Paul R. Lehman,Why the movie The Green Book failed to carry a positive message for African Americans.

February 27, 2019 at 3:55 pm | Posted in African American, African American and chicken, African American celebrities, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, Black Englisn, black inferiority, blacks, desegregation, discrimination, Disrespect, employment, Equal Opportunity, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, integregation, justice, minorities, Negro, Prejudice, Race in America, racism, respect, segregation, skin color, social conditioning, social justice system, socioeconomics, white supremacy, whites | 2 Comments
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Family, friends, and acquaintances were the order in which African American musicians and other entertainers used for hospitality, food, and lodging in the days before desegregation. During the early 1950’s when my cousin “Little Walter” Jacobs came to town for a show or two, his biggest decision was with whom he would stay. His room at the local hotel for people of color was only for his belongings. Jacobs was not alone in this endeavor, most African American entertainers depended on their relations in the communities they visited for hospitality where they were usually treated as celebrities. Because this form of accommodation was ordinary for African American entertainers, most road managers and agents saw to it that the flyers announcing the coming attractions were in place weeks before the actual shows. That way, the family, friends, and acquaintances would be prepared for the celebrity’s arrival.

The key to a successful tour for African American entertainers in large part fell to the managers and their connections with other managers on the “Chitlin Circuit,” which was a collection of performance venues throughout the Eastern, Southern, and upper Midwest areas of the United States that provided commercial and cultural acceptance for African-American entertainers. A Green Book was not usually necessary for these entertainers because of the information network of the managers. For other African Americans traveling around America and especially through the South The Green Book was important. Somehow the movie, The Green Book, did not touch on the experiences of African American entertainers traveling through America.

For some American viewers, the movie The Green Book was very entertaining and likeable simply because it included a well-known musician of color, Don Shirley and a historical perspective. Unfortunately, viewers sometimes do not see the forest for the trees, or they concentrate on the movie rather than the message it presents. When we examine the movie for it message, we discover that the movie was disappointing from three aspects—the Green Book, the musician, and the bouncer.

Although the movie carried the title—The Green Book, little attention was paid to the actual book, it author and content. Yes, Tony the bouncer did refer to the book a number of times, but usually without any mention of it. The author and publisher of the book, Victor Hugo Green was not mentioned nor was the way Green acquired the information for the book. Also, what was  not mentioned in the movie was the fact that the book was actually a survival tool for many African American travelers who often faced a life or death situation on the road. African Americans were not only prevented from staying in hotels and eating in public cafes and restaurants but also refused gas at many service stations. So the importance of The Green Book had more significance and value than reflected in the movie.

Next, the movie failed to represent African Americans (if that indeed was an objective) through the character of the pianist Ali. Although he was portrayed as a brilliant and talented musician, his character appeared as a naïve, innocent, ignorant and an anomaly of a person of color. Why would such a seemingly uninformed person of color agree to a tour through a country whose majority viewed him not as a human being, but somewhat of a spectacle similar to that of an animal that could perform some unusual tricks for their entertainment? The simple fact that Ali’s character was not familiar with fried chicken or rhythm and blues disqualified him from even pretending to be an African American. The character of Ali was en essence a freak, an oddity in the context of the movie since we learn little about his personal life. Throughout the movie Ali performed at the various venues with little or no regard for the fact that he was there only for the entertainment of the European Americans, not as a human being of equal social value. The entire movie focused on a short period of time in his life–from the beginning of the tour until the end of the tour at Christmas. The movie was certainly not about him.

Tony Vallelonga, the Italian from New York, who was hired as Ali’s chauffer and body-guard, was a bigot who accepted the job for the money. Through the course of the tour the two men got to know each other on a personal level, but never as equals. Tony understood that the fabric of ethnic bigotry was part of society’s character and therefore he was in a position to protect Ali from his ignorance on a limited basis. We learn from the movie much about Tony’s life, his family, his friends, aspects of his ethnic identity. In a number of instances Tony saved the day for Ali when confronted by European American bigots. Although the two men grow closer together in accepting one another, that acceptance was as members of two distinct ethnic identities and character roles. The movie came closer to being Tony’s story rather than a story about a book or a pianist of color.

Between the two characters of Ali and Tony, the one that seemed to grow in understanding human relationships was Tony. Ali’s character was that of a spoiled and somewhat controlling talented social orphan who just happened to be a person of color. Ali’s knowledge of The Green Book seemed limited at best as was his awareness and understanding of the African American experience in America. The most important thing to him was his talent and the opportunity to perform before mainly European American audiences and, of course, money.

Although some aspects of the movie were entertaining in a limited context, the overall effect was that of disappointment because nothing of value was gained from the experience of the characters development. Tony arrived home to the welcome of his family and friends who still retained their biases of eggplants. Tony learned to accept Ali, but that acceptance did not extend to all people of color, just Ali.

