Seydi Burciaga is More Than a News Story

Seydi Burciaga is a young woman who died last week in the floods that ravaged Atlanta. Out of the 10 people who died, how is it exactly that I know Burciaga? I know of her because I had the displeasure of hearing her 911 call right before she drowned. How did I hear it? I heard it on the television tabloid news show Inside Edition when I was channel surfing. I suspect that it’s all over the Web; however, I’m not into hearing people take their last breath, so I haven’t checked.

The point is that this tape was allowed to air. You know what they didn’t say about Seydi Burciaga? They did not say that she had just finished her overnight shift at Sam’s Club, where she worked for the past 10 years. She was trying to get home in the pouring rain in her minivan and turned into her cul-de-sac in suburban Atlanta.

Seydi Burciaga was three-tenths of a mile from home, her husband and two young children, when she drowned.

Now, guess what those two young children get to hear? The sound of their mother, who was completely terrified and panicked by the way, before she takes her last breath, compliments of the media that has run amuck.

I cannot believe the lack of news judgment exhibited by Inside Edition and other media outlets that followed. Even the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a newspaper that I read every day, ran the transcript of Seydi’s 911 call to the operator, with the following disclaimer: “Editor’s note: Because of the sensitive nature of the call, has decided not to post the audio of Seydi Burciaga’s conversation with 911. What follows is the complete transcript, obtained from Gwinnett County 911. You can also read our story about the call.”

My question is, if it is that damned sensitive, why post it at all? Really — does hearing someone facing death add any value to anyone’s day? If it does, please get some help. Just exactly how does the sound of a tormented mother qualify as news? I am completely disgusted that this woman’s final moments would be exploited for financial gain, and that no one at any of these “media” outlets spoke up or out against running this story. Was there no one whose conscience called?

Therein lies the problem with media today. The line between what qualifies as news and sensationalism has completely blurred. The use of Seydi Burciaga’s final moments to generate ratings and thus advertising dollars is unconscionable. We have thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan dying to protect our freedom and this is what we do with it? Is this what they’re dying for — the freedom to allow us to exercise poor judgment and bad taste in the name of “quality” programming? (read this article in its entirety)

This story originally appeared in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.


The Madea Mystique: Tyler Perry’s Class Conflict

In Charles Burnett’s classic film Killer of Sheep (1977), the mother in the film played brilliantly by Kaycee Moore, scolds her son for calling her “Ma Dear” because it sounds “country and back woods.” Shot in black and white, Burnett’s cinematic masterpiece takes place in Watts and highlights the class division that is rearing its ugly head in contemporary debates about the character of Madea, found in Tyler Perry’s plays and films.

African Americans have a love/hate relationship with Madea — the gun-toting, trash talking, frumpy old lady who demands respect at all costs.  Film mogul Perry plays the character of Madea, who spews venom and homespun wisdom simultaneously. A film scene that can have one falling out laughing is the same scene that will have someone else clutching her pearls. This varied response to the character of Madea highlights class conflicts that viewer’s experience when interacting with this character.

To some she is hilarious and on point; to others, she is yet another example of the degradation of Black women by continuing to perpetuate the stereotype of the Mammy. Some argue that she’s not a Mammy figure, but I would argue that she is a neo-form of a Mammy – possesses all of the characteristics of the Mammy figure (heavy set, asexual, cantankerous, protector of the home) with a psychological twist (free thinking, influential, strategic thinker).

What’s most interesting about this character is the ire directed at Madea and not at Perry, who is making millions by continuing to produce films starring Madea.  Yes, another Black man playing a fat, Black woman is making more money than any fat, Black woman has made playing a fat, Black woman, save Oprah Winfrey’s turn as Sophia in The Color Purple (1985). Perry has used the character of Madea to turn himself into a household name, stacking millions in the process.

So, love her or hate her, the character of Madea is here to stay if for no other reason than it has been proven over and over again that movies featuring Madea like characters, succeed. Gone with the Wind (1939) – $198,655,278; The Nutty Professor (1996) – $128,769,345; Nutty Professor II The Klumps (2000) – $123,307,945; Big Momma’s House (2000) – $117,559,438; and yes, even Bringing Down the House (2003), which grossed $133,000,000. This is just in the United States, and we won’t even mention television.

