(My) Fog of War: Oral Surgery, The Hampton Ministers' Conference and Our Proposed Military Strike Against Syria by Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
(My) Fog of War:
The Hampton Ministers’ Conference
Our Proposed Military Strike Against Syria
By Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
All things considered, last week was the kind of week that made me grateful for surgery.
I say this because having two dental extractions on opposite sides of my mouth, recovering from anesthesia, surviving on soups and varied gruels, balancing pain meds and their subsequent dream-induced state kept me away from cable news…at least for a little while.
Last Tuesday afternoon---before Wednesday morning’s surgery---I cleaned my house and prepared meals for my family pre-emptively---so they would have provisions during my convalescence.
During the flurry of housework, I listened for hours as Secretary of State John Kerry made the case for a military strike against Syria. And it all made me BEGIN TO LOOK FORWARD TO ANESTHESIA---despite the fact that I was terrified about undergoing anesthesia the next morning. Sometimes, though, American politics makes one long for the opportunity to disappear, check out, lose consciousness.
Before my cleaning spree Tuesday morning, I’d also received a box of DVDs from the Hampton Ministers' Conference that I’d ordered nearly a month earlier but had been delayed due to a computer glitch. I haven’t been able to attend the annual conference at Hampton University for several years, but value their DVD archive making lectures available to the public. So I splurged last month and purchased a few choice lectures from several ministers I admire.
Consequently, I took my pre-surgery DVD shipment as a sign from God that I would need them to get through the surgery…and more importantly the run-up to U.S. military intervention in Syria. But I had no time to review them: sheets had to be changed, dinner had to be finished, baby had to be picked up and Mama was to arrive in less than ninety minutes.
My mother joined me for a few days of post-surgery care and help with our toddler. However SHE wouldn’t tolerate ANY news she perceived as “beating up on the President”. So I knew my post-surgery access to cable news would be limited.
Wednesday morning came, the surgery went off without a hitch and I returned home with gauzy recognition of my surroundings. I cannot confirm or deny my post-surgery mental state, but was told by Mama and my husband that the anesthesia made me so emotional that I climbed into bed, continuously babbled gibberish which devolved into weeping bitterly to come wailing for Mama to come. So---based on that display---I had no chance of ever controlling the remote during her visit.
Consequently, the remainder of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning, my contact with the outside world consisted of reruns of "Gunsmoke", "Project Runway" and varied programming on the OWN network. Clearly, all of THIS programming mixed with painkillers kept me sedated---if not a slightly confused---and uncharacteristically calm.
Secretly through, through the haze of pharmaceutical and cable TV numbing agents, I wondered all week about the war. When outside of Mama’s earshot, I would sneak-whisper to my husband through post-surgery clenched jaws:
ANOTHER military strike?
ANOTHER phoned-in war?
ANOTHER US intervention in the Middle East?
ANOTHER war based on “classified information”
that cannot be shared with the American public
who are none-the-less expected to support this decisions whole-heartedly?
Ok, that last one was a little long and I had to lay down after all that.
But I STILL wondered:
Can we---as a nation---REALLY be this dim in our thinking?
Can we not figure out how to DO ANYTHING OTHER THAN ENACT STATE-SPONSORED SLAUGHTER TO GET THE POINT ACROSS THE POINT THAT WE DON’T SUPPORT OTHER NATION’S STATE-SPONSORED SLAUGHTER?
So by week’s end, my emotions swept back and forth from pondering Syria to deciding which soupy, tomato-ey concoction I’d have for the next meal.
By the time Saturday morning rolled around, Mama had departed, I’d stopped using the pain meds as frequently and I could finally wield the remote. So, of course I went too far, did too much right off the bat and I binged on two hours of Melissa Harris Perry’s Saturday show.
Despite Perry’s thoughtful coverage of the issue, my questions remained unanswered:
How will we pay for this?
Is Guantanamo still open? If so, whyyyyyy?
Why can our elected officials come together to discuss the road to war, but can’t convene to handle our domestic issues?
Why does this feel like Iraq 3.0---despite the fact that they keep telling us it’s not?
Why does this feel like a global pissing contest between the MALE leaders of the planet claiming to “be doing this for the women and children of Syria”?
And WHY does voting matter if elected officials will do what they want to do ANYHOW?
Consequently, after the MHP show and two more hours of Bombapalooza with Alex Witt, I was completely toxic with military strike talk. By 1pm, was edgy, anxious and unsuccessfully chasing my toddler trying to change her tomato soup-covered shirt.
Fortunately, before despair engulfed me completely, I remembered that box I received earlier in the week. It was time to break into that box of Hampton DVDs and see what “thus sayeth the Lord”. SURELY God has something to say about military strikes---though I didn’t know exactly which DVD would do the trick.
The DVD I selected featured Dr. Gina Stewart’s presentation on June 7, 2011 at the Hampton Ministers’ Conference themed “Building A Prophetic Community”. Here, Dr. Stewart examines Exodus 14 and how one navigates freedom and the threat of war and re-capture for post-liberation people.
Her exploration is provocative and sustaining on many levels, but what arrested my attention as it applied to Syria was the following statement:
“Every now and then, God will orchestrate some conflicts between you and your enemies---not so that you can be embarrassed---but so that GOD’S GLORY can be displayed.”
She also continued in another passage stating that:
“The problem with the Israelites is that they didn’t view the crisis as a theological problem, but as a crisis of political leadership.”
