This article is written to answer the above question and put an end to it forever!!! I'll do this by using simple logic, that's all I'm going to use. I am a lover of Reggae music. It is a music that resonates with me. So, when Dancehall began to appear commercially in the U.S. market, it was new to me. So my approach to answering this question is not as a Jamaican but as a lover of the music and a Panaf-America (a Pan Afrikanist born in America) Let's start this discussion by answering some questions and giving a little history, and studying musical structures or genres.
Is Ska R&B music? Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s, and combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. During WWII, the U.S. military negotiated establishing military bases in the British controlled Caribbean (misnomered the West Indies) as part of Destroyers for Bases deal that assisted the United Kingdom's war efforts prior to the U.S.'s actual entry into the war. U.S. soldiers began to play the R&B music known as jump blues, which featured such artist as Fats Domino and Louis Jordan. This musical novelty gained a Jamaican audience who after the war purchased radios and demand more of this type of music. Entrepreneurs like Prince Buster, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, and Duke Reid formed sound systems to maximize this opportunity. But as jump blues and more traditional R&B began to ebb in popularity in the U.S. and abroad, Jamaican artists began recording their own version of the genres, which lead to the creation of a new musical genre, called Ska. Ska featured a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the upbeat. The style was composed of four triplets bars characterized by a guitar chop on the off beat - known as an upstroke or skank - with horns taking the lead and often following the off beat skank and piano emphasizing the bass line and, again, playing the skank. The drums kept 4/4 time and the bass drum was accented on the 3rd beat of each 4-triplet phrase. The snare would play side stick and accent the third beat of each 4-triplet phrase. The upstroke sound can also be found in other Caribbean forms of music, such as mento and calypso. Therefore Ska which became the precursor to Rocksteady and Reggae, was not simply an American clone but a new genre that drew from its own musical past. So to answer the question, is Ska R&B music, the answer is no.
Is Rocksteady Ska? Rocksteady is a music genre that originated in Jamaica around 1966, which was preceded by Ska and was the precursor to Reggae. It relied on R&B, jazz elements like Ska, but unlike Ska added Afrikan and Latin American drumming, as well as elements from other musical genres. As the tempo slowed from Ska to Rocksteady, musical changes accompanied it. The guitar and piano players began to experiment with occasional accents around the basic offbeat pattern. Chording instruments tended to play repeated rhythmic patterns which led to simpler modal chord progressions. (It had been argued that the development of modal jazz in the late 1950s and early 1960s influenced the choice of Jamaican players to explore simpler modal chord patterns.) Also, the slowing down of the tempo allowed bass players to play more broken, syncopated lines, playing a counterpoint to the repetitive rhythm of the guitar and keyboards, which eventually replaced the walking patterns of Ska. These new patterns fit very well with the simpler modal chord progressions. Another factor that helped to establish Rocksteady as its own genre was the downsizing of bands. Smaller bands led to a much larger focus on the bass line in general, which eventually became one of the most recognizable characteristics of Jamaican music. In Rocksteady, the lead guitar often doubles the bass line. Rocksteady horns favored repeated rhythmic patterns or simply sitting out all together until the lead line, whereas in Ska horns spent much of the song playing the offbeats with the guitar and piano.
But one of the most distinguishing features of Rocksteady was the "one drop" drum beat, characterized by a heavy accent on the second and fourth beat of every bar (or the third beat if you count in double time), played by the bass drum and the snare together. The snare drum often plays a side stick "click" rather that a full snare hit; an influence from Latin music. The one drop drum was a significant break from American style drumming. So to answer the question was Rocksteady Ska, I think we have identified enough unique and distinguishing characteristics that demonstrate its merit as a new genre.
Is Reggae Rocksteady? Reggae is a music genre first developed in Jamaica in the late 1960s. Though today the term Reggae is broadly used to refer to most types of popular Jamaican dance music, it is actually a unique genre that developed from Ska and Rocksteady. The distinction between Reggae and Rocksteady are perhaps the slightest. The major differences being a slower tempo, lyrical content, as Reggae tends to focus more on lyrics based on black consciousness, Rastafari (though some Rocksteady songs did too), and the effects of poverty. Rocksteady still relying on its American influences tended to focus on Love themes.) Musically is where Reggae make its distinguishing contribution. It is the introduction of the "double skank" guitar strokes (sometimes played by piano) on the offbeat and the organ shuffle that establishes Reggae as a genre. I have offered four stylistic changes that establish Reggae as its own genre: slower tempo, lyrical content, the skank, and organ shuffle.
Is Dancehall Reggae? Dancehall is a often considered a sub-genre of Reggae. It started out in the 80s, partly linked to the development of digital music. However, there's a significant difference between the two, enough so, that Dancehall constitutes its own genre. The differences are Dancehall has a faster tempo, is less musical, less melodic, and most important, it lacks the lyrical content of Reggae. Musically, it lacks the structural elements of Reggae as well. Missing in addition to the lyrical content are both the skank and organ shuffle. And how can you have Reggae without the drumming elements, especially the one drop, that Reggae inherited from Rocksteady. I would think, if anything that Dancehall can be considered more a part of Rocksteady than Reggae since it shares some of Rocksteady's affiliation with rude boys/bad boys and lyrically, it has content that can be loosely, via the "Rude boy" songs, be identified with “slackness.” But in truth, Contemporary Dancehall should be identified with Rap music. It shares more with that genre than it does with Reggae. But in the end we have to recognize that Dancehall is different from Rap and Reggae--it is its own genre. And that it is exactly what is says it is– music made for dancing in a club (hall). Like its American cousin or twin, Rap, it is a digitally produced music that is often derogatory, violent, and misogynistic. So to call Dancehall Reggae, is just as ridiculous as calling Rap music R&B. Dancehall like Reggae is Jamaican music, just as Rap like R&B is American music, but to make them one and the same is illogical, idiocy even.
