Month: April 2013

Should we all really be who we really are?

Image

Individual identity is something that is often emphasized within the United States, however more and more individuals are changing themselves in order to match a certain expectation or stereotype. Even within Paul Beatty’sWhite Boy Shuffle there is a struggle between individuals assimilating and their later struggle with identity.

The first thing that I notice when I see this image is that there are four different individuals that seem to be hiding themselves behind the United States flag. They all look very similar, and the top portion of their faces is covered as if the flag is a mask; a method of concealment. I also noticed that they all are holding flags, presumably from their different countries of origin. These flags are extremely small in comparison with the United States’ flag, and represent 3 different countries. These four individuals all appear to be white or European males. Also, the United States flag is also in the middle of the picture and it seems to be the focus of the picture. The flag is also very bold in comparison to the other flags that are seen within the image. The U.S. flag is visible, the others mistakable.

This image is very relevant to assimilation because of the images of the men all hiding their faces. Also, the four different men also seem to be the same, under the American flag. This makes me believe that this translates to the United States as a place of assimilation, not a melting pot. This melting pot belief is that all cultures come together to make the United States what it is. Though this is partially true, this depiction makes me feel as though there are some individuals that have to give up who they are, whether it’s their cultural beliefs or their national identity. This image is very interesting to me because many individuals come to the United States because we are the “land of the free” and have the many different freedoms of speech, religion, petition, assembly, and press. However, conformation is emphasized.

Assimilation and the idea of identity and conforming can be very related to Paul Beatty’s main character, Gunnar. Gunnar’s start in Santa Monica, California was in a predominately white neighborhood. He and his sisters all felt as though they did not fit in or identify with being with the white people they were surrounded by. Their mother decided to move their family to predominately black neighborhood in West Los Angeles, which made them identify with the black community. Gunnar faced some hesitation regarding who he was as an African-American and his community of identification. A specific example, Gunnar’s coach separated the team by lip color, but Gunnar’s top lip was brown and lower was pink so he was allowed to play both sides. Because of his identification with two communities, he was not able to identify with neither team because he played both sides.

The use of assimilation within the United States is very interesting seeing as how we are the “land of the free,” however identity is a very important part of an individual’s overall being and assimilation complicates the life of an individual.

Sources

Beatty, Paul. The White Boy Shuffle. 2nd. Picador, 2001. Print

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_GaQ4pxaggc0/TPVrxI28d5I/AAAAAAAAAC8/qcTwc3l34nU/s1600/Assimilation_i.jpg.” Blogger. N.p., 30 Nov 2010. Web. 29 Apr 2013.

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Mass Suicide: “Die with respect. Die with dignity.”

The Jonestown massacre demonstrated the potential devastation of massive cult followings. 918 people died in Jonestown or nearby at an airstrip.

The Jonestown massacre demonstrated the potential devastation of massive cult followings. 918 people died in Jonestown, Guyana or nearby at an airstrip.

The above image depicts the tools of a mass suicide movement led by the charismatic and corrupted leader Jim Jones of The People’s Temple. It reminds the viewer of the ease with which power over a group of followers can be misused and the devastation that follows such exploitation.

This image shows a pile of cups and syringes that were implemented in the mass suicide/murder of 909 followers of The People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana. There are several paper cups; a few are empty, most still contain the dark red beverage flavoring and cyanide mixture. In addition to the cups, the table is littered with hypodermic needles and syringes. Some of the syringes appear to be missing the needle tip, others are intact. There are many sterile wrappers of hypodermic needles covering the table top as well, and there are several boxes on the surface, with at least one reading: “Yale Hypodermic Needles”. One syringe in the very front of the picture appears to still be filled with the poisonous mixture.

The table itself looks worn and dirty. The floor visible underneath the table appears to be dirty and rudimentary. There are looped cables or hose of some kind in the back left corner. On the right side of the table, a barrel or vat is partially shown. The shoes and legs of a victim are barely visible behind the jug and are curled around a crate with the address of PO Box 893, Georgetown, Guyana. It is addressed to a man named John.

This image is haunting because it displays the tools of a movement that left 909 Americans dead, 1/3 of which were children. The children were either injected with the cyanide mixture or forced to swallow the mixture which was squirted into their mouths with needleless syringes. This cult following mimics the mass suicide movement that was seen in Paul Beatty’s novel The White Boy Shuffle though the Jonestown massacre was a much more violent event. Whereas Beatty uses humor to explore the topic of mass suicide, his book also demonstrates the ease with which followers can be exploited.

