Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Reinterpreting Wesley Snipes

Wesley Snipes, by Laura B. Randolph
Ebony Magazine, September 1991,
v.46 n.11 p84

Hollywood's Hottest New Star Talks About: His Divorce, His Days on the Streets and Why He Doesn't Have 'Jungle Fever'

"I like a woman who is aware of her womaness in its universal form; a woman who isn't defined by what she's been told, or what she's been dictated to believe she's supposed to be. Those are the women who attract me. Women who allow that to embody them . . . and at the same time they're not in conflict with you because you're a man. They see the interconnectedness and the necessity of having a man--not a boy or male but a man--in their life. A woman who has that going on, she will grab my attention every time."

And, unlike the object of his onscreen character's desire, she probably won't be White. Though he allows, "If two people love one another that should be all that matters," offscreen, Wesley Snipes definitely doesn't have jungle fever. "It's more important to me to try and develop a good . . . relationship between a Black man and a Black woman," he says. 'That's the agenda right now and that's totally where my head is -- to redefine the image of Black male/female relationships and how important and valuable they are. We have to work on that tip. Once we work on that and relate to one another on a personal, professional, sexual and social sense, then we can venture out. Until then, we ain't ready for it."

Wesley Snipes, by Lynn Norment
Ebony Magazine, November 1997, v.53 n.1 p188

On the personal level, Snipes, a divorced father of a "precocious" 8-year-old son, Jelani, says he enjoys spending time with "spirited" women. "Either the hot-headed ones or the ones who just think they're divas," he explains. "I like them because they have spice and creativity. I like a woman who reads. I think a number of my
relationships [ended] because she didn't read and we didn't have anything to talk about.... But I'm not into the ones who want to jump up and fight and get loud. That's not my flavor."

The Asian model and restaurateur he introduces as "my lady, Donna [Wong]" has been Snipes' companion for the past year and a half. When asked if he dates Black women, he says: "Primarily all of my life I've dated Black women.... Oh, most definitely. Oh, my God. Mostly. But it just so happens that now I'm dating an Asian woman. It's different. Different energy, different spirit, but a nice person." He says he is not ready for marriage; nor is Donna. "She's got to learn to deal with the love scenes in the movies first," says Snipes as he chuckles. "Got to get to a place where it's very comfortable."

Wesley says he realizes that there are Black women still who get an attitude about Black men with Asian, White or Hispanic women. "I know we've all been hurt, and we're all very wounded," he says, addressing Black women. "We have to acknowledge that, both male and female, in the Black experience. We're a wounded people. And we want to possess and we want to own. We don't want to compromise. We feel like we've compromised enough. But in any relationship you have to compromise. There's no way around it. And I say to Black women also, Brothers who are very, very successful, or who have become somewhat successful, usually it's been at a great expense, unseen by the camera's eye.... "He doesn't want to come home to someone who's going to be mean and aggravating and unkind and who is going to be `please me, please me.' He doesn't want to come home to that. He doesn't want to come home to have a fight with someone who is supposed to be his helpmate. So it's very natural that he's going to turn to some place that's more compassionate.... You've worked hard and you deserve to come home to comforting. And usually a man who has that will appreciate it. Because I've never known one cat, all those cats I've hung out with and still hang out with, who found something that they really, really like and didn't go back to it. They all go back. It's very simple."

When asked for clarification, Snipes emphasizes that he is not saying that a Black woman can not be that type of woman a man wants to come home to. "Not at all," he declares. "Absolutely not. That's the point. I want to come home and I don't want to argue. I want to be pleasing, but if I ask you to get me a glass of water, you're going to say, `Them days is over.' Please. Come on," Wesley says. "A man likes that. I don't know why. It's been that way forever. It makes him proud, you know, like when the guys come over and your lady comes out with a tray of food and says `I made this up for you.' And the guys are like, `Oh man, you've got a great women.' And the man says, `Yeah, I do.' A man will appreciate it when you're kind and when you're nice. "For successful women, it's hard," he continues, obviously quite comfortable and articulate on the subject of relationships. "The competition is fierce. And if he's a man of success and power who happens to be handsome, of course you're not the only one who thinks he's handsome. But you don't have to punish him because of that once you get with him. Don't punish him because somebody else likes him."

Continuing with his openness, Snipes says he's had his heart broken more than once, and at times by Black women. "Most definitely. Most definitely," he says. In his new film, the dramatic love-triangle "One Night Stand" hearts are broken as Snipes' character is caught in a love triangle between two beautiful women--one of whom is blond(Nastassja Kinski), the other Asian (Ming-Na Wen) . . .