And for the first time in this week, it was as if a fever broke. I finally felt tethered to something deeper and more probing than the typical media framework offered on matters of state. This talk---delivered in 2011---was a world away from this current global struggle, but it gave me hope that: "God is still present even when the enemy is behind you, the Red Sea is in front of you…and you don’t know how to swim” according to Stewart.
As an anti-gun violence activist,
GOD KNOWS I am tired of war.
GOD KNOWS I am tired of shooting rampages.
GOD KNOWS I am tired of global terror and armed violence at home and abroad…
…and sickened by what MEN in particular and the states (or factions) they “lead” do around the world in the name of governance and resistance.
So, I too believe that this Syrian crisis is a theological problem and it begs some difficult questions---particularly for folks of all faith traditions seeking liberation from institutional oppression and armed conflict:
Is WAR the only path to peace?
Can MEN (meaning the male species in particular) broker peace on this planet?
What consequences are there for governments who go against its’ people’s wishes?
How do people of conscience continue to stand (up) for peace in when war and its weapons are always the answer?
The term “fog of war” typically refers to “confusion caused by the chaos of war or battle” or “uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by participants in military operations”.
As I transition from the fog of surgery to the fog of war emanating from this Syria crisis, I am preparing myself to move into the difficult, confusing work of answering some of my own questions as God moves with us…even into yet another armed conflict in the Middle East.
Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD, is the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV) Outreach Coordinator for Central Illinois. She is also the author of TANGLED, an award-winning play that examines gun violence in Chicago and the convening playwright of The GunPlay(s) Competition 2013-2014, a competition focused on plays that examine gun violence in American life. For more information:
Why Yeye (Celebrating The Lives of Africana Women & Girls) Mattered!
By Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
As a lover of dance and movement with historically temperamental knees and ankles
Constantly juggling the work with an active toddler
And wife to a busy campus administrator
I had no REAL time to participate in “Yeye”
But wanted to support a sister-colleague as she had supported me in my own anti- gun violence efforts.
Ironically, what was meant to support her actually supported me.
From the moment I began attending rehearsal, I was reminded of the daily bondage we carry in too many contexts.
Participating in Yeye allowed me to reconnect with other selves
A younger self
A more African self
A more feminine self
A self beyond the tight rope of White supremacy and patriarchy masquerading as good governance
A post-childbirth self
A mothering self
An intergenerational self
A physical self
A rhythmic self
Surrounded by women
Senior and junior to me who were all teaching me
Via their commitment
Via their artistry
Via their sacrifice
To support each other’s contributions to the project
In this context, process was as powerful as the outcome
Sitting on the floor off to the side
Watching Dr. Amira and her daughters dance
Or watching my own daughter drawn to instruments and music-making
Or listening to the words of women impacted by gun violence
Or rising to offer my own support musically, vocally, via shekere or a short dance solo at the end
Transported me to earlier experiences of work, collaboration and celebration with women
Going to the mosque with old Yemeni women to pray, drink tea, do henna and chew qa’at in Sana’a
Eating couscous with Moroccan women who welcomed me into their homes when I was a student in France
Sitting outside with women in Kankan (Upper Guinea/West Africa) preparing rice and leaf sauce for an evening meal
Working with elder women in my mother’s church on Chicago’s South Side laboring for days to prepare lamb, herbs, washing linen and fine china and cleaning the church in preparation for Holy Week and the Seder meal.
Yeye reminded me of women coming together and passing on traditions to the next generation
In this case the dance, spoken word and music offered was a valuable cycle of sharing, receiving feedback, learning how to become part of a whole ensemble, returning home to process/ reflect /prepare for the next rehearsal…and repeat the cycle all over again
Babies, tweens, teens, young adults, current and future mothers/teachers, middle mothers, mature mothers
giving voice to our concerns about gun violence
offering movement and song to our resistance
And it required insistence on staying connected to older memories, older rhythms…older than the Great Migration…older than Jim Crow...older than slavery, older than America…
In a society dependent on forgetting…and OUR forgetting in particular
On consumer-driven “progress”
On African American narratives rooted in self-hatred, consumerism, empty politics, and chronic geographic instability
On preferring a citizenry pre-occupied with pop culture while ignoring the drum beat of war, surveillance and armed annihilation block by block
The Yeye experience was about
listening to works, rhythms, breaks,
listening to cues from fellows
letting you know it was your time, your turn to share your gift
And---more than anything ---made us reflect OUT LOUD on why it is that we suffer the unspeakable on a constant basis
So, in a week shrouded by Egypt in free fall, righting the wrongs of stop and frisk, giving “The Butler” his due, Presidential rodeo clowns, continued shootings and kidnappings around the nation
There could have been no more powerful act that to
share in this journey from Africa to America with my sisters and daughters and mothers
We need movement.
We need sweat.
We need music and laughter.
We need our babies to run, laugh, dance, disrupt and join in as they find their own ways within the Yeye experience
Within the safety of women keeping an eye on them
Sharing a snack with them
Being tolerant of them crying, hollering, picking up instruments themselves
And we need husbands willing to keep those children at home when necessary so that their mothers can create art that matters
We need spaces to sit with our own heartbeats and drumbeats
without fear of being invaded, demoralized, raped, ripped from one another…
…Or forced to destroy one another while other look on…
And we thank Mother Dr. Amira Davis
For keeping the flame lit.
SO MUCH has been taken from us,
so much has been stripped from us
in the hopes of being modern,
successful, acceptable, assimilated American people.
