Dr. Nsenga K. Burton on Fox News 45

This is a link to me discussing Internet Slang in a segment produced by Fox 45 News in Baltimore.



One to Watch: Don’t Blame it on the Lettuce Brings Back Storytelling

Every once in a while, you see a film that really has something to say. A film that doesn’t tie up all of the loose ends so that we can feel better after watching it. A film that displays the real challenges of life, marriage and relationships. A film by a first-time feature director that makes you think, “this cat has what it takes.” I felt that feeling when watching Don’t Blame the Lettuce, an indie film directed by David Jones. It is a film about the ups and downs of relationships, how these relationships are interconnected to other aspects of our lives and the impossibility of a perfect love even when things look perfect from the outside. Jones takes us into a real-world scenario with which many can identify. He does this effortlessly because of his keen ability to tell stories. What is sad but very true is the fact that the art of storytelling in film is all but gone. With the exception of a few indie and art house pictures each year, the vast majority of films produced fail at telling a decent story. A good story with solid performances by Rod Smart, Ayana Vines and Kendrick Cross, pull the viewer into the narrative. It’s amazing what happens when you know the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, which Jones clearly does. This is a solid effort that leaves me wanting to see more from this director.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. writes Tune N. She also serves as  cultural critic for Creative Loafing and is a regular contributor to theRoot.com.

Forgotten American Hero: Larry Doby

ehind every great hero is another great hero. Have you ever heard the name Jackie Robinson? You’re probably from another planet if you haven’t. Ever heard the name Larry Doby? Well, you’re probably from this planet if you haven’t.

On June 1, 1947, exactly 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball, a man named Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League, taking the field for the Cleveland Indians. A native of Camden, S.C., Doby became the first African-American to play for the American League. While he changed history, moving baseball and society forward, his legacy has been obscured by America’s fascination with Jackie Robinson. Make no mistake about it, Robinson is a true American hero and icon; but Larry Doby deserves to be a part of America’s collective memory about baseball because of his contribution to the sport and subsequently American society.

Like Robinson, Doby played in the Negro Leagues. Raised in Paterson, N.J., Doby joined the Newark Eagles at age 17, leading them to the Negro League Championship in 1946. In 1947, he was signed by the Cleveland Indians and in 1948, Doby became the first black player to hit a home run in the World Series between Cleveland and the Boston Braves, which is the last time the Indians held a World Series title.

According to MLB.com, “Doby was a seven-time All-Star who batted .283 with 253 home runs and 970 RBI in 13 Major League seasons. The power-hitting center fielder paced the American League in home runs twice and collected 100 RBI five times, while leading the Indians to pennants in 1948 and 1954.”

Like Robinson, Doby suffered many injustices by being jeered by spectators, banned from hotels and restaurants and on the receiving end of threats and hate mail. Robinson received support from his fellow players Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges and Ralph Branca, but Doby received little to none from his.

Through it all, Doby endured, having a fantastic career in baseball. He was the third American to play professional baseball in Japan’s Nippon Professional League. After retiring, he was a coach for the Montreal Expos and Indians, becoming manager of the White Sox in 1978. He was the second African-American to become a manager in Major League Baseball, ironically behind Frank Robinson, who was the manager of the Cleveland Indians. Doby was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 and passed away in 2003.

While Robinson is celebrated, the contributions of Larry Doby are overshadowed at best and overlooked at worst. This is the tragedy that occurs when we allow others to choose our heroes for us. Before you start the hate mail, Jackie Robinson is undoubtedly one of the greatest American figures in modern history. I’m not trying to take anything away from him.

What I’m saying is that often when one person or story is held up, another is held down. Rosa Parks was not the first woman to refuse to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Ala. Nine months before her, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on the same bus system. Parks’ act of defiance sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which is why she is referred to as the “mother of the civil rights movement.” While Rosa Parks is part of our American history, how many people have even heard of Claudette Colvin?

Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the motion picture camera. While he was a great scientist, inventor and entrepreneur, his assistant William K. Dickson actually invented the motion picture camera — the kinetograph. It is Dickson’s celluloid film that set the standard for 35 mm that is still used today, but it is Edison who gets the credit because he owned the patents. It is Edison who is taught in classrooms, while Dickson is largely overlooked or ignored.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’m sure you get the gist. The point is that our society is so wedded to stories of triumph, that we often overlook those who were directly and indirectly involved with those triumphs.

Change and progress does not happen in a vacuum. When change actually appears, there has typically been something else driving it. Sometimes that “something else” is actually someone else. Typically, media institutions and those imbued with power dictate our collective history and choose our heroes. Often we follow along, not challenging or calling for the inclusion of others who have made a difference in our lives.

While many wear Robinson’s No. 42 each year to commemorate breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, I’m going to rock my Larry Doby No. 14 Cleveland Indians jersey. Not in protest but in celebration of the collective effort it took to change baseball and society itself.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is cultural critic for Creative Loafing. She writes the blog Tune N and is a regular contributor to TheRoot.com.

Pit Bulls in Charlotte: Status Symbol or Menace?

Is it just me or are there more pit bulls in Charlotte these days? I’ve seen the controversial breed of dog at parks, residential areas and being walked in Uptown by men and women.

I’m not a pit bull hater; I just understand quite clearly that pits are powerful dogs that are extremely protective. What worries me is that people seem to be acquiring them as status symbols — and that I see so many of the dogs with folks who don’t seem to be able to control them.