"One Night Stand" originally was written for Nicholas Cage, but Cage was preoccupied with another film. The director sought Snipes because he wanted someone with a strong acting background but who also would be attractive to Nastassja Kinski. "It was never an issue of the interracial aspect at all," Snipes says, adding that "the only thing we don't have in this film is a Sister."

He says there were discussions concerning whether his character's wife should be Black or whether she should be White. "Early on there were concerns about the Black community reminiscing to Jungle Fever, and missing the point of the story," he says. "So we didn't want to go that route. And I've done a lot of movies where I've had White women as my co-stars. That would have been kind of redundant. So I said, `Well, let me go either Spanish or Asian. That's something unusual.'"

Wesley Snipes has been in the news recently primarily because of his troubles with the Internal Revenue Service. The 45-year-old actor was sentenced last month to three years in prison on three misdemeanor counts of willful failure to file income tax returns since 1998. Wesley Snipes has long been notorious among black women, however, for a different reason—for his being an icon of the specific type of interracial dater that black people often state they resent above all others: the one who not only dates “outside his race,” but justifies his doing so by insulting and belittling the members of the opposite sex of his own race. This loathsome reputation was earned by Mr. Snipes through the above statements quoted from at length above from the second article featured in Ebony magazine where he discloses his relationship with Ms. Wong, who is apparently now his wife.

I remember reading this article, and yes, finding it pretty offensive. It seemed to rely implicitly on the most common stereotypes about black women (“mean and aggravating and unkind, argumentative, unyielding, blah, blah, blah). Yet, at the same time, I tried to take Snipes at his word, and view his words from the perspective that he claimed to be offering them, as equally applicable to both black men and black women in the dating world. And viewing his statements from a gender neutral perspective (even if he did not actually express them in that way), he articulated an uncomfortable but very real factor that does haunt many relationships between black people, romantic and otherwise: the way that the stresses we face as a people in the larger society effect the manner in which we interact with each other.

Typically, those black people who oppose IRRs who bother to formulate a non-emotional rationale for their opposition usually found their reasoning on the belief that no other people can understand this stress, this “woundedness” that Snipes refers to, and that attempting to explain to clueless non-black (especially white) partners what we have to cope with would only add stress to a relationship. How would you feel coming home to a white husband or wife after being called a “nigger” in traffic? Or worse, being denied a job you were qualified for, or a promotion you had earned? Could they even comprehend what it means when you show up for an interview which HR had expressed nothing but enthusiasm about, only to see their faces fall when YOU walk through the door? Can they really empathize when you express frustration with always being last hired and first fired, with always having to be twice as good to get half as far? What if your lover, your best friend, that one person who is supposed to have your back, dismissed your distress, and suggested that you simply wore the wrong shoes or hairstyle, or someone else was just more “qualified”?

However, what Snipes expressed was the other side of this equation—what if coming home to someone who doesn’t bear that particular burden is not additionally stressful, but less so? Are there benefits to sharing life with someone with a “different energy,” as he put it?

One of the main reasons that black women have often reacted with such knee-jerk resentment to IRRs is precisely because, too often, black men’s preference for non-black women is expressed in terms of such women possessing a “lightness” and “ease” that black women do not—a lightness that, to the extent it exists, comes at least in part from not having the same kind of struggles with our society that black men try to escape by pursuing non-black women, and, of course, from having a level of support as women from their men that black women have not enjoyed. To be rejected not only because you bring the same involuntarily shouldered burdens to the relationship as the man, but also the additional burdens of his neglect, hostility and exploitation, has often been too much for black women to bear.

As Halima’s concept of racio-misogyny articulates, for some black men, sexism against black women is not merely a function of gender but also of race—resentment is derived as much from black women’s nappy hair, dark skin, broad features, “lack of femininity,” the way in which her blackness precludes her from being the trophy that Snipes describes (“the guys are like, `Oh man, you've got a great women.' And the man says, `Yeah, I do. ”)--as it is from her being a woman. His words here remind me of the scene in “Their Eyes Were Watching God” in which Tea Cake brags about the fair-skinned Janie’s susceptibility to bruising after a beating. Black equals strong, loud, unsusceptible to bruising--mule-like in toughness and resiliency. As Snipes notes, a man wants to be proud of his woman: he wants someone pleasing, someone compromising, someone compassionate—to him. But as Snipes acknowledges in passing, black women, who must cope with many of the same stresses as black men, plus others that black men don’t experience, may also want these some qualities in a mate. And while black women are constantly discouraged from being too black, too loud, too angry and too tough, these qualities are considered the sine qua non of black manhood in our society. When a black woman finds a man who is comfortable in his manhood without the barrier of this armor, is she expected not to find the experience as appealing as all the black men who have lauded the comparative “softness” of non-black women?

