Saturday, July 4, 2020

Happy Birthday, America - Get Well Soon

I've done Happy Birthday posts for Independence Day several times on this site. These posts are made up of pictures of various movie appearances by the American flag. This year, I have some words to say about the changes this country is currently undergoing.

The latest trend in the purging of White Guilt is to rename and rebrand things with obviously racist slants. Your favorite brand may have just lost its slavery-inspired mascot. Buildings around your town and on the local college campus might be divorcing themselves from their confederate Confederate namesakes. Columbus Day celebrations were scrapped in favor of observing Juneteenth. Hell, your whole state might be contemplating a name change. These are well and good, but amount to treating symptoms of a sickness without working on the cause of it.

Unless you're just refusing to see it, for whatever reason, we've all come to understand that systemic racism is a real thing built from, and in support of, white supremacy. Removing bondage tinged branding and changing architectural nomenclature are first steps that feel like they should be the last steps. Whether history will judge these measures as successful or not depends on what comes next. We can't get so happy Aunt Jemima will no longer be a part of our breakfast that we forget the larger issues.

Police brutality is still ongoing. Police action is still disproportionately affecting people of color. The glass ceiling is still effectively halting the ascension of those of "undesirable" races, genders, and sexual orientations.

The National Football League has been suddenly loud over the last few weeks. They've been saying a lot of nice things and making nice gestures, but so far, the most profitable sports organization on Earth is perfectly illustrating the exact problems I'm talking about. The league has long been a bastion of not only white supremacy, but also classism. The most easily recognized proof of this has been the Colin Kaepernick saga. In case you've been under a rock, several years ago he began kneeling during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality against African-Americans. The owners effectively ran him out of the game amidst claims that he was disrespecting the military, and the American flag.

Fast-forward to current day, post-George Floyd America. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell puts out a statement that essentially says "Oh, THAT's what you were talking about. We're listening, now." Over the last few days, the league announced that before all of their Week 1 games this upcoming season (whenever that is, ahem, COVID-19) the Black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," will be played. Sounds nice. Many NFL pundits are also speculating that after years of ignoring the call for it, the Washington Redskins might finally change that awful nickname and logo to something not racist. This also sounds nice. Unfortunately, neither does anything that will actually solve the problems plaguing the league.

Colin Kaepernick is still not in the NFL.

He should be.

Putting him in the NFL doesn't solve the league's problem.

In 2019, 70% of the league's players were Black. Whites make up about 26%, with others combining for the remainder. Blacks have made up at least half the league for my entire life, and I'll be 50 soon. Yet, in the four management positions made up of primarily former players, head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and general manger, very few non-whites get hired. According to their own website, between February of 2018 and February of 2019 thirty-six men were hired for those jobs. Thirty were white.


In a very real way, NFL owners, all white save for a few minority owners with infinitesimal percentages of a few teams, are profiting off the labor of people of color while limiting their upward mobility. That's why when I heard that the NFL will play "Lift Every Voice and Sing" will be played before some games and the Redskins might change their name I rolled my eyes. Empty symbolic gestures have that affect on me.

It all feels like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben being taken off supermarket shelves. It sounds like the name of a slave-owner removed from some building. Do all employees at Quaker Oats, owners of Aunt Jemima, truly have an equal opportunity for advancement at all levels of employment? Do they have equal opportunity for advancement at all levels of employment in all industries?

No, they don't.

But this is a movie blog.

Fine, let's make it relevant to the thing you might come here for - movies and television.

Over the last few years, thanks to movements such as "Oscars So White" and "#MeToo," we're witnessing a concerted effort to get more diverse stories on the screen. That's great because representation matters. However, it's not sustainable unless there are more changes behind the scenes. According to the UCLA's Hollywood Diversity Report in 2017, whites make up about 60% of the U.S. population, minorities 40%. However, minorities made up less than 20% of all film directors (12.6%), creators of broadcast scripted shows (9.4%), creators of cable scripted shows (11.2%), creators of digital scripted shows (16.5%), and film writers (7.8%). That last one is particularly perplexing. Sure, more minority stories are great, but who is writing them? I'm not saying white writers can't write stories about people of color, but shouldn't people of color be responsible for more of them?

The ability of film and television to whisk us away to a world far removed from our own troubles is great. However, they make it to the screen through the same machinations that run the rest of our society. Don't treat those tossed bones as if they're the whole meal.


  1. I read a few days ago that we're now in the first steps in the end of America. If this is happening, I feel so ashamed. I am already upset at what people want to change yet now they want to get of the Redskins and the Cleveland Indians. If they get rid of the Atlanta Braves.... I'm going to fucking lose it. I'm glad my dad is not alive to live through this shit.

    1. It sure feels that way. To be honest, I'm not really pushing for team name changes, but I wouldn't mind. However, I'm more concerned with things like MLB hiring practices. The same kind of stats I gave for the NFL coaches, I could come up with similar ones for baseball, especially as it pertains to LatinX people in those positions since they make up a huge chunk of the players.

  2. The fact that protests are still ongoing despite no longer getting news coverage is both encouraging and infuriating. It's encouraging because it means that perhaps, just this once, it's not the flavor of the month, and with George Floyd's and Breonna Taylor's names no longer trending on Twitter that people are still set on making these changes. On the other hand, it's disheartening that the news media finds the protests no longer worth a story. Once the rioting stopped (and isn't it interesting how quickly the rioting and property destruction stopped once it was determined how much of it was being caused by the alt-right?), evidently a push for real systemic change is no longer worth talking about.

    I wonder how much the idea of these surface changes are steps in the right direction and how many are happening simply to see if that satisfies people and things can go on as they had. The cynic in me feels like that's a really legitimate way to view things.

    I think the biggest thing is to push on all fronts. Systemic change needs to be really systemic, not patches here and there.

    1. I'm there with you. I'm definitely hoping this is not just the flavor of the month. As for the media, well, they're the media - a fickle beast. Unless something really salacious happens they lose interest.

  3. I feel like we're only taking baby steps. There's so much more work to do. Personally in regards to the NFL specifically, I hope the teams changes their names. People bitched when UND had to change from The Fighting Sioux to the Fighting Hawks, but now everyone is mostly over it.

    1. At least baby steps are steps. As far as teams go, yeah, people will get over it.