Monday, March 31, 2014

Why the SNL Black Jeopardy skit misses the mark

So let me start with the good.

I love that SNL is adding new skits that have African-American characters because they add to the diversity of the dialogue that often times is left out of the general conversation.  It's important to share these stories and when told by comedians, often makes the message more absorbable by the mainstream audience.

So when I came upon a clip showcasing SNL doing Black Jeopardy, I thought to myself, oh this is gonna be amazing.  Just off the heels of Jeopardy showing college contestants avoiding Black History questions until it was the last category on the board, I thought, SNL is gonna get this right.

But there are ways to do comedy involving race correctly, and there aren't.

For me, it started at hello.  The clip immediately features stereotype after stereotype, beginning with Keenan Thompson's "Whadup, Whadup, Whadup."  Sorry Keenan, but no one really talks like that.  That's just a euphemism for the general casual nature with which African American's greet each other.  Your version is campy and staged.  Plus it sounds completely out of place as if Black people that are game show hosts wouldn't take their job seriously.  Don't say you don't have any examples.  Two of the Original Kings of Comedy are hosts of game shows.  Pair Cedric the Entertainer's mannerisms with Steve Harvey's wit and it would have been comedy gold.  Instead you took the cheap shot and came up with "Whadup, whadup, whadup".

From there it got worse.

Let's talk about the topics they chose from.

Just because #RatchetJeopardy and #GhettoJeopardy were trending topics on Twitter, doesn't mean you need to take the exact hashtag and make it a segment.  That's lazy writing.  What works for black twitter won't always work for a comedy sketch. You have comedy writers that are suppose to weed this stuff out and turn hot topics into funny sketches.  SNL did this exceptionally well during the 2008 presidential elections.  The Jeopardy show where the college students didn't want to answer Black History questions was a perfect hot topic to do a sketch from.  It's execution however, was piss poor.  It's not funny when a majority of the Black Jeopardy sketch only featured stereotypical topics that don't have any real answers.

Keenan, I personally wanted you to stop vomiting up stereotypes. This one didn't help, "As usual we started late" Really? REALLY??  That's probably the cheapest line you could have come up with and it doesn't show any breath or depth of you as a comedian, as an improv master or as an actor.

I really feel for Sasheer Zamata. So far they have only put her in supporting roles that don't have her really speaking or doing anything. This was the first time that her comedic chops could really shine through. I felt like she was physically struggling to still seem like an actual person instead of a caricature. She tried her best with the material. Oy vey.

Sometimes I like Jay Pharoah, sometimes I don't. This time I didn't. There's a way to play the subset of black people you were going for without looking contrived Jay. Kevin Hart does this excellently. Please use him as a source the next time you want to create this type of black character.

There are just so many great comedians the actors and comedy writers could draw inspiration from that I don't know why SNL is resorting to stereotypes and low hanging fruit for their sketches with black actors.

The only time a glimpse of real comedy shined through were Had that been me and Louis CK's reaction when he tried to answer questions. I would have loved to see what you did with "Rap songs that start with the letter "N", but I don't know, after that segment, I don't know if I can trust you SNL.  All I can say is, DO BETTER.

Monday, March 17, 2014

White privilege and the search for black dolls

My husband and I have finally relented to teaching our son how to pee and poop in the potty.  We're serious this time.  Our son is 3 so I know what you are thinking.  What the hell??? Why isn't that kid potty trained yet?  And if you say to me, "I understand, every child has their own timetable" don't think I didn't catch that slight side-eye.

We have tried several times before to try and potty train our son.  The first time, I had no idea what I was doing, and just sat him on the potty after reading a book about potty training to him.  I thought he would get it.  Instead, he just looked at me all strange and when I finally got him up from the potty and put his diaper on, he went in the diaper.  I did that for a couple of weeks until I finally gave up.  If he was just going to hold his pee/poop until after I change him, I decided we weren't ready and would wait a couple of months.  

The second time, I had read-up on training and decided to prepare him for the task at hand.  I got out the videos, read the books, gave words of encouragement and set him on his way.  But I still wasn't comfortable going all out and kept him in diapers.  Big mistake.  He wasn't able to tell the clues and would still pee and poop in his diaper.  After a week I just couldn't do it anymore and gave up.  

Everyone kept saying this is an easy process and should only take a week-end.  Well why was this taking more than a couple of weeks to catch on?  After I realized those people who gave that advice were DEAD WRONG, I decided to listen to my son and look for his readiness clues.  So the third time I went for the plunge.  Got out the training underwear (release the chokehold you have over me diaper!) and dedicated a week-end to potty-training.  By Sunday we were a success!!!  Going on the potty, peeing and pooping, only minor accidents! I was relieved that we had finally trained him.  But then Sunday night came.  *Cue horror music*  The thought of leaving him in another's hands to go over what we had gone over in the week-end was terrifying.  Would they follow the same procedure?  Would the praise be comparable?  Would he go pee and poop?  

The next day, I took him to my in-laws while I went to work.  It was an utter disaster.  I explained how the process would go and tried my hardest to give detail.  None of it worked.  My son learned how to pee and poop in his training pants and it was a wrap after that.  After I realized my in-laws and I weren't on the same page as far as potty-training goes, I decided to give up again.  There was no use confusing my son on a daily basis.

