Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Red Hook Summer and Why Spike Lee Isn't a Racist.

'Spike Lee' photo (c) 2004, Danny Norton - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
At the Sundance film festival, Spike recently premiered his independent movie, Red Hook Summer.  Spike has had several problems over the years getting funding for his films, and I firmly believe that at least part of the issue, is Spike's commitment to telling our stories without the coonery that is featured in the typical Tyler Perry film.  To be clear, Spike's male privilege has at times made some of his work problematic and in fact, other than She's Gotta Have It, strong female roles have been few and far between. Even She's Gotta Have It, includes a rape as punishment for failing to agree to a monogamous relationship.

The reviews for Red Hook Summer have been decidedly bad. I have not seen the movie, so I cannot argue any faults or biases the reviews may contain.  In the question and answer period, Spike Lee and Chris Rock had a verbal scuffle.
Rock, who appeared to be joking around, said, "You spent your own money ... What would you have done differently if you'd actually gotten studio money? What else would have happened? Would you have blown up some (bleep)?"

Lee, apparently unamused, responded, "We never went to the studios with this film. I bought a camera and said we're gonna do this mother(bleeping) film ourselves. I didn't need a mother(bleeping) studio telling me something about Red Hook! They know nothing about black people! Nothing!" Lee then added, "And they're gonna give me notes about what a 13-year-old black boy and girl do in Red Hook? (Bleep) no!" [Source]
I have to agree with Spike when he points out that no White studio head has the slightest clue of what it to be a 13-year-old Black boy and girl.  This is especially true if we consider the class aspect that the movie seeks to interrogate.  These White men of class privilege are only interested in the bottom line, and not about depicting the true experiences of kids of colour, or even why such movies are desperately needed. 

A negative reaction has become common place to much of what Spike says or does. The following are some comments on the discussion between Spike and Chris Rock.

Bluelife4: I like Chris Rock. He pokes fun at any race. But Spike Lee? He's a racist.

Wallace:  Spike Lee is one of the biggest racist I have ever seen. Man I'm tired of his low budget films. Enough already. Yes I am a black man. Racism from any person is wrong. I think this guy sucks. I'm a middle class worker who live one of the most racist states in the US (S.C.) and to hear this guy speak is crazy. Man grow up. Please. I think his anger comes from his height. Blame ur parents not the world.

Nicolas:  Spike Lee is an angry, racist little bigot. Always has been. No such thing as "reverse racism". The whole idea that you can say racist things about your own race is laughable. Racism is racism, black, white, yellow, brown, red, blue, etc....

The Love Doctor: I've been wondering for more than 20 years, when are we going to start saying that being racist towards white people is wrong too????

I was always taught that racism is wrong period. But it seems in our modern culture, discriminating against and being racist towards white people seems to be accepted in our culture...

Duntov: Seems like an Angry African-American that continues to prey on racism for his own gain and agenda. Go away until you can talk like an intelligent human. Stop the hate and move on.

Jack Plummer: Why is it okay for a black person to be a racist?

Hustonman:  On the Yahoo homepage it said Spike Lee went on a surprising tirade. Who is surprised? This agitator has had one tirade after another for twenty plus years. No class, no truth, just a little disgruntled man. A racist with a Napoleon complex.
These comments all appeared on the first page of the article, and as you might imagine, they continue in the same vein no matter how deeply into the article you go. Spike speaks without apology about race and racism in the U.S., and this makes people uncomfortable.  Many either have bought into the bullshit idea that the world is now colourblind, or they very firmly believe that their thoughts, or actions, are not part of the problem -- and this includes the sell out negro -- who made sure to announce that he is Black.

Whiteness may not like to admit it, but Blacks of the African diaspora are entitled to our continued rage, and the very suggestion that we should moderate our speech to suit their comfort level is only an indicator of how far we still have to go, rather than the unreasonableness of our position.  Spike Lee is not a perfect man, but he is most certainly not a racist.  No Black person speaking out against White supremacy will ever be a racist.

These commenters are not the first to refer to Spike Lee as racist for his approach to race and film, and they most certainly will not be the last. Whiteness would very much love the definition of racism to be prejudicial thoughts, acts, or language against another race.  It's a nice and simple definition, which allows Whiteness to be able to claim to be oppressed by people of colour.   It allows Whiteness to be able to circumvent our rage, and once again center themselves in the conversation.  Most importantly, it allows Whiteness to deny and alternately censure our speech on the alleged grounds that we are all equal. This is why the co-option of the term racist, is an absolute disservice to people of colour.  It's ahistorical, in that it ignores the ongoing inequality in power relations between Black and White.  When a White person acts, ze does so with the full institutional weight of Whiteness at their behest. An analysis of race without an acknowledgement of power is an incomplete and faulty analysis.  This is specifically why it is necessary to understand and accept that racism equals privilege plus power.  No matter how angry, or hate filled a person of colour may be, they do not exist with the institutional power to act on their feelings. For all of the class privilege that Spike Lee has managed to amass over the years, the fact remains that he still a Black man in America and that makes him an oppressed person.

Spike's status as a racially oppressed Black man means that his speech is not welcome, and that is particularly so when he is confronting racism.  While I may not agree with everything that he says and does, there can no be denial that he continues to be relevant.  He has forged ahead to make movies that White run studios have not seen as important, and it is because of this struggle that he is so derided.  When he spoke of being tired of yet another White WWII war movie, Clint Eastwood's response was to tell Spike to "shut his face".  If you cannot acknowledge that Black blood was shed in the battle fields of WWII, only to come home to Jim Crow, then you fail to see the truth. When he spoke about the coonery and buffonery engaged in by Tyler Perry, Mr. Perry was affronted.  He was happy to ignore the tradition in which his movies were made and the negative effect that they have had on Blacks.

There are certainly many criticism that can and should be levied at Spike Lee, but being a racist is not now or ever will be a legitimate charge.  The truth of the matter is that Whiteness loves to engage in revisionist history, and at times it is supported by Blacks, but finding even hundreds or thousands of Blacks to agree to their own continued colonization and oppression does not make the truth less true, or any less relevant.  Truth tellers are never embraced in their lifetimes and as Dr. King has shown us through his life and death, in the end, until their speech can be used to bolster the oppressor they are relegated to being understood as angry, disgruntled and hateful.  By this statement I am not saying that Spike Lee is the equivalent of Dr. King, only that truth when told without embellishment, to favor the ruling class will always be unwelcome.