People forget that Hollywood is an industry that is invested in perpetuating stereotypes of all groups. Why? Stereotypes are a type of cultural short-hand that allow people to connect with a character, having never met anyone who remotely resembles said character.  That doesn’t make it right – it just is what it is. (read more)

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

Congressional Black Caucus: Party with a Purpose

If one more person asks me which Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) events I’m going to attend this week, I will scream. Why? Because the organization that came together to support causes that protect the interests of African-Americans in Congress and society has been reduced to a week where thousands of Black leaders, professionals, lawmakers, business people come together to kick it, in style. What’s the problem? Nothing except the fact that the CBC is much more than that.

Yes, the “Who’s Who” of Black America descend on Chocolate City to see and be seen at some of the nation’s most exclusive events. I’m not mad that the CBC and others know how to host and properly entertain its constituents. More than 15,000 people come to the city for this conference each year, so the hospitality should be great. It is well deserved and I appreciate a city that welcomes Black people and Black money and an organization whose events reflect the style and class of Black America, that is all but invisible in many other arenas.

However, it is unnerving that so many people are invested in the party piece of the conference as opposed to the most important part, which is addressing issues that are relevant to Black America. This is why the conference exists.

Like the legendary parties, the CBC Foundation’s (CBCF) 39th Annual Legislative Conference offers some of the best programming around on socio-economic issues that impact Black people. This year’s conference is dedicated to examining the economy. For example, there is a National Town Hall Meeting from 8:30-11:45 a.m., on September 24 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Under the title “Economic Recovery and Opportunity,” the panel will feature policy makers and experts from the corporate and business world who will discuss methods on how to survive and thrive in these financially turbulent times. The panel is a reflection of the conference’s overall theme Reinvest, Rebuild, Renew. (click here to read this article in its entirety)

See a photo gallery of high-profile people expected at the Congressional Black Caucus conference this week.

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

In Life and Facing Death, Patrick Swayze Forged His Own Path


Iconic dancer and actor Patrick Swayze passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

I put “dancer” before “actor” because he grew up dancing in his mother’s dance studio and eventually made his way into acting. I remember hearing that he was sick and seeing the photos of a once fantastic-looking man becoming pale and gaunt and a shell of his former self. I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear that someone is ill, especially with cancer, I literally get sick to my stomach. Why? Because cancer is a beast, and I have watched too many wonderful people succumb to one form of it or another.

Swayze’s illness struck me because my paternal grandfather also died from the disease in 1998. He too was a good-looking old guy (much older than Swayze) with so much energy and enthusiasm. I loved my grandpa so much because he was always happy to see us. He always greeted us with a smile and spoiled us as grandparents do. When I heard that my grandpa was sick, I immediately felt nauseated — and then went to see about him. The first time I saw him after the diagnosis, he looked like the Grandpa Earl I remember — a strong, robust man. The last time that I saw him alive, however, pancreatic cancer had literally eaten him away, and so quickly.

As I watched Patrick Swayze decline in the public eye, I thought about the toll this illness was taking on a man once known for his physical power and prowess on the dance floor; that was the part of the illness my grandpa hated the most. Swayze was also loved for his ability to work around Hollywood, a town known for fluff, yet maintain his good ol’ boy charm. After his success with Dirty Dancing, the industry tried desperately to put him in the sex-object box. People pulled on him from multiple directions — he was asked to endorse a cologne and to record an album, but he resisted, wanting to be something other than what Hollywood imagined him to be. (more)

This article originally ran in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga K. Burton serves as cultural critic. She is also managing editor for and Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College.

In Defense of Serena Williams

I get it. Serena Williams made a huge mistake when she allowed her anger to take her to a place where no professional of any field should ever go. I definitely think that she deserved to be admonished and fined.

But enough is enough and the witch hunt should cease. Yes, I meant witch hunt because anyone who watches tennis, knows that commentators, spectators and the like have been laying in the cut waiting for an opportunity to pounce on the Williams sisters. Yes, I said it and I mean it.

Over the years, they have put up with sheer and utter foolishness — being booed outrageously at Indian Wells, talked about like dogs because of their sense of fashion and bullied for having the audacity to even get hurt. The fact that their injuries result in immediate questioning about their “loyalty” to the game from commentators is absurd. Positioning them as lazy because they don’t play every single tennis tournament is asinine. Why play small tournaments, when you win most of the Grand Slams?