Part 2 of 2: The Illuminati and Rap Music
A million things were going through my mind as I drove away and I eventually decided to pull over and park on a side street in order to collect my thoughts. I replayed everything in my mind repeatedly and it all seemed very surreal to me. I was angry with myself for not having taken a more active role in questioning what had been presented to us. I'd like to believe the shock of it all is what suspended my better nature. After what seemed like an eternity, I was able to calm myself enough to make it home. I didn't talk or call anyone that night. The next day back at the office, I was visibly out of it but blamed it on being under the weather. No one else in my department had been invited to the meeting and I felt a sense of guilt for not being able to share what I had witnessed. I thought about contacting the 3 others who wear kicked out of the house but I didn't remember their names and thought that tracking them down would probably bring unwanted attention. I considered speaking out publicly at the risk of losing my job but I realized I’d probably be jeopardizing more than my job and I wasn't willing to risk anything happening to my family. I thought about those men with guns and wondered who they were? I had been told that this was bigger than the music business and all I could do was let my imagination run free. There were no answers and no one to talk to. I tried to do a little bit of research on private prisons but didn’t uncover anything about the music business’ involvement. However, the information I did find confirmed how dangerous this prison business really was. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Eventually, it was as if the meeting had never taken place. It all seemed surreal. I became more reclusive and stopped going to any industry events unless professionally obligated to do so. On two occasions, I found myself attending the same function as my former colleague. Both times, our eyes met but nothing more was exchanged.
As the months passed, rap music had definitely changed direction. I was never a fan of it but even I could tell the difference. Rap acts that talked about politics or harmless fun were quickly fading away as gangster rap started dominating the airwaves. Only a few months had passed since the meeting but I suspect that the ideas presented that day had been successfully implemented. It was as if the order has been given to all major label executives. The music was climbing the charts and most companies when more than happy to capitalize on it. Each one was churning out their very own gangster rap acts on an assembly line. Everyone bought into it, consumers included. Violence and drug use became a central theme in most rap music. I spoke to a few of my peers in the industry to get their opinions on the new trend but was told repeatedly that it was all about supply and demand. Sadly many of them even expressed that the music reinforced their prejudice of minorities.
I officially quit the music business in 1993 but my heart had already left months before. I broke ties with the majority of my peers and removed myself from this thing I had once loved. I took some time off, returned to Europe for a few years, settled out of state, and lived a “quiet” life away from the world of entertainment. As the years passed, I managed to keep my secret, fearful of sharing it with the wrong person but also a little ashamed of not having had the balls to blow the whistle. But as rap got worse, my guilt grew. Fortunately, in the late 90’s, having the internet as a resource which wasn't at my disposal in the early days made it easier for me to investigate what is now labeled the prison industrial complex. Now that I have a greater understanding of how private prisons operate, things make much more sense than they ever have. I see how the criminalization of rap music played a big part in promoting racial stereotypes and misguided so many impressionable young minds into adopting these glorified criminal behaviors which often lead to incarceration. Twenty years of guilt is a heavy load to carry but the least I can do now is to share my story, hoping that fans of rap music realize how they’ve been used for the past 2 decades. Although I plan on remaining anonymous for obvious reasons, my goal now is to get this information out to as many people as possible. Please help me spread the word. Hopefully, others who attended the meeting back in 1991 will be inspired by this and tell their own stories. Most importantly, if only one life has been touched by my story, I pray it makes the weight of my guilt a little more tolerable.
Part 1 of 2: From Public Enemy, KRS-ONE, and others to Ice-T and NWA, "What a journey!"
FROM THAT TO THIS . . . .
I read this article about 6 months ago but was hesitant to blog on it. As a historian, the article is something I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole--it is unverifiable, and lacks corroborating sources. However, I have seen the effects on young people that the change in Rap music has had: the music changed from its more positive, Black conscious expressions of the late 1980s, into the more violent Gangsta rap period that followed. And our youth have been influenced by it and have changed as well. Do YOU think this article has any validity or is it just some conspiracy theory fodder?
After more than 20 years, I've finally decided to tell the world what I witnessed in 1991, which I believe was one of the biggest turning point in popular music, and ultimately American society. I have struggled for a long time weighing the pros and cons of making this story public as I was reluctant to implicate the individuals who were present that day. So I've simply decided to leave out names and all the details that may risk my personal well being and that of those who were, like me, dragged into something they weren't ready for.
