From the back of the bus, Dick Gregory saw the future 54 years ago:
“The NAACP is a wonderful organization. Belong to it myself. But do you realize if tomorrow we had complete integration, all them cats would be outta work?”
In 2016, a lotta cats need segregation – cultural segregation, law-and-order segregation, housing segregation.
Storytellers of color – one color in particular – desperately need segregation. Otherwise, they have no story.
In Portland, Ore., a city that storytellers of color like to call the “whitest city in America,” this has been the summer for “Hands Up,” a series of seven monologues written by seven black playwrights and presented by The New Black Fest. The last performance for the summer was held this month at the Hollywood Theatre, and director Kevin Jones promised that the monologues will continue to be refined and reworked and performed.
Meanwhile, a separate event on Sept. 3 will also focus on “storytellers of color in the whitest city in America,” this time offered by Invisible Spectrum Stories at the SERVICE Studio on Northeast Glisan.
After sitting through 90 minutes of “Hands Up,” followed by an hour-long talkback session, I’m not inclined to spend another evening listening to predictable stories I can hear on NPR.
The monologues in “Hands Up” lean heavily on Ferguson, Missouri, where two years ago black protesters took to the streets after a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot Michael Brown, a young black man who slugged the cop and tried to take his gun. In “Hands Up” Brown is portrayed as an innocent young black man who did nothing wrong. (This is a lie that even President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice didn’t buy.)
It would later turn out that many of those protesters in Ferguson, Missouri were bussed in from elsewhere, courtesy of white billionaire George Soros. His $33 million went to “social justice” groups, such as the Organization for Black Struggle, which later started the Hands Up Coalition, which helped create the buzz phrase, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” which helped inspire the “Hands Up” theatrical production I saw in Portland.
One lie leads to another.
It has now come to this: Black protesters this summer took to the streets of Milwaukee, Wisconsin when a black officer shot a young black man, who was armed with a gun and pointed it at the cop. Now even a black cop can’t shoot a black suspect armed with a gun.
Yet the black monologists in “Hands Up” showed little awareness of why police officers – of any color – regard black men with special concern.
Instead, the monologists contributed to a familiar whine. In “Superiority Fantasy” by Nathan James, performed by Tim Golden, the character complained that he was driving his Dodge Neon when the police pulled him over and told him they were investigating a stolen car report.
“Who would steal a Dodge Neon?” he asked the audience.
The line drew a laugh, but the truth is thieves will steal anything – even a Dodge Neon.
Later, the character shows how he has learned to reassure police he’s “one of the good ones.” What’s wrong with that? The implication is that he shouldn’t have to. Well, he wouldn’t have to, if blacks were not associated with crime so frequently.
“Every race has sociopaths,” he said.
Absolutely true, but not every race defends them. Black Americans have distinguished themselves by going above and beyond in defending black thugs to such an extent that they are trying to make use of the word “thug” off-limits to non-blacks.
In monologues entitled “They Shootin! or I ain’t neva scared: a reverberation in 3 parts” by Idris Goodwin, and “How I Feel” by Dennis A. Allen II, both were performed by La’Tevin Alexander with the actor wearing a Tupac T-shirt.
It might have been illuminating had one of these two monologues explored why Tupac Shakur’s thug life is respected when it perpetuates the stereotype of blacks as criminals. (Shakur’s criminal history includes the negligent shooting death of a 6-year-old black boy, whose mother was given a six-figure settlement by Shakur – a pittance compared to what city police departments have paid. In other crimes, Shakur was convicted of assault and first-degree sexual abuse. He would eventually be killed in a shootout in Las Vegas. Since it wasn’t cops who did the shooting, no harm, no foul. Just business as usual.)
The audience “talkback” session that followed the performance was muted and as predictable as the monologues.
Director Jones said to leave politics out of the talkback. How can you talk honestly about race without talking about politics — especially when one of our major political parties for decades has succeeded in persuading blacks that only one party can save them.
Not surprisingly most of the comments from the predominantly white audience were full of praise for the performance and apologies for white privilege.
What’s missing in “Hands Up” is the unexpected voice of someone like Milwaukee County Sheriff Dave Clarke, who spoke at the Republican National Convention. How lonely is it to be a black cop?
What’s missing is political wit that opens minds and doesn’t browbeat.
After my evening at “Hands Up,” I picked up Dick Gregory’s 1962 book, “From the Back of the Bus.”
Gregory grew up in a St. Louis slum with a mother who didn’t condone self-pity.
“We’re broke, not poor. There’s a difference,” she told her six kids.
When they showed embarrassment at the sight of the relief truck delivering food, she came back with, “Does everybody get such service?”
Gregory was making $10 a day washing cars when he got his big break at a Playboy Club. He was soon making $5,000 a week telling jokes like:
“Florida happens to be one of the most liberal states in the South. Why I can go anyplace I like – restaurants, nightclubs, theaters – and I only have to do one thing. Change my name to Ricardo.”
“You know why Madison Avenue advertising has never done well in Harlem? We’re the only ones who know what it means to be Brand X.”
“Isn’t this the most fascinating country in the world? Where else would I have to ride on the back of the bus, have a choice of going to the worst schools, eating in the worst restaurants, living in the worst neighborhoods – and average $5,000 a week just talking about it?”
In 2016, there are blacks who still want to make a living talking about this great unfairness. It’s a different time, though. We now have publications like Forbes running Top 10 lists of where black Americans are doing the best economically.
Turns out Dixie is now the promised land.
Segregation isn’t what it used to be.
— Pamela Fitzsimmons