The Yeye experience was a PROFOUND reminder that Africana women
are more than consumers
are than diversity hires
are more than hated vixens in reality-tvia
more than bodies to assault, defame, malign
more than incarcerated subjects of the state
more than disheartening statistics
more than targets and pawns
more than an American problem.
Yeye reminds that WE matter.
Our stories matter.
Our lives matter.
Our experiences matter.
And if no one else believes that we matter,
"Black Like Them? “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” & Black Elite Nostalgia Cinema" by Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
Black Like Them?
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”
Black Elite Nostalgia Cinema
By Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
Perhaps, it is all just too much. I should have spaced some of it out. I should have gone to see Lee Daniels’ The Butler earlier….taken a pause…then watched the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington coverage last weekend…taken a pause….and THENNNN I’d be in much better shape for the President’s upcoming 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington address.
Unfortunately, because I wasn’t more mindful of my low tolerance for Civil Rights re-enactors---now I’m just bloated with it and cranky and aggravated about this Civil Rights-A-Palooza.
It began two weeks ago. On every morning show, cable news outlet and late night interview couch (or table), they all sat there poking my proverbial bear: the cast of Lee Daniels’ The Butler making their case, forcing our hands, beating us over the head with the importance of THIS film, THAT moment, THOSE times. And yet, it all annoyed me. Something about it felt too forced, too earnest, too uncomplicated.
And don’t get me wrong, this story---of the African American servant class---IS MY STORY. I am the child of two African Americans who were servants as teenagers in Jim Crow Mississippi. My mother was a maid and my father was a groundsman for an all white golf course before they both went to college and left the south.
Ironically, my father was injured by one of the lawnmowers while cutting grass at this segregated club. Daddy nearly bled to death because he couldn’t go to the closest hospital to the golf course---a whites-only hospital. Daddy had to be rushed to the nearest Negro hospital in town. Thus, he physically bore a long ugly scar on his right leg and the pain of that humiliation his entire life.
So I understand the sacrifices made and indignities suffered by our servant foreparents. I REALLY DO GET IT. However, Winfrey’s particular emphasis on the fact that this was an “African American MIDDLE CLASSSSSSS family that we don’t get to see very often”, the fact that it's “a looooooove story” and “a film about two different ways of protesting” just grated on me.
Why? Because her boosterism of this film is just the latest round in Winfrey’s toxic cocktail of mixed messaging to Black folks. The story of African American servants is indeed honorable, but in this case, Winfrey’s motivations are fraught with duplicity.
One minute Winfrey is celebrating African American marriage in the context of Lee Daniels’ The Butler and the next minute she sniggling with Jamie Fox about the poor dumb slobs trapped within the constricting, archaic institution. One minute her OWN network is devoting huge blocks of summer programming to the plight of fatherless children across America. Yet, during the commercial break, the network is promoting “The Haves And Have Nots” as the “breakout HIT of the summer”--- a series focusing on toxic relationships of all kinds with specific focus on horrifically failed parental-child relationships. In one breath, she honors the Black middle class in “The Butler” and in the next breath, she represents the Black working class as a band of goofy simpleton in “Love Thy Neighbor”---which is a shame because the cast is talented enough to produce more challenging content.
Thus, I am utterly confused by Winfrey’s messaging at this point---which makes her participation in and promotion of “Lee Daniels The Butler” ring hollow for me. I get tired of being manipulated by Black elites and their correctives for how Black folk must act, dress, think, speak and behave, and then guilted into supporting their pet projects.
It is the equivalent of being “Dixie-Chicked”. Only the Black elite call to action is “just shut up and consume” or “just shut up and act nice in front of all these good white folks” (like my Nana used to warn me when white company pulled up in her gravel driveway in Tougaloo, MS.).
However---despite all of my obvious baggage---I relented. I heeded the call of the Butler's gang of Black elites---on the heels of their opening week box office victory---and drug myself out to see Lee Daniels The Butler. Unfortunately, despite the media-blitz, the raves, the great box office figures, the Oscar buzz, I found myself dulled by it.
It was OK….not groundbreaking or life changing, but simply OK. As the story unfolded before me, it suffered from a focus on breadth over depth. Forest was lovely and Oprah was interesting and their love story read as authentic enough, even moving at times.
Unfortunately, the pacing felt slow. Too much of the acting felt hollow and filled underdeveloped characters and the historical processes felt devoid of fire or intensity---with the exception of the brilliant lunch counter scene.
The film is also COMPLETELY ABSENT of any serious examination of the years since King for Black Americans in America. Yes, the Reagans are present and attention given to apartheid in South Africa, but the film COMPLETELY sidesteps the consequences of the War on Drugs, the crack epidemic, AIDS, the Gulf Wars, hyper-incarceration, gentrification, gun crime and Black depopulation across urban America. We leap from the Black Panthers to Mandela to Obama with no sense of what Black folk struggled with on the ground in America these last 30 years.
Hence, during this summer filled with Martin King and Trayvon Martin, Civil rights and wrongs, marches and rallies too often called for the sole purpose of marching and rallying, I am left wondering who Lee Daniels The Butler is for exactly? Who is its target audience?
It has been argued that this story is for generations of younger Americans “who don’t know this history”. As a PhD in History and with family connections to the film's themes, I reflected on the Gaines family. Yet, I left the theater with a heavy heart considering all that each character in the film had sacrificed for America. In so doing, I thought more broadly about what Black folks in general had to sacrifice IN America and FOR America…and ARE STILL a people menaced BY America.