Between the late 80's and early 90’s, I was what you may call a “decision maker” with one of the more established company in the music industry. I came from Europe in the early 80’s and quickly established myself in the business. The industry was different back then. Since technology and media weren’t accessible to people like they are today, the industry had more control over the public and had the means to influence them anyway it wanted. This may explain why in early 1991, I was invited to attend a closed door meeting with a small group of music business insiders to discuss rap music’s new direction. Little did I know that we would be asked to participate in one of the most unethical and destructive business practice I’ve ever seen.
The meeting was held at a private residence on the outskirts of Los Angeles. I remember about 25 to 30 people being there, most of them familiar faces. Speaking to those I knew, we joked about the theme of the meeting as many of us did not care for rap music and failed to see the purpose of being invited to a private gathering to discuss its future. Among the attendees was a small group of unfamiliar faces who stayed to themselves and made no attempt to socialize beyond their circle. Based on their behavior and formal appearances, they didn't seem to be in our industry. Our casual chatter was interrupted when we were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement preventing us from publicly discussing the information presented during the meeting. Needless to say, this intrigued and in some cases disturbed many of us. The agreement was only a page long but very clear on the matter and consequences which stated that violating the terms would result in job termination. We asked several people what this meeting was about and the reason for such secrecy but couldn't find anyone who had answers for us. A few people refused to sign and walked out. No one stopped them. I was tempted to follow but curiosity got the best of me. A man who was part of the “unfamiliar” group collected the agreements from us.
Quickly after the meeting began, one of my industry colleagues (who shall remain nameless like everyone else) thanked us for attending. He then gave the floor to a man who only introduced himself by first name and gave no further details about his personal background. I think he was the owner of the residence but it was never confirmed. He briefly praised all of us for the success we had achieved in our industry and congratulated us for being selected as part of this small group of “decision makers”. At this point I begin to feel slightly uncomfortable at the strangeness of this gathering. The subject quickly changed as the speaker went on to tell us that the respective companies we represented had invested in a very profitable industry which could become even more rewarding with our active involvement. He explained that the companies we work for had invested millions into the building of privately owned prisons and that our positions of influence in the music industry would actually impact the profitability of these investments.
I remember many of us in the group immediately looking at each other in confusion. At the time, I didn’t know what a private prison was but I wasn't the only one. Sure enough, someone asked what these prisons were and what any of this had to do with us. We were told that these prisons were built by privately owned companies who received funding from the government based on the number of inmates. The more inmates, the more money the government would pay these prisons. It was also made clear to us that since these prisons are privately owned, as they become publicly traded, we’d be able to buy shares. Most of us were taken back by this. Again, a couple of people asked what this had to do with us. At this point, my industry colleague who had first opened the meeting took the floor again and answered our questions. He told us that since our employers had become silent investors in this prison business, it was now in their interest to make sure that these prisons remained filled. Our job would be to help make this happen by marketing music which promotes criminal behavior, rap being the music of choice. He assured us that this would be a great situation for us because rap music was becoming an increasingly profitable market for our companies, and as employee, we’d also be able to buy personal stocks in these prisons. Immediately, silence came over the room. You could have heard a pin drop. I remember looking around to make sure I wasn't dreaming and saw half of the people with dropped jaws. My daze was interrupted when someone shouted, “Is this a f****** joke?” At this point things became chaotic. Two of the men who were part of the “unfamiliar” group grabbed the man who shouted out and attempted to remove him from the house. A few of us, myself included, tried to intervene. One of them pulled out a gun and we all backed off. They separated us from the crowd and all four of us were escorted outside. My industry colleague who had opened the meeting earlier hurried out to meet us and reminded us that we had signed agreement and would suffer the consequences of speaking about this publicly or even with those who attended the meeting. I asked him why he was involved with something this corrupt and he replied that it was bigger than the music business and nothing we’d want to challenge without risking consequences. We all protested and as he walked back into the house I remember word for word the last thing he said, “It’s out of my hands now. Remember you signed an agreement.” He then closed the door behind him. The men rushed us to our cars and actually watched until we drove off.
Put the blame where it lies
Yesterday I came across an article on eonline.com talking about the suicide of the actor, Lee Thompson Young. The article hinted as his cause of suicide being linked to his "conversion" to the Yorùbá "religion." (Would the same have been implied if he had converted to Judaism, Christianity or Islam?) The article stated that he "didn't drink or party," and that he was the opposite type of person--a very gentle and unassuming person. People close to Young noticed things "really changed" a few years ago when he began practicing Yorùbá, an Afrika-based religion. The article then took a Yorùbá saying, suggesting that it was a justification for suicide. The saying was "iku ya j'esin," which translates as "death is preferable to ignominy." The article questioned whether this means that suicide is an acceptable way to preserve personal or family honor in the face of public shame. The saying is clearly being used out of context. This saying is most applicable in wartime circumstances, not because of personal struggles; those are confronted with the help of Ifa, sacrifice, and the ancestors.
Moreover, in traditional Afrikan thought, suicide is frowned upon. It denies a person fulfillment of his or her destiny. Yorùbá Chief Priest of Osogbo, Araba Ifayemi Osundagbonu Elebuibon, confirmed this when he told the National Mirror earlier this year that the religion "[does] not support suicide. Their belief is that if somebody commits suicide, they will be punished in the hereafter." The article subtly indicts the "religion."
