Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dave Chappelle: Comedy of Resistance?

Dave said "peace" to Hollywood and left

Most of us are probably familiar with Dave Chappelle's sensationalized exit from comedy; Chappelle turned down a contract valued at $50 million and left to South Africa on an emotional and spiritual trip. The media claimed everything from a "bad laugh" to crack addiction as the cause for Chappelle's flight, but his 2009 interview on Inside the Actor's Studio offers some real insight into what happened to him in Hollywood and why it drove him to escape America. See the full video below. 

The quote below is taken from Lyndsey Wetterberg's dissertation on Chappelle's Show, Dave's comedy Central sketch comedy show. Wetterberg argues that integral to Chappelle's Show's function and mission is an engineered response to a white popular media's definition of black masculinity. She posits in her abstract:

" analysis examines the idea of comedy as resistance to dominant society, specifically to race and gender norms and thus to limited expectations and representations of black masculinity. The selected sketches exemplify how humor de-centers popular narrative and positions the world within a marginalized perspective." (Wetterberg 1)

(Here is the citation for anyone interested in reading more from Wetterberg's dissertation)
 Wetterberg, Lyndsey L. “Deconstructing "Chappelle's Show": Race, masculinity, and comedy as resistance”. Minnesota State University, Mankato, ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 2012. 1515209.

Keeping this quote in mind, take a look at these three sketches (the names are links) from the show that are discussed in both Wetterberg's piece and on Inside the Actor's Studio: the "Pixie Sketch", the "Frontline Report: Clayton Bigsby" sketch (here's part two), and the "Niggar Family" sketch.

Do you think these sketches "de-center" the focus from the dominant popular narrative on the issues they contain, or are they an extension of that narrative that fails to challenge it?

In my in-class presentation (date tba due to my late arrival to class last Thursday) we will go into Chappelle's personal experience a lot more but it would be great to hear some candid responses to his work here first.

Feel free to share any reactions you have to the Inside the Actor's Studio interview as well, especially regarding Lipton's tone/attitude toward Dave and the sketches he chose to highlight during the interview or his request that Dave dance for him (which is apparently something he asks his guests often but seemed really strange to me).

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tulsa, Oklahoma "The Black Wall Street"

The Black Wall Street refers to a neighborhood in the Greenwood Village of Tulsa. It was the wealthiest black community in the US during its time and arguably to date. Declared a state in 1907, the community was designed to be a safe heaven for blacks to thrive off of their own successes. Over a 16 hour period of race riots the entire community was burned down in 1921. Given the time period of racial segregation and racial tension, the city of Tulsa was not prepared to control the riots nor protect the people of the community. Hundreds of black people were left wounded and without medical attention. The black hospital was burned down and they certainly weren't welcomed into the white hospital. Over 6000 black residents were detained by police and brought to jails in an effort to diffuse the riot. Apparently Tulsa officials thought it was the best way to "protect" the residents at the time. The police department received significant backlash for their this decision. Black people were often arrested for crimes they didn't commit and idea of bringing black people to prison for protection has a long history of negative racial connotations. Out of respect for the residents they should have been brought to a location for temporary shelter and medical attention. The largely successful neighborhood was under constant attack by the surrounding white communities. The attacks were intentional to stunt the growth and progress of the community. After the riots the community was left in shambles with out resources to rebuild it. Tulsa did nothing to assist the residents to rebuild their lives, instead they were left to fend for themselves. I chose to write about Greenwood because it deserve recognition not solely because of the massacre that occurred but because a group of black people were able to successful develop their own sustainable community without relying on white business owners. They established a community that respected black people and their needs. Up until last year I have never heard about this community. It would have been a good lesson to learn as a child the possibilities of success for black people and the power of unifying as a community. I encourage everyone to learn more about the Black Wall Street community. The existence of this community deserves to be to taught in schools.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Politics of an Image: Bob Dylan and Rubin Carter

The other day in class we mentioned Bob Dylan's relationship with the wrongfully imprisoned Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.  Dylan, who campaigned to get Rubin released from jail through the platform of his protest hit "Hurricane," even introduced this song on his Live 1975 recording with the Rolling Thunder Revue by saying, "If you've got any political pull at all, maybe you can help get this man out of jail and back on the street."*

The story behind "Hurricane" goes: eight years into his incarceration, Carter sent Dylan a copy of his autobiography.  Moved by what he read, Dylan visited Rubin in prison and met with a group of his supporters.  Spurred by his complete conviction that Rubin was innocent, Dylan began writing "Hurricane" with an aim toward drawing more media and popular attention to Rubin's case.