Jim Jones had very similar ideas to Gunnar Kaufman, though Jones was much more radical. Jones pushed the idea that laying down their lives with dignity and self-respect was in direct protest to the way they and other human beings were being treated. Jones convinced his followers that suicide was a way for them to choose their own death since they were going to die eventually anyway. Furthermore, in choosing to lay down their lives by choice, they were refusing to submit to capitalism and furthering the cause of socialism.

This photo is captivating and disturbing because it captures the ease with which Jim Jones was able to convince nearly 1000 people to take their own lives in the pursuit of a better world. The exploitation is shocking and it seems senseless. What change did the Jonestown massacre bring about? The deaths of so many innocent people appear to have occurred in vain. It looks as if suicide makes a statement but mostly results in the waste of a life.

The mass suicide and murder at Jonestown are haunting reminders of the power that a single charismatic leader can have over hundreds of people and the danger when said power is used for corruption and violence.

Source:

Kinsolving, Tom. “New Jonestown Memorial: Honoring The Madman And His Assassins Along Side The Men, Women, And Children They Murdered.” Jonestown Apologists Alert. N.p., 19 Nov. 2010. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. <http://jonestownapologistsalert.blogspot.com/2010/11/new-jonestown-memorial-honoring-madman.html&gt;.

 

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Rodney King

Rodney King: Symbol of Police Brutality and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots

Photo taken during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

A National Guardsman stands by during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The graffitied wall in the background shows support for Rodney King.

The Los Angeles riots of 1992 were triggered by the acquittals of police officers in the Rodney King verdict. King became a symbol of police brutality and unified Los Angeles in violent protest of the verdict.

The above image was captured in 1992 at the Los Angeles riots. The image features a White National Guardsman standing alert and armed. The Guardsman is wearing combat boots, a camouflaged uniform, a watch, and protective helmet; he is also carrying an M16 rifle. The man is gazing at something in the distance, presumably the ongoing rioting. The Guardsman is standing on a sidewalk comprised of square concrete slabs. A small patch of overgrown, brownish-green grass is seen directly behind the Guardsman. The sidewalk is dirty and littered with various trash, including a Nike advertisement.

Behind the Guardsman, a discolored beige wall has been spray-painted black with various graffiti. The most prominent graffiti in the photo reads, “This is for Rodney King,” and below that, “We love you my brother.” The remaining graffiti is a conglomeration of scratch-outs and various messages. In the right-hand corner of the image, the graffitied wall reads, “X·Peace,” and “Police 187.” More graffiti can be seen above the National Guardsman’s head on the left side of the wall in the photo, but it is illegible.

This image is filled with historical and cultural significance. The graffiti memorializes the LA community’s support for Rodney King. In March of 1991, King was severely beaten by the LAPD, which was videotaped by a nearby resident. The LA community was all too familiar with police brutality, corruption, and racism within the LAPD. By videotaping the event, Rodney King was transformed into a symbol of police brutality. No longer was this issue an invisible one—there was proof and the racism was visible. Four of the police officers involved were charged with excessive force and assault with a deadly weapon. In April of 1992, a verdict was reached: three of the four police officers were acquitted of all charges. Los Angeles was outraged by the verdict and was not going to tolerate this injustice. Rioting commenced.

The graffiti in the above image indicates the community’s support of Rodney King. The acquittal of the officers made the Black community feel worthless. In Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle, the Rodney King verdict and resulting LA riots are documented and experienced by Beatty’s protagonist, Gunnar Kaufman. Upon hearing the verdict, Gunnar reflects, “Let go? The officers had to be guilty of something… I never felt so worthless in my life… Sitting on the couch watching the announcer gloat, my pacifist Negro chrysalis peeled away, and a glistening anger began to test its wings… I wanted to taste immediate vindication.” (Beatty, 130-132). After the verdict, the community utilized violence as an outlet for the pain and unfairness of the situation; Rodney King unified the Black community and became its rallying point in violent protest.

The above image documents the reality of the LA riots in 1992; “This is for Rodney King / We love you my brother,” highlight the sentiments of the rioting—the community reached its limit for tolerating the inequality of the law and the LAPD, and King was its unifying symbol.

Source:  

Chan, Bryan. The 1992 Los Angeles riots. 1992. Photograph. Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles. Web. 30 Apr 2013. <http://framework.latimes.com/2012/04

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Black Fu: African American and Asian Relations

Poster for 1974 Blaxploitation movie “Black Belt Jones”

The African American community has been interested in Asian culture dating back to the 1970s with the rise of the martial arts movie in America. These martial arts films gave birth to the fascination about the Asian culture in the community and in turn created films like Black Belt Jones.

