They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word. And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,—peculiar even for one who has never been anything else... W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
I'm thinking about being a problem and being safe. I truly believe that the cases of Leslie Jones, Colin Kaepernick, and Odell Beckham, Jr. are interesting... important...worrisome on their own, and taken together, they are so illuminating that you may need shades. You may...
Dig if you will the picture (RIP Prince): I don't know if Leslie, Colin, or OBJ had anything in common before this summer, when they each became a problem. Each one a problem. And in such disparate ways that it boggles the mind. Except it doesn't. It hasn't since 1903...and before then and apparently since then. And we need to understand how they got there because publicly, being a problem results in harrassment and awful threats, but the ones doing digital harm exist in the private world where they raise kids, hire employees, refuse to provide security at specific venues, sign off on loans..and so we can't just dismiss them as trolls...
And that brings us back to our celebrity problems. Our celebrities represent what I'm calling: the contiuum of black behavior (CBB.) It's made up and yet a real thing. I made it up because among the favorite defenses/pieces of advice from people who'd rather not deal is:
*If you weren't so angry...extended yourself in kindness, warmth... people would be more open.
*If you just be quiet things would get better.
*If you protest peacfully people would listen and hear you.
Y'all...this is a continuum of advised behavior and a bunch of hot air! Be pleasant/funny/palatable...be as invisible as possible....be miffed but peacefully. I teach kids. This is textbook playground politics and it only ever works for the person making the rules and the few who benefit as long as they comply with that one kid. The real message is "bend to my whim," but I digress...
In the CBB, you could replace black with "woman," "Latinx," "Native American," "LGBTQI..," "Asian.." "disabled," plug in the right people and you'll see that it's real, accurate and has real implications on an individual through systemic level.
On this partcular CBB, you have Leslie, who has played the role...sometimes stereotypical black woman roles to many laughs... which seemed fine until she brought her fully embodied self into a space where we all found out she wasn't welcome: Ghost Busters of all places. The whole cast was lambasted for disrupting what turned out to be a space claimed by white males. Leslie caught it worse, because she did so in a black body that she owns and moves in big, loud, and unapologetic ways. She was harrassed, doxxed (her personal information put on blast,) and viciously digitally attacked. She became a problem and even moreso because she fought back. Because how dare she defend her right to exist in her body and claim space. How dare she.
On the other end of the continuum is Colin. He's taken a stand by taking a knee (I feel clever, just give me this noment...) He occupies the dissenter end of the spectrum and he is doing so peacefully and articulately. Peaceful, though he is, he too has been subject to name calling and threats. Some feel like he should be grateful for his cash and stick to throwing a ball. (Was that in the contract?) Name calling (n-word included) and threats for occupying a space that is reserved for all American citizens: the right to peaceful protest. I wonder if he knew that he was a knee away from beloved to being a problem. You don't have to agree with him, but can you see the threat-worthy problem?
And then there was OBJ...a public guy at an exclusive function and he literally did nothing. He occupies the neutral space on the continuum of black behavior and yet he found himself a problem. He was a problem for Lena Dunham, who felt entitled to publicly project her thoughts about his thoughts as if they were his actual thoughts. She apologized, but what she Did (capital on purpose) is bigger than what she did: she demonstrated that showing up...even when you are invited...you're still a problem if you show up in black body or a black, woman body or a you-make-me-uncomfortable body... Or at least you can be, because at any time, if anyone, typically white, hetersexual, male or white heterosexual male...decides that they own the space, they can make you a problem. That's not ok. That's not just. That's not safe.
And though I imagine that this might sting for some... I don't write to sting or divide or villianize. I write to illuminate and make the world safer for people to exist in their body and right now it isn't totally safe. That feels lofty, but it's all I got.
I'll be back to write more between painting...on home and language, I think...we'll see.