Why Black People Tend to Dance: An Apology for Cam Newton

 

12240038_10208400423587504_2136578022119085585_nMuch of the criticism not just of this angry mother, but of those less offended by his behavior, but wishing he conducted himself differently, has centered around the opinion that Cam’s behavior, amongst other things, was lacking in class. I hear this criticism of him and other athletes, typically black athletes (not because they are black and the critic dislikes black people, but because usually black athletes are the ones celebrating by dancing and other demonstrative behavior) all the time. They would prefer, he would just hug and high five his teammates quickly, in an understated fashion, and then unassumingly jog off the field to the sidelines.

Allow me to offer this critique of the “it lacked class” criticism. This criticism often highlights the cultural differences between black and white Americans. I can hear the retort now, “Yet again! Why do you have to make it about race?” Well if you bear with me I will explain to you why it is about race but not in a “anyone who criticizes Cam is a racist” explanation. This explanation doesn’t require or ask white people to apologize for the past or recognize their “privilege”. It simply asks that people who are criticizing him for a touchdown dance, whether they be white and hearing this reasoning for the first time or black and have forgotten to consider without hearing it as an attack.

It’s not about race in a way that makes her and others racist and hate black people. It’s about race in that so many white people either don’t and in some cases refuse to understand, and some black people have forgotten, that dancing and being loud is a part of our culture as Black Americans. Culture is simply what we make of the world, both in a literal sense of making (building and creating) things, and in how we make sense of the world around us. And for black Americans dancing and celebrating is an integral part of our culture. Dancing is how we sought to make sense of the world around us. What did our ancestors make of slavery? Singing, shouting, and dancing. You need look no further than predominantly black churches the world round to see all three of those things remain embedded in our culture. We wouldn’t have survived the horrors of slavery and injustice without dancing. It’s in our blood to dance, when we’re suffering and when we celebrate, to the point that now we the sons and daughters of those people who cultivated that kind of life do it sometimes instinctively without thinking about it, or remembering why we have an urge to respond that way. Dancing and singing and shouting kept many of our ancestors from losing hope that things could get better. And praise God things have gotten better. And still we don’t or at least try not to forget where we come from, even as we try to accommodate the majority culture, thus we keep on dancing.

The late Ralph Wiley, an author, journalist and writer who was a Sports Illustrated staff writer for nine years, described this culture and reasoning better than I in his book Why Black People Tend to Shout (all this discussion about Cam inspired me to go dig the book up).

First of all, black people are too happy just being able to shout not to take advantage of the luxury. When you have to read that bits were put in some of your ancestors’ mouths, you tend to shout. When a sweet grandmotherly sort has to tell you how black people once were chained in iron make in the canebrake, to keep them from eating the cane while they harvested it, and that these masks were like little ovens that cooked the skin off their faces–when you hear that grandmotherly voice and realize she once was a girl who might have been your girl, and someone caused this pain on her lips and nobody did anything about it but keep living–this gives you a tendency to shout,

Black American culture is a byproduct of the great grandchildren of the tribal African culture. A culture that danced to celebrate life, danced boys into manhood, danced the betrothed into matrimony, and danced the fallen into the afterlife.
So now when someone like Cam gets criticized and told “show a little class”, it’s like being told to assimilate. When someone like Cam is told they find his dancing in that moment offensive (all the while half naked cheerleaders are shaking what they mama gave em) it’s like being told, “we find your culture offensive”. And we find it slightly ironic that so much of our shouting singing and dancing, in the form of folk, blues, rhythm and blues, hip hop and rap music, has been copied had a white face slapped on it and sold to the masses for a profit, but it’s somehow offensive when we do it.

When someone like Cam is told to “grow up” in response to him pointing after a first down, it’s like being told to forget where you came from, or to get over it. If you’ve heard a word of what I’ve just said then you’ll know, maybe for the first time, that dancing is how we got over.