The article mentions that Young was experiencing depression. And usually, that means that he was taking some sort of medication. But the article failed to mention or focused on what drugs his doctor(s) prescribed to him for his depression. Was he on Abilify, Celexa, Cybalta, Effexor, Elavil, Lexapro, Prozac or any host of others prescription medications, all of which are known to cause suicidal thoughts (and actions. Don Cornelius was on such medication when he committed suicide). Why wasn't his use of these drugs, which are known to cause people to commit suicide, the focus of the article and not his faith? White Supremacy's anti-Afrikanism raises it ugly head once again!!!
Another stupid Rap person, LOL!
I remember when I was young, Blacks folks took pride in our belief that we were morality superior to white folks. We talked about their inability to control their children, their casting out of their elders, their mistreatment of their women, their freaky sexual behavior, the fact they produced mass murderers, and a host of other things we deemed undesirable. And of course most of all, their historical treatment of us made it clear that they were morally inferior. On the flip side, we did accepted that they were mental superior.
More recently, many of the things listed above that were once the almost exclusive domain of white cultural behavior, because of our continuing breakdown in our community, we have now wholeheartedly embraced. We do many of those same stupid things. This demonstrates that these behaviors were never racial but cultural. Our issues are cultural. Even in our subordinate economic condition, if we culturally adopted communalism, it would improve our condition considerably. But rather than turn towards each other, which segregation forced us to do (whereas Afrikan culture was base on a sharing and caring motif), integration has made us increasing turn away from each other. Additionally integration has created a class of individuals whose wealth is based upon white folks.
During segregation most wealthy Afrikan Americans' wealth was derive from our community. Integration created a cross-over factor that had the potential of substantially increasing the wealth of an artist or entrepreneur. Oprah Winfrey is an example of this--her wealth is not derived from us. Many in the music industry are the same. Even if initially their wealth was derived from us, it isn't anymore. Hence, these folks are not accountable to us. We cannot boycott them and hit them in their pockets. Consequently these wealthy Black folks do not feel like they have to be accountable to us. This feeling of not having to answer to their folks has created a certain irresponsibility on their part. What Russell Simmons did is irresponsible. Just last week in a weak argument he wrote an Open Letter to CNN's Don Lemon. Granted he made a few good points, his equating of the sagging of pants as an expression on par with the wearing of the Afro hairstyle was ridiculous and an argument not well thought out. (Simmons' image has long been tarnished by his suppose "casting couch" antics.)
Russell Simmons has also been in the new for his recent emphasis on spirituality, especially his new-found love of yoga. However, he cannot be growing very much. If he were, why would he make a sexual parody of the most sacred icon in Afrikan American History--Harriet Tubman. Some things are to remain sacrosanct. Now I know it is common for white folks to do something foolish and apologize, and their community forgives them. But Black folks are smarter than that. Your apology will not get you off the hook; we just don't roll like that. Apology denied!
P.S. Was this one of those situations where his white handlers convinced him this skit would be funny? Otherwise, why would he do it? Even Dave Chappelle, who can be out there, knew better than to touch this.
Was there any truth in Serena critical comments of rape victim
Yesterday's New York Post wrote an article about Serena Williams comments in an upcoming Rolling Stones magazine. Serena Williams says in the interview with Rolling Stone magazine after reading about the Steubenville rape case, "Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don't know. I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you—don't take drinks from other people," she told the magazine. "She's 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn't remember? It could have been much worse. She's lucky. Obviously I don't know, maybe she wasn't a virgin, but she shouldn't have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that's different."
Serena Williams quickly offered an apology for her comments about a teenage rape victim, as the Western media began to pounce on her comments. In her apology said that the Steubenville rape case shocked and saddened her. According to Williams, what was written about what she supposedly said is insensitive and hurtful, and she would never say or insinuate that the victim was at all to blame. Stating that it is a `horrible tragedy` for a person to be raped, and at such a young age, Williams further said that both the families of the rape victims and the accused have had to suffer the consequences, adding that she is currently reaching out to the girl`s family to let her know that she is sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. Stating that she had fought in her entire career for women`s equality , rights, respect in their fields, Williams also said that she has done everything that she can to support women, adding that her prayers and support will always go out to the rape victim.
The actual Steubenville incident involved two high school football players in Steubenville Ohio, Trent Mays and Ma'Lik Richmond. The boys were each sentenced to a year in juvenile jail in March for the rape. The players were busted after bragging about the events in an online video. Details of the incident involve a young girl who had drunken herself unconscious was taken by the teenage boys from one party, photographed nude and semi-nude, and taken to a basement where one of the boys, Mays, tried to make her perform oral sex. The girl ended up being digitally penetrated vaginally by Ma'lik Richmond and Trent Mays, two players from the celebrated high school football team. The case gained widespread attention in part because of the callousness with which other students used social media to gossip about it. The trial judge found ruled that it was impossible for the impaired girl to have given consent. May received an additional years for his social media activity.
Did Serena blame the victim? We'll find out once that article comes out. But her comments are pithy and worth listening to by young folks that drinking themselves into a stupor or worst unconsciousness. The young men acted criminally and she acknowledge that, she just felt than as a woman, one has to try and carry oneself to prevent fools from acting foolishly and by being that drunk, one invites trouble, especially from drunken teenage boys. Taking responsible to one's action is anathema it American society, this includes sometimes both victim and victimizer. Serena's words gave us something to think about as she reminds us one needs to act and carry oneself responsibly.