But now, for the fourth and hopefully final time, we are serious!!!!!  We have a training video, we're getting supplies, collecting sheets and books and my husband is even getting in on the action so I know it's a serious matter.  But one of the things that we have to collect to help him train, is a doll.  An anatomically correct doll who can go pee.  I just cough it up to being a parent, I don't really want to know why I NEED a doll with a penis.  So in this great search for a doll, with a penis, who can pee, I came upon something that, in my eyes is very strange.  There. are. no. black. boy. dolls. who. pee.

None. Zero. Zilch.  

Yep and if you looked up that ONE doll, guess what, they don't sell it anymore.

Why is this strange to me you ask?  Because there were a million websites that I viewed of white boy dolls who pee, white girl dolls who pee, and there was even a black girl doll who pees.

Do black boys just not pee?  This would explain why my son is still in pull-ups, as he is utterly confused about the entire process down there.

To those who would say, "Why don't you just buy a white doll? Duh!?!  I see your point.  It makes total sense to just buy a doll with the correct anatomic parts, whether it's a white doll, or a black doll, but see, you sir/madame, miss MY point and white privilege lends you the ability to make that statement.  The fact that black boy pee dolls aren't even sold, creates the "the white doll is the default" assumption.  I would love to create an environment where there is an equivalent black doll, asian doll, hispanic doll and white doll sold in stores, so when consumers go buy dolls for their children, they can with the satisfaction that their child can see themselves in their play toy.  When children constantly don't see his or herself in their toys, it can create a sense that they (the child) are not as good as the dolls or the real life children that they constantly play with.  This study shows how that plays out in the young psyche of children.  And if we truly want a post-racial society, then we need a black boy doll that pees.  Trust me on this one.  

I also realize i'm not alone in my search.  So what gives US?  I hate to guilt trip you, but why in 2014, with a black family in the White House (yes it's subtle-not-subtle) can we, black families not find black boy dolls who pee?  Your attention on this matter is greatly appreciated.

Seriously though, like this sister who advocated for her brother, she has a point.  We know dolls have always been geared towards and marketed to girls, but we need to advocate for companies to sell anatomically correct black dolls that pee so we create environments where ALL boys feel comfortable playing with dolls who look like them.  Toys shouldn't be discriminated against in race or gender.  So will you help me out and sign my petition?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why Jordan Dunn and Trayvon Martin mean so much to Black Parents

My son is three, just barely old enough to even say how old he is, but already, I feel compelled to equip him with the tools necessary to survive in life.

Often at my day-job, people want to know why the story of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Dunn story touches African-American lives in the way that it has.  And I want to say to them, "because it shows that even in this day and age, black people are not permitted to stand up for themselves".  Let's take another look at both trials.  With Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman's testimony was that he persued Trayvon Martin when he "thought" he was a local robber.  In Zimmerman's case, the thought of someone in his neighborhood, up to no good propelled him to self-investigate.  Nevermind an appropriate conversation taking place, or an appropriate call to authorities and a "wait and see" approach happening, George Zimmerman came up to this allegedly threatening black child, with a gun, with the intent on the possibility of said child getting hurt and possibly dying.  Anytime you bring a gun into a situation, unless you are shooting in the air, you are going to be aiming it at someone.  Is it appropriate to come up to someone you don't know with a gun and expect them to comply to any of your requests? No.   Zimmerman's story gives no agency to the rights of Trayvon Martin, who could have possibly thought that he was being followed by a serial killer.  I know every time I drive at night and a car behind me follows, I divert my path.

Newsflash:  Black people are afraid of the world too.  We are afraid of someone following us and we are afraid of suspicious people too.

Now let's look at Jordan Davis.  In this most clear example of not having the appropriate permissions to exert authority over your life and your body, Jordan Davis, was supposedly killed for not acquiescing to the needs of a complete stranger.  Michael Dunn asked teens at a gas station (a completely public place) to turn down their music.  They did, and then they turned it back up (which they had every right to).  Michael Dunn, then approached the teens again (which he had no right to) to start an altercation with a gun, which ended up with the teens driving off and Michael Dunn shooting his gun into their fleeing car.  Let's look at this again. A FLEEING CAR.  The car with the teens was driving away.  Where was the fear?  When the teens turned on their car after getting gas?  After they all piled into the car to drive off?  As they were driving off playing louder music? Where?

In both telling of these stories, the right of both teens to exert their authority in the situation gets lost.  This isn't merely an adult-to-child lesson in manners.  These are men with guns, exerting themselves in situations where teens do not have an advantage.  Society is telling the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis's of the world, in situations like these, you have no rights.  This is a scary and chilling proposition for black families to accept.

Those men weren't these boys parents.  How in the world do they have a say in anything these boys did?  What property was Michael Dunn defending when he shot into Jordan Davis's fleeing car?  What authority did George Zimmerman have to follow Trayvon Martin?

This is what complicates Black families ability to school their children in the ways of the world.  What would be the proper way to walk home?  What would be the proper way to drive off from a conflict?  How do we teach our kids to hold agency over themselves, maintain their respect across all platforms and avoid conflict if conflict approaches them and demands to be engaged?

I will never teach my son or daughter to just take whatever someone throws at him.  I believe that way of thinking doesn't give them the proper tools to be truly successful at life, to challenge or think critically about their place in society.  I wasn't raised that way and I don't believe other people raise their children that way.  In this continual process called life, I hope to develop the answers as we go along, with the knowledge that the ever evolving world will progress with us along the way.