I was talking with my sister about this song the other day, and she mentioned that she'd recently read something online about this image of Dylan meeting Carter in 1975 that struck her as disturbing: she read that this image is completely staged.  Dylan, upon meeting Carter, expressed some disappointment that there were not bars between them; he had hoped for an emotional picture to be taken.  Quick improvisation led to a security gate being pulled from the ceiling and the image of Rubin clinging to the bars, leaning in to talk to his 'champion,' Bob.

Yet even without this story, the politics of the image are intriguing. The lines of the bars serve to draw our eyes to Ruben almost immediately, as he is pressing his hands against them, while Dylan, the larger object, remains removed, almost lost in a white space. Carter is leaning toward Dylan, but Dylan stands some distance away.  Though he is more in focus, Dylan is inscrutable — his eyes are shaded, his arms are at his sides.

Through some light research, I found that the relationship between Carter and Dylan was not what I thought it would be.  Though Dylan's song magnified popular awareness of Carter's case, it was not as though Carter had not also spoken for himself.  In other words, Carter wasn't completely helpless.  This scripted photograph leaves such a bad taste in my mouth, because it seems that Dylan was really just capitalizing on the sentimentality of a white man — a superstar — helping a 'voiceless' black man.

*Of note: Dylan apparently dropped this song from his set lists after his tour with the Rolling Thunder Revue, though Carter was not released until 1985.

Clay’s Monologue in Dutchman

We did not get to Clay’s monologue in Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman during class yesterday, so I wanted to share my initial thoughts here before we talk about it next week. I really enjoyed reading this play and Clay’s monologue in particular. There is a lot going on in Clay's speech here. This monologue marks the instance where Clay finally lets his inner frustration with Lula out into the public space of the subway car. He takes over Lula’s power and control over their interaction in this one instance. Here, Clay points out the major flaws in Lula’s character. For instance, he tells her that, “you don’t understand anything but luxury” (33). I think this line is especially important in that it evokes the broader notion of 'white privilege' and of white America's obsession with money, power, and luxury. Further, Clay calls attention to Lula’s hypocrisy here. In class, we discussed Lula’s view of Clay as a 'pretender,' or a "middle-class fake white man" trying to assimilate into white America (34). Clay argues that, in fact, Lula is the ignorant one here who lacks an understanding of black culture and of the blues. He points out that she cannot even correctly mimic the “belly-rubbing” she attempts to imitate, which is what triggers Clay’s speech to her. Clay says that she should just let him be whoever he wants to be. And, more broadly, he is saying that white people should not interfere with black expression through the arts. Clay ends his speech by saying that, if blacks were to accept the “rationalism and cold logic” of white Westerners, then they, himself included, would just murder whites so as to bring an end to racism in America once and for all (36).

Clay’s speech reminded me a lot of Baraka’s essay “The Revolutionary Theatre.” In “The Black Arts Movement,” Larry Neal helps explain Baraka’s essay and the differences between the “sterility” of white America versus the revolutionary theatre Baraka emphasizes, which focuses instead on the power of change and of the spirit. As we talked about in class, plays represent an important art form in the Black Arts Movement because they represent a social form of art that forces a kind of relationship between the actor and his or her audience. Specifically, Clay’s speech calls the reader’s attention as well as the attention of the background characters in the subway car in Dutchman, in that it creates a certain level of discomfort and shock, especially after his previously passive response to Lula. Overall, Clay’s character is vey nuanced and enigmatic to me. As the name “Clay” suggests, he represents the malleability of black masculinity in white America, black passivity, and the black struggle of assimilation. But Clay also signifies the changeable nature of the revolutionary theatre Baraka talks about. The different possible interpretations of Clay’s character create an interesting dichotomy in Dutchman.