I have always argued that there is no group in Western society that is more restricted from being gentle, nurturing, vulnerable, and humane than black men. Our history makes it clear how this restriction has occurred, as well as it’s tragic results. But, today, much of the enforcement of “hardness” for black men in our society comes from other black men and the “community” at large. Robbed of other avenues of achieving manhood, too many brothers settle for a caricature of masculinity that consists of little more than the ability to brutalize and exploit others without conscience. And while we must always remember the historical roots of this tragic phenomenon, as black women, we are not somehow obligated to lay down and sacrifice ourselves too it. We, like Mr. Snipes, have a right to enjoy a “different energy” in our intimate relationships, to be respected, to be pleased, to come home to peace and compromise. Certainly, that energy can be found with a black man—but it might also be found with a non-black man, and if it is, you should feel no more guilt or shame about that fact than Mr. Snipes. While many have argued that a to reject a damaged brother, especially one damaged by racism, when you have it in your power to nurture him “back to health” is a betrayal, your first concern must always be what cost will such nurturance impose on you? Certainly the mean, aggravating, unkind women that Mr. Snipes left behind for Ms. Wong could probably use some “nurturance” as well, but is that really Mr. Snipes’ responsibility? Would it even be the most effective way for him to have a positive impact on his people’s well being as a whole—to attempt to save one angry woman from herself? In the same way, we as black women must be grateful when we find that “different energy” in our personal relationships, that peace and security that allows us to blossom in every aspect of our lives, and empowers us to be that much more effective in all that we do. We deserve that as much as Mr. Snipes.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"Married White but Dislikes Whites"

The title of this post was the heading for a thread on Black Voices discussing the following article:

Cobb officials critical of commissioner's comments: Annette Kesting was to speak at church about black history

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 04/07/08

Cobb County commissioners voiced support of county employees Monday in reaction to an inflammatory speech fellow Commissioner Annette Kesting gave at a Marietta church recently.

"It is unfortunate that commissioner Kesting would comment on race and religion, which has no bearing on how our employees perform their duties and serve the public," Commissioner Helen Goreham said Monday morning.

Commissioner Tim Lee said of Kesting's remarks: "It is safe to say, I don't share her point of view on the employees or the work environment."

An official with the Anti-Defamation League called Kesting's comments "unfortunate."

"Some of her remarks sounded offensive to me," said Bill Nigut, southeast director of the Anti-Defamation League, "but I wish we would just get past just reacting and find a way to deal with discussing race in an environment free from accusation."

Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Marietta had invited Kesting, the county's first black commissioner, to speak as part of the church's 21st Annual Black History Celebration.

But in a rambling half-hour speech, Kesting decided to touch on other topics as well, including what it is like to work in the county government headquarters.

In an interview last week, she stood by her comments, but later softened her position.

"I love my enemies. I pray every day with my enemies because I have to go up on the third floor and work with white women," she said in her Feb. 17 speech, which was captured on a video for sale at the 1,200-member church.

Kesting, the lone Democrat on the county board, said she had been "lied on" and "talked about" as commissioner and added that she senses "evilness" surrounding her when she goes into the office.

"You would be amazed seeing the people I work with at the county. They are not Christian people," Kesting said.

Kesting told the audience that "you can't blame everything on the white man" and mentioned that she married one. She continued: "A lot of white folks are mad because I married a white man because I am a black woman," she said. "Why? They would marry a black man if he got money. OK?"

Last week, Kesting said she does not count white women among her enemies, despite what she told the church. She also said she represents people from other religions in her racially diverse south Cobb district and gets along with them.

Kesting said she used her speech to respond to questions she said she got from the public about what it is like to serve as the first African-American commissioner in the county. She said her talk was in keeping with the theme she was invited to address.

"My remarks at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church were intended to motivate and inspire women in the church to keep moving towards a better life for themselves and their families," she said in a statement she issued through a county spokesman Friday. "I am really sorry that my remarks offended some members of the church and hope that we as a community can continue to work together."

James Jackson Jr., chairman of the church's deacon ministry, said Kesting may have dwelled on herself too long in her speech, but he wouldn't mind having her back to speak . . .

Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens, who is Jewish, said he was not offended by Kesting's comments about non-Christians because he sensed she was talking about "loving God" as opposed to criticizing other religions. But he said he was "embarrassed" about how the church might view the county after Kesting's speech.

"The county embraces the diversity of our residents and views that diversity as a strength," Olens said. "It is unfortunate when personal comments detract from our service to the community."

Needless to say, the spin that was placed on Commissioner Kesting's rather odd (as described) speech at Black Voices was that she "hates white people but married a white person--why"?

This reaction reminded me of how one of my cousins responded when I told him I was dating a white man -- "You?! Soul sister #1?" He's always teased me about being so "militant," so me dating a white man to him was just grist for the mill.

The serious issue, of course, is whether it is possible for a black person to date a white person without larger racial issues intruding? If so, must the black partner in an interracial paring inevitably take a certain uncritical, racially "neutered" position? Can you love a white individual and still recognize and oppose white racism?

Many people would argue "no." One of the primary black criticisms of IRRs is the argument that who you choose to love reflects your own racial self-esteem, and that choosing to love a white person thus reflects a lack of self-love for one's black self, as well as contempt and lack of love for other black people.

Most of us here have long rejected such arguments; but I have seen them being raised again, such as in the context of my prior blog on standards: do you have lower standards for white men than black men? Is the "magic" of whiteness in our white supremacist society so powerful that many blacks will "settle" for a less than impressive white mate, just to somehow revel in their whiteness?

And yet, the question that such arguments always raise for me is what are we supposed to hate: racism or the white race? If it is racism, we should hate it whenever and wherever it manifests itself, and that includes among black people. As Halima has pointed out in discussing the phenomenon of "racio-misogyny," the black community has developed a particular hostility for black women that represents not only a sexist, but a racist dynamic; black women face contempt from other blacks not only for their womanhood, but specifically because of their black womanhood. Does this racio-misogyny thus preclude black women from having healthy relationships with black men? Should we only be partnering with other black women? Are we somehow "spitting in the faces" (as I have seen it phrased more than once) of our black female ancestors by being with black men despite black racio-misogyny?

Such arguments are clearly premised on the idea that your spouse's individual character cannot be separated from his race, and that differing races inevitably present an insurmountable barrier between lovers of different races. But, as I've argued above, this claim only makes sense to the degree that those with proper "self-esteem" can only fall in love with their clones.

A more subtle variation on this argument that I have encountered is the assertion that even if you happen to partner with a white person who isn't somehow representative of "whiteness" itself (including white racism), you and that person still live in different worlds. They enjoy white skin privilege and you don't; they will never understand what you face as a black person in the world, and can thus never provide you the succor and "soft place to fall" that a black person needs to thrive psychologically and emotionally in Western society.

This to me again, however, is a variation on the "clone" theme; it assumes that unless someone has shared an identical experience, they cannot possibly empathize with another's struggles with that experience. On the flipside, it also implies that as long as two people do share a similar experience on one plane, they will automatically empathize with one another, especially around issues deriving from their "common" experience. I hardly need to point out, that this is far from true.

In my own case, I am a black woman and my husband is a white man. He comes from an affluent, upper middle-class family, and I come from a working/middle-class family. He grew up in a tony suburb of NYC, and his father paid for his education in full. I grew up in working-class black city neighborhood in the Midwest, and paid my way through college and law school with student loans and scholarships. In other words, there are many differences between us-- substantial ones. But we both hate racism, sexism, and class oppression. We both love books and music. We both have the same sarcastic, irreverent sense of humor. He's even come to appreciate cats from having to live with them, since I am a package deal (I always come with a cat--just ask my mom!)

I have certainly been accused of "hating" whites, "hating" men, "hating" the rich, when what I hate is inequality and discrimination. For some people, hating the sin is inseparable from hating the sinner, and equating the sin to everyone who looks like the sinner is natural. But I don't think like that, and I believe most black women are capable of more nuanced and reasonable thought on the issues that confront us than the kind of simplistic dichotomies we are too often offered.

So no--I doubt Ms. Kesting hates whites, though she may well hate the white women she works with because of their treatment of her, or even because of her own misperceptions of that treatment--I won't prejudge them either. I don't think she is forbidden from being angry at, or pointing out, racism because her husband is white. Marrying a white person doesn't somehow mean you have "crossed over" to the other side, whatever that side is supposed to consist of. I am on the side of right. And the people who think they can recognize that side by the color of the people standing on it, are sadly in for a lifetime of unhappiness. I'm glad that we here know better!