In Defense of the Color Purple/Uncertain of TD Jakes

I’m watching “Not Easily Broken”. This is the second TD Jakes movie I’ve seen. I am appreciative of the fact that there is a big time black preacher delving deep into issues of gender and the negativity that exists between black men and black women.

BUT!

I’m a little concerned that he tends to paint an overly simplistic view of the relationship between black women and black men. The tension between black men and black women is acknowledged but the cause and solution is too often boiled down to something to the effect of “those damaged black women need healing”. This may be true. We do need healing. But my question is what about the men in the scenario? The abusive fathers? The bad ex-boyfriends? Where is the discussion of the culture and the systems within the black community that make it ok for black women to face such damaging situations? And more importantly: How can we go so quickly to the solution when we haven’t really fully investigated the problem?

Alice Walker attempted to delved into these questions with her book The Color Purple. She attempted to show a very real history of physical and sexual violence against black women at the hands of not white men but black men. And there was such an unbelievable backlash from the black male community. (There is this dude who always calls me “Lisa” and tries to bate me into an argument by saying “Alice Walker hates black men, right?” Dude! My name is not Lisa and no and go away!) The thing is I don’t think these men (Lisa-dude included) are upset because they are in disbelief about these issues showing up in our history but more because they didn’t want the dirty laundry out there. (Ya can’t wash ’em without putting ’em “out there”). They didn’t want to deal with it in front of “them”. But who cares about them in the face of such devastating violence in our own community? How can we tell “them” not to kill us as we kill ourselves? It’s like my sister said when we were protesting again police brutality and members of the Bloods walked up beside us with protest signs: “They can’t kill you but we can.” We take that position way too often in our community. We do everything to make sure white people aren’t abusing us but we think it’s ok if we abuse each other.

And I think TD Jakes is attempting to look at some of the same issues from a more faith based, less historical perspective. But we can’t move forward without first truly understanding and “unpacking” what happened before. (Sankofa) We’ve yet to do that as a community, really delve into the ways that slavery has so painfully damaged the relationship between black men and black women.

Somehow it has become the burden of the woman to heal and forgive the abuse perpetuated against her by black men. We do need to heal and forgive. But what I need is someone like Jakes to also say that it is also the responsibility of the black man to STOP. Stop abusing women. Stop being so permissive of misogyny in our communities, in the church as much as it is in the streets. And really start talking about gender rolls and strength in ways that don’t strangle your emotional stability. Strength doesn’t have to be so restriction. And talk about faith in a way that has no tolerance for abuse. YES be strong. But be strong enough to talk about those things things that are hard to talk about. Yes pray. But pray for understanding, mutual respect and healing of our whole history and the trauma we face in response to the legacy of slavery.

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Michael Jackson: a prophet with no home.

I’m starting with the man in the mirror”
“If you can’t feed the baby, then don’t have the baby”
“Mama always told you be careful who you love. Be careful what you do because the lies become the truth.”
“Blame it on the Boogie”
“Don’t stop till you get enough”

The words of a disturbed prophet without a home… Michael Jackson’s artistry defined the lives of many, especially those of us socially awkward artists. His words and music marked major moments in my life. Thriller came out when I was 3. Ricky, one of the boys my mother babysat would sing Billie Jean saying, “but the chair is not my son.” That was the beginning of a life long use (or misuse) of Michael Jackson sayings.

We sang “Ebony and Ivory” at our performance at our all black day care center’s graduation ceremony. We sang “We Are the World” at my 6th grade graduation from Horace Mann. I remember when my oldest sister Niki was applying for colleges and was trying to get the application postmarked by the deadline. She had to trek all the way down to the Main Office on 34th and we sing to her, “Keep on to the POST OFFICE. Don’t stop to you get enough.”

I remember my sister Gabrie’l setting up our TV in my other Niki’s room and we all got together to watch the premiere of the Thriller video. I was pretty young. My mother had her concerns but I wasn’t scared at all. I watch it now and the threat of dancing zombies brings fear to my heart but at 3 or 4, I was captivated. My friends Michael, Kyle, and Janet (did I really have friends named Michael and Janet? Yes) would have regular Thriller sessions. We’d put the vinyl on our record player. I had a toy guitar and we’d get down and go crazy. Our favorite was “Beat It”.

“Bad” came our right as I was starting 2nd grade. At that point I was one of two black girls in my grade at Horace Mann Barnard Elementary School. I remember the other black girl, Dana Bethune, a descendant of Mary McCloud Bethune, lent me her tape. She really wanted me to hear the newest Michael Jackson songs. I took that tape. I don’t think I gave it back. (Sorry Dana.) This was probably because my sister Gabrie’l took the tape from me to choreograph a dance to “Man in the Mirror”. This is a dance that in many ways defined my sister for me. I will never forget my sister dressed all in white on the stage at Horace Mann doing that powerful dance to that powerful song. I will never forget crying to “She’s Out of My Life” when Gabrie’l left for college when I was only 9 years old.

I remember my mother always saying to me “You need to pull a Michael Jackson.” For her this reflected on how fiercely he’d perform in spite of how painfully shy he was. It told of the odd ability performers, preachers and prophets have to get over social awkwardness long enough to perform, speak or preach powerfully. Michael has often spoke of feeling the most comfortable in stage. He spoke of the music coming from God and the dances being spoken through the music. He spoke of feeling guilty giving himself credit because it was all God working through him. And I know some are screaming “Wacko-Jacko”. But as a person of faith I can’t help to think about one of my favorite Bible verses, Jeremiah 20:9, which says:

But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

I think sometimes God comes through the human vessel in such a powerful way that it leaves very little room for “normalcy” by human standards. Many of the most powerful artists and ministers and prophets of old are the most socially awkward. And I often thought of Michael Jackson as someone who society and even his family didn’t know how to deal with. We don’t know how to simply be blessed by those who bring divine gifts. Our society seems to need to sell everything. So these people become products. And I’m not sure Michael knew how to be a product. Who does? Like many other un-nurtured geniuses, Michael went crazy. We can’t deny that. But his craziness over the past 10 or so years does not take away the power of what came before. So many life changing moments. So many blessings… thank you Michael. You’ve blessed my life. I will not stop ’til I get enough…