Afrikan genius lives
Last Wednesday, Arts For Art, Inc. a not-for-profit, multicultural organization dedicated to avantjazz movements, opened its season presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award to Milford Graves, the legendary drummer, scientist, herbalist, martial artist and acupuncturist. Professor Graves is truly a Renaissance man whose work has for too long gone under the radar. His groundbreaking work and scientific approach to understanding the effect of rhythm on the heart is matched with a belief in the power of art to move and inspire.
I attended the program and Professor Graves as usual was on point. I was particularly impressed with his performance and left with a greater appreciation of his talents, abilities, and his work. I can proudly say, that Milford Graves, I call him Professor Graves, is one of teachers. For six years I studied with him, and I continue to study and learn from him today. Much of my wisdom and outlook has been influenced by his approach to life, living, and how the inner workings of the body is a reflection of life. He is the only genus I ever met. Seriously.
Rickey and Robinson were only part of the story
The Real Story of Baseball's Integration That You Won't See in 42The new film ignores the broad-based movement that helped make Jackie Robinson's arrival in baseball possible, as well as the first black major-leaguer's own activism.
APR 11, 2013
WBOne of America's most iconic and inspiring stories—Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color line in 1947—is retold in the film 42, which opens nationally this weekend. Even if you're not a baseball fan, the film will tug at your heart and have you rooting for Robinson to overcome the racist obstacles put in his way. It is an uplifting tale of courage and determination that is hard to resist, even though you know the outcome before the movie begins.
But despite bravura performances by relatively unknown Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and superstar Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey (the Brooklyn Dodgers' general manager who recruited Robinson and orchestrated his transition from the Negro Leagues to the all-white Major Leagues), the film strikes out as history, because it ignores the true story of how baseball's apartheid system was dismantled.
That story has been told in two outstanding books, Jules Tygiel's Baseball's Great Experiment (1983) and Chris Lamb's Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball (2012). As they recount, Rickey's plan came after more than a decade of effort by black and left-wing journalists and activists to desegregate the national pastime. Beginning in the 1930s, the Negro press, civil rights groups, the Communist Party, progressive white activists, and radical politicians waged a sustained campaign to integrate baseball. It was part of a broader movement to eliminate discrimination in housing, jobs, and other sectors of society. It included protests against segregation within the military, mobilizing for a federal anti-lynching law, marches to open up defense jobs to blacks during World War II, and boycotts against stores that refused to hire African Americans under the banner "don't shop where you can't work." The movement accelerated after the war, when returning black veterans expected that America would open up opportunities for African Americans.
Robinson broke into baseball when America was a deeply segregated nation. In 1946, at least six African Americans were lynched in the South. Restrictive covenants were still legal, barring blacks (and Jews) from buying homes in many neighborhoods—not just in the South. Only a handful of blacks were enrolled in the nation's predominantly white colleges and universities. There were only two blacks in Congress. No big city had a black mayor.
It is difficult today to summon the excitement that greeted Robinson's achievement. The dignity with which Robinson handled his encounters with racism—including verbal and physical abuse on the field and in hotels, restaurants, trains, and elsewhere—drew public attention to the issue, stirred the consciences of many white Americans, and gave black Americans a tremendous boost of pride and self-confidence. Martin Luther King Jr. once told Dodgers star Don Newcombe, another former Negro Leaguer, "You'll never know what you and Jackie and Roy [Campanella] did to make it possible to do my job."
Jackie Robinson, right, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Solipsis)Robinson, who spent his entire major league career (1947 to 1956) with the Dodgers, was voted Rookie of the Year in 1947 and Most Valuable Player in 1949, when he won the National League batting title with a .342 batting average. An outstanding base runner and base stealer, with a .311 lifetime batting average, he led the Dodgers to six pennants and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962.
* * *42 is the fourth Hollywood film about Robinson. All of them suffer from what might be called movement myopia. We may prefer our heroes to be rugged individualists, but the reality doesn't conform to the myth embedded in Hollywood's version of the Robinson story.
In The Jackie Robinson Story, released in 1950, Robinson played himself and the fabulous Ruby Dee portrayed his wife Rachel. Produced at the height of the Cold War, five years before the Montgomery bus boycott, the film celebrated Robinson's feat as evidence that America was a land of opportunity where anyone could succeed if he had the talent and will. The movie opens with the narrator saying, "This is a story of a boy and his dream. But more than that, it's a story of an American boy and a dream that is truly American."
In 1990 TNT released a made-for-TV movie, The Court Martial of Jackie Robinson, starring Andre Braugher, which focused on Robinson's battles with racism as a soldier during World War II. In 1944, while assigned to a training camp at Fort Hood in segregated Texas, Robinson, a second lieutenant, refused to move to the back of an army bus when the white driver ordered him to do so, even though buses had been officially desegregated on military bases. He was court martialed for his insubordination, tried, acquitted, transferred to another military base, and honorably discharged four months later. By depicting Robinson as a rebellious figure who chafed at the blatant racism he faced, the film foreshadows the traits he would have to initially suppress once he reached the majors.