Furthermore, the film read to me like a love letter from Black elites to White America. A love letter reminding them of their cherished Blacks, their tolerable Blacks and martyred Blacks of the American past.
Thus, 50 years later, Lee Daniels’ The Butler reminds America that grappling with noble yet despised Blacks, March On Washington Blacks, aged and dying Blacks--- are much easier to deal with than the Blacks that Whites (and Black elites) must contend with in the here and now.
Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD, is the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV) Outreach Coordinator for Central Illinois. She is also the author of TANGLED, an award-winning play that examines gun violence in Chicago and the convening playwright of The GunPlay(s) Competition 2013-2014, a competition focused on plays that examine gun violence in American life.
***This op-ed was written in response to the Zimmerman verdict. However, in light of today school shooting scare in Georgia, I decided to post this on my own site.***
Can Black children be raised in
(Post-Trayvon Martin) America?
By Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
An unfathomable question. And yet, the Zimmerman verdict and ensuing debates have forced me to reflect on this question EVERY DAY.
In the wake of a not guilty verdict, there has been a range of curious responses: public angst and dissension, jurors taking to the airwaves in need of catharsis, presidential pleas for national reflection, beautifully choreographed weekend rallies, and even African American pundits providing 5 point plans on What African Americans Must Do (…To Not Get Shot Down Dead In The Streets of America, I guess).
Then, there is the thing: the maddening denouement that falls upon a public whose attention span is hardwired to the rhythms of social media. We move on. We are encouraged to “move on” to the next shiny bauble of pop culture, Congressional standoff, episode of Obama-phobia or political “scandal”. Thus WE as a nation fold up our signs, take off our hoodies, eat our Skittles and move on.
Journalist Matt York observes a similar dynamic in his article 'Justice For Trayvon' Movement Struggles To Find Focus. He reports that “in the two weeks since George Zimmerman’s acquittal, the same activists galvanized by his trial are finding it hard to focus the energy of the Trayvon Martin movement.”
However, “moving on”, is a luxury of that I don’t have. I still have a question on the floor, America?
Can Black children be raised in (Post-Trayvon Martin) America?
Admittedly, it is a curious question from an American woman who is the daughter of great privilege. I was raised by two college educated, African American parents who fled Jim Crow Mississippi for the Black Middle Class enclaves of Chicago’s South Side of the late 1960s/early 1970s.
I was brought up in a neighborhood of Black professionals and the beneficiary of K-12 catholic education, travel and cotillions and completed post-secondary three degrees ultimately earning a doctorate in History.
I am the embodiment of THE AMERICAN DREAM, no?
Yet, despite that past, I dress my African American child and kiss my African American husband off to work EVERYDAY wondering if WE ALL WILL SURVIVE TODAY.
Will one of us be gunned down in the streets of our quiet, leafy, upscale subdivision---nestled in the shadows or our alma mater--- for being the “wrong color”?
Or, will we three finally be the victims of a drive-by just for taking our baby to visit her grandmother on Chicago’s South Side?
See, we African American parents of all classes, are caught in a double bind here in “Stand Your Ground” America. We are caught at the intersections of inter-racial and intra-racial gun violence that no one seems to want to help us out with.
Sadly, the America that aided African American uplift for earlier generations no longer exists.
According to the Children’s Defense Fund’s study “Black And White: Black Children Compared to White Children (September 2011), “black children are poorer, black children are less likely to live in traditional two-parent household, black children are in poorer health, black children are behind in school and black children are more at risk of arrest, incarceration and gun death.”
This data translates into Black parents and children menaced by police, meter maids, cameras in their communities and security guards on their well-paid jobs. Law-abiding Black parents and children live lives strangled by crime, food deserts, under-resourced communities, empty strip malls and crumbling infrastructure. Black parents and children live in communities to often overseen by ineffective politicians, immigrant vendors, gun-addicted males and fast food chains squeezing the last few votes, the last few dollar or snuffing out the last few lives out of destabilized and or deteriorating communities.
Ironically, this very same community provides a great deal of wealth to the total American economy. In the Nielsen Study “The African-American Consumers: Still Vital, Still Growing 2012 Report” researchers reported that “the African-American consumer population continues to be a vibrant and dynamic market segment, providing both emerging and mature market attributes. Still the largest racial minority group in America, with a projected buying power of $1.1 trillion by 2015, Black consumers remain at the forefront of social trends and media consumption.
Thus, it seems me that if Black children and Black parents are to survive in America, African Americans have to become much more strategic regarding their ECONOMIC relationship to this nation.
If our nation can’t be concerned about Black parents or whether Black families live or die, we need to renegotiate our relationship to the nation ECONOMICALLY in the following ways:
STOP supporting destructive entertainment and behaviors that makes gun sales and gun manufacturers wealthy.
STOP supporting programming, networks, advertisers and products used to promote “recreational violence” and the subjugation of women and girls.
STOP spending money in stores---from mom and pop spots to local branches of mega-chains---that won’t pay you a living wage to care for your children.
STOP voting for elected officials who delight in menacing, taxing, ticketing, excessively surveilling and dismantling institutions in your communities.
STOP vacationing in states, holding conferences and doing business in states where loose gun laws, voter disenfranchisement, educational inequality, racial profiling and mass incarceration are the primary economic imperative.
To be sure, some will argue that African Americans themselves will be harmed if we boycott such industries, products or services. Fair enough, but change certainly won’t come if we keep supporting these institutions---at our own peril.
