and outraged about. Angry Black women* are angry for a reason, and I believe that there is not a single thing wrong about this; moreover, to call someone an Angry Black Woman juts points to the fact how little people (want to) understand about racism and the effects it has on people.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that both Brothers Keepers and Sisters Keepers were and are immensely valuable, and I could not have been more encouraged back in 2001 than with those singles coming out, creating a sense of community for me in a small, white, german town. Despite specific problems I have with some sexist lyrics in “Adriano”, it is a track that is incredibly powerful, right on the money and that people should be listening to again and again to hopefully have something of its message seep through.

This song was written over a decade ago. And that it’s so freaking up to date is both sad and fascinating, because it shows how well put it (mostly) is and how much energy and truthfulness it carries.

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