Sticking with the theme, I find Community to be hit or miss--it has a kind above-average funny quality that's always there humming. From time to time you get an episode that goes further. I thought "Home Economics," for instance, was hilarious. But Community, with its rather diverse cast, also brought something else out for me--the notion of finally "getting past it."
TV takes it's share of hits for not having enough characters of color, but I think, over the past five years or so, they've done a decent job. Part of the problem is we want television to be better than us. Gawker has a piece up criticizing Hollywood for its lily-white male writing corps. I can't actually gauge the criticism, because I'm not familiar with what Hollywood is or isn't doing to attract a more representative group of writers.
But whenever I read that XX field isn't diverse enough, I don't so much doubt the truth of it, as I think the charge deeply underestimates exactly the price being exacted for white supremacy in this country, and the length of time for which it went unchecked. We're 50 years into a truly democratic, non white-supremacists America. Congratulations. But we we spent some 150 years in which the country's major institutions--its government, its business, its churches, its block associations, its military, its police force, its labor unions--in the main, aided and abetted white racism. There are certainly exceptions, but I tend to think that the long-term damage done is incalculable and has a lot to do with how we live today.
I'm reporting out a story now in which I had to talk with older black folks who'd grown up in an industrial city in the 40s and 50s. One of the things that comes through from them is that being smart and black, during that time, was really scary. I keep hearing these tales of black people with degrees in electrical engineering, who ended up working in the post office, driving cabs, or worse, running numbers. This is toward the end of Jim Crow, and after slavery, both of which did their best to exact a toll on uppity nigras, who though they were above their station. I don't think I would have made it past fourteen in that world.
What is the long-term damage of communicating a penalty, including death, for black intelligence while rewarding white intelligence? What is the long-term damage of having a federal government policy which intentionally seeks to retard the wealth of black communities? What is the long-term damage of using the police--theoretically the guardians of all that is right in society--as a kind of thug army charged with enforcing racist edicts? These are, literally, questions. I don't have answers for them, but when I hear people asking Hollywood to grapple with a history that we, ourselves, don't want to grapple with I wonder whether we really understand precisely what happened, how much we lost, and how long it will take to get it back.
And then I watch something like Community, where they're clearly aware of race, but not race-obsessed, Pierce is hot for Shirley, and Annie is hot for Troy, and I can almost see my kid, or my grandkid throwing it all off and walking into this world where we've settled our accounts. I watched "Home Economics" and I was envious, like I'm envious when I walk down Broadway and see the interracial couples hand in hand. And it's so incredibly common, now. I'm not envious because I hate Harlem, or because I regret Howard, or Mondawmin or banging Malcolm's "Message To The Grassroots." I'm envious because I never thought I had a choice. Nationalism wasn't in my blood--but, without religion, it was the only thing that made the world make sense.
I struggle with this, when it comes to my own kid. Of course we talk about race, but I worry about putting my shit on him. My politics were shaped by Willie Horton, Chuck D, the mythology of Superpredators. He deserves to have his own shot at shaping his own politics. The kid deserves a choice.