When we hear someone say “I miss the old days when guys just played the game the right way without all the theatrics”, we hear you want things to be the way they were before the color barrier, or more accurately put the unwritten “gentlemen’s agreement” policy, in sports being broken and required a subdued and suppressed black man to break it. Jackie Robinson is an American hero and is the most courageous man that ever competed in modern sports, but he was chosen over the likes of Josh Gibson and Satchel Page because Branch Rickey believed Jackie he could subdue his need to dance and shout. Muhammad Ali is considered the greatest athlete ever by most Black Americans because he dared to dance shout and rap inspiring Black Americans who had despite their assimilating efforts been kept separate and unequal to start dancing again.

When someone like Cam is told “act like you’ve been here before” we know he is doing it because we have been there.

From the Felt-Board to the Silver Screen: A Few Things to Remember Before Drowning Noah Movie in Criticism

16_gn07_11-12Darren Aronofsky’s Noah starring Russell Crowe in the title role debuts tomorrow. Call me skeptical but there are people who are ready to drown this movie in criticism. It would come as no surprise to see many, particularly Christians, walk out of the movie disappointed. There likely will be those who feel as though it has strayed too far from the narrative it seeks to depict in Genesis 6-9. There likely will be those who feel the writers and director have taken too much creative license. There will likely be those who in the anti-Christian sentiment think it’s ridiculous and absurd to suggest that this story is anything other than fairy tale nonsense that didn’t merit getting the silver screen treatment (then I certainly hope they haven’t seen God’s Not Dead).

I’m looking forward to going to see Noah. Having grown up in church the telling of Noah typically got the felt board treatment and the cute cuddly kids book treatment. It wasn’t until I taught Genesis to students as a youth pastor that I realized that the story of Noah is not for children. It is ultimately a story about human depravity and what can possibly be done to fix a world in which the caretakers are the problem. To this point I haven’t found anything that captures this better than the Lego produced depiction of the flood in The Brick Testament. Showing that to students helped them realize for the first time that there is nothing cute about the story of the deluge and Noah’s ark. In more ways than one it is messy.

I fully expect, even within the confines of a PG-13 rating, that Darren Aronofsky will not shy away from the implied violence in Genesis 6-9. I fully expect he will take some creative license, no different than and no more egregious than the license Cecil B. DeMille took in writing and directing the much celebrated by evangelicals The Ten Commandments. Aronofsky has a lot less text of scripture and details to work with than DeMille. Unlike Demille, to my knowledge Aronofsky has never professed to be a Christian. I’m curious to see how someone, in particular an artist, whom I presume is not a Christian tells the story. All that being the case, it’s a movie and if I’m going to pay in excess of $10 to see it I want a good story, a well told story, and certainly not least to be entertained. So if you are going to see the movie, try to go into with as few expectations as possible and try to enjoy. Be critical, but not for criticisms sake. Lastly here are a few things to keep in mind when you do critique it.

 

  1. Remember the Source—In this case I don’t mean the Bible. Darren Aronofsky is not a guy that is new to making movies. You might not be familiar with his name but there is a good chance that you are familiar with some of his work. He is the director of Black Swan starring Natalie Portman (for which she won the best actress Oscar), The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke, and Requiem for a Dream. All three of those movies garnered at least one acting Oscar nominee. All three movies didn’t shy away from showing the dredges of human depravity (in particular Requiem for a Dream which is a very well done film that I will never watch again because of how dark and depressing it was), and like I said at the beginning Noah is a story about human depravity. All of that to say if you aren’t a fan of his previous work then chances are you won’t like or appreciate his latest work. Personally I’m a little surprised he decided to keep it PG-13.
  2. And Remember the Source—In this case I am referring to the Bible. Genesis 6.5-6 gives us a brief description of what was happening in Noah’s day, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continuously. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” The rest of Genesis 6, 7, 8, and 9 is a telling of God calling Noah to build the ark, instructions or a blueprint for building the ark, the deluge, it subsiding, God making a covenant with Noah, and Noah’s descendants (including the brief story of his son Canaan’s transgression against him while he was passed out drunk).
  3. It’s an Adapted Screenplay—Obvious by now you know this movie is adapted from another source, but often times those are the movies of which it is most often said, “Well, it just wasn’t like the book”. Which at this point in some ways is lazy criticism. Most books wouldn’t translate well on the silver screen if they played out exactly the way they are written. That is why they are “adapted”. Director Peter Jackson, often maligned for his adaptations of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, once said in response to detractors that if he actually included everything from the three LOTR books in the movies they would be 20 plus hours long all together instead of 12. Now of course he is getting criticized for doing just that with the one book, The Hobbit. It goes to show you you just can’t win when you adapt a well known book into a movie. At the end of the day regardless of what a director trims or adds the main question shouldn’t be “was it in the book?” The main question should be, “does what the writers and directors decided to trim or add help keep the movie moving?” The movie shouldn’t grind to a halt trying to include every detail. Nor should it pass over important information or scenes that help tell the story and or build characters. A good story requires a conflict that needs to be resolved and most conflicts involve an antagonist. In the Bible we are not given a specific antagonist other than the general ‘man’. Judging from the previews the writers have decided to create an antagonist who embodies everything that has gone wrong with mankind. They aren’t doing it to tick off those who treasure the Bible as God’s inerrant word, no more than Bill Cosby was when he did his Noah routine in stand up comedy. They are doing it for the sake of telling the story through the medium of film.

