Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Myth of the Angry Black Person

This past Sunday night I attended the premiere of “Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story” at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.  As I sat there in the dark listening to people react to the film my heart swelled with pride for Booker Wright.  “You did it,” I thought to myself as I watched my grandfather on the screen.

As hard as I’ve worked on this for so many years it wasn’t until Sunday that I finally grasped the true magic of my grandfather’s words.  If we let them, they can reach into our current discussions on race and they can inform, soften, and change our often hard edged views. 

Forty-six years-ago my grandfather risked his life to explain what it felt like to be on the receiving end of racism.  He paid dearly for his words.  His statement aired once, around the country no less, but still only once.  And then it was over.  White residents of Greenwood credit him for bringing the civil rights movement home to them, but I’ll never know if my grandfather was aware of how much of a difference his words made in his town. 

Today, in 2012, we’re in trouble when it comes to talking about race.  Many times if a black person says, “Hey, I think that kid may have been murdered because he was black,” many will accuse the black person of playing the race card, of having some sort of chip on their shoulder, or of simply rushing to judgment too quickly. 

If a white person says about the same crime that they think it had nothing to do with race, very loud voices in the black community will come out and accuse that person of being insensitive to race issues or worse, being a racist themselves.  It’s amazing to me to think that after so many years of dealing with race-based issues in America that it’s still so hard for us to even have the dialogue without hitting below the belt.  We make it personal.  We attack a person’s character instead of their argument. 

Booker Wright went on camera and with detail and vulnerability described the heartache he experienced every time that he went to work in the white’s only restaurant where he was a waiter.  He explained how it made him want to cry on the inside.  He described how when whites got angry with him and hurled racial slurs at him that he simply wondered what else he could do to appease them. 

Sharing our shame can be hard.  It’s hard to describe the moments in life when we’re the butt of the joke.  It’s hard to tell people about how we’ve been abused, demeaned, or disregarded.  Exposing our wounds weakens us, so we don’t do it.  We especially don’t do it on national television.  Booker Wright went against the grain.  In doing so, he debunked the myth of the angry black person.  He is our evidence that before there was anger there was hurt.  Underneath the loud cries and the screaming voices are a people who simply want to be embraced.  

23 comments:

  1. I saw the movie last night. I thought it was a good documentary but it disturbed me. Anytime I watch a program about racism and discrimination I get angry because of what our people experienced. I think a good example of my sentiments is when the audience in the film voiced their opinion of the white people and black people in the film. White people had fond memories of their "black mothers" or felt that the white people were good people just caught in a flawed system. The black audience members had troubled looks on their faces as if they could not believe what they were hearing.

    I know this was extra special for you and your family. I am sure words cannot explain how you felt to see and hear your grandfather speak and express his experiences.

    The camera's were not allowed in to talk to "Blackey" but did you get a chance to speak with him off camera?

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  2. Thank you so much for seeing the movie! I have exchanged a few letters with Blackie. I talk a little about that on this blog. I'll post the links below. He denies being the shooter. He has very low literacy, so it's difficult to grasp his thoughts. He seemed excited to correspond with me and he had only kind things to say about my grandfather. He is willing to speak with me on the phone or meet with me in person. Even though we can't take cameras in, I can go in on my own. I may do that this summer, I'm still trying to figure it out.

    The post on this blog called "A Steak and a Song" is where I wrestle with how I feel towards the whites who romanticize the past. I honestly think much of their affection is genuine, though obviously, complicated.

    Again, thank you for your interest in this story!

    Here's a post about me learning a little more about Cork's family and his life: http://www.bookerwright.com/2012/01/unlikely-alliance.html

    I was planning to post a few others, but there are many. This blog has a search feature and if you search the word "Cork" you'll find several posts.

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  3. Booker was/is and forever shall be Mr. WRIGHT!!!

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  4. Your grandfather was a great man. It is because of him and many others that we finally got some justice in this country. His name is President Barrack Obama. I will never forget what your grandfather said and it has become my motto: The meaner a man be, the more you keep smiling. I believe with all my heart that if Blackie knew then what he knows now, he would have not sold his soul for a handful of nothing. The ones that put him up to killing your grandfather let the check bounce. So really two men have died. The next time you write him ask him what they promised him for such an act of betrayal. I bet my life he wishes he could take it back. I am going to tell everyone I know to watch your families beautiful story of your grandfather. I am and will forever be grateful to your grandfather for is sacrifice. Thank you. Lisa Gorham, Raleigh NC

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    1. Lisa, thank you so much for your support of my grandfather's story. I do hope to one day sit across from Lloyd Cork and ask him that exact question. When I do, I'll be sure to let you know!