Chinua Achebe died.

The Black Arts Movement and the Tradition of Theatre

Something that I thought was very interesting in reading Baraka's works is the issues that we might face in categorizing theater from the Black Arts Movement. While we can clearly classify works as pieces of  the Black Arts Movement, can they also be categorized in a larger theatrical tradition? When discussing music, Baraka argued for the consideration of content and form as essential elements in appreciating a work. They rely on one another and are equally purposeful.

After reading "The Revolutionary Theatre," I found it surprising to then turn to Dutchman, which almost seems tame considering the language used in Baraka's essay. Dutchman is a fantastic play and its content is provocative, but its form isn't so unusual (we see a lot more manipulation of form in Slave Ship). The form used by Baraka (and the general framework of his piece) is something that we would consider pretty standard to see from playwrights today - the works of Albee, LaBute, Shaffer, and Mamet don't seem so out of place when laid alongside Dutchman. We would classify many of the works by these other playwrights as painful, personal, and intimate - something achieved by Baraka as well. The works of these playwrights do offer a break from standard theatre history though, as they are not the sprawling family dramas that we saw from artists like Eugene O'Neill.

So this becomes an issue whenever conceptualizing a tradition of theatre. Baraka made it clear in his essay that he doesn't intend to write the same thing that Albee is writing, but when it comes to form and a consideration of history, both men contribute something very important that has been carried forward to the present-day. Would Baraka disown the notion that he might be grouped with these other playwrights? Can we consider him part of more than just the Black Arts Movement and consider the advances he made in a Western tradition of theatre? Would he be interested in that role? And more importantly, can we distinguish the two in our own minds?

Black Playwrights

Both Baraka and Neals' pieces were thought provoking and powerful, especially in terms of thinking forward to today in a space where consumers are desensitized to and so far removed from the idea and necessity of ongoing racial revolutionary movements.  I consider the Black Arts Movement a resurgence, thinking backwards to the Harlem Renaissance and the emergence of Black Art in the '20s.  In Baraka's "Revolutionary Theatre", he emphasized the significance of realism as having a shock and awe quality, causing the White audience to become uncomfortable and the Black audience to become aware or enlightened.  Baraka (The Black Art Theatre) and later, playwright August Wilson (Black Horizon Theater) , opened Black theaters as a space for Black artists to exhibit their work, and in Baraka's case, against White or American art.  I would like to believe however, that these revolutionary Black productions would be more impactful outside of a Black space, or outside of spaces that would isolate Blackness.  Instead the productions, plays, choreography, music, art, should be exhibited in a space historically inhabited by its adversary; there's nothing more shocking than a Black person repeatedly saying Nigger in a room filled with White people.    

And language and meaning are two proponents of Art in which Neal discusses as being necessary in the Black Arts Movement, "A main tenet of Black Power is the necessity for Black people to define the world in their own terms.  The Black artist has made the same point in the context of aesthetics.  The two movements postulate that there are in fact and in spirit two Americas-- one black, one white.  The Black artist takes this to mean that his primary duty is to speak to the spiritual and cultural needs of Black people,"(Neal, 29) and I wholly agree with this point.  This power calls for the same Double Consciousness in African Americans that Dubois introduced.

Baraka's Black Theater essay reminded me of Wilson's Fences (1985) that I believe I read in the eleventh or twelfth grade.  The play is set in the '50s and explores the tensions within a Black family that are projected from the racist society around them, centering around an allegorical fence.  I found a Youtube video of "Fences" that compares two broadway performances of James earl Jones as the lead character Troy, and then Denzel Washington as Troy.  I found it quite interesting the sentiment of the audiences during each performance of the same scene.  The original performance with Jones was more serious in tone and audience reception, while there was laughter during Washington's performance, thus this desensitized audience.

What kind of racial revolutionary movements would provoke or insight action today?     

