Emmett Till Still Matters

What are the chances that the birthday of the late King of Pop, the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the most devastating natural disasters in American history and the anniversary of the death of civil rights icon Emmett Till would occur on the same weekend?

Most would say, slim to none.

Well the unlikely has occurred and three of the most monumental events in American history are being remembered this weekend. The birth of Michael Jackson, a legend and an icon has overshadowed the others because of the sudden nature of his death and the tragic circumstances surrounding it. Hurricane Katrina is getting some play in the media, but the recent death of the Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, has been at the top of the news cycle.

The anniversary of the death of Emmett Till has been a blip on the radar screen, save the announcement that his casket will become a part of the Smithsonian collection. Yes, the casket that was discarded along with many others in a Chicago cemetery now has a final resting place. Ironically, the reckless regard with which Till’s casket has been treated is reflective of how his memory and legacy has been treated by the media.

This is a young boy who was killed for whistling at a white woman, allegedly. He was murdered by grown men who dared leave his disfigured body to rot in the Tallahatchie river with a 70 pound cotton gin fan tied to his body with barbed wire. It was Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley, who had enough of black boys being murdered because of the color of their skin that insisted that her son’s body be shown to the world, so that people could truly see the face of racism.

It is interesting that on the 54th anniversary of Emmett Till’s senseless death, America is fixated on everything but the memory of this black boy. Funny, we can find how all things and topics relate to President Obama in the media, but not Emmett Till.

The same venom that has been spewed at President Obama is the same venom that put Emmett Till in the ground at 14 years of age and left a city full of poor people, most of whom were black, to die fifty years later.

The disfigured body of Emmett Till speaks to the disfigured face of Michael Jackson, a young, black man destroyed by racism in America in terms of beauty ideals. A young boy from Chicago gave racism a face, insisting that Americans look in the mirror and make some hard discoveries. Michael Jackson’s classic “Man in the Mirror” reflects that very sentiment.

It was Till’s tragic death that put into motion a civil rights movement that the United States had not seen previously. It was the death of this young boy that gave life to the possibility of a Black man becoming President of the United States, also from Chicago.

Till’s ravaged body reflected how black bodies — black lives were discarded during the Hurricane Katrina fiasco —left to rot in a city under water.

Michael Jackson, the survivors of Hurricane Katrina and Emmett Till have a shared legacy. Leave some space in your heart and your mind for Emmett Till this weekend.

Nsenga Burton, Ph.D. is managing editor of TheLoop21.com, where this article originally appeared. She is a cultural critic for Creative Loafing, writes the Pop Culture blog Tune N and is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College.


Ted Kennedy: The Lion Takes A Rest

Ted Kennedy died yesterday and I must say that I am sad. No he was not perfect, but he was consistent. Luckily for many, he did not become President but was allowed to work in the Senate, paving the way for the Voting Rights Act, Immigration Act of 1965 and the Anti-Apartheid Act which called for sanctions against South Africa, pressuring the country to end it’s racist regime. He symbolized what a Senator should be — a hard worker  for his constituents and the world community. He made his presence known and was involved in legislation that truly changed the face of the world. Ted Kennedy was one in a million and his leadership in the Senate will be truly missed.

Microsoft Plays into Racial Politics in Advertising

Microsoft swapped out a black man’s head for a white man’s head because they felt the people of Poland would not be able to relate to a black person in a business meeting. I know that there aren’t a lot of Blacks in Poland, but that isn’t giving Polish people a lot of credit. They cite racism in Poland as the cause. Really. Perhaps it’s racism in the people making the creative decisions that is the cause? I suspect there’s no causal link between advertisers who dare to determine what people can and cannot imagine, and racism against blacks that is a mainstay in Poland. I guess the Microsoft folks never thought that this ad with a black person in it could send a message of equality. Instead they cater to the familiar — racism in advertising and society.

Jasmine Fiore is Dead

Jasmine Fiore is dead. The young “model” was allegedly murdered by her former husband, reality TV contestant Ryan Jenkins — who was also found dead this past Sunday in British Columbia. You may know him from one of the worst reality television shows ever: Megan Wants a Millionaire, a program where certified skank Megan Hauserman has wealthy men vie for her love.

How did the concept for this reality show emerge? Hauserman was on yet another horrible reality show, Rock of Love — featuring that oh-so-desirable, washed-up musician Bret Michaels — in which she proudly stated that she wanted to be a “trophy wife.”

Unfortunately for Fiore and Hauserman, aspiring to be a “trophy wife” had dire consequences — the murder and mutilation of Fiore and the fact that Hauserman narrowly escaped “marrying” a man who would rather dismember his former wife and stuff her in a suitcase than allow her to see other people. I guess the producers of the reality show weren’t aware of Jenkins’ 2005 arrest for domestic assault, which was followed by a subsequent arrest for domestic battery against Fiore. That’s keeping it real, but I digress.