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    2. Todays African American youth seem to be filled with anger and do,nt know why their angery.I appreciate Mr.Wright because like many African American,s of the pre-civil rights era and post civil rights era,survival was dependant on attitude.Todays youth would of never reached adulthood,but even now they do,nt reach adulthood because of one another. Where is race relations today,beyond poverty and lack of education. Unless you have a higher degree your competing for the same job,s other minorities are after. I hope or youth eventually realize the cost to be free was paid in full by people like Booker Wright. For just speaking the truth.

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  5. Yvette, I shared this movie with my god-kids to show them that even in the worst of times a black man can still work hard and hold their heads high. This generation of black children need to be reminded of the sacrifices made by strangers that were willing to risk their lives to make life better for them and us. When your aunt talked about lowering your head when you passed white people on the street, I could not stop crying. I am 44 years old and I remember being told to do the exact same thing. It has always been an astonishing fact to me that white people here in the south believed and still do that segregation was a define act. I have often wondered what God they served. I am a history lover and because of my love for history I have always been able to see through the white sheets. Sometimes I think we should have never been segregated. Somewhere within doing the right thing lost us our identity. Growing up in the south black is a hard thing to do. I have been in NC all my life. I have always loved things like opera, ballet and Shakespeare. I was thrown out of the library for listening to such things when I was a teen. All of my black friend's that us to say: "you think you are lite bright and dammed near white", while the whites chased me away and told me that I had no business liking things whites only could understand and appreciate. I know first hand about what and where my place in this society was and where I should never venture. Watching the story of your grandfather and his plight as well as countless others makes me lie awake at night while trying to see the logic position of Congressman Allen West in Florida and others of our race that forgot about just how much was paid for black people to be viewed as human beings. Can you help me figure out just when did we as black people let go of each others hands. Lisa Gorham Raleigh NC

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    1. Lisa, I can so relate to being made to feel that you're somehow not "black enough". I can still recall going to all white schools until I was 11 and then going to black schools where I was told that I was trying to act white. I wish I understood more and knew more answers about how this phenomenon came to be. Blacks pitted against blacks. I may make it the subject of a blog post in the coming week. Again, thank you for your thoughtful comments!

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    2. I am 12 years older t .han you and it sounds like you were caught up in the colorization of . us.When I was a little boy I had a aunt that just plain hated dark skinned negros. She called us pick a nenies.But one of our cousin was like you,so we had him get money from old mean Aunt Carrie for candy. I remember that all the light skinned children got to sit at the front of the class.I did,nt know we were being segregated by complection then. You should read Don Lemons book on the Colorization of African Americans. You,ve always been family,just light skinned.Were one race of many complections.

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  6. Hi Yvette
    My husband and I watched the documentary about your grandfather. We both were very moved by your words and by the words of your grandfather. He was a very brave and smart man.
    I am white and was raised in the North. But I have distinct memories of the Civil Rights Movement having an impact up North. I was in college when Martin Luther King was assassinated and I remember running over to tell one of the people in my dorm, with tears in my eyes. She stopped me right in my tracks when she said "good". I felt stunned and just did not know what to say.

    I also remember being at my synagogue for the high holy holidays when I was home from college. Our Rabbi was giving a sermon about welcoming black families who were moving into our neighborhood. I remember that there were some people who got up and walked out of the sermon (most did not walk out). My heart broke and I wrote a letter to the Rabbi talking about the hypocrisy of being "religious" but denying people their basic human rights. He read my letter at the next Sabbath Service. I hope that it made a difference. But, this small act was relatively easy. I did not face the threat of death by speaking up. Your grandfather spoke up in the face of death as did every black person of his era that spoke up in any way. Thank you for sharing your grandfather's story.

    It seems to me that it would be a good story to take to schools when they teach about segregation. It would be a wonderful learning tool for every young person in our country. I hope you consider doing that.

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to learn about my grandfather's story and for sharing your own story with me. Race-based bias can shock us and take us by surprise. Sometimes people we trust and respect can actually hold views that are vile and destructive. I applaud you for going against the grain and for having your own "Booker Wright Moment"!

      Yes, I too think that this film belongs in classrooms. I've taken it to a public school locally here in Phoenix and I'm visiting at three universities in the fall. We're working on trying to find a way to get the film into classrooms through a distributor. I wish you all the best and please tell everyone you know about Booker Wright.

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    2. I have always known that some Americans besides African Americans shared our experience.For many people being silent was just like being supportive of the injustices of old jim crow in the south,and extreme segregation in the north.When MLK was nominated for the Nobel Prize the world began to presure America and its hypocracy for democracy agenda.Claiming to be the vangaurd of freedom yet in her boundaries we were not free to advance or vote. Today most people wish the Civil Rights Era should stay buried.