 

I hope to see Noah sometime this weekend in which case I’ll attempt to post a review.

Why Do We Perceive Sex As So Gross?

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“Why do we perceive sex as so gross? Most people think its gross.”

That is one of the questions I received last week from one of my students anonymously on a 3×5 card. Last week we talked about myths and lies about sex from culture. Ironically enough we will be addressing the question this week when we talk about myths and lies about sex from the church. It is actually the third on my list of church myths under the title of, “Bodies and sex are gross, dirty, or just plain unimportant.” However, if we’re being fair the lie of sex being gross is perpetuated by both the church and culture at large (I feel I should clarify that when I refer to the church in this case I’m referring to the Christian subculture as a whole in America. It’s not just a generalization of local church bodies but also Christian pop-culture of books, movies, and bible study curriculum).

I believe the reason why so many, probably not a majority, but a sizable amount of people, thinks sex is gross is because of the fear tactics meant to discourage us from having sex when we’re young. One of the buzzwords of our sex talk is ‘formational’. There are so many aspects of our culture that is formative in how we think about our bodies and sex. Given some of the messages we receive early on about sex from what is said and also what isn’t said has a way of teaching us that sex is gross.

Given how sex saturated the culture at large is some I assume many disagree that it actually uses fear tactics to scare us out of having sex when we’re young. I would point out that most of my students were apprehensive about having a sex talk to begin with because the sex talk they would have gotten at school was extremely awkward. Think back to the sex-Ed portion of your middle and high school health class curriculum. If you remember nothing else you probably recall being shown pictures of genitalia with rashes or worse due to sexually transmitted diseases, and video clips of a childbirth. Why would our culture, which tends to be fairly reckless with their depiction of sex on the opposite end of the spectrum use fear tactics to discourage young people from having sex? Above all else our American Western culture values individual autonomy. One sure fire way to threaten your autonomy before you even reach adulthood is to get pregnant, get someone pregnant, or get an STD. More to the heart of the issue if any of those things happen before you reach adulthood you’ve sent a shot across the bow of your parent or guardian’s autonomy (and their insurance premium). So if scaring you doesn’t work they’ll gladly teach and instruct you in the proper use of birth control and contraceptives. Also I think we would be amiss if we didn’t give some credit to the pervasiveness of hardcore porn to the belief that sex is gross. Most pornography is completely and utterly dehumanizing.

