Thursday, March 27, 2014

Notes Toward A More Adequate Response to Being “Swollen” by Thomas Sayers Ellis’ “Spike Lee At Harvard” [Skin, Inc: Identity Repair Poems, 2010]



 “Spike Lee at Harvard” starts out clear, slow, methodical, with a neutral, even cinematic, close up that later zooms out, and builds a tense lyric trance that sustains restraint and can generate multiple meanings, as it accrues both narrative and conceptual weight:

 At the Grolier…
I got my first glimpse
Of the life of poetry….
And where the life of poetry
First governed me
Toward discipline and surrender.”

This seems like it could be a useful apprenticeship for a young working class writer, but some questions arise: does poetry require “discipline and surrender” and, if so,  who (or what) is being surrendered to?  In section two, it becomes clear that he bookstore (like most literary institutions in America) is segregated: the photo of AI is a metonymy of the tokenism that is not even as much of a presence as a black dot on the white side of the Tao’s yin/yang logo. Justified rage bubbles beneath the speaker’s surface as he finds himself working:

For nothing
But their work
Their likeness
The colorless absence
Of noise between
Images and words….

As publishing, like
The Gulf War, filled
The world with
More ghosts…”

The use of the word “like” here is a powerful simile that is a fitting rebuke to Poetry magazine’s claim that Ellis is wasting his time directing his ire against a target as “small” as the Grolier rather than, say, the Gulf War. For Ellis, the two are manifestations of the same (one could say “imperialist”) phenomena: the macrocosm is seen in the microcosm. In this poem (like many in Skin, Inc.) Ellis thinks globally, but act locally; writing about what he knows and drawing the lines between the racism he experiences and its other manifestations.
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The 4th joint (or section, or two-page stanza) contrasts with the portrayal of the “life of poetry” he experienced at The Grolier in the first three sections. The first (seven line) sentence breathes life into simple words that have become well-worn clich├ęs contaminated by over-use (even in much poetry):

In my other life,
I was given an audience,
The keys to darkness,
an office of shadows,
and an editor’s sense
of control over
my own crew of light.”

This “other life,” at first, seems opposite than the (alienated) labor of The Grolier. Because the literal meaning is left purposely vague, these images can act primarily as symbols. In contrast to the “audience for apprenticeship” he’d have to create (in section one), here an audience is given to him. “The keys to darkness” tropes on black and white thinking and realities in both racial and ostensibly non-racial ways; it could even be interpreted as the power of night, of the essential solitude, that many (white) poets have praised: a subterranean (if not secret) and extra-terrestrial aerial ballet of digging, flying—but it’s not simply an image of “internal” personal autonomy. He’s given what seems a social power, “an editor’s sense/ of control over/ my own crew of light.”

Even a cursory read of TSE’s short bio reminds us that he is a photographer who also helped form the (“Coloreds Only”) Darkroom Collective, both of which these can refer to---if we assume that the speaker is supposed to be Thomas Sayers Ellis (as opposed to, say, Spike Lee). But the next line of the poem reminds us that this “lyric monologue” is part of a dialogic narrative (employing strategies of both ‘memoir’ and ‘argumentative essay’ to transcend the narrowness of genres).

TSE steps outside the lyric flow in an “aside” providing voice-over commentary, as Spike Lee often steps outside his cinematic plots as a comic, but believable, speaker (sit-down; stand-up): a smile and a gaze, an actor-playwright writing his own lines (or at least some of them)—to deliver a pleasantly charming jab at “Champions/ of identity politics.” This hooks me precisely because it pulls the rug out from under the infinite possibilities of the image (or some would say ‘usurps the critic’s role’), while not quite breaking its spell. Then he drops the punch-line that grounds, limits, and even ‘locks up’ the image in the ‘prose’ of simple description:

I had an evening job
As a projectionist-security guard
At the Harvard Film Archive,…”

His “other life” is just another job. Increasingly, you had to have at least two during the 1990s, so it isn’t really the choice it may have seemed (between, say, the ‘white mask’ of his Grolier role, and the “real” identity). The contrast is between social roles in contemporary white-run America. As I catch myself having fallen for the sly brilliance of this poem’s lyric structure, and reading it through the eyes of a “champion/ of identity politics,” I am reminded that sometimes (at least in most American creative writing workshops) the image comes first: darkness is just darkness (just as they taught us in Freud Class that a cigar is sometimes just a cigar); the keys are just keys; the audience is an actual audience in a movie theatre. But, in this aside, Ellis is having it both ways, using poetic ambiguity as a weapon in his aesthetic toolbox to dance both in and around essentialism (of race and culture) in an attempt to move beyond the “double consciousness” of which Du Bois and others have written at length.