At any rate, they have endured and I must say that what is most shocking to me is that it took so long for one of the Williams sisters to snap. Playing in a grand slam tournament is stressful enough, but add all of the other mess they have to deal with on top of it, and I’m not surprised at what happened. What we witnessed this past weekend was a Black woman fed-up with having to be “nice” about being disrespected and maligned on and off the court.

Serena, the defending champion, was about to lose the match based on a bad call — a foot fault that wasn’t. What could have been her 12th Grand Slam win, was being taken away from her.

Yes, she was losing and probably would have lost, but give Kim Clijsters the opportunity to dispose of her properly and give Serena Williams the opportunity to rally, which she has done on multiple occasions. But a foot fault?

I do not believe that Roger Federer or Andy Roddick or Kim Clijsters who has fought long and hard to get back to where she is now, would have gently shrugged their shoulders and walked off the court when facing a loss at a grand slam tournament by a foot fault, especially as the defending champion. Can you imagine if that had happened to John McEnroe during his heyday?

But I am pontificating, since that would probably NEVER happen to one of them, especially as defending champions, for some strange reason. (read more)


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — aka PETA — has done it again. Yes, the self-righteous, protector of all living things, has managed to ruin a great idea by following what must be a successful strategy: objectifying women.

The last time the organization did something so foolish was when PETA ran advertisements during the Super Bowl showing scantily clad women engaging in sex acts and gyrating with vegetables. The group that was hopping mad about Michael Vick’s abuse of animals ran an ad campaign that objectified women in a very traditional, stereotypical way. I guess they decided to overlook the studies that link the sexualization of women to domestic abuse and sexual violence against women.

Instead of addressing the issue — cruelty to animals — head-on, PETA made a poor attempt at being subversive at best and tongue-in-cheek at worst, highlighting only one thing: the continued hypocrisy of the organization.

PETA is full of contradictions. It seems as if they want to put Michael Vick in a gas chamber, but have folks like Pamela Anderson as a spokesperson. Now how exactly can you advocate for a “natural” lifestyle, like being a vegetarian, when you’re completely unnatural (hair, breasts, nails, etc.)? Don’t abuse animals but abuse women by making them sexual objects in Super Bowl ads?

PETA has great goals, which is why I never quite understood why they insist on undermining them with ridiculous and mean-spirited ad campaigns. This is an organization that takes itself very seriously, but does not take the treatment of humans seriously at all.

In its recent “Save the Whales” TV ad, an outline of an obese woman in a bikini is positioned next to the words “Lose the blubber: Go vegetarian.” Likening women to whales and trying to convey an important message at the expense of fat people. Classy. I guess whoever designed that ad never read Judy Blume’s classic, Blubber. If he or she did, they would know the damage that this kind of language causes.

A so-called high-brow organization continues to take the low road in an effort to get people energized around their message, which is … what exactly? The group’s president, Ingrid Newkirk, thinks that all actions are justified if it will highlight the “cause” of PETA. Fat people suck. Women are bitches and whores. Men are Neanderthals who can only receive messages if some young, hot, sexy girl is giving it to them. (more)

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

Rep. Joe Wilson: Have You Seen SC Politics Lately?

Yesterday during President Obama’s speech on health care, Republican South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson shouted “You Lie”. Democrats and Republicans have condemned the act as they should.

Like many racist White folks that are just enraged by the mere presence of a Black man in White House, Rep. Joe Wilson has clearly lost his mind. Heckling the president while he’s in the middle of making a speech? In my mind that doesn’t make him any different than the moron journalist who threw shoes at President Bush in Iraq last year. It was completely inappropriate behavior, lacked decorum and was dangerous. People defended Muntathar al-Zaidi as an act of protest, but I felt he was throwing those shoes at America. Even if you don’t like our representative, which I did not, there is no reason for that action, cultural norm or not.

Having said that, Rep. Wilson is out of line and his inappropriate behavior is not befitting that of a member of Congress. If we accept this type of behavior, how far away are we from all out brawl on the Congressional floor like some other so-called first-world countries?

What I find most appalling is that Rep. Wilson thinks that he is allowed to do this because of his extreme racism against President Obama. Imagine a politician from South Carolina feeling the need to call someone a liar? He did not call Governor Mark Sanford, an admitted infidel who lied about going hiking, when he spent state funds to go kick it with his “girlfriend” in Columbia – Latin America, not Columbia, SC. (more)

This article originally appeared as Joe Wilson: Heckling Obama is Unacceptable on, where Nsenga serves as managing editor.