HBO's The Soul of the Game, released in 1996, focused on the hopes and then the frustrations of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, the two greatest players in the Negro Leagues, whom Branch Rickey passed up to integrate the majors in favor of Robinson, played by Blair Underwood. Rickey had long wanted to hire black players, both for moral reasons and because he believed it would increase ticket sales among the growing number of African Americans moving to the big cities. He knew that if the experiment failed, the cause of baseball integration would be set back for many years. Rickey's scouts identified Robinson—who was playing for the Negro League's Kansas City Monarchs after leaving the army—as a potential barrier-breaker. Rickey could have chosen other Negro League players with greater talent or more name recognition, but he wanted someone who could be, in today's terms, a role model. Robinson was young, articulate and well educated. His mother moved the family from Georgia to Pasadena, California in 1920 when Robinson was 14 months ago. Pasadena was deeply segregated, but Robinson lived among and formed friendships with whites growing up there and while attending Pasadena Junior College and UCLA. He was UCLA's first four-sport athlete (football, basketball, track, and baseball), twice led the Pacific Coast League in scoring in basketball, won the NCAA broad jump championship, and was a football All-American. Rickey knew that Robinson had a hot temper and strong political views, but he calculated that Robinson could handle the emotional pressure while helping the Dodgers on the field. Robinson promised Rickey that, for at least his rookie year, he would not respond to the inevitable verbal barbs and even physical abuse he would face on a daily basis.
In 1997, America celebrated Robinson with a proliferation of conferences, museum exhibits, plays, and books. Major League Baseball retired Robinson's number—42—for all teams. President Bill Clinton appeared with Rachel Robinson at Shea Stadium to venerate her late husband.
But the next Hollywood movie about Robinson didn't arrive until this year's 42, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (screenwriter of L.A. Confidential and Mystic River), under the auspices of Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures. The real story of baseball's integration has plenty of drama and could have easily been incorporated into the film.
* * *Starting in the 1930s, reporters for African-American papers (especially Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier, Fay Young of the Chicago Defender, Joe Bostic of the People's Voice in New York, and Sam Lacy of the Baltimore Afro-American), and Lester Rodney, sports editor of the Communist paper, the Daily Worker, took the lead in pushing baseball's establishment to hire black players. They published open letters to owners, polled white managers and players (some of whom were threatened by the prospect of losing their jobs to blacks, but most of whom said that they had no objections to playing with African Americans), brought black players to unscheduled tryouts at spring training centers, and kept the issue before the public. Several white journalists for mainstream papers joined the chorus for baseball integration.
Progressive unions and civil rights groups picketed outside Yankee Stadium the Polo Grounds, and Ebbets Field in New York City, and Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field in Chicago. They gathered more than a million signatures on petitions, demanding that baseball tear down the color barrier erected by team owners and Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis. In July 1940, the Trade Union Athletic Association held an "End Jim Crow in Baseball" demonstration at the New York World's Fair. The next year, liberal unions sent a delegation to meet with Landis to demand that major league baseball recruit black players. In December 1943, Paul Robeson, the prominent black actor, singer, and activist, addressed baseball's owners at their annual winter meeting in New York, urging them to integrate their teams. Under orders from Landis, they ignored Robeson and didn't ask him a single question.
National Endowment for the HumanitiesIn 1945, Isadore Muchnick, a progressive member of the Boston City Council, threatened to deny the Red Sox a permit to play on Sundays unless the team considered hiring black players. Working with several black sportswriters, Muchnick persuaded the reluctant Red Sox general manager, Eddie Collins, to give three Negro League players—Robinson, Sam Jethroe, and Marvin Williams—a tryout at Fenway Park in April of that year. The Sox had no intention of signing any of the players, nor did the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago White Sox, who orchestrated similar bogus auditions. But the public pressure and media publicity helped raise awareness and furthered the cause.
Other politicians were allies in the crusade. Running for re-election to the New York City Council in 1945, Ben Davis—an African-American former college football star, and a Communist—distributed a leaflet with the photos of two blacks, a dead soldier and a baseball player. "Good enough to die for his country," it said, "but not good enough for organized baseball." That year, the New York State legislature passed the Quinn-Ives Act, which banned discrimination in hiring, and soon formed a committee to investigate discriminatory hiring practices, including one that focused on baseball. In short order, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's established a Committee on Baseball to push the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers to sign black players. Left-wing Congressman Vito Marcantonio, who represented Harlem, called for an investigation of baseball's racist practices.
This protest movement set the stage for Robinson's entrance into the major leagues. In October 1945, Rickey announced that Robinson had signed a contract with the Dodgers. He sent Robinson to the Dodgers' minor-league team in Montreal for the 1946 season, then brought him up to the Brooklyn team on opening day, April 15, 1947.
The Robinson experiment succeeded—on the field and at the box office. Within a few years, the Dodgers had hired other black players—pitchers Don Newcombe and Joe Black, catcher Roy Campanella, infielder Jim Gilliam, and Cuban outfielder Sandy Amoros—who helped turn the 1950s Dodgers into one of the greatest teams in baseball history.
* * *Viewers of 42 will see no evidence of the movement that made Robinson's—and the Dodgers'—success possible. For example, Andrew Holland plays Pittsburgh Courier reporter Wendell Smith, but he's depicted as Robinson's traveling companion and the ghost-writer for Robinson's newspaper column during his rookie season. The film ignores Smith's key role as an agitator and leader of the long crusade to integrate baseball before Robinson became a household name.