Ali’s character turns out to be that of a sad, lonely and pathetic individual who never learned the value of family, friends, and acquaintances. African Americans cannot live successfully in America without the support from others which Ali experienced when he visited the local African American club in the town where he was supposed to perform. The movie ends on a sad and tragic note when Ali appears at Tony’s home to save himself from alienation at Christmas not knowing that he was simply an eggplant coming in from the cold.



How long before we stop the confusion of race by color–black and white

June 30, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Posted in African American, Black Englisn, blacks, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, identity, Media and Race, Non-Hispanic white, Prejudice, President Obama, skin color, socioeconomics, U. S. Census, U.S. Supreme Court, whites | Leave a comment
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This past week brought with it a number of socially important experiences from the concerns of the Supreme Court to the illness of Nelson Mandela and the trial of Trayvon Martin. One of the elements these three concerns have in common is the reference to identity, more specifically, a reference to black as an identity. Unfortunately, race defined by color seems to be an extremely difficult concept to debunk because many people have accepted the concept as valid. However, some of the references used last week underscore the problems attendant with the continued use of the terms black and white as so-called racial identities.
With respect to the Supreme Court’s actions, the one case that focused primarily on the use of the word black involved the voting rights bill. The reference to the “black vote” by journalists and people in the media, for instance, might be interpreted as meaning the votes of African Americans. The purpose of the bill was to protect all citizens from being denied their rights to vote by the state or local jurisdiction, not just African Americans. The problems that caused the creation of the voting rights protection by the court was because African Americans were the primary targets and victims of abuse. The term black vote suggests that all African Americans vote in a block, which they do not. By simply referring to the rights of African Americans to vote, rather than the black vote, the idea of the black block vote is removed. Like all other citizens, African Americans reserve the right of a voting choice, and that should not be based on the color of their skin. Alas, unfortunately, today it still is.
The meaning of black in the above reference has been accepted as common practice, but that acceptance does not alleviate the problems caused by its usage. A case in point involves the illness of the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. The media refers to Mandela as South Africa’s first black president, but what does black mean in the context in which they use it? Is it a reference to Mandela’s skin color or does it refers to the social and economic status of dark skinned South Africans? To further complicate the problem, President Barack Obama paid a visit to South Africa last week and the media referred to him as America’s first black president. So, if Mandela and Obama are both referred to as black, is it a reference to their skin color or to their personal identities or both? The obvious answer would be skin color, but that only works with the association of the historical significance. To identify Mandela as a man of color might confuse some who would see him as a colored person which is a different identity in South Africa. Usually, the South Africans of Dutch or European ancestry identify themselves as Afrikaners, so the simply reference to Mandela as South Africa’s first African president would be sufficient. For Obama, the reference to him as African American would leave little doubt as to his identity.
The use of the color words black and white as racial identities was obvious in the trial of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. The media has no problem with identifying Martin as black, but with Zimmerman, a problem is created because he can identify himself a number of ways. For example, he can identify himself as a Hispanic, or a non-white Hispanic, or as a white. How it is that he gets all those choices? The answer is because the Census Bureau says he can. They say it because they have yet to define race in any definitive, concrete, consistent and accurate fashion. The media generally refers to Zimmerman as white to create the contrast between the two principals in the trial. The contrast of black and white reinforces the social and historical symbolic significance of each term when used as race. The use of African American and European or Hispanic American would lesson the historical contrast.
In addition to the identities of Martin and Zimmerman and the use of color words relative to race, another disparity occurred during the testimony of Miss Rachel Jeantel, a friend of Martin. An observer of the trial was asked by a commentator to comment on Jeantel’s testimony. His first remarks centered on what he identified as her use of Black English. The reference to her language as Black English suggested that such a phenomena exists and is spoken and practiced by all black people. No one has ever suggested that other people with similar social, economic, and educational backgrounds speak a language that is characterized by a color. Again, we do not know if the color of the people’s skin is the key to their use of Black English or does black symbolize something other than skin color. In American, African Americans living in different parts of the country do not all speak the same as the term might suggest. We all recognize regional differences among Americans in general. We also recognize that the social, economical and educational status of all Americans have an effect on their use of the English language. All too often in American, a person’ skin color is often associated with their social status.
So, what is the point? We need to stop using color as an identity and excuse for ethnicity. We need to realize that as a society we are either progressing or regressing. We never reach a point where we can stop and say we have made it. Life does not work that way. Like when the butterfly finally emerges from the cocoon, its life’s journey is not complete, it has only just begun, as a butterfly. The identity of European Americans did not end with being called white, just as the identity of African Americans did not end with being called black. Life continues to the very end, and each day is a different and unique experience for us. Time to move on

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