Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Spike Lee Meets The Family Slaveowners

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The heart of Texas. A century after his ancestors were freed from slavery, Spike Lee meets his relatives. And not all of his family were slaves.

We know that our American slave history included the horrendous abuse and rape of slaves; the possibility of white and black Americans being related today is not a surprise. In Lee’s ancestry, we learn that his great-great-great grandmother, Mathilde, was a mulatto in the 1860’s. Mathilde worked in the plantation house of her slaveowners as a cook. As a mulatto, history indicates that Lee’s slave ancestor may have been the daughter of the white slaveowner.

Witnessing Spike Lee’s journey from his New York home to the deep South, I could not help but admire his life work: chronicling the African American experience in film. Do the Right Thing may be one of my favorite movies, and as a teenager growing up in the Midwest with little experience with non-Asian or non-White heritage, Lee’s groundbreaking film opened my eyes to the racism in the rest of America. I’ve always been impressed by Lee’s artistry, integrity, and commitment to fighting racism. His appearance last night on the television show, Who Do You Think You Are?, again shows his thoughtfulness and curiosity.

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Filed under: ancestry, entertainment, family, , , , , , , , ,

Where Are All the Black Teabaggers?

A stupid question, but worth asking: Are there any members of the Teabag party who are also people of color? I’ve tried to find images of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, or Native Americans to no avail. The right’s extremely popular wingnuts don’t seem to have a place at the table for non-whites. What’s up with that?

Bob Cesca wrote a fantastic deconstruction of what I’ve sensed–but lacked the directness to state: the Teabag Party is racist. What’s his evidence, you ask?

This isn’t an epiphany by any stretch. From the beginning, with their witch doctor imagery, watermelon agitprop and Curious George effigies, the wingnut right has been dying to blurt out, as Lee Atwater famously said, “nigger, nigger, nigger!”

Take a look at the image above, of the boy holding a white protest sign. It reads “Obamanomics: Monkey See, Monkey Spend!” The cartoon image of a monkey’s face correlates with the text of “Obamanomics”. Does this young person see no problem in comparing a black man to a monkey? The historical implications of the savage, of an ignoble beast rather than a human being, possessing the capacity for reason, for logic, for an intelligence higher than the animals of the earth, is undeniable.

How often do we find images comparing white folks to monkeys? In contrast, how often are African Americans caricatured as monkeys?

The baggage of racism has been going on for the last two hundred years. It seems the Teabag party may just be a product of cultural hegemony, useful for those who want to maintain racial hierarchy. Perhaps the Teabaggers might garner more respect if their messages were rooted in concrete arguments rather than racist iconography.

But maybe it’s better to just let the Teabaggers speak for themselves (weekend roundup compiled by Mediamatters.org):

Filed under: race, racism, , , , , , , , ,

Remembering the Sad Story of Emmett Till

A middle-aged African American woman steps up to a microphone in Mississippi in 1955. She says, “The whole trial was a farce.” The reporters gather around her, outside the Mississippi courthouse, crowding her, seeking more of her opinion. Was the brave woman and mother of Emmett Till surprised?

“I heard the sentence that I expected.”

The woman was Mamie Till Mobley. Her sad, utterly resigned comments came moments after the trial of two men found innocent in the murder of her 14 year-old son, Emmett Till. Why did Emmett matter?

An African American teen from Chicago is visiting relatives in Mississippi when he makes a fatal mistake. By whistling at a white woman in a grocery store, Emmett Till breaks the unwritten laws of the Jim Crow South. Three days later, two white men drag him from his bed and brutally murder him.

I’m watching PBS tonight; the documentary is “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement.” (The excerpt above is from the documentary’s website.) Eyes on the Prize‘ historical footage, often black-and-white, often grainy, with antiquated recordings, remains as relevant and timely in 2010 as it was only decades ago. I’m riveted by these long-forgotten interviews and b-roll of legendary civil rights leaders like Mose Wright and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the 50’s and 60’s, there were more than 500 lynchings in Missisippi alone. Emmett Till was only one of the innocent men lynched. It’s important to remember Till–not only because of his horrific death and the ugly racism it symbolized, but because his death was the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.

Like me, you may recognize the name of Emmett Till. But how many of us remember the unjust circumstances of his death?

Filed under: black history, racism, united states of america, , , , , , , , ,

CNN: Blacks & Gay Equality

CNN presents a special report on “Blacks and Gay Equality”. The “down low”, black churches, Obama’s promise of gay equality: CNN anchor Don Lemon poses the issues to a panel of prominent African American men, including authors, college seniors, and preachers, including Tyree ‘DJ Drama Simmons, Bishop Eddie Long, Tyrone McGowan, and Steve Perry.

imageDBMy favorite quote comes from author Farrah Gray, who says, “Many of us live in the 51st state of the United States: the state of Denial.” He admits the problem of African American homophobia did not come to his attention until the publication of J.L. King’s ground-breaking book, On the Down Low.

Citing a speech by President Obama at the recent Human Rights Campaign fundraiser, the newsclip presents sound bytes about the African American community and its issues with homophobia. Interesting fact: The leading cause of death for African American women, aged 25-34, is HIV/AIDS. Though the assumption by one of the guests is that this is linked directly to the down low, this health statistic is surprising–and worrisome–nonetheless.

Filed under: gay rights, homophobia, racism, , , , , , , , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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