Robinson recognized that the dismantling of baseball's color line was a triumph of both a man and a movement. During and after his playing days, he joined the civil rights crusade, speaking out—in speeches, interviews, and his column—against racial injustice. In 1949, testifying before Congress, he said: "I'm not fooled because I've had a chance open to very few Negro Americans."
Robinson viewed his sports celebrity as a platform from which to challenge American racism. Many sportswriters and most other players—including some of his fellow black players, content simply to be playing in the majors—considered Robinson too angry and vocal about racism in baseball and society.
When Robinson retired from baseball in 1956, no team offered him a position as a coach, manager, or executive. Instead, he became an executive with the Chock Full o' Nuts restaurant chain and an advocate for integrating corporate America. He lent his name and prestige to several business ventures, including a construction company and a black-owned bank in Harlem. He got involved in these business activities primarily to help address the shortage of affordable housing and the persistent redlining (lending discrimination against blacks) by white-owned banks. Both the construction company and the bank later fell on hard times and dimmed Robinson's confidence in black capitalism as a strategy for racial integration.
In 1960, Robinson supported Hubert Humphrey, the liberal Senator and civil rights stalwart from Minnesota, in his campaign for president. When John Kennedy won the Democratic nomination, however, Robinson shocked his liberal fans by endorsing Richard Nixon. Robinson believed that Nixon had a better track record than JFK on civil rights issues, but by the end of the campaign—especially after Nixon refused to make an appearance in Harlem—he regretted his choice.
During the 1960s, Robinson was a constant presence at civil rights rallies and picket lines, and chaired the NAACP's fundraising drive. Angered by the GOP's opposition to civil rights legislation, he supported Humphrey over Nixon in 1968. But he became increasingly frustrated by the pace of change.
"I cannot possibly believe," he wrote in his autobiography, I Never Had It Made, published shortly before he died of a heart attack at age 53 in 1972, "that I have it made while so many black brothers and sisters are hungry, inadequately housed, insufficiently clothed, denied their dignity as they live in slums or barely exist on welfare."
In 1952, five years after Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, only six of major league baseball's 16 teams had a black player. It was not until 1959 that the last holdout, the Boston Red Sox, brought an African American onto its roster. The black players who followed Robinson shattered the stereotype—once widespread among many team owners, sportswriters, and white fans—that there weren't many African Americans "qualified" to play at the major league level. Between 1949 and 1960, black players won 8 out of 12 Rookie of the Year awards, and 9 out of 12 Most Valuable Player awards in the National League, which was much more integrated than the American League. Many former Negro League players, including Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Don Newcombe, and Ernie Banks, were perennial All-Stars.
But academic studies conducted from the 1960s through the 1990s uncovered persistent discrimination. For example, teams were likely to favor a weak-hitting white player over a weak-hitting black player to be a benchwarmer or a utility man. And even the best black players had fewer and less lucrative commercial endorsements than their white counterparts.
In the 16 years he lived after his retirement in 1956, Robinson pushed baseball to hire blacks as managers and executives and even refused an invitation to participate in the 1969 Old Timers game because he did not yet see "genuine interest in breaking the barriers that deny access to managerial and front office positions." No major league team had a black manager until Frank Robinson was hired by the Cleveland Indians in 1975. The majors' first black general manager—the Atlanta Braves' Bill Lucas—wasn't hired until 1977.
* * *Last season, players of color represented 38.2 percent of majo- league rosters, according to a report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. Black athletes represented only 8.8 percent of major-league players—a dramatic decline from the peak of 27 percent in 1975, and less than half the 19 percent in 1995. One quarter of last season's African-Americans players were clustered on three teams—the Yankees, Angels, and Dodgers. Their shrinking proportion is due primarily to the growing number of Latino (27.3%) and Asian (1.9%) players, including many foreign-born athletes, now populating major league rosters.
But there are also sociological and economic reasons for the decline of black ballplayers. The semi-pro, sandlot, and industrial teams that once thrived in black communities, serving as feeders to the Negro Leagues and then the major leagues, have disappeared. Basketball and football have replaced baseball as the most popular sports in black communities, where funding for public school baseball teams and neighborhood playgrounds with baseball fields has declined. Major league teams more actively recruit young players from Latin America, who are typically cheaper to hire than black Americans, as Adrian Burgos, in Playing America's Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line(2007) and Rob Ruck, in Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game (2012) document.
Among today's 30 teams, there are only four managers of color—three blacks (the Reds' Dusty Baker, the Astros' Bo Porter, and the Rangers' Ron Washington) and one Latino (the Braves' Fredi Gonzalez). (Two of last season's Latino managers—the Indians' Manny Acta, and Ozzie Guillen of the Marlins—were fired). One Latino (Ruben Amaro Jr. of the Phillies) and one African American (Michael Hill of the Marlins) serve as general managers. (White Sox GM Ken Williams, an African American, was promoted to executive VP during the off-season.) Arturo Moreno, a Latino, has owned the Los Angeles Angels since 2003. Basketball great Earvin "Magic" Johnson, part of the new group that purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers last year, is the first African-American owner of a major league team.