If African American parents and children are to survive, we must be willing to stand up, LITERALLY remove the guns from our own temples and refuse to be bullied by the nation, its laws, its corrosive industries and their pipelines to prisons or cemeteries designed for us.
Since America is no longer a place willing to invest in African American children or their families, African Americans parents must now do the difficult work of DIVESTING ECONOMICALLY from our own destruction. Our survival depends on it.
Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD, is the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV) Outreach Coordinator for Central Illinois.
She is also the author of TANGLED, an award-winning play that examines gun violence in Chicago: http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/nicole-anderson-cobb-phd/tangled-a-dramedy-about-gun-violence-in-the-age-of-obama/paperback/product-20930899.html
Finally, she is also the convening playwright of The GunPlay(s) Competition 2013-2014, a competition focused on plays that examine gun violence in American life. For more information:
It’s been nearly 17 hours and I still can’t stop thinking about this movie. I have slept and awakened and been to the bathroom a couple of times during the night…and--- all the while--- I have had “Django” on my mind.
See, after seeing “Lincoln” a few weeks ago, I VOWED TO NEVER RETURN TO ANOTHER HOLLYWOOD MOVIE. “Lincoln’s sanitized view of slavery and the INFURIATING absence of Frederick Douglass was profoundly irksome. That combined with the Oprah interview where she posed NOT ONE probing question to Spielberg about historic race relations; or what this film has to say about American race relations, American regionalisms, American political life or gender roles or sexual politics TODAY, I JUST HAD ENOUGH. I’d reached my limit.
I WOULD NOT be tricked again…no, sir…you wouldn’t find be hauling tail to prop up in another dark theater for the privilege of watching white male filmmakers control the narrative, the perspectives, the jobs and resources allocated---all in the service of making the great white men of history look good and noble and benevolent YET AGAIN.
Nope, I’m done. No more. NO MORE, I promised myself.
So when the earliest talk of “Django” began to circulate late this fall, I noted to self: “I’d be damned if I was going to go see some Blaxploitation Spaghetti Western called “Django”. “Please!” I said rolling me eyes and sucking my teeth indignantly.
And yet, listening to Kerry Washington discuss the film with Oprah (alas), I became mildly interested. A talented filmmaker-girlfriend in LA posted on Facebook that she'd enjoyed the film and wondered about her remarks, made mental note of them, shrugged, sighed and kept it moving.
Then, upon hearing Tarantino on Charlie Rose discuss the film, my curiosity became more peaked. So by the time I heard Jamie Foxx discuss it and Spike Lee reject it, I was alllllllllll in---despite the fact that I am an anti-gun violence advocate and I knew there would be a lot of gun violence involved.
Now---on the other side of my first viewing of this film---I can’t stop thinking about how DEEPLY MOVING and affecting Django was for me.
I believe it was because---for me---in “Django”, the American curtain was rent…torn in two…the façade crumbled…and we are left to deal with THE ROOT, the foundations, the primary operating principles that have undergirded the crushing history of race relations in American life.
“Django” is a primal screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmmmmmm that drives your attention back to the American slave trade and the fundamental insanity and industry of cruelty that built America…an industry that continues to frame our relationships on personal, communal, economic and political levels in this country.
In the age of Obama---where “cool”, “calm”, “Cleaver-esque”, “clean cut”, “appropriate”, “Father Knows Best” kinds of Black acceptability and Black masculinity rule the day---“Django” is the anti-Obama...(...and yet he is more like the President than I first realized after a few more days of thinking about the film. But more on that in a bother entry.)
“Django” is the quintessential American hero for some…and the quintessential American nightmare for others. “Django” is the poster child for the gun rights movement. Thus, the fear of a Black man even slightly resembling (or even dreaming about resembling) a “Django”-type figure explains the rationale behind huge chunks of Black American History: the Jim Crow era, the rejection of the Civil Rights Movement, busing, White flight, the cratering of American inner cities and the rise of the prison industrial complex.
Clearly, this film is PROFOUNDLY COMPLICATED, DISTURBING EVEN---as it operates on so many different levels: toxic race relations, intra-racial tensions and stratifications, gender roles and constraints, regionalisms, nationalisms and the space where fantasy and history do battle and elude each others’ grasp. And yet it is worth sitting with…and meditating on again and again.
In a culture where contemporary entertainment believes it resolves racial animus by casting people of color as “the help” ( high brow or low brow), “the jolly sidekick”, “the sassy truth teller or “the scowling” truth teller (which most often includes the social worker or judge), “the forensic grunt-cop in the crime drama game”, or some form of “troubled housewife” (or “troubled housewife-in-training”), “Django is a space to exhale and remember where all this contemporary SCHLOCK on the American mediascape came from.
Foxx’s “Django” character is not unproblematic as he is forced from one hellish, soul-crushing lifestyle to escape into an even more hellish, soul-crushing lifestyle...alas, the unfortunate consequences of limited employment options for the enslaved. And while not “skinning and grinning and shining and tom-ming”, Foxx’s “Django” still has a handler, a master and must still contort himself to this master’s will in order to to live, move, have his being. He is a Black man playing the role of being a fully actualized Black man until he can become a fully actualized Black man, INDEED. And that’s just a mere morsel of the body of criticism to come.
In the days and months to come, my colleagues in the academy will put this film under a microscope and examine all that the film “is”, “isn’t”, “should be” and “shouldn’t be” and bemoan the fact that a Black filmmaker didn’t (or couldn’t?) make this film. And I will give them the room and time they need to do this work.
