Sunday, September 9, 2007
Choosing our battles wisely


In case you havent heard, the US govt has decided to create a memorial to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Mall in D.C. The monument will be placed in betweeen Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln's memorial.

Yeah, its kind of a big deal in one sense and kind of not in another, but thats not the point. The black firm in charge of designing it, chose a Chinese sculptor to do the work . And just for clarity, when I say Chinese, I mean from China, not a Chinese-American.
So as the story goes, there is a black artist leading the protest/ppetition to have a black sculptor sculpt kDr. King's likeness. Fuck crime, poverty, healthcare, and the educational system, WE WANT A BLACK SCULPTOR FOR THE MLK MEMORIAL DAMMIT!! But jokes aside, that is kinda how this whole thing seems to me: silly, ridiculous and ironic all at the same time.

To his credit, the brother calling for the protest/petition makes one really good point which is:
the granite to be used on the scultpure will come from China, which underpays its works (read: slave labor) and has them do this work in a way which is very harmful to their health (read: they die). I havent researched this independantly, but if what he alleges is true, he has a point that something is amiss. However, in this instance, the problem can easily be remedied by changing the company they get the granite from.

Let me also add that I think it would be appropriate, though not essential, for the monument to be sculpted by a black sculptor. I would think there are black sculptors lined up to do this project for little or even no money, because they would see it as an honor to do a project of this magnitude, that holds such historic and cultural significance to them.

This situation reminds me of Spike Lee and the making of Malcom X. Initially he read that a film about Malcolm X had been green lighted and was going into production. Norm Jewison (a Jewish director who tastefully directed a film about the black experience previously: A soldiers story) was given the role of director for that film. Spike said he was like whoa ho ho, hold up! He basically said said:
I'm not saying a white person cant be the director of a film about Malcolm X, but he'd have to be pretty sensitive to accurately capture his life in its proper light.
I agreed wholeheartedly with that sentiment, and think his film project, as a work of art, needed a black hand directing it much much more than this sculpture piece does. Any great sculptor CAN do a wonderful piece on MLK. I wouldn't say any great director can do accurately do a film about a highly controversial Black historical figure.

I'd like to also say that I like when our community is able to come together around any issue that even remotely has to do with community control, or taking control of our representations in mass media. But as I recently told my cousin who was up in arms about a 15% tip being included in his $22 meal as a matter of store policy for ALL meals, "you are fighting the wrong fight brother."

Taking control of our community, could mean something major for ourselves, this country, and other oppressed people all around the world. Taking control over how we are represented in popular media could be a critical part of that. Making sure a black sculptor does the MLK monument is not an essential part of anything that is going to affect our community. IN fact, in my opinion, insuring that a black sculptor does the MLK monument is like making sure, Obama has a black makeup and hair stylist if he becomes the president. Its meaningless, its figurative and symbolic, and thats really the only reason the govt is doing a memorial like this instead of something substantive like uh, I dont know..REPERATIONS!!!

Taking control over how we are represented could be done quite simply by placing some very real pressure on black people who are in posiitons that wield that power. In hip hop music, we have more black decision makers who are in on every aspect of the buisiness side than ever before, yet we have worse music, less variety, and more harmful images being transmitted to an even broader audience.

In response to that, too often we take action by placing pressure on big corporate bosses, like warner brothers, universal, Arista, et al, who dont give 2 shits about our demands or our concerns. Most of the people who buy the records are white, so boycotts from our community do not hurt them financially. Why not aim our sites at people who cannot afford to dismiss us, people whose credibility and support are priceless in hip hop? Why not challenge Jay-Z, Diddy, Jermaine Dupree, Irv Gotti, et al to promote 1) better music, and a wider variety of artists? These are people who cannot ignore the demands of black people. There simply arent enough young black and Latino people who are willing to apply pressure to their own. We can blame the gov't for allowing the drug trade to flourish, but we cant challenge our childhood friends who stubbornly chooses to sell drugs in our community without having even considered another option.

Which brings to me to a new rule, Bill Mahr Style:

If the thing we are fighting for doesnt leave our community substantively improved once it is achieved, we dont need to fight for it period. When we fight for trivial things like the color of the sculptor of MLK, not only do we make ourselves appear more fractured and weak, we become parties to our own oppression by diverting our resources away from where they are truly needed. We have a pretty long list of things that we must fight for to improve our communities and our experience in this country. This monument thing, however, is not on that list. Someone send this brother the memo.

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