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.

 

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Paul R. Lehman, Changing America’s social conditioning a challenge for all ethnicities

November 25, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Posted in Africa, African American, American Indian, American Racism, blacks, discrimination, DNA, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, France, Human Genome, identity, Michigan, public education, skin color, Slavery, socioeconomics, South Africa, whites | Leave a comment
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Americans are ethnically conditioned to discern other ethnic groups with one exception; that exception would be recognizing European Americans. Read any newspaper or magazine article and if the subject of the article is European American, that information is usually not stated, but assumed. If the subject of the article is other than European American, then the ethnicity is identified. The primary reason for this activity is based on the influence and control European Americans have had on Americans for several hundred years. During American slavery and shortly after the Civil War, emphasis was placed on the irrational conception of race by color; that is, society created two dominant races, one black, the other white. Ever since that creation, fruitless efforts have been made to try and make the myth reflect reality. Nonetheless, what American society has been able to do is promote the concept of multiple biological races with relative success. Along with the concept of multiple biological races came the acceptance of the European American as the only normal representative of human beings. In effect, European Americans were conditioned to see themselves as not belonging to a race or ethnic groups because they were the model of mankind. So, the inclusion or exclusion of the European American ethnic identity in the print media simple reflects that concept of normalcy.
The concept of European American as being normal manifest itself in a variety of ways daily in society. The majority of models used to sell goods and services are European American. When models of other ethnic groups are used to sell what is generally viewed as normal goods and services, they attract attention because they are not seen as normal based on how they look. For example, beauty products aired on television usually employ European American models, male and female. Today, when an ethnic American model is used in advertisement the recognition of the difference is almost immediate. Again, the reason for this recognition is based on the conditioning we as a society have been exposed to regarding what is seen as normal and what is not.
One of the great challenges we have in America today is discontinuing the misguided practice of discerning ethnic groups and then stereotyping them according to what is considered to be social norms. For each of the major ethnic groups in America today, society has a stereotype of some sore used to characterize that group. These stereotypes lend themselves to separating and dividing Americans rather than uniting them. Take, for example, the celebrations of Thanksgiving and Hanukah, occasions that serve to honor events in American and Jewish history respectively. As a diverse society America recognizes and supports the rights of the Jewish people to celebrate some of their history just as America celebrates part of its history. In effect, we are more alike as human being than we are different. We need to learn to accentuate our similarities rather then focus on our differences. First, however, we must become aware of how we continue to separate ourselves.
A recent headline from USA Today identified the movie The Best Man Holiday as having a race theme. That assessment was probably due to the fact that the cast was predominantly African American. The suggestion implied from the reference to race is that because of the color of the majority of the cast, the movie’s theme had to be about race. A number of concerns are presented with the assumption of a movie being associated with a race; first is the acceptance of the false assumption of multiple races, and second is the assumption that skin complexion determines a so-called race. We need to clear the air on the two false assumptions.
If a statement is made about a movie being a race-theme production, then the idea of either a black or some other colored race is intended, because movies using European Americans are considered normal. The faulty logic in a statement referring to a race theme movie is that no such race exists. If the reference is to a so-called black race, then any movie with a cast of people of color, regardless of their geography or culture would be considered black. For example, a movie made in Nigeria, with a Nigerian cast, or in South Africa, with a South African cast, or in Brazil with a Brazilian cast would all be considered a race theme movie, because of the skin complexion of the cast members. However, a movie made in England with an English cast, or Germany, with a German cast, or France, with a French cast would simply be a movie because of the skin complexion of the cast members. We can readily understand just how ridiculous the concept of race by color is confusing and useless.
Because Americans are conditioned to see race based on color, they also accept the idea of so-called racial differences associated with the stereotypes. In essence, a so-called race theme movie would depict the elements of love, hate, happiness, and the range of human emotions based on the idea of some specific so-called race. Therefore, following that logic, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet performed by African Americans would be a play with a race theme. How stupid are we?
We, as a society could eliminate a large part of the ignorance and stupidity by forgoing the use of the terms black and white and their reference to so-called races. We know, but need to accept, the fact that only one human race exists, and we are all part of it. Every American belongs to the human family regardless of his or her ethnicity. We readily acknowledge the cultural differences that economic, education, geography, and social standing represent, but all those things are man-made. When we take the time to observe and examine our differences, we learn quickly that we are more alike than different and that movies, regardless of the skin complexion of the cast, are about human beings and the challenges they face learning to live with one another

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