However---as a historian of West Africa, as a writer, as a film professor, as an artist, an activist, a descendant of Mississippi on both sides, I regard “Django” as an ode to the ancestors.
“Django” is a meditation on the legacy of white supremacy..and white courage... and the terrifying fear that slavery REQUIRED on all sides... and our early gun lust... and Red State/Blue State antagonisms... and African strength... and epic African survivalists... and African American self-hatred and self-loathing that has been bequeathed to all of us---all of which informs how we live our lives today.
I look forward to seeing “Django” again (and again and again)---as it still offers so much MORE for me to consider. However, it reminds me again of my initial post on Facebook about the film being a reminder of the miracle that “a Black America” could exist at all under these conditions…or that a Black President on these shores could ever be possible.
I hope to keep thinking about “Django” in the days to come because in America---it’s not the forgetting that saves us---but THE REMEMBERING that should inform our days together.
---Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
The "Shug Avery" Effect: Processing The Vote & Using "The Color Purple" As A Lense For Examining Election 2012 By Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
Since Tuesday's election, I have been in a haze of disbelief, cold
medicine, congestion and coughing fits that haven't allowed much room for
anything coherent---beyond work, child care drop offs and snuggling up against
my humidifier for relief---until today.
However, between fitful naps and soaking in all of the election
post-mortems, I have finally found my footing...and find myself in that same old
location HUNNNNNGRY for the voices and perspectives I never here.
So, here I go...lurching in to where angels fear to tread.
In the pundit circles, the post-election conversations has been fixated on
1.) Blaming the Republicans for ignoring the demographic shifts
in the country
2.) Pundits---ever chasing the hot news story---are throwing
themselves headfirst into fiscal-cliff mongering.
And yet, FOR ME, I can't even get there YET. I just need a
moment to slow down and process what happened on Tuesday night---DESPITE all the
s*** that has splashed up on me--- that led up to that moment.
THHHHHHHIIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSSSSSS election was one filled with
name-calling, fear-mongering and accusations:
Dirty Angry Money.
Become An American.
Bring Back "The White" In The White House.
Take American Back.
Sanctity of Marriage.
No Need To See MY Birth Certificate.
Binders Filled With Women.
Say That A Little Louder, Candy?!
Takers Vs. Makers.
Wanted to swing on the President.
...And it just went ON AND ON...
So, for me, despite the Obama victory, how does one move past all the slime
spewed into the atmosphere?
Just because you both come out and give shiny,
conciliatory election night speeches---after 2 years of hate and fear
rhetoric---doesn't pass muster with me. I ain't quite there yet. I need a lil'
more time to recover from all that frenzied, toxic, political air
Furthermore, with regard to the "It's Demography, Stupid" mantra
splattered across the headlines and airwaves, the notion that---in light of
defeat--- you have to retool your message to appeal to Brown voters is
aggravating and offensive as well. This idea that NOOOOOOOOW you need some
gimmicks and brown faces to win in 2016 or 2020 to embody your message of hate
and exclusion is outrageous.
In addition to voting FOR President Obama over Governor Romney, THE
AMERICAN ELECTORATE VOTED AGAINST being insulted and threatened with
THEY VOTED AGAINST being disrespected and called "food stamp voters".
THEY VOTED AGAINST being terrorized at their polling places.
THEY VOTED AGAINST billboards and surveillance in their
THEY VOTED AGAINST being denied the right to participate in their democracy
...they are old;
...or happen to be students;
...or don't drive;
...or because they live in a swing state;
...or are poor;
...or are Black or Latino..
...or Black AND Latino...
...or any number of configurations that equal non-white, non-wealthy,
...or they are female;
...or single and female;
...or considering an abortion;
... or survived an abortion;
...or endured a rape;
...or don't have a lunch hour at all and needed to vote early
...or live in a district with understaffed polling places, poorly trained
poll workers or malicious state officials determined to menace them.
So before you start working on your strategy for 2014 or
2016, YOU OWE US AN APOLOGY!!!
All those who
sought to suppress, harass, intimidate:
YOU OWE US AN
...for the trauma, for the inconvenience, your audacity to
believe that we can be abused so fiercely that we'd stay home...and let your
voters win the day.
And if you are unwilling to apologize, consider the following:
PRESIDENT OBAMA WON RE-ELECTION...But even more importantly and
NOVEMBER 4, 2008 MEETINGS TO DEFEAT THE PRESIDENT lost.
THE DESIRE TO MAKE BARACK OBAMA A ONE-TERM PRESIDENT lost.
SIN---in all of its forms---lost.
One other line of thinking emerged from my early reflections on this election.
For many in the African American community, Alice Walker's"The Color Purple"
continues to provide rich life lessons as a dear friend, Pastor Angela Shannon
and I, recently spoke about this book and it spiritual dimensions shortly before
Interestingly, as bits and pieces of that conversation came back to me about an entirely different subject,
this election 2012 triggered for me that fateful scene----depicted in
the clip below--- at the dinner table in the Speilberg film when the film's
heroine Ms. Celie stands up to her abusive partner and utters powerful words from
the table all the way out to the car:
Up until November 6, 2012, the GOP behaved like the petulant "Mister"
character---so entitled,so fixated on obtaining his desires and bent on
maintaining his priveledge that he couldn't appreciate what he had in his
midst...nor could he disconnect himself from the toxic culture of oppression and
patriarchy that had served him and men like him for generations.
