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Monday Roundup: 24, Oscars, Ashburn, Burkett, Walt Baker, Haiti

What's crackin' friends and frienemies?

Just finished watching 24, 1 a.m. - 2 a.m., and I remain confused about something: How did charatcer Dana Walsh get a job at a federal counter-terrorism unit, with a criminal background as an armed robber (at least, I think it was armed robber)? I know a guy who couldn't get a gig at McDonald's 'cause he had a terrible driving history with a gut-load of unpaid tickets. Not like he was gonna be driving through the grill area at McD's. Of all the spy stuff that sometimes comes across as incredulous (though enough of it is scary enough to make you ponder) on this show, her making it through the background check process is the least believable thing to me.

I was happy for Sandra Bullock that she won the Oscar for "best actress" Sunday night. I thought The Blind Side was touching. But I can't lie. I'm still slightly put off by yet another movie about a needy, poor black kid, saved in the nick of time when a white family swoops in. Why does this bother me? It's not the acts of kindness. I laud them. I laud those acts from the Touhy family, portrayed in the film, and from any other family that helps a kid in need. My problem is really me - my paranoia that certain tiny-minded folks will read into the Touhy's good deeds and see a perpetuation of the stereotype of needy, helpless black folks. Shoot, my folks over the years have taken in a dozen ragamuffins of all stripes, particularly struggling younger black folks. And no one's making any movies about the Burnetts. I recommended to my mom they call the movie "The Dark Side" if it ever got made. Thought I was being clever. But she pointed out I could end up getting sued by George Lucas for swiping one of his Star Wars themes.

And speaking of Oscars, I wonder if Elinor Burkett, who pulled a Kanye West, by bum rushing the stage during Roger Ross Williams' acceptance speech will draw several days worth of condemnations for the act. There were people on Twitter calling for West's man parts to be lopped off when he interrupted singer Taylor Swift at an MTV awards ceremony a few months ago. I'm thinking the buzz about Burkett is gonna fade quickly. The difference between her and Man-West is he had a public track record of speaking out of turn. Plus, Taylor Swift is a kid, and thus more sympathetic than Williams, a grown man who could have put Burkett in a headlock till he was done saying thank you.

I believe in Karma. So before reading further, set aside your opinions on homosexuality and affirmative action - as in whether you believe either is right or wrong or good or bad or whatever. Now, with a level mind, tell me if you disagree that Karma has bitten California State Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Sacramento), who so vehemently spoke out against gay rights legislation in his state, but was caught last week driving drunk on his way home with a male hookerish guy from a gay bar. In that incident, Ashburn, who on Monday came out as gay, was exposed as a hypocrite. Ashburn's admission that he is gay makes him just as bad as those Baby Boomer beneficiaries of affirmative action legislation, who later got on soapboxes and poked fun of and placed guilt trips on people younger than them who stood to benefit from the same legislation. Again, this isn't a con/pro judgment of AA, any more than it is of Ashburn's lifestyle. It's a judgment against phonies. We can talk lifestyle in another post ;-)

Walt Baker is the latest example of a sufferer of Hoof-in-Mouth disease, who didn't quite get the problem with his most recent display of symptoms. Baker, was CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality Association, till he was fired on Monday, following an uproar over an email he circulated several days ago that compared First Lady Michelle Obama's looks to those of Cheetah, Tarzan's chimpanzee companion. Baker's initial reaction wasn't "Sorry for my tasteless attempt at a joke." It was This email was sent to me. I simply forwarded it!, followed by I forwarded it from a personal email account, not from work!, followed by It didn't occur to me that there might be a racist interpretation of the email. I meant it as political commentary! (so what do her looks have to do with her/her husband's politics?), followed by I'm sorry some people were offended by my joke! (never mind the content of the joke), followed by Oops!, followed by Guess I'll be cleaning out my desk now

