Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Where Are The Men?

Black men are typically portrayed in the media with some combination of banditry and simplemindedness. The local news in Atlanta, for example, is full of B.O.L.O. (Be On the Look Out) photographs of ominous looking cornrowed black men that shot this or that person or raped this or that woman. When they are witnesses to a crime they often give out of breath, inarticulate and illogical accounts of some sordid event or another. If they are not criminals or witnesses to a crime they are often cartoonish diamond-laden entertainers offering much ado about nothing. Within the black community it is broadly accepted that these images are disproportionately presented to feed the popular white American distaste for and discomfort with black men. The television coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was no different. This, by now, is nothing new. There has been ample discussion of the media’s use of the term “refugees” as well as the willingness to label black men as “hooligans” and “looters.” The role of black women; however, has been largely overlooked.

Apart from graphic coverage of the destruction and hapless victims, the dominant images after the storm were largely of men. There were innumerable stories and pictures of Mayor Ray Nagin. He was largely presented as an emotional and ineffective mayor whose weaknesses and failure to prepare contributed to the degree of devastation in New Orleans. He was disparagingly compared to the American Sir Lancelot, Rudy Guiliani. Coverage of the mayor was sandwiched between images of young black men stealing televisions and sneakers. When the United States military finally arrived, Lt. General HonorĂ© dominated the airwaves. He was credited with bringing some order to the situation by cursing and ordering people around. In addition to them were Michael Brown, George Bush’s Brownie and director of FEMA and Michael Chertoff, Bush’s boy and Director of Homeland Security. The only prominent woman visible was Governor Kathleen Blanco. She was grouped with Mayor Nagin as emotional, incompetent and irrelevant. In the midst of all the fuss and coverage in the long aftermath of the storm, black women have gone largely unseen in the popular media. It is as if the destruction and resurrection of New Orleans has nothing to do with them.

While in New Orleans, my HANO man explained that there is a network of community leaders organized to help various communities rebuild themselves. He explained that the community leaders serve as advocates and conduits for information and resources to predominantly black and poor neighborhoods that are still largely rotting. It so happened that there was a leadership training session happening for these community leaders while I was on tour with HANO. The session was organized by a polished black woman consultant for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in D.C.

When we entered the room there were about 35 tough looking black women eating and waiting for the session to begin. The consultant had three super polished women with her too; so it was a room full of women. I commented to HANO that I didn’t realize it was a women’s leadership organization. He chuckled and said, “Breh, it ain’t.”

“Where are the men?”

He looked at me and smiled and didn’t say anything. Then he introduced me to Sister. He said, “this here Breh, is what you call a solider.” She said that if I’m down with Brother HANO, I’m on the right team and then she hugged me so hard our ribs got all tangled up. Sister looked like a Native American. Her skin was reddish brown and she had long, bone straight, jet black hair. She was short, squat and strong looking. Her back was straight as an arrow and power was dripping off her.

She said, “I ain’ no soldier, but I’ma fight for my people right here in New Orleans.”

HANO said, “Ain’ nobody else gonna fight for us.”

“You know that’s the mothafuckin truth.”

HANO explained that Sister had always been a community leader and organizer. She had made improving the living conditions for black people in New Orleans the cause of her life. Sister said that the storm is a challenge but survive is what black people do. She said that she had battled breast cancer and “beat that bitch with the bullshit care they give us poor folks.” One of her two sons drowned during the flooding after the storm and another had been shot and killed last year when he was caught up in a gun fight. “I’m surviving for a reason, so I’m right here fighting for my people.”

HANO said, “Sister, Breh walk in and the first thing he asks is, ‘where the men?’”

They both laughed and then HANO held Sister’s hand.

“These women here Breh, are holding us together. Whatever little hope we have, we have it cause of them.”


1 comment:

Damien said...

"she hugged me so hard our ribs got all tangled up" ... brilliant word-smithing. I might have to steal that one. And you returned me to New Orleans through the back door. Sucked me right in. More, more, more!