The Man Behind The Helmet: Diversity and Race in Video Games

This weekend I am traveling to Boston for the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) East. PAX East is most easily described as a gaming convention. Over the past several classes we have discussed various mediums and how race has been portrayed through them. In my presentation I talked about the role Nichelle Nichols played on Star Trek and its impact on television, we have looked at different music and how its was used to present a message about race in the US, and most recently we have begun looking at plays. Since I am on my way to PAX (in the airport as I write this) I thought it might be interesting to look at how race has been portrayed in video games. I know that some would find it controversial to examine video games the way one would examine plays, books, music, or other forms of art, but I would argue strongly that video games are an important art form in our society which have an ever growing following.
At PAX there have in the past been many interesting panels about the role of race, gender, and sexuality in video games and the communities of people who play them. Given that video games are a relatively new medium, each of the subjects have been only lightly studied and they continue to change as video games mature as a medium. What one often sees when they examine video games throughout their short history is that there is a striking shortage of diversity in the characters of major titles. Now when I speak of diversity I do not count characters that are part of a fictional races that is part of the cannon of the particular game. I also do not count the many games which allow the player to customize the main character to their liking. I am primarily referring to games with strong story driven narratives in which the player assumes the role of a single main character in the game. In such games there seems to historically be little diversity in main characters, they are often white males. There are exceptions of course, at the end of the first Metriod game it is (spoilers) revealed that the character Samus is a woman. By and large, however, video games were a reflection of their players who were for a long time primarily young white males. The demographics of ‘gamers’ have changed significantly over the past decade, and the industry is rapidly beginning to diversify its titles to keep up. There is one character who I think is both responsible for and a reflection of the changes occurring in gaming culture: the Master Chief of the Halo series.
Halo: Combat Evolved was released in 2001 with much fanfare and has since spawned 3 sequels, a prequel, several spin off games, many books, animated series and a massive following of devoted fans. For many ‘gamers’, including myself and many of my friends, Halo was our first real step into gaming culture. What is interesting, and was largely unprecedented at its time, is Halo’s broad appeal. Here was a game that was the first real ‘blockbuster’ for the industry that brought in a whole diverse new array of players. Halo’s success is a credit to its deep story and engaging game play, but also in my opinion to the character Master Chief. Master Chief is a complex character, you are given little back story about him in the first game and he speaks very little. He also never took off his helmet. This to me was key to what made the Master Chief so compelling to so many people. You had no idea what he looked like. He could be anyone. He could be you.
This mysterious man behind the helmet had a unique appeal in an industry that was dominated by a homogeneous set of characters in leading titles. The mystery around the Master Chief and his background allowed players to imagine their own backgrounds for him. Where he was from, what his family was like, what he looked like were all up to the players imagination. This mystery is what appealed to me and many of my friends about the master chief. Through middle school and high school the Master Chief remained the most popular video game character among those of us who played video games. It did not matter if they were black, white, latino, or asian, all of my friends had a fondness for the Master Chief. In his mystery, the Master Chief was diverse.
The Master Chief has appeared in 3 games since the original Halo was released in 2001. Through Halo 2 and Halo 3, the mystery of the Master Chief remained as his story continued. The Halo story was meant to end with Halo 3, but Microsoft found that the franchise had been a large driver so sales of the Xbox 360 and were thus reluctant to let it end. So Microsoft purchased the rights to the Halo franchise from its original create Bungie and set up 343 Industries to develop more Halo games. Last year Halo 4 was released and was presented by Microsoft as the long awaited return of the Master Chief. I was very skeptical about the game. It has, in m experience, never been a benefit to a game franchise to be sold by its original creators to a larger company. When larger companies such as Microsoft, EA, or Activision purchase rights to games, the result has often been the demise of beloved game franchises. Nevertheless, the desire to continue the story of the man behind the helmet compelled me and many of my friends to return to the Halo universe.
I have to admit that as I played through Halo 4 over winter break last semester I was pleasantly surprised. The game had all the feel of a Halo game and was true to the franchise. It continued the compelling story that brought me into the world of video games. While not perfect, Halo 4 was still more than I had hoped for. It expanded upon the complex relationship between the Master Chief and his AI Cortana through a masterful plot. After I finished my first play through, I played through the game on ‘Legendary’ (the hardest difficulty) because in past Halo games completing the campaign on ‘ Legendary’ rewarded you with a bonus scene that revealed more about the story. What I got for all my hard work was about a 2 second extension of the ending cinematic. In those two seconds what the player say was a brief glimpse of the Master Chiefs face. This was, I assume, an attempt by Microsoft to create buzz for the game. Finally, after a decade, the Master Chief’s face would be revealed to the fans as a reward for their devotion. My friends and I who played the game, however, did not feel reward. In those extra few seconds Microsoft managed to ruin a large chunk of the mystery of the Master Chief that Bungie had worked so hard to create and that  had made him so compelling to such a wide audience. In revealing the Master Chiefs face, Microsoft did not even seem to attempt to set itself apart from the industry norm. The glimpse that was offered was that of a rugged looking, white male.
The revealing of the Chief’s face was, to me, a tragedy. This character had done so much to help bring diversity to the gaming community. He was whoever the player wanted him to be, whoever the player needed him to be. For some of my friends who grew up in rougher household than my own or were lacking for male influences, the Master Chief was able to in a very small but very significant way fill a void that they felt. I have more than one friend who had truly cherished the Master Chief who had their image of their childhood hero crushed by this slight glimpse. It may seem strange that some of my friends were so attached to this character, but without reviling names I can tell you that a friend looked to the Chief as a role model as he struggled to get through awkward stages of middle school. He is black and his believed that the Master Chief was black. For him, like me and many friends, the Chief opened him up to the world of gaming where many of us bonded and maintain our friendships to this day. After high school, my friend joined the Marine Corps, a decision made for a variety of reasons among which he will admit was his affinity for the Master Chief. When he finished Halo 4 in January I got a message from him on Facebook that, without going into too much explicit detail, was not kind to Microsoft. He was upset at what Microsoft had done to this character that had helped shape his life. He animatedly refuses to accept Halo 4 as cannon, and I don’t blame him.
What Microsoft did at the end of Halo 4 was I think a real setback for the industry. Video games are struggling today to diversify and real progress had been made. In many recent top titles one can find female protagonists, homosexual protagonists, and protagonists of many ethnicities. The norm, however, continues to be games with white male main characters. By revealing the face of the Master Chief, and by sticking to the norm in his appearance, Microsoft ha denied ‘gamers’ a source of, admittedly ambiguous, diversity. There is alot progress yet to be made in the video game industry in catching up to its customers in diversity, and actions such as those by Microsoft in Halo 4 do not help.