I don't feel any sympathy for Baker, but the most honest, stand-up thing he could have done (or what he should have done if he had good PR people) would have been to issue an immediate statement saying "Look, I forwarded that email 'cause I thought it was funny. I know it was tasteless. And that's why I only sent it to a few people. The sentiment in the email was mean-spirited, and arguably racist, two attitudes I'd say I've never had, though I know my actions with this email say otherwise. So I'm sorry. I'm first sorry for getting caught, 'cause I admit if I hadn't gotten caught I'd have never felt sorry. But now that I am caught the uproar over this incident is giving me pause to examine my own heart and sense of humor. I'll be seeking counseling from my minister. And I'll be meeting with a diverse set of community leaders to discuss ways I might open my mind and better learn the common sense differences between humor and poor taste." No way that statement was gonna happen. Still...

 Friends have been asking me what was the most disturbing thing I saw in Haiti a couple weeks ago. Answer? Classism. It's a given that all the death and destruction were horrible. Difficult stuff to describe and it bothered me to see it all day everyday, especially knowing that folks in Port-au-Prince would have to live in it for years to come. But what bothered me most was the blatant classism on display. Yeah we have it in the U.S. too. But here it's often tied in with race or skin color...though not always. It couldn't be blamed on skin color in Haiti, just status. My last day in the city, the driver who took me to the airport wasn't my regular guy. This driver was from Petionville, a nice (in some parts downright fancy) neighborhood in the hills above Port-au-Prince. As we drove through destroyed poor 'hoods on the way to the airport, we passed an old guy limping with a cane, dressed in rags, walking his dog through a pile of garbage, looking for scraps. My driver honked at them, gestured wildly for them to get out of the way, cursed at the pair, though there was plenty of room for us to get by without all the drama, and then turned to me with a dumb grin and said "Eh, I almost mixed them up, boss! They look to me like two dogs, instead of one." He thought he was funny. I won't be hiring that driver when I go back.


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Ellis Berger

I thought this was the best column by James Burnett that I've read. It's the kind of writing and insight that I've been waiting for by hime. Keep it up.
Ellis Berger


James I don't mean to offend your sensibilities here, but many stereotypes are based on truths. We all know this.

Minorities are breaking out of the poverty cycle but not at an insanely fast rate, especially with the recent hit to the economy.

Until we start to see economic equality happen on a much larger scale, you are going to see the stereotype be perpetuated on the big screen.

As to your claim that no one is making movies about the Burnetts, I call BS. Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins - rich black man going back to middle class black roots. Hitch - rich black man matchmaker helping out the upper crust of rich society. Seven Pounds - rich black man helping out different families. These are just off the top of my head. I can come up with many more.

Why aren't you bashing Precious?

James B.

WavemanCali, I call BS right back at ya. Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins? Hitch? Seriously? So let me get this straight, black comedies about "upper crust" black folks, are your evidence that black folks aren't badly stereotyped in film?

Even if that were true, I never wrote that there aren't films that portray black folks in a positive light. I made a very specific complaint - that I was annoyed with films that portrayed black folks as needy and in desperate need of rescuing. And somehow you connect that very specific theme to some stereotypes being true? Wow.

As for films about the Burnetts, that was literal. I haven't seen any films about James Burnett Jr. or my mom, or their specific "rescue" efforts. My point in the post, and i reiterate it right here, was if all it takes to get a movie made about you is to rescue needy folks and take 'em into your home, my folks have rescued young blacks, whites, Latinos, etc.


Ah, I thought we were discussing income disparity portrayed on the big screen here, not just the black person needing saving theme.

I don't agree with your complaints here. White people do actually help a lot of black people. It happens a lot. We see just as many movies out there about a-hole racist white people too. That also happens a lot. Both are stereotypical situations, both have truths behind them.

James B.

WavemanCalu, I'm not sure why you thought that. This was never about income disparities. Not even a hint of angst over income disparities in this post.

As for my premise, you know you're welcome to disagree. But I stand by my point: that such stereotpyes widely distributed to the public (as in film) are often grasped by tiny-minded people who use them to justify their sweeping negative attitudes about entire groups.

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