Not too long ago, I witnessed a woman attempting to walk her pit bull in high heels in Uptown. The dog looked like it was walking her as she teetered behind it, barely able to maintain her balance or keep the animal (which wasn’t wearing a muzzle) in check. I thought to myself: “Who is she trying to impress?” Clearly she wasn’t thinking about the safety of the dog, neighbors or fellow pedestrians.

Whether real or imagined, pit bulls have earned a reputation for being ruthless. TV personality Rachel Ray literally cried on her talk show because of the way that pit bulls are hated. Apparently, a city had passed a ban on the dogs, and she could not understand because, she said, they are such great dogs. Ray described her pit bull Isaboo as a gentle, loving and kind dog. (According to Radaronline.com, however, Isaboo has another side. The pooch has reportedly been involved in a number of attacks on fellow dogs, ripping the ear off of one. Perhaps those bans aren’t such a bad idea.)

Todd Young of Mount Holly said he had enough after his dog was recently attacked by a pit bull. He’s leading the charge to get pit bulls banned from Mecklenburg County after his greyhound was attacked without provocation by a pit bull that gouged his pet’s throat, feet, hind legs and ripped out a tooth.

Derrick Thomas of the University area was also recently involved in a pit bull attack. Thomas said he was getting out of his car to enter his house when a neighbor’s pit appeared. The dog rushed him, but luckily he was close enough to his car to escape. The dog then attacked a woman who was walking a puppy near his driveway.

Thomas was alerted to the attack when he heard the woman screaming. She attempted to scoop the puppy up on her shoulder, but the pit was able to grab on and battled to yank it away. Thomas backed his car up and pulled the woman to safety; the pit bull, unfortunately, had the puppy in its jaws.

“I’ve never in my life seen anything like this,” said Thomas. “The pit bull grabbed the puppy by the throat and pulled him down. He was tearing the dog up. It looked like a rag doll.” Thomas said he will never forget the sound of the pit bull attacking the dog. “It sounded like he was chewing ice. He was breaking up the dog’s bones. It was horrible.” The pit bull’s owner eventually came over and got the pit off of the puppy. The puppy survived with four broken ribs, two broken legs and puncture wounds to his throat.

Veterinarian Chris Brader, who owns a 3-year-old pit bull, has owned various types of dogs and finds that his pit bull is the most loyal, loving dog. Brader believes that pits get a bad rap because of the media and bad owners. “It’s usually an owner that’s not aware and doesn’t teach their dog proper behavior — which happens with any breed. It has to do with how the animal is raised. Dogs are like children. They misbehave if they are not raised properly,” said Brader.

The vet contends that the breed (which isn’t recognized by the American Kennel Club) is bred to protect people and its property to the end, like Rottweilers and German Shepherds. He doesn’t believe in using animals as status symbols or breed-specified bans.

“Breed-specific bans or generalities have to do with people being ignorant or influenced by the media,” Brader said. “The media is going to use scare tactics. If something is going wrong, they’re going to play up traumatic stories as opposed to happy stories. There are many happy stories that involve pit bulls, but you don’t hear about them.”

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Nuisance Animal Ordinance prohibits “[h]aving an animal which disturbs the rights of or threatens the safety of a member of the general public or interferes with the ordinary use and enjoyment of his/her property.”

Perhaps those walking around with pit bulls as status symbols should keep that in mind. For Young and Thomas, it isn’t enough. The pit bull that attacked Young’s dog was allowed to return home, while the pit involved in Thomas’ attack was put down.

“I don’t get why people would want an animal that can cause that kind of harm around anyone for any reason,” said Thomas. “It should be a law: If your pit attacks anyone, you’re going to jail and the dog is getting put down.”

This article appeared originally in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic. She is the writer of Tune N and a regular contributor to TheRoot.com.

Dennis Hopper: A True Film Icon

Dennis Hopper is one of the great ones. He’s an incredible actor, writer, director and producer. Hopper is iconic in a way that today’s stars could never be. He mastered television and film, refusing to privilege one over the other.

Dennis Hopper gives 100% of himself to every role in every medium. He is as compelling as a goon in Rebel Without a Cause as he is as an outcast in his groundbreaking film Easy Rider. Viewers are able to connect with Hopper because he pours every ounce of himself into his television and film roles. It doesn’t matter if he’s in a guest slot on Gunsmoke, starring in Paris Trout, part of an ensemble cast like Apocalypse Now, directing a genre-defining film like Colors or helping a hit film like Crash, become a hit television series, he gives viewers the best that he’s got.

The same man that takes incredible risks in his personal life, takes the same type of risks with his career, opening doors that would have previously been shut. He could have easily capitalized on the cult success of Easy Rider, but chose to pursue, smaller more artistic endeavors overseas. The same way that he pursued causes with conviction and laser focus, is the same approach that he took to filmmaking.

His body of work is central to the Golden Age of independent cinema, ushering in an era of film that questioned the status quo, pushed boundaries and in my mind, moved the film industry forward. Hopper’s personal and professional choices were not always popular, which is probably why he is just getting his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That and the fact that he’s terminally ill. Although doctors advised that he was too sick to attend his Walk of Fame ceremony, Hopper was there, a shell of his former physical self, still giving us the best that he’s got.

In honor of this great filmmaker and actor, I say turn away from the gossip and turn towards his tremendous body of work. This weekend, next weekend or sometime in the near future, revisit the work of Dennis Hopper so that when the “journalists” attempt to reduce his legacy to a drug-addicted wild man who divorced his wife on his death bed, you’ll know some of his truth. What is that truth?  Dennis Hopper is one of the greatest of all time.

Nsenga K. Burton serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing and is a regular contributor to TheRoot.com. She writes the blog Tune N, which examines pop culture through a critical lens.