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Article: "Whitewashing Black History, Jesse-style"
By Rose Cooper

Copyright Rose Cooper, 2002

[Author's note: By now, this article is somewhat dated, though the words still ring true. I wrote this after the whole Jackson/Barbershop controversy broke out, after which, our publisher submitted it to the New York Times. It was never published, of course, and I forgot to post it here in BTS until just now. So, for what it's worth, here 'tis. /bams].

So, Jesse Jackson and a few other so-called "Black leaders" are reportedly calling for the movie Barbershop to be re-edited at best, censored at worst. By Jackson's own words, this is in response to unflattering remarks spoken by one - ONE - of its characters ("Eddie", played by Cedric The Entertainer), about treasured civil rights activists like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.

So much for former Vice-President Dan Quayle holding the corner on an inability to distinguish between make-believe and reality. Jesse, Jesse, we say in the vernacular, what we gon' do with you, chile?

Hey, I notice things in the movies, too; as a film critic, it's my job. While Jesse (who reportedly hadn't even seen Barbershop when he raised a call to arms to a bunch of other Black folks who also hadn't seen the movie) was noticing the "blasphemy" spoken by "Eddie", I was noticing a few things myself.

First, Barbershop was refreshingly light on gratuitous sex, violence, drug use and cursing...well, except for THE statement...a feat that Race-Uplifting films like Booty Call, Training Day, How High, Half Baked, et al, somehow failed to accomplish. So, Jesse, what happened with the boycott of those movies?

Jesse's biggest mistake, though, is that he forgot the golden rule: We Are Not A Monolith. Contrary to popular belief, there is no singular Black Mindset. Some of us think O.J. did it. Some of us think open-ended reparations for slavery are not a good idea. And yes, Virginia, some of us are Republicans. I'm not one of them, but I hear that they're out there. Just like there are some of us who believe that a leader doesn't have to be treated with unquestioning reverence, just to be unquestionably relevant.

Besides, is there is a man, woman, or child in America who hasn't had the stories of King and Parks drummed into our heads during Be Black For Me Month...I mean, Black History Month? As I've said before, we can't have it both ways: if Black History Month is all about telling our truth, we have to tell the whole truth. Isn't it time we stop putting Dr. King's "Dream" out on display when White folks need to show they're down with the cause, Black folks need a day off to get our barbecue on, and corporate sponsors need to prove they Have A Heart?

If I am cynical about the trivialization of Black History Month, it isn't because I don't remember the great strides that King and Parks made; not at all. Nor is it because I think we - any of us - should *ever* forget what our ancestors went through to get us where we are today. But ask yourself this: how many historical Black figures, events, and institutions - besides King and Parks - can you name without hesitating?

And as "Eddie" himself said, "isn't this 'the barbershop'" -- the place where we've gathered to hash issues out? Well, isn't it? Can we talk?

Can we tell the truth about ourselves, without the whitewashing? Are we not confident enough in the sheer magnitude of our accomplishments as a race and culture, to admit that those civil rights pioneers were only human? If Rosa Parks' "sit-in" was pre-planned by a committee who thought she would be a good representative of our people during those trying times, so what? You don't have to sit in the back of the bus anymore, so hush. If Dr. Martin Luther King - or for that matter, Reverend Jesse Jackson - dipped his wick in the wrong candle, what of it? Did their fallibility, lessen their impact on life as we know it today? And more importantly, do the whimsical words of a fictional character, change their accomplishments one iota?

Of course, all of the above is extending the benefit of the doubt to Jesse and his motives. Despite his protestations to the contrary, a little birdie tells me that the Right Rev. J is none too pleased to have been called out by "Eddie"; "Fuck Jesse!", to be precise. Can't say that I blame the man; nobody likes to be called out like that, especially not a proud Black man. And in a box-office smash for two weeks and counting? Ouch; that had to sting.

Lose the pride, Jesse. Seriously, get a grip, and let those activists' actions speak for themselves. You've done too much for us all, to just end up an ongoing punchline. Take care, my brother, that in your haste to deify leaders who need no such deification, you don't cause more of us to give Brother Eddie's exclamation, a hearty amen.

More "Beyond The Screen" articles by Rose Cooper

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