Marcus Garvey and "Through Our Spectacles"

Yesterday during my presentation I did not get a chance to play a clip from on Garvey’s speeches due to time constraints, but I think this clip is important and shows how many later ideas and ideologies were adopted from Garvey. He speaks with a Jamaican accent so you might need to listen more than once, but it is a powerful speech.

Garvey was in many ways a black supremacist as he thought Africans had a higher dignity throughout history, but unlike other nationalist leaders around his time Garvey was not as concerned with a violent acts against other groups, and rather sought to unite and uplift black people of the world. He says in the speech that it is human to see God through ones own spectacles, claiming that whites see a white god through their spectacles, but now blacks must see their god.
since white people have seen their God through white spectacles, we have only now started out (late though it be) to see our God through our own spectacles. The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob let him exist for the race that believe in the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. We Negroes believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God -- God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, the one God of all ages. That is the God in whom we believe, but we shall worship him through the spectacles of Ethiopia.”

Two of the most important themes of Black Nationalism, Self- Definition and Self-Determination were the main ideas of Garvey.

Long before the black power movement, Garvey proclaimed that Black is Beautiful.
"I do not speak carelessly or recklessly but with a definite object of helping the people, especially those of my race, to know, to understand, and to realize themselves."
The idea of looking through black spectacles can be seen throughout the Black Arts Movement. Garvey was often critical of the Harlem Renaissance and thought that black artists and writers must not create art under the direction of the white man. Instead he encouraged black authors who have character, who are loyal to their race, who feel proud to be black…”
This is not to say that Garvey disregarded the art that came out of the Harlem Renaissance, there certainly were some examples of this pride and loyalty being displayed, but the Black Arts Movement was the pinnacle of a Black Aesthetic that was so important to Garvey. Amiri Baraka’s works we have been going over in class are a good example of the influence of Garvey’s ideology

But I am curious what the class thinks….
What do you think of Garvey’s speech? Does any part in particular to stand out to you? How important do you think Garvey’s influence on the Black Arts Movement was?