The idea of being a “trophy” wife is an outdated one because of many reasons, the most important being the type of person whom you invite into your life. Trophy wives are basically objects of desire. While many argue over the origin of the term and what it really means, it generally refers to a beautiful woman who is with a man because of his money and power.

She is supposed to be something lovely to look at — nothing more and nothing less. A man supposedly gains status from having this beautiful woman on his arm, who is present solely at his discretion. In exchange for looking good, she is “taken care of” financially by this powerful man. The only absolute is that she has to maintain her looks and not challenge her successful husband on anything. If everyone is clear on the rules, then what is the problem?

Men like Jenkins are the problem because in their twisted little minds, women are objects. Fiore was nothing but an object to be admired. Jenkins likely freaked out when someone else was “admiring” his possession and hit her. When that didn’t work, he killed her. Jenkins wasn’t alone. Unfortunately, Fiore was complicit in this, too.

Before you start the letter writing campaign, hear me out. No, I absolutely do not think that she deserved to be battered, murdered or mutilated; however, I do believe that perpetuating ideas about women through questionable actions leads to women being mistreated, abused and murdered by crazy men like Jenkins.

While it is tragic that her life ended as it did, this is a woman who made a living out of being objectified.

She was allegedly a Las Vegas stripper and a swimsuit “model.” There have been reports that she posed for Playboy magazine and made nude films. People can argue about what she did and didn’t do, but she clearly made money by exploiting her body. Do a Google search on Jasmine Fiore and you are hard pressed to find a photo in which she is not scantily clad.

Fiore clearly understood that if she had a certain look, then she would be able to get what she wanted out of life and out of men. In her defense, these weak men are out there and can be easily obtained. But living with them isn’t always easy, as was the case with Jenkins.

Jenkins was a successful real estate developer and investor. This was a guy who was clearly used to getting what he wanted. Fiore was undoubtedly an object that Jenkins had to possess. She was willing until he proved to be off-center. By then it was too late. She had already presented herself as a “trophy wife,” and he had already decided in his mind that she had little value other than that of an object to be possessed. When she decided she was more than that, he had to remind her that she was not, so he killed her.

I’m not sure why we’re still pretending to be shocked that this crime happened. It happens every day. We teach little girls that they are nothing more than their genitalia and little boys that they won’t be real men unless they have a ton of money and a pretty woman on their arm.

Why are we surprised that yet another young woman is dead? When women allow men to objectify them or when women willingly objectify themselves, it is not a far stretch to end up in little pieces in a suitcase. Jenkins literally dismembered her as if she were an object and put her in a suitcase to carry around, much like a trophy. She lived as an object and died as an object.

Women must stop being complicit in their objectification by engaging in behaviors that attract the wrong kind of men — weak, shallow and cowardly. Ryan Jenkins was lame — the big, bad man hung himself when authorities were closing in on him. He is symbolic of the type of man who desires a trophy wife: a man who is afraid of the challenge of dealing with a whole woman and the consequences of killing a confused, young woman. Unfortunately, Jasmine Fiore paid the ultimate price for getting “trophy wifed.”

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.  She is also managing editor of TheLoop21.com and an Assistant professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College. Follow her on twitter @ntellectual.

Are Health Care ‘Town Halls’ Really That Bad?

OK. Enough is enough. Have these town hall meetings on health care reform really run amok or have we?

I must say that I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I turn on the television and see people fussing and fighting, pushing and shoving, yelling and threatening, bullying and harassing others in a “town hall” forum, which is supposed to be just that — a forum.

The Democrats steadily blame the Republicans for planting “hostile” people at these events, while the Republicans steadily blame the Democrats for doing the same. I don’t really care whose doing it, but I do care that in these news reports, very little of what people are talking about at these forums gets any press. Instead, it is presented as one major brawl, focused on irate folks who are destroying what should be a pretty simple process. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the media is lapping up these verbal and physical altercations instead of shedding light on a complex issue.

Clearly, there must be some town hall forums on health care reform that have gone as planned, with little to no drama, other than the challenging task of discussing a sensitive issue.

Why are these forums not being talked about or reported on in the mainstream media? Why is the media focused on the extremists as opposed to the rational folk who want to hear all sides before making a decision? I hear people all of the time, in grocery store lines, on the subway, at the airport, discussing the health care reform issue, and they are not shouting at each other, even though many disagree with each other. Why can’t we find these “regular” folks on the evening news?

Perhaps the insertion of a video camera inspires sheer lunacy because that is what appears to be rewarded in TV land. Are people performing for the cameras or are they truly so simple that they don’t know the difference between making an important point, and making fools out of themselves?

The line between what’s real and imagined has become way too blurry. Folks allow themselves to be mistreated and abused in order to be on TV. Big Brother, Hell’s Kitchen, Real Housewives, Fear Factor, Hitched or Ditched and a slew of relationship programming on VH1 like Real Chance of Love fit the bill. A reality show is only “real” if there is a brawl, fistfight or someone is being embarrassed or humiliated. Now it seems as if the news is applying this perverted standard to whether or not a town hall meeting on health care should be covered.