The poster uses black silhouette images of people fighting on a white background. Those fighting appear to be going for high kicks and flips, two things typically seen in a movie martial arts fight. Above the fighters are four blocks each depicting different scenes. In the block furthest to the left shows a picture of the title character Black Belt Jones. Behind him are three people who look like they are being knocked back by a force of some kind. The look on Black Belt Jones’ face is that of determination and conviction.  In the top middle block shows a female character. This character wields a gun and appears to be fending off an attacker. In the block below her is a motorcycle caravan leading a semi down the road. The block on the right shows a man being knocked back, his feet lifting from the ground. On the left side of the poster are the words “Enter Jim ‘Dragon’ Kelly” and below, “He clobbers the mob as Black Belt Jones”

Black Belt Jones came out a year after Bruce Lee’s film Enter the Dragon. On the poster “Enter Jim ‘Dragon’ Kelly” is reference to the Lee film. The introduction of Enter the Dragon began a slew of martial arts fandom in the African American community. Films like Black Belt Jones were created to not only capitalize on the success of the martial arts films. Martial arts films and their blaxploitation counterparts began to create a form of intra-racial relationships between the African American culture and the Asian culture.

This mixing of African American and Asian culture can be seen in many examples over the past several years. There have been television shows like Afro Samurai which have mixed samurai culture with that of African American culture. On The Boondocks one of the main characters Huey Freeman is an accomplished martial artist and makes several references to Asian/martial arts culture as well as some blaxploitation film characters. The blending of the two cultures can be seen in novels as well.

In Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle the main character Gunnar Kaufman is given a mail order bride as his 18th birthday present from a friend. This marriage between Gunnar and his bride, Yoshiko, is a metaphoric marriage between the African American and Asian communities. While Yoshiko is a mail order bride, she ends up being a good match for Gunnar, an unlikely paring, which some would say about the growing relationship between the African American and Asian communities at the time.

Over the years the African American and Asian communities have been coming together. This unlikely friendship is, in part, due to the rise of the martial arts film in the United States as well as the Blaxploitation films of the time.

Image Source:Black Belt Jones. 1974. Web.30.April 2013.https://polygrafi.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/a2b45-314-black-belt-jones.jpg

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The Token Black Guy

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Tristan Wilds, is an African American Actor who acts on the popular TV series 90210. He is the only main black character on the show and plays the role of the token black.

The school bell rings, the teacher calls out to his students to gather inside. The teacher looks out at his audience and notices that their is one face different from all the others. Out of the teachers 22 students one face is black. This is the token black guy.

In the above picture we have the cast of an American popular tv series 90210 . In the picture there is a total of 9 people. There are 4 blonde Causcasian females and 1 brown haired Caucasian. The 3 of the girls are young, beautiful and appear to live a well off or rich lifestyle.The other 2 females are older in age but also appear to be well off.  In the above picture there are four boys. Two appear to be your typical high school Caucasian male. While the other two  boys belong to minority groups. The thing that sticks out the most in this picture is the black guy.

He is placed in the middle of what appears to be a sea of white faces. The background in which the actors take the picture also makes the black guy stand out. The background is white and the black guys skin color contrasts and only helps bring more attention towards him. If those factors weren’t enough there is also a red circle around his face making him the centerpiece of this picture as well as a message at the bottom of the picture stating,” HERE I AM AGAIN!”.

After initially seeing this picture I would immediately consider him the “Token Black Guy” . The token black guy has become a routine role normally portrayed in American Television series. According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, tokenism is defined as the policy or practice of making only a symbolic effort ( as to desegregate).  A token’s role is to normally add some color to the screen or provide a hint of diversity. At the same time the token seems to slightly  suppress  the culture or customs he is supposed to exude. Instead he seems to gain personality traits that belong to the population that make up the majority.

In my own personal life I can say that I have felt like the “Token Black Guy” . In Paul Beatty’sThe White Boy Shuffle, he identifies with what my reality was,” I was the funny, cool black guy. In Santa Monica, like most predominantly white sanctuaries from urban blight, “cool black guy” is a versatile identifier used to distinguish the harmless black male from the Caucasian juvenile while maintaining politically correct semiotics.” (pg.27). Even though I went to a diverse high school, I always found myself being one of the only black males in my honors of AP classes. I was always intelligent but my white peers seemed to categorize me more as the funny, cool black guy. While I was also accepted by my African American peers, being the token black guy proved to be difficult at times.

Citation:

Tristan Wilds as Dixon, the token black guy on 90210, http://www.doobybrain.com/2008/08/23/tristan-wilds-as-dixon-the-token-black-guy-on-90210/23, August 2008., 30, April 2013.

“Tokenism”Merriam-Webster.com, n.p.,  n.d. 30 April 2013

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