Speech as an Act of Violence

In my midterm research I came across an article by June Jordan, a bisexual Caribbean-American writer and scholar who lived from 1936-2002. The article, “On the Occasion of a Clear and Present Danger at Yale” (link located at the bottom of this post), though short, is a poignant account of an incident that occurred while she taught at Yale. In a weekend that was meant to be spent as a fundraiser for Jordan's “The Yale Attica Defense Group”, a student and faculty sponsored group meant to bring attention to and raise money for people affected by war, abuse and violence, Yale invited William Shockley to visit the campus, “. . . an expert who was offering allegedly scientific justification for racist ideas, such as the genetic inferiority of Black people and the consequently desirable sterilization of minority women” (90). Jordan not only refused to debate this man, but rallied with several of Yale's Black students in protest of the invitation, in the hopes that Yale would come to its senses and rescind the invite.

Her argument against Shockley is a controversial one. Yale defended the invitation of Shockley on the grounds of being an open forum, and a proponent of freedom of speech. Jordan counters by saying that freedom of speech is “the misbegotten propaganda propagated by our enemies” and that Shockley's speech “points to a far more fundamental issue. It is the issue of life against death . . . Next to that fundamental freedom, the freedom to be alive and to perpetuate our own lives, the what is something called the Freedom of Speech?” (93) I've interpreted this as meaning that Shockley's ideas of violence towards Black people and minority women are so violent in nature that they threaten Jordan's very existence, as a minority and as a woman. Jordan goes on to say that Yale, by accepting this man into their midst, has also claimed responsibility for the violence of his message.

Jordan's argument is one that goes directly against primary school morality, and the mainstream conception of freedom of speech and what constitutes a violent act. At what point does freedom of speech become a front for hate groups and hate crimes? To what extent should we, as human beings and not just robotic extensions of the state, allow others to spew a violence made of words? I have had many heated debates since reading this article with friends who lambast any idea that speech can constitute an act of violence, and it always comes down to the question of whether Jordan is justified in thinking that William Shockley's speech was a clear and present danger to the bodily well being of minorities. I would say he does, but my arguments can only be made through empathy, not the sterility of a logical debate.
I would really like to hear the opinions of the class on this matter, which is why I posted it to the blog, though I recognize just how hard it is to discuss. Do you believe Yale should have invited Shockley? Do you believe that Shockley's speech was one that threatens others right to life?

Note: There are a few pages missing on the Google Books link, but if you search the article on Aladdin through the Gelman website you should be able to find the whole article.  

Black History Month

Black History Month was first legally acknowledged in the United States in the 1970s and is celebrated in March each year. It is also celebrated in the UK in October. I went to an all girls private school in London which was almost entirely white. This, it would seem, would be the opportune environment to implicate Black History Month to teach sheltered white students about Afro-Caribbean culture. Instead my seven years at secondary school were defined by learning mainly about the history of white men, a great tragedy in an all girls environment. My sister’s school, on the other hand, was a state school and was a much more multicultural environment. In her school they celebrated black history month every October and it provided her with an awareness of a culture other than her own.
The existence of Black History Month still causes debate, particularly in the United States. In recent months I have notice blogs that have been created to humorously comment on the opposition to ‘months’ which celebrate minorities. These posts are common on popular websites such as Buzzfeed ( and whilst they are entertaining, they’re also incredibly frustrating. No amount of shouting “every month is white history month!” is enough to vent my annoyance over this matter. While there is an obvious amount of stupidity in these comments as they’re taken exclusively from social media resources, they provide a worrying insight into the popular opinions surrounding Black History Month.
Morgan Freeman famously condemned celebrating African American history as a separate event several years ago. However his argument is posed from a different perspective. In an interview for 60 Minutes in 2005, Freeman question why "you're going to relegate my history to a month." He went on to state that since there was no “white history month” there should be no Black History Month as it perpetuated divisions and indicated that African Americans were still being singled out as alien. He said the way to stop racism was to “stop talking about it”. The interviewer is noticeably uncomfortable with the accusatory tone Freeman takes and immediately tries to separate himself from ‘white history’ by stating that he is Jewish.
Freeman’s comments have been widely debated and criticised. His idealistic approach to history and race indicates that the United States is in a ‘post-racial society.’ I believe that race is something that should be celebrated and differences in culture need to be taught in schools like mine to educate young people who remain very much in a segregated school system. Black History Month is also a useful tool for instilling a sense of identity and pride in African American students. I agree with Freeman’s comments that black history defines American history, but I find his reasoning to be somewhat optimistic.
I know we talked about everyone’s individual experiences of Black History Month in their schools in class but I would like to bring the question up again. How was it addressed in your school? Do you think Freeman’s comments are damaging?