As this poem (like others in Skin, Inc.) interrogates the tension between words like ‘light’ and ‘dark,’ it’s useful to note that this job as security guard/projectionist (which is at least 2 jobs in one) is not a night job, but merely “evening job,” as one becomes guard, entertainer (and even entertained and educated) at his job. Evening is not dark enough to show a movie unless you’re indoors.

In evening, the walls of the theater create a space for darkness, and the white lights of the ceiling must be turned off in order for the colored lights (or even black and whites) to be projected. A champion of identity politics could say that evening, by definition, isn’t fully dark or fully light, or even that it’s the most desegregated time of the day (if day is white supremacy, and night is ‘colored only,’ then evening could be the coming together, but this job doesn’t even the score; we need more ‘night’ before that can truly happen; we need, for instance, to stop ‘day’ -as half of a 24 hour unit- from calling itself the entire 24 unit).

Segregation is certainly not done away with in section 4: It is, after all, Harvard, and the architectural designs of Le Corbusier (even his plans for a more ‘democratic’ Radiant City) have been used to increase segregation of race and ‘low-income’ people in the names of development and ‘urban planning.’ Both jobs are on the lackey end of the art world, or cultural superstructure, but the theater at least is a little:

…less restricted
than the Grolier’s marquee-like anthology
where the white people
in the framed photographs
rejected the glamour
of the white people
in movie stills.”

The theater, at least, is more dynamic (just as this second sentence is 20 lines long, full of jump-cuts and suggestive montage transitions that can be experienced and analyzed repeatedly). Between the black words working for the white page, and the ‘crew of light’ working in the dark room, a contrast is felt, but it’s not the difference between day and night. Still, this life of white movies is at least a little closer to the soul of this young, gifted and black auteur/author than the life of white owned poetry institutions. It may even be more poetic than the life of white poetry, even in its bloody stills. As Ellis observes the condescension (or defensive snobbery) the white writers have toward the white actors, he may even find some inter-racial common ground, or solidarity, with the actors (which in Shakespeare’s time, if not necessarily Lee’s, were called “shadows”). Ellis thus encourages the cultivation of “true allies of color” (as he puts it another poem).

After all, the distinction between the so-called “high” (or “advanced”) art of literature and the more popular arts of the moving-pictures (to say nothing about music here) is historically an Upper Class European/American distinction that has trickled down to the working class. Ellis finds a degree of solidarity with the whites who do not accept this distinction, who understand that any definition of poetry that doesn’t include movies (and music), as legitimate, and even potentially superior forms that give more to the world than they take from it—is not really poetry (or doesn’t have a hold on craft, as he concludes in the poem’s section).
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In Joint 5, the life of the movie (or the life of poetry in movies) overtakes the pale white lights of The Grolier: The auteur includes the author, even if you have to call your joint a stanza (a little room). That doesn’t mean you have to be in synch with ‘N Sync or other so-called “blue eyed soul.” Despite my blue eyes (albeit with Eritrean blood and build), I can very much identify with the economic struggle in these lines:

This is where the soundtrack
would begin if poetry
paid enough for one
and if the public
paid more for poetry.”

These lines bring to the fore the issue of poetic economy (another “elephant in the room” in this era of ripening cautiousness). I can’t speak for Ellis, but I know some choose to work in “poetry on the page” partially because it’s the cheapest art one can make on one’s own. But it’s only cheaper to make for the same reason it doesn’t pay enough to make a soundtrack (unless one wants to go all low-fi like, say, Casiotone For The Painfully Alone”). The kind of soundtrack I imagine here would require more money (or collective man-and-woman-power) to make—but it could also be more popular (and thus pay more if we’re working in money).

The Economics here is not merely personal: it’s a poet, and especially a black poet, fighting for the right to use the fullest of his talent to create an art that can do at least as much as Spike Lee (just as even Ezra Pound said that ‘poetry should be as well written as prose,” as well-performed as a Malcolm X speech, stand-up sermon or James Brown package show; at least that’s a legitimate goal to be worthy of). I start hearing Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power,” which Spike Lee used effectively in the soundtrack for Do The Right Thing. I also hear many white voices arguing softly (but with a big stick) that this song is not poetry (often to their peril).