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  7. Just saw this touching story on Dateline awesome history.
    Booker Wright a real man trying to do better for his family.

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  8. There was a time when not only the blacks ,but any foreigner was treated poorly. I am tired of hearing blacks their relatives were slaves. That is in the past , and their comes a time when you need to move forward. There are so many black organizations that exclude whites. That is racism to me. How are we to ever live together if you are doing the same thing tht was once done to you. Excluding whites in many ways. You cry the white man holds me back. This isn't true. Your holding yourselves back with your racist thinking

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    1. Is there a particular Black group that you would like to join? I am very interested in the names of the Black groups that won't receive you as a member because of your race. I am eagerly waiting for your list of names.

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    2. Your stuck in the seventiesBecause nobody talks like that any more.In case you have,nt noticed African Americans hold positions at every level of this society.They even invented a new music gendra.Did you just come out of a comma or something and realize you can,t boss us any more.The only thing that holds you back is education. You can earn a degree today and go live any where in the,world. I have freinds who have lived over seas 20 years and come back well off. Aint nobody talking about slavery any more were talking about stocks and bonds.We done forgot about white men.I thought you were exstinct.There are private clubs every where,you got enouogh money you can join any of them

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  9. I was a child of probably 5 years old the first time I realized there was a difference in the color of people(about 1945). It made a lasting impression on me. I was visiting my aunt in Fort Worth, TX, and she was taking me on a trip to the zoo. It was my first ride on a city bus. We entered through a door near the back of the bus. I stepped in first and turned toward the long seat that ran the width of the rear of the bus. It looked like a good place to sit. My aunt grabbed my arm and turned me around. She said, "No don't sit there. That's where the colored folks sit." I looked back and saw a lone elderly African American person. I don't even remember if it was a man or a woman sitting there, but I felt so ashamed of my aunt and her attitude. To this day, I still wish it had been ok for me to sit beside that person in the back of the bus.

    Tonight, I saw the documentary about Booker Wright on Dateline. I wish you much success in getting his story into the classrooms!

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  10. I happened upon this story and hate that i missed it on dateline but will try to find and watch it on the net. I wish this would get at least half of the promos that these degrading shows get these days. I wish our younger generation would take the time to use this as a tool for their own advancements. If i can help in any way please let me know.

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  11. As I watched Dateline I realized this woman is the embodiment of Booker Wright and Martin Luther King's dream. She spent her formative years in an affluent community unaware of the divisive issues they sought to eliminate.

    Lack of formal education does not make a person ignorant. Booker understood the full consequences of his actions. His hope when he took the risk, a better world for his children and grandchildren.

    The conjecture about a black bartender, murdered by a drunken black man he had ejected from his bar being racially motivated makes no sense to me. This is one of those "conspiracy" stories I put with the Elvis is alive, JFK killed by CIA, and 9/11 was a US Government hoax theories.

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  12. I was blessed to see this just last night on iTunes and I was absolutely blown away. I am white and live in the UK yet this documentary took me back to those disgusting days that America cannot wait to bury in its past. Watching the clips from the original 60s film was truly saddening; seeing old man Louis attempting to put on a good face for the cameras, whilst strong, grown adults had no choice but to be subservient around him.

    My 13-year-old son is mixed race from an Eritrea heritage and I had to ensure he saw the words from Booker so he can understand where part of his history lay and the struggle involved. The words spoken in his diner resonate as clearly as Martin Luther Kings famous dream speech, an insight into the real pain felt by those having to undergo that sort of treatment in order to lay the path for their children.

    It is the type of moment that absolutely everyone needs to see at least once in their life, to grasp the real value of the world we have around us and how lucky most of us have been never to have been subjected to such treatment.

    God Bless you and your family for help bringing this to life and I pray that Booker is smiling down from above content that moment of sacrifice has such a profound effect on generations to come.

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    1. Thank you so much Steven for your insightful and kind words. I agree, Booker's words were critical, telling, and should never be forgotten. I want the world to know his story. Thank you for sharing it with your son.

      Best to you and yours.

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  13. Hello Yvette,
    I watched Booker's Place and I am glad this was brought to light. I am curious if your grandfather had other siblings and how he got the name, Wright. My name is also Wright and my grandfather (Elmo Wright)was from Mississippi. He moved to Detroit in the 50's and I was raised in Detroit.
    Please contact me if you can...I would like to find out if you are part of my heritage as a Wright.

    Best Regards,
    Eric A. Wright Sr.
    mistere84@msn.com

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