Like baseball, American society—including our workplaces, Congress and other legislative bodies, friendships, and even families—is more integrated than it was in Robinson's day. But there is still an ongoing debate about the magnitude of racial progress, as measured by persistent residential segregation, a significantly higher poverty rate among blacks than whites, and widespread racism within our criminal justice and prison systems.
As Robinson understood, these inequities cannot be solved by individual effort alone. It also requires grassroots activism and protest to attain changes in government policy and business practices. 42, misses an opportunity to recap this important lesson. Robinson's legacy is to remind us of the unfinished agenda of the civil rights revolution and of the important role that movements play in moving the country closer to its ideals.
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PETER DREIER teaches politics and chairs the Urban and Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.
Tomorrow CPRReggae hosts the showing of the independent Jamaican film, Better Mus Come. Don't miss it. As I said earlier, I consider myself a “connoisseur” of independent black-themed films. and this film ranks with those of Quilombo, Nothing But A Man, City of God, and Ceddo.
Better Mus Come is a film that shows how cold war politics infected the Jamaican political landscape of the late 1970s. Political parties, acting as proxies for the superpowers, used existing local gangs to influence or determine election outcomes. The resulting corruption and political violence in the movie is projected through the lens of a love story.
The movie works because of its simplicity: it is a very good story that has been built around a real historical event, specifically, the Green Bay Massacre. To its credit though the film never feels like a documentary. The story has good characters, who are not exaggerations, but real people—they act predictably yet are realistically portrayed. Most characters, whether they are agreeable or disagreeable, are portrayed with dignity; they act because of their material conditions and not simply motivated by egoist concerns. The effect is that you are watching real people that you can identify with, and you become engaged in the story.
The story is also told without an ideological bias; you never find yourself vying for one political party or the other. Whether the writer, cinematographer, and director, Storm Saulter, is a JLP or PNP man, is unclear and is irrelevant. The movie follows the life of Ricky (Sheldon Shepard), an impoverished single father struggling to survive. He ekes out a living as a mason stealing cement from construction sites at night, and by stealing PNP ballot boxes during the day. Ricky meets Kemala (Nicole “Sky” Grey), a beautiful young woman, who lives in an area with strong PNP support. The two soon develop a deep love for each other—it does not manifest as typical Western romantic love, but as a deep-seated genuine concern-driven love--real love.
The cinematography is very good. It presents the color and vibrancy of Jamaica. But it is not through the lens of a tourist but as a Jamaican; we see the beauty of the landscape as they see it. The angle of the camera shots are those of a well-schooled cinematographer; we never get the impression that he is trying out new amateurish techniques that don't work or that he is using overuse ones that are contrite and commonplace. The viewer feels he or she is part of the movie. In other words you realize the cinematography is good because you never questions the credulity of what you are viewing. The music also enhanced the film. I thought I was going to hear a lot of reggae period music. In fact, I thought the movie would be an advertisement for reggae and reggae artist of the time. But it wasn't. It was a movie that had a soundtrack that fit the various scenes and emotional timbre of the movie. It was like the soundtrack was made for the film, and not the inverse or that the film tried to fit the music to it. Now whether it can be sold as a soundtrack in its own right, I am not sure if it can.
Aside from actor Roger Guenveur Smith, Saulter utilizes a cast of mostly local talent, often nonprofessional actors. But the movie does introduces two actors that gave notable performances, Sheldon Shepard and Nicole “Sky” Grey. Taking a note from Spike Lee, Saulter said some of the acting and dialogue was unscripted. I believe this is a technique that captured a realism that can't be scripted. Saulter also handled the protagonist in a interesting and realistic fashion. There is no hero-worshiping or standard ending to this movie, but a sort of pseudo-predestination implicit in the ending. Ricky's fate is reminiscent of the City of God's “Knockout Ned's, and perhaps with the same ethical justification.
I thought the treatment of Rastafari was favorable but not over the top. The movie was not a “Rasta movie” but it presented the group as altruistic and spiritually-driven. The elders possessed calm serenity and wisdom. (And they smoked “big spliffs.”) Ricky is drawn to their spirituality but mired in his day to day existent. It is part of his dilemma; the crossroads at which he remained.
The movie was very good, excellent even, and I highly recommend it. It speaks to the experience of Afrikan people struggling with their existence in a Western created, Eurocentric world, that is anti-Afrikan, anti-natal, anti damn-near everything except profit and exploitation. This film should be added to your film collection, placed right next to your other classics. It demonstrates the value of a good movie, and proves a good picture is worth more than a thousand words. We need more movies like this one--ones that tell our story, and speak our special truth.
Bed-Stuy Restoration Plaza - 1368 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY 11216
Join us tomorrow, 4/19/13 as the Coalition To Preserve Reggae Music Inc. presents a special Brooklyn screening of the Jamaican film Better Mus' Come.
This will be an evening of networking, food and entertainment.
Bed-Stuy Restoration Plaza (Multi-Purpose Room)
1368 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY 11216
Friday April 19th
7:00pm - 11:00pm
Discussion with Director Storm Saulter after the film
To Purchase Your Tickets click here: http://cprreggae.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=164&Itemid=111
For more info call: (718) 421-6927 or email firstname.lastname@example.org