Theatre of Cruelty and Audience in Black Arts

In his essay, “The Black Arts Movement”, Larry Neal describes the Black Arts Movement as an ethical one, whose motive is to destroy white ideology and aesthetics. The Black Arts “envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America. In order to perform this task, the Black Arts Movement proposes a radical reordering of the western cultural aesthetic” (29). He credits Amiri Baraka for starting the movement. Baraka, himself, personifies this movement within his plays, particularly in “The Slave Ship”.  
In Thursday’s class, Elizabeth mentioned the term “Theatre of Cruelty”, in which the purpose of the act is to cause discomfort and a self-reflection on the audience’s perceptions and ideas. One person whom I can think of currently today who does this well is Dave Chappelle. I recently watched his comedy sketch, “Killin’ Them Softly”. In it he describes how police officers beat up black men without any just cause and for spite, and when a report is filed, the police officers “sprinkle a little crack on them” as a way to justify their beating of the man. I laughed at this sketch, but it was one of discomfort and nervousness because Dave exposed a truth in our society about police violence that still continues but many don’t want to believe as still occurring in the 2000’s.  
The concept of the Theatre of Cruelty made me think about whom the audience is in the Black Arts Movement. Maybe this is a silly thought, but I honestly couldn’t determine in Larry Neal’s essay whom the Black Arts Movement aims to move and instill action within. I definitely can say African Americans, but I can’t determine whether or not to exclude white Americans out of the picture. The Blacks Arts Movement is creating a space, that has never been given, to the black community to fill with their own plays, poems, street performances, etc… so as to redefine aestheticism and rid it’s hidden precursor of “white” and add “black”, a move that Baraka believed hadn’t been done even in the “Harlem Renaissance”.
Yet, in order to do this, I think that a Theatre of Cruelty needs to be performed on white audiences, to force a radical rethinking of their own beliefs but also on what constitutes Beauty and Art. But then, I also think that the Black Arts Movement shouldn’t have to do this and possibly that white audience members will never appreciate nor fully understand Black Art.
Whether Baraka meant it or not, I experienced a Theatre of Cruelty after reading his work, “The Slave Ship”. One of the characters is a reverend, Reverend Tom.  In this character, I really started to witness the ways in which Baraka called into question white ideology especially in its relationship and manipulation with black people. Baraka really shows his criticism with this description, “He tries to be, in fact, assumes he is, dignified, trying to hold his shoulders straight, but only succeeds in giving his body an odd slant like a diseased coal chute” (142). The preacher is shown to the audience as a weak leader to his fellow black men and women, and who ultimately looks for the graces of the white voices because he’s accepted their “white Jesus”.
After reading this play, I felt uncomfortable by Baraka’s indirect criticism of Christianity through the figure of the preacher. My community is Catholic and so are my parents (although I am not), and I think we sometimes tend to think that Jesus is one of us, meaning white, not black, not Middle Eastern, and not Jewish. Because Jesus is white, there is no attempt to engage and reach out to black people, and yet I know that some of the people who call themselves Catholic often espouse racism. There is no questioning of how open and accepting the Catholic Church is nor for the matter of its own racial history. It’s a void that should not exist, and it’s one that came into my head as I read Baraka’s work.