And in many ways, President Obama's term was embodied Ms. Celie's early
life---abused, brutalized, long-suffering, patient, observant, cautious,
steadfast, marked by some intermittant victories, always working and
And yet November 6, 2012, many of the American people
EMBODIED THE SPIRIT
OF SHUG AVERY: BRASH, BOLD, FEARLESS, SELF-AWARE, EVOLVING IN PLACE, UNWILLING
TO BE BRUTALIZED ANOTHER MOMENT BY ANYONE, ANY SYSTEMS, ANY AUTHORITY, WILLING
TO CLAIM THE LIFE, THE PATH, THE LEADER THAT WOULD TAKE THEM FORWARD.
So in this Celie/Shug partnership, the American people---not all of them,
but a majority of them who voted--- wrapped their arms around this President and
said: It's been a hard road. WE SEE YOU...WE REALLY DO. You have done all you
could. WE SEE YOU. We are here for you. WE SEE YOU. We are willing to support
you as you go and as you grow...for all our sakes.
So, the video that was released---with the President in tearful
gratitude---was revealing. I read the tears as sweet relief, as release, as an
opportunity to let go a bit---an opportunity to let go of six years of
efforting, seeking, proving, disproving, fighting, calculating, judging,
misjudging, accomplishing, warring, disappointing, discouraging, battling doubt
and demonization of his every action.
NOW perhaps---after this extended period of darkness, worry, fear and
angst--- joy will come for the President and the rest of us.
However WE WILL NOT BE BETTER TO ONE ANOTHER--- unless we are not willing
to examine what we've done to one another.
I pray thee well, America!
---Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
As American As Apple Pie
By Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD
“…You have to return to yourselves and look deeply and find out why this violence happened. Why is there so much hatred? What lies under all this violence? Why do they hate so much that they would sacrifice their own lives and bring about so much suffering to other people? Why would these young people, full of vitality and strength, have chosen to lose their lives, to commit such violence? This is what we have to understand.”
---From “What I Would Say to Osama Bin Laden: An Interview with Thich Nhat Hanh” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Anne A. Simpkinson,
Published in A Lifetime of Peace: Essential Writings By and About Thich Nhat Hanh (2003)
In the days since the mass shooting in Aurora Colorado on July 19, I’ve been more angry and detached than usual, but unable to put my thoughts into words until very recently. “Detached” because the frequency and our acceptance of mass shootings by young Americans is becoming as “normal” an American pastime as March Madness, the cherry blossoms in DC, the finales of Dancing With The Stars or American Idol, fireworks on July 4th, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the “Black” Friday shop-a-thon that follows….mass shootings are becoming as American as apple pie.
Perhaps, this is why---of all the images of victims, survivors, first responders and memorials--- the image of Marietta Perkins keeps pricking my consciousness because she best captures my sentiments these days.
I don’t know and have never met Marietta Perkins in my life, but HER POSTURE just seemed to be the right thing to do for such a time as this. We all should have fallen (and should continue to fall to the ground) and cast our very spirits skyward in the wake of such heartbreak. I have no idea what the exact words of her own prayer were, but HER ENTIRE BEING CRIES OUT IN OPEN LAMENT: “Oh God, MY GOD, we beseech thee and seek your forgiveness for all we have done and for all we have left undone…”
And yet, contrary to Marietta’s example, our media makers and “thought leaders” forced us to slog through our institutionalized American ritual for mass slayings: shock, local tragedy becomes “national” horror, mumbling pundits wax on half-heartedly about gun control and clumsily reciting lines of the teleprompter about the need for tougher gun laws. Then, resistance to gun control ushers forth from gun rights camps while the incident becomes an election-year platform for the candidates to give us a lil’ emotion on the issue.
Finally, as a closing flourish to our theater of carnage, journalists elicit heartbreaking testimonials from families about loved ones lost before it’s ALL set to music and slick editing for evening news specials for days to come.
Then---because we don’t have the national will to deal with hard truths revealed about ourselves--- we decide not to speak the culprit’s name, wait for the griever-in-chief to come and go, finally see the shooter in court---and exhale. It’s as if we shout a collective “Ok, well, enough of that, and we race back to our summer fun”. Like shaking popcorn and salt residue off our hands at the end of the movie, we are through watching, we are through thinking about all that unseemly shooting business. Let’s move on to more pleasant conversations shall we?
So, before the first funerals, we follow our media racing off to coverage of “Mitt”ing across the globe, Olympic fervor, the tedious food fight masquerading as election 2012, drought in the heartland, what’s in the hell is going on with the Jacksons (of both Jessie Jr. and Mama Katherine)??? And we can’t wait to see Rihanna on Oprah!
But I’m still stuck back on Colorado and the unfortunate way our media processes race, class and gun violence in American life. Coverage of this massacre in particular made me realize once and for all---despite the hundreds of channels streaming into my home daily---that NO ONE IN THE AMERICAN MEDIA REALLY SPEAKS TO ME ANYMORE. Despite the 24 hour news cycle, NO ONE DISCUSSES THINGS THAT MATTER TO ME IN WAYS THAT TRULY MATTER…OR MINISTER TO MY BROKEN HEART WHEN SUCH INCIDENTS OCCUR.
Our media is filled with folks who are “pretty, shiny things” adorned, bedazzled, camera-ready. Wind them up and they utter the requisite “party line” on any issue, but most possess nooooooooo soul. Facts, charts, graphs abound, but nothing emotional, probing, useful for me to carry forward for the lifting up of my head.