I suppose adults actually having a mature conversation about an extremely complex issue would make for boring television. I for one would like to hear what people have to say on both sides of the issue. People who are for universal health care are not on the same page about how to get there. People who are against health care reform don’t feel that way for the same reasons. That is the purpose of the “town hall” discussion, so that the information is out there, and people can make informed decisions.

When news broadcasts appear to be taking their cues from reality television, then Houston, we have a problem. (read more)

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic. She is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College and managing editor of TheLoop21.com.

Will Somebody Please Protect the Nation’s First Black President?

Enough is enough. President Barack Hussein Obama must be protected against zealots who are using every opportunity to harass, bully and intimidate supporters and the President by traipsing around with guns. At a protest in Phoenix, 12 people were carrying guns — one with a military style rifle, where the President of the United States of America was speaking. Let me state that again — The President of the United States of America.

Supposedly these gun rights advocates were permitted to operate in this “unsafe” space, because it is their constitutional right.  Is it their constitutional right to harass and intimidate people with the presence of guns at a protest about health care reform? Do their 2nd Amendment rights supersede my 1st amendment right to assemble or protest without the threat of violence? I am repulsed at the sheer and utter depraved indifference that law enforcement took with the President’s life by allowing these bullies to march around with rifles.  Just what are they protecting and who are they defending? I know — fear, racism and vengeance.  Not much has changed in this so-called time of change.

Some white men still think that it is their right to control everything including a person’s movement. The policing of bodies, especially of Blacks and women is as American as apple pie, and some racist and sexist holdovers won’t let go. When change comes, they do everything in their power to stop it, including relying on traditional modes of invoking and instilling fear in their perceived opponent.

Allowing this type of repugnant, venomous and abusive behavior to occur and to fester can lead to only one thing — another massacre or presidential assassination.  Why people need assault weapons at a gathering about health care, I don’t know.  Why they are allowed to operate in that fashion is even more bewildering. Nothing good has ever come from extremists with guns.

To allow people to have assault weapons in the same space as the President of the United States is unconscionable.  Not only are attendees at risk, but so is the life of the President of the United States of America.  Do we not value his life as much as other presidents because of the color of his skin? If that is the case, then that is the same perverted ideology that drives these gun rights activists over the edge.

They are not hiding their racism behind gun rights — they are in fact tying their racism to gun rights, which is as scary as being greeted at a forum by a gun-toting bigot who thinks his life means more than yours. I ask will somebody, anybody please protect innocent people and the nation’s first Black president?

This article originally appeared on TheLoop21.com, where Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. serves as managing editor. She is a cultural critic for Creative Loafing, writes the pop cultural blog Tune N, and is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College.

What’s So Real About the ‘Real Housewives’?

It seems that Real Housewife of Atlanta’s Lisa Wu Hartwell lost her home. The bank foreclosed on it and she is reporting that they are now living in a house that sits on ten acres. For real? Sounds like another foreclosure is in the works.

Do two adults and one child really need 10 acres?

Wu Hartwell now joins the other cast members Nene Leakes and Sheree Whitfield in having homes foreclosed on since last season. The only one who seems to have moved on up is Kim Zolciak who is an admitted gold digger who juiced her married “Big Poppa” for cars, clothes, jewelry and homes. I’m just wondering why she can’t get enough money to tighten up that wig. But I digress.

The Real Housewives of Atlanta
highlight what’s wrong with Americans and why we are in so much debt. We are so wedded to keeping up with the Jones’ that we are barely keeping up.

How much debt could you possibly be in that you cannot keep a home in Atlanta when starring on a widely successful reality show?

But that’s right, none of them actually live in Atlanta just like last year’s DeShawn Snow was renting her “mansion.” I’ve seen mansions before and the homes of the Real Housewives of Atlanta do not compare.

They are so transparent that I’m trying to find out just who in the world they are trying to impress?

What’s not impressive? Being a fashion designer who doesn’t know a thing about fabrics, design or sewing; being a singer but you are vocally challenged; pretending to live an NFL lifestyle when in fact it is clear you are the breadwinner and hubby is along for the ride; calling people “ghetto,” when many people would describe you as country and ghetto; acting like you’re happy to be engaged to a man with six children when you’re obviously settling; pretending to be friends and hating on each other at every given moment.

There’s nothing really “real” about the Real Housewives of Atlanta except for their propensity to make fools of themselves. The saddest part about it is that they keep stumbling along, creating debt and projecting a lifestyle that they truly cannot afford and certainly not on their own, with the exception of Wu Hartwell and Kandi Burruss.

Tune in for the drama, because the show is definitely entertaining. Just know that the only thing real about this show is that these ladies are posers and like most of us, one paycheck away from the poor house.

This article originally appeared on TheLoop21.com, where Nsenga serves as managing editor.