As for the church its uses fear tactics to try and scare you into obedience to God. Often the unintended overwhelming message from the church in regards to sex is that it is not allowed. Well that is until you get married. In the church premarital sin is treated like the unforgivable sin. I’ve read books and heard talks from Christian sources that would have you convinced that if you have premarital sex, you’ll be haunted by ghosts of your sexual past for the rest of your life, that you are used and soiled goods. Whereas the Bible teaches that purity is as much about sex as it is how we treat widows, orphans, and foreigners, the church has created an entire market around sex being the be all end all of purity from purity rings to the “True Love Waits” campaign. One of the most egregious examples of the church using fear tactics about sex, is Kay Arthur’s book The Truth About Sex where she likens sex to a can of Drano. That’s right, she likens sex to a toxic cleaning chemical engineered to clear out a clogged bog. She highlights the cautions and warning labels where it says “May be fatal or cause permanent damage if swallowed. Causes severe burns to eyes and skin.” I get what she’s trying to communicate. Being reckless with you sex life and misusing sex can put you at risk. However, what are the chances that a few teenagers hearing or reading that illustration is ever going to want to have sex even when they get married? In extreme cases they’ll only ever want to have sex in order to procreate or occasionally begrudgingly appease their spouse.

It is likely that both the culture and the church is to blame for why so many parents feel inept to talk to their kids about sex. Sex either becomes part of a child’s null-curriculum leading to curiosity suspicion and at time the assumption that it is wrong to talk about. Some parents feel awkward using technical terms when talking about sex and create code words for body parts and intercourse. Not only does this have the possibility of teaching kids at an early age that sex is always naughty, but it could have even more devastating consequences. I spoke with a psychologist once who told me they and many of their colleagues were witness to failed child abuse cases because the defense attorney seized on the fact that the child referred to their body parts with code words they learned from parents like “flower” and “butterfly” instead of an anatomically correct term.

At the end of the day the fear tactics from both camps fail because sex is good. Sex is designed for us, and in our sinful brokenness we have turned it into something it is not. Despite all the ridiculous illustrations and disgusting pictures of STDs people keep having sex because sex is a tremendous gift that God has given to his image bearers to experience the peak of companionship and oneness. And as with any great gift some people just can’t wait to open it. As with any great gift it can be misused and abused. None of that changes the fact that it is good.

 

Proof Once Again That Few People Listen To Lyrics

Whether it was Beyonce during the Halftime Show of Super Bowl 47, Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke performing at the 2013 MTV VMAs, or Beyonce again performing at the Grammy’s I’ve heard people complain and cry foul. They were bothered, shocked and even surprised by their very overtly sexual performances on stage. I didn’t see either one of Beyonce’s performances, who didn’t see at least clips and stills of Miley’s, but all this has gotten me to thinking.

Have you looked at or listened to the lyrics of the songs they were singing at the time? I realize MTV doesn’t actually play music videos anymore. That ship started sailing about ten years ago. The fact of the matter is more often than not music videos and live performances are theatrical in nature. In other words there is a good chance that their stage act will depict the words that are coming out of their mouth. In the case of Beyonce I realize that her public persona is one of womanly grace if you don’t count “popping and locking” while performing at Gospel Festivals against her, but it doesn’t change the fact that for a good number of years the girl has been singing “grown folks music”. It’s hardly the kind of music, if you have a finely tuned moral compass and take a moment to think about it, that is suitable for children. Not that we need to make a big stink about it. In some ways it is what it is. Allow me to go another route for a moment though…

I would argue that the music we (we being evangelical Christians) often say is inappropriate for children or young teens is actually more inappropriate for adults. I’ll speak for myself in saying what I’ve heard many other adults confess as well. I had no idea how truly sexually explicit suggestive and just plain raw a lot of the songs I was listening to as a teenager really were. I speak for myself because I was relatively clueless due to my lack of experience in matters of a sexual nature, thus when I heard these songs I had an idea what they were talking about, but I really didn’t understand. How many of us have gone back and listened to the music of our youth and responded with “Oh my gosh I listened to that!?!” When I had that experience I went to the next step and realize that there is probably a reason why I never had that response as a teenager, and it wasn’t necessarily because I had never listened closely to the lyrics. It wasn’t because I didn’t have a daughter. I just didn’t get it. Now I do, and now I can’t listen to the music of my youth without my imagination filling in what used to be blank. Thus why I must consider whether or not the music of my youth is more inappropriate for me as an adult than it was for me as a teenager. Say what you want but I know I’m not the only one.