Sunday, August 30, 2009

Off My Chest, and Hopefully Not On Someone Else's

I was fifteen years old before there was network television. I went through school when segregation was the norm in the South and graduated from high school in the same year that the Brown vs Board of Education decision was handed down from the Supreme Court.

It was several years after the efforts of Dr. King, and many more years after Brown vs Board of Education before desegregation became a reality in the schools of Central Texas.

In the early seventies, one of my employees lamented that black boys were extorting her son's lunch money at school. Her feeling was that the black boys were poor kids, who had never had anything before, and were taking advantage of the white kids with money. I wasn't sure that was the truth of it.

My experiences with black kids in my early years was rather limited but straightforward, we worked together, and we played together in the summer and on weekends. We went home to our segregated worlds, but we connected and interacted at the golf course. The black boys invariably outnumbered the white boys, so we "whites" got a diminutive insight into being a 'minority'. There were very few Hispanics in our town back in those days, and none of them worked as caddies. It was just the "white boys", and the "colored boys" (which is the identity they preferred at that time in history).

In our little town, working as a caddy meant going to the golf course, signing in, then waiting around to be called. On Saturday mornings, before the regular time for the golfers to start showing up, we'd "swim" in the water hazards in search of lost golf balls. There was actually more pay to be had in recovering balls than carrying golf clubs, once you got the knack of finding them.

While waiting around to be called from the caddy pool, we'd play football, "golf" around the adjoining park with clubs and balls borrowed from the pro-shop, and often, have little 'scraps', which may or may not have any underlying hostility, becoming instantly the center of attention in the caddy pool.

One lesson I learned from the experience was cultural diversity. I feel fairly certain that cultural diversity was much more in evidence during those days of segregation than it now is, but I still feel that it deserves to be acknowledged.

When the black boys took advantage of my employee's son at school, I think they were exhibiting "one-upsmanship", to gain prestige among their peers. It was not because they were in desperate need to take the kid's money. To this day, I believe that if the white boy had not repeatedly given in, he would soon have become immune to the extortion. I'll always believe that they could have been his friends if he had engaged them as equals.

Today, on Facebook, I was surprised by the attitude of some of the next generation, who objected to the exploitation by the entertainment industry of black actors and comedians. Is this true, in these days of enlightenment? Could I be the one that's mistaken?

Rush Limbaugh frequently accuses anyone of a liberal bent of attempting to keep minorities "in their place" by providing them with welfare, food stamps, affirmative action, etc., while the "conservatives" wish to allow them equal opportunity by providing them with no breaks of any kind.

So, which is it? What I'm failing to understand is why is it exploitation by the industry that makes a black actor dress up in drag? Was Flip Wilson's Geraldine, his most defining role (back in ancient times), a product of industry exploitation to emasculate him, or was it a brilliant idea that he created himself?

Do these people have the same attitude about John Lithgow's portrayal of Roberta Muldoon, or John Travolta's as Edna Trumblad? Were these actors demeaned or advanced by their ability to do these roles? Are the guys from Greater Tuna demeaning themselves because they get more laughs when they play their female roles?

I'm still dismayed by the consensus that, "Hillary Clinton's response to the misdirected question of the African was out of line", or that Barney Frank's response to the planted questioner in his town hall meeting was "uncivil". Is it uncivil to treat fellow human beings as peers?

I have so much left to learn, as I gradually approach the Autumn of my life....;^}, and I'm so devoid of answers.



Rie Sheridan Rose said...

Weird, y'know...that there is any "exploitation" idea attached to men playing female parts at all. Traditionally in theater history, it was the norm. And most of the most recent cases of black actors dressing in drag that come to mind are actors who had full control of their projects, writing and creating the roles for themselves. I a puzzlement...

Willie C said...

I can't really explain it, Rie. It's a puzzlement to me as well. I'm sure you know the actor in the "Just let go" video, but I do not.

I would assume, however that he's an accomplished actor. Whether or not he was coerced by his producers into doing this, or whether he was the producer himself, I don't know. The PC concept of exploitation, however, sorta rubbed me the wrong way. Does it imply that all black actors are simply pawns who must do what they're told whether they like it or not?

I beg to differ! I thought we were past the "Stepin Fetchit" days, and I thought the younger generation was hip to that.