Ironically though, late on the Friday morning after the shooting, a Southern California public radio station seeking my comment on the Colorado shootings contacted me. Their producer emailed me:
“I’m reaching out to people in the Public Insight Network of news sources about the Batman shooting in Aurora, Colo. While I cannot see the full statement you made in a note to another newsroom, it looks like you’ve got an interesting background looking at the connection of entertainment and gun violence.
Could you share your thoughts on the Aurora shooting at the Batman and do you mind sharing and a bit more about your background? I see you’re a PhD.,-- in what field? Thanks very much, I’m hoping to find a place for your insights in our coverage.”
I guess I popped up in some database of citizen-journalists that cross-referenced “gun violence” and “entertainment”. Initially, I figured it had something to do with “TANGLED”---my play that examines gun violence that has been produced around the country since 2009. For the record, in that play, my main character---“Claudine Elliot”--- asks the fundamental question: "When did we decide it was OK for OUR children to kill US and kill EACH OTHER and we do NOTHING but go to funeral after funeral??? Applied to the Colorado incident (and various other shootings across the country this summer alone), this remains an open question in my own mind.
Despite the fog I was in regarding the Colorado shooting, I pulled my initial thoughts together for the producer.
Again, AGAIN, America? I GRIEVE DEEPLY the loss of lives and extend my sympathies to the families.
But I PRAYYYYYYYYYYY that our national and local leaders and media don't sleepwalk through this moment. This is INDEED a tragedy, but what makes this incident a NATIONAL tragedy when tens of folks get shot IN THE CITY OF CHICAGO (my hometown) ANY GIVEN WEEKEND---and we don't get speeches from national leaders, calls for national grief or unity and wall-to-wall cable coverage???
My issue is this: WHEN ARE WE GOING TO HAVE AN ONGOING NATIONAL CONVERSATION ABOUT WHY OUR YOUNG MEN---WHITE, BLACK, BROWN, ASIAN, MALE, URBAN, SUBURBAN, RURAL---ARE KILLING US AND EACH OTHER EVERYDAY IN AMERICA?
If we don't TEACH OUR CHILDREN HEALTHY CONFLICT RESOLUTION STRATEGIES BEYOND VIOLENCE and DISRUPT THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN GUN VIOLENCE AND MASCULINITY IN THIS COUNTRY, these TRAGIC episodes will become TV events on our violence-saturated airwaves...and sadly nothing more.
No sooner than I sent my statement off the producer via email, one of her staff reached me by phone in a hurry to get a statement from me and to find out if I could talk about gun violence and entertainment on the air. They were pressed as they were trying to book guest for their afternoon show.
Oddly, the more I explained my perspective, the more agitated the producer became and hurriedly got off the phone with me as quickly as possible. I guess this wasn’t the “angle” they are looking for as my views never “found a place in their coverage”.
What is also maddening about these episodes is that people argue that environment impacts on individuals in nearly every other context---whether it involves second-hand smoke, environmental racism, global warming or food desserts on urban obesity. Yet, we continue to act as if consuming murders, rapes, assaults, all kinds of bloody supernatural combat and political infighting in our caustic mediascape has no impact on us.
I’d argue that this is the lie we tell ourselves so that we won’t have to change. This is the lie that we tell ourselves so that we don’t have to give up another of our great American addictions: violence as entertainment, violence as recreation, violence as leisure, violence as relief and violence as distraction in American life.
However, as long as we covet the right to kill one another in our laws, entertainment, games, music, our international forays via unending warfare, MASSACRES AURORA-STYLE WILL CONTINUE.
As long as we are permissive of shooting rampages as normal rights of passage for American youth on the streets, on our campuses and in malls and entertainment venues across America,
MASSACRES AURORA-STYLE WILL CONTINUE.
As long as we continue to fight in front of our children, as long as we send their parents to war, as long as we fight one another in Congress, on reality TV, on crime TV, in blockbuster films and cable gore, in school bullying and domestic chaos,
MASSACRES AURORA-STYLE WILL CONTINUE.
In my play “TANGLED”, Claudine reflects on her community realizing that “there is no life in us because there is no life around us”.
Thus, at this critical hour, I believe that one of the greatest acts of non-violence we can perform is TO TURN OFF OUR TELEVISION SETS AND REJECT FILMS, PROGRAMS, GAMES AND POLITICAL PARTIES THAT TOLERATE AND PROMOTE VIOLENCE---BE IT PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, COMMUNAL, VERBAL, SPIRITUAL, POLITICAL/ CAMPAIGN-ORIENTED VIOLENT SPEECH. Otherwise, MASSACRES AURORA-STYLE WILL CONTINUE.
After processing the coverage of the Aurora Colorado tragedy, I am more convinced than ever that rejecting our violent mediascape--- and working to de-escalate the violence in American life wherever one can--- are two of the most important acts of resistance in American life.
As Marietta Perkins’ embodied witness calls to us from 2 Chronicles 7:14:
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
So, let us begin! Join me, won’t you?
Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD, Educator, Playwright & Samaritan Road Founder
When A Theater Festival Ministers To A Playwright
By Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD
Four days after my play TANGLED opened a successful two-month run at eta Creative Arts Foundation in Chicago, I got an email inviting me to participate in the DC Black Theatre Festival 2012. However, this was not my first rodeo.
Since I finished writing TANGLED in late August 2009, this tumbleweed of a play has continued to make it’s way around the country. It opened at a New York reading (2010). Then, it was used at a course text in Champaign, Illinois (2010). Later it was a liturgical source at a