But a close look at these lines reveal how it’s not merely a matter of poetry paying more, but of who pays for it, and how it’s paid, and how this can have aesthetic and ethical consequences. Public Enemy wouldn’t get an NEA Poetry grant (or MacArthur Genuis award) for the same reason they didn’t need to. Why? Because they are relevant to the public.

Ellis is not suggesting there be more grants, or even patrons (I almost wrote pardons) to pay writers. Often, they pay more for poetry on the condition that it isn’t popular, much less populist. This is why TSE holds himself to the standard of courage to not accept “any award/ that helps you and hurts others” (“Ways To Be Black In A Poem”). For the working class cultural-worker, this choice of lyric genre in a specialized society may not be ones first choice---but genres, as TSE reminds us in his “Perform-A-Form” manifesto, are not just specialized; they are segregated, placed into an unequal economic and cultural relationship. So even these few lines about payment suggest a way to liberate poetry from the shackles of writing for a genre-patron (a system that hasn’t really changed since Brecht’s “Song Of The Cut Priced Poet”)—and help widen the limits of what is called poetry; even as TSE works within its limits, he redefines its implicit and explicit ethical protocols to be a more collective act, which can mean more than money. By making the economics explicit, the poem is free to move on, and become more than that.

If you can’t get a licensing deal from a local worker-owned collective to do “ad copy,” at least you can do away with the isolating individualism that prides itself on “kicking the money changes out” (on the page at least) when it’s more profoundly kicking the cymbals, snares and foot stomping out. You may have to allow the shape of exchange into the poem (which, however artfully structured, may be encouraged to become ‘mere notes’ for a performance that could even become an organizational meeting that is part of a wider poem). So, it’s not really just about the money, it’s about the music: the movement of the music and the music of the movement (in the movie about the movie that pretends to be a poem about poetics—all writing is implicitly about writing).

This process of “identity repair” here becomes one with a call for reparations for slavery (as repair is the root of reparations, and Gil Scott Heron asks “Who’ll Pay Reparations On My Soul”) So, yes, I do feel swollen by TSE’s portrayal of an uneven world—swollen beyond catharsis, as he begins to release the tension that was held by the more restricted and restrained first 3 sections (and, thank you, TSE, for addressing me as a listener, more than a reader).

The release I feel most in the direct address to the listener in this final section of “Spike Lee At Harvard” becomes a call to action, an invitation (or plea) to:

toss a traschcan,
like a lidless metaphor,
through the poem’s
narrative, wild style…”

He’s not asking us to throw a trashcan through the window of The Grolier per se, but through the poem’s/ narrative. TSE doesn’t mind us throwing stones, either because he’s not worried about living in a glass house or knows that, if he is, you have every right, even obligation, to smash it! Though you may not take up that invitation if you’re afraid of having your own glass walls smashed. Anyway, he can dish it out because he’s already taken it. The employers at the Grolier may not even consciously know the stones they have thrown at him (and many others who are trying to find “African American work” that isn’t slave labor).

The lidless metaphor is more infinite than a more uneven/unequal simile (the segregation the device “simile” is used to linguistically effect was explored in “As Segregation, As Us”), and “wild style” can be both noun and verb! Here Ellis is, in effect, asking us to bring the RIOT in, to let the poem be wide enough to include the riot. To use a simile: He may use a language more like Le Roi Jones, but the message and the feeling is more like Amiri Baraka. Let them call you a bull in a China Shop, or white-owned pizza parlor, or Iraqi Oil War disguised as another benign “entertaining” book party. It could be kind of fun to strip away the book from the face and face an audience of performers who face you until you all face something other, like a container “whose symbolism/ is unknowingly superior to standard usage---a brilliant attitude loved by good.” (30).

A riot may sound like anarchy to some, but this is more like a post-riot disciplined craft, like Spike Lee’s well-organized portrayal of a riot to admit the necessary rage that isn’t just a B-movie starring Ronald Reagan, but better A New Reality. Surrendering to the public rather than the duplicitous white “Judges of Craft” can create something that would have more power to change things than if he had actually tried to throw a trashcan through The Grolier’s window—whether from inside or outside. As “Auteur and author,” the movie TSE is beginning to script here is also pedagogy: at the very least let more life into your poems; they can be weapons and a public (if not The Grolier’s more specialized pseudo-public) will applaud (even ‘people who don’t read poetry’).

It’s one thing to see bookstores like The Grolier go down in shards of glass in the 21st economy (allegedly due to Amazon, and the increased rents), but it may be their own damn fault for their narrow definitions of poetry; beyond this, I can’t help but envision the potentials of a worker-owned collective (that is both book store, movie and music store with a stage for book parties that are also dance parties that can bring people together) an energy that it takes more than one—the heroic individualistic poet—to harness. Thus, the poem (or the well-crafted “Perform-A-Form”) can continue to pour after its performance. As even The American Poetry Review’s Tony Hoagland noted, the poem becomes “visionary” and in the best sense of the word, and beyond (before) the word, and its process of ‘identification.'

Nas (America) and Immortal Technique (The Third World): A Prose Introduction




Two Songs Released During The Great Crash Of 2008 (or the “height of Obamamania”): Nas (“America”) and Immortal Technique (“The Third World”)

When looking at the lyric sheet to Nas’s “America” (released in 2008), I notice a masterful, and subtle, use of linguistic devices that help make his message clearer. I could write about his brilliant use of rhyme schemes, but the way he structures his use of personal pronouns is even more intriguing. Looking at how he uses them can answer such questions like: who is talking, and whom is he talking to? They can also help clarify the message of the song that isn’t saying what he might seem to be saying at first.

In the first verse, he speaks in the first person singular “I” and only uses the word “you” twice (one time it’s a “ya”). “I” could refer to the singer, “Nas” himself—but in songs and poems, “I” is often a character, and in “America,” Nas calls this egotistical (if not necessarily arrogant) “I” a persona. The word “persona” is not quite the same as the word “person.” It originally meant a mask used in theatre: one’s public image, not an authentic identity. So Nas’s use of the word complicates any simple reading of this verse, but when he spits, “You lucky if you allowed to witness this/ Savvy mouth,” who is the “You?” It seems like it could be anyone in this verse—but listen on.

In the choruses, he doesn’t use the personal pronoun “I” at all, but he does use “you” a lot, as if he’s talking to “America” (with the help of a soulful female vocalist whose yearning voice adds a sonic and emotional depth to this rap). But what does he mean by America; does he mean all of America or just its government? The next two verses make this clearer.

In the second verse, the first person singular “I”---the persona that was the subject of the first verse—almost disappears. The only time “I” appears is when he says:

The hypocrisy is all I can see.
White cop acquitted for murder.
Black cop cop a plea.
That type of shit makes me stop and think We…”

This “I” is not an actor, but a witness, an observer, and a thinker. If the first verse’s persona was an actor, it also made him wonder “How can I not be dead?” But he seems to come more alive as a witness when he doesn’t use the word “I” so much. He does, however, use the word “you” more, and the word “us:”

Who gave you the latest dances, trends, and fashion?
But when it comes to residuals, they look past us”

This couplet makes it clear who the “you” is; it is the same as “they.” It is white America, specifically the white-run corporate economy that controls America. As Nas’s second verse winds to its close, he moves from the gangsta economy of the American religion and its Hollywood capitalist (anti-communist) glamour to take a second look at “the whole race dichotomy,” not as a first person singular “I” but as a first person plural “us.” And we can speak to them in the second person plural too (you, or as Nas puts it in “America:” y’all). You are, they are, the torturer.
In the third verse, Nas speaks of the torture historically (not just in terms of the black/white “racial dichotomy” but in solidarity with displaced indigenous peoples):

If I could travel to the 1700s
I’d push a wheelbarrow full of dynamite
Through your covenant”

In this verse, he uses the word “I” much more than he did in the second verse, but it’s a blatantly hypothetical “I”—for, just like Ameer Rahman (in the funny, mordant, and pithy social commentary on “Reverse Racism” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw_mRaIHb-M), in reality he is powerless to break this racist covenant (much less to be a ‘reverse racist’). Covenant is a brilliant choice of word because it’s both political and religious (reinforcing his assertion that the torturer’s God is a Monopoly Capitalist gangsta). But in this third verse, the “covenant” and its legacy is portrayed much more graphically; and it’s not just in the past!

When he reminds us that America was built on “involuntary labor,” Nas brilliantly puns on the double meaning of “labor” to show how America:

Took a knife split a woman naval
Took her premature baby
Let her man see you rape her”

The rape of women is the same as the rape of black and indigenous peoples, and it’s all done for cheap, involuntary, labor. But if Nas can’t go back to the 1700s, this hypothetical self could theoretically at least:

Sit in on the senate
And tell the whole government
Y’all don’t treat women fair
She read about herself in the Bible
Believing she the reason sin is here”

The sexist ideology of the white-male run Christian church (as opposed to the Black Church) has been used to justify this “involuntary labor” along with the other forms of racist economic exploitation. By the end of the song, Nas asks what the so-called “free world” means given all this brutality. He concludes that this so-called first world nation is much more like “third world savagery”—and that the only hope is for “the empire to fall;” a far cry from the “hope” Obama promised during this time (which may help account for why this album wasn’t as popular as Nas’s previous ones).

Nas doesn’t say how this can happen, but at least he knows that he has to do much more than “Bugging how I made it out the hood,” which is what his “persona” (or ‘avatar’) was doing in the first verse. After listening to the whole song, the first verse can be seen in a different light (if you were deceived by it the first time).

The “persona” of the first verse is a kind of white American dream fantasy in blackface. In fact, as others (like Amiri Baraka) have argued---the reason why white-run record industries have pushed this image of the every-man-for-himself heroic individual “man’s man” rapper who has risen from rags-to-riches (and riches as “salvation”) is precisely to prevent people (especially black people, but all oppressed people) from (re)organizing as a first person plural “we” that could have the power to overthrow an empire.

If the white God of America—the god of snitches and suckers—is really a gangster, then the persona that spoke the first verse isn’t really Nas at all; it’s the voice of the corporation and not the hood—a “dead” self (just as the free-speaking “corporate person” is, especially after Citizens United). In this sense, “America” uses the idiom of gangsta rap (“the language of money”) against itself, against the enemies who have “created our spokesman” (as Baraka put it) so that “people pray to the gods of their conquerors” (as Immortal Technique puts it).

Ultimately, Nas isn’t hating on himself in this song, but on the persona, a persona that was created not by him, but by America, “the land of the thieves.” So, those rappers who glorify the lifestyle are not only deceiving, but are deceived if they really believe this is who they are and what they want and need. This image of the rapper is how the white man wants blacks to see themselves, as the white American (or German) who calls him a gangsta is the real gangsta. “Gangsta Rap” becomes a form a “involuntary labor,” and one may try to use it to “pass”---but when it comes down to the real nitty gritty, one (as “I” or as “we”) will still be subject to a racism however much by the rules one tries to play.

What Du Bois referred to as “the gifts of black folk” are by now so thoroughly “woven into the fabric” (even the soul) of America, but still “they can’t stand us/
Even in white tees, blue jeans, and red bandannas.”
  N
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Immortal Technique’s “Third World,” (also released in 2008), explores many of the same themes as Nas’s song, but from a different perspective and emphasis, and with a harsher, more urgent, radical revolutionary tone (“Radical” means rooted; closer to the land; the suffering land). While gangstas in the hoods of what Nas calls “the land of the thieves” may be forced to sell crack, where Immortal Technique is from, they have to grow it (the raw materials for it). Brutality and involuntary slave labor are even more graphically portrayed in “The Third World” than they are in “America.” And the chorus is more angry and defiant than Nas’s.

In the second verse, Immortal Technique also focuses on the sexism and racism of the church, yet he doesn’t emphasize the sexism as much as Nas does:

I’m from where the Catholic Church is some racist shit
They helped Europe and America rape this bitch
The portray white Spaniard Jesus, whose face is this
But never talk about the black pope Gelasuis.”

Like Nas, he also speaks of the podrido (rotten) justice system, and points out (in an intense, righteous, onslaught/overflow of rhymes) how the Caucasians have made:

Blacks, indigenous peoples, and Asians
To be racists against themselves
In the place they were raised in
And you kept us caged in
Destroyed our culture and said you civilized us
Raped our women and when we were born you despised us
Gentrified us, agent provocateurs divide us
And crucified every revolutionary messiah.”

In “America,” Nas would agree with all of this, as he speaks of all these things and comes to the conclusion that America is more like “The Third World” than “you think it is” (or at least than “you” say you think it is), but while Nas just mentions the “assassinations” in a single word, Immortal Technique spells it out more, practically rubbing our noses in the horror some may be trying to ‘forget’ since we can’t really escape it. Compared to Immortal Technique, Nas may use more subtle craft (including such figurative language as “Lipstick from Marilyn Monroe/ blew a death kiss to Fidel Castro.”), and adopt the tone of the “G” persona more (in order to dramatize the temptation to be “racist against” himself). After all, Nas does come from “America” and did seem himself to believe, once upon a time, in its god of glamour which isn’t accessible where Immortal Technique is from.

But the two songs ultimately complement each other (Nas with his female co-singer; and I.T. with his Peruvian flute accompaniment); and both end in the same place: with a burning need to overthrow the empire. After speaking to the oppressor directly (“fuck your charity medicine”—which can be immunizations as well as bad ‘public assistance’—or the ‘food drop parachute’ that doesn’t come everyday), Immortal Technique goes a little further into a specific proposal for how we can begin the overthrow in our own backyard (even if we don’t ‘have’ one). At the very least, let’s try to “nationalize the (rap) industry and take it over!” It would be a start. I wonder if Immortal Technique, Nas and others are joining forces and working on that as we speak. If they are, I imagine Immortal Technique would be at least slightly closer to the front-line, but Nas would follow close behind.

Immortal Technique

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Uncomfortable Truths; 12 Years A Slave: Notes After Reading John Ridley's Esquire essay


Notes after reading John Ridley's essay in Esquire magazine


So, I didn’t watch the academy awards, but I do read facebook so got some reports. Apparently some guy named Matthew McConaughery, who won best actor for a movie called DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (in which he portrayed a guy with AIDS?), gave a very narcissistic self-serving speech. Most people who mentioned his speech tended to contrast it unfavorably with a speech by Lupito Nyong’o, who won the best supporting actress for a movie called 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Her speech was much more generous; evoking the long struggle from which she came and the hopes of the young to realize their dreams.

In addition, several people posted this particular link from MSNBC (the allegedly less right wing network): http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/oscars-2014-best-picture-12-years-slave-lupita-nyongo. This website for instance points out that 12 YEARS A SLAVE is much better than most of the other movies about race, and the history of slavery in particular, such as AMISTAD. Serwer claims that this movie confronts the UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTH of racism in Hollywood. As Adam Serwer puts it:

“Most films that tell stories of people of color are oftentimes movies about the exceptional white people who ultimately triumph against evil, and so people of color become vehicles for white redemption. They are exploited twice over – in history, and again in cinema. What sets 12 Years a Slave apart is that it is utterly uninterested in redeeming anyone, or in making anyone feel better about slavery. Northup, portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, and the other enslaved persons remain at the center of the film from start to finish. The audience never gets an opportunity to avert its eyes from Northup’s struggle to maintain his sanity and sense of self as he endures the unimaginable cruelty and desperate loneliness of enslavement. The moments of friendship, intimacy, loss and terror shared among the enslaved are paramount.”

So, it sounds like this movie isn’t as ridiculous and white supremacist as Amistad, and there seems like there might be slow racial progress starting to happen in Hollywood, but then I found this other article (thanks Thomas Sayers Ellis) on Facebook written by the John Ridley, the winner of the Academy Award for the “Best Adapted Screenplay,” for the Best Picture in 12 Years A Slave.

This essay tells you about the way Ridley thinks about race. He uses the “N” word to refer to any “liberal” African American who dares disagree with his views (which just so happen to be very similar to the views of the white supremacist dominant ideology of this country. Here’s the link, so you can read it for yourself.
http://www.esquire.com/features/essay/ESQ1206BLACKESSAY_108?src=spr_TWITTER&spr_id=1456_46460256

One white person sent this link to another white person on Facebook, and White Person #2 reported it for its offensive use of the “N” Word, and defriended the person without argument.  And, indeed, had a white person said what John Ridley said, there would be much agreement over it being racist. However, this indignant white facebook person was more upset by the mere "N" word in the title and probably didn’t even go so far as to read  Ridley’s criticisms of the black liberation movement in his essay. It is more important for this white person to have her little feel good story bout Lupito Nyong’o, than to truly confront the uncomfortable truths that 12 Years A Slave, and the white liberal media, didn’t address, or try to smooth over.  Serwer implies that 12 Years a Slave speaks for all black people because it was written and directed by black men: “their stories, and the way they want to tell them.” Judging by many black folks I know, who have read John Ridley’s comments in the above article, there is still along way to go. In the meantime, it’s at least important to let people know where Ridley stands on contemporary issues of racial liberation (which of course Hollywood still likes to deny is a valid concern).

 Here are the two links---

http://www.esquire.com/features/essay/ESQ1206BLACKESSAY_108?src=spr_TWITTER&spr_id=1456_46460256


Also, see this great rebuttal:
http://www.xojane.com/issues/oscar-winning-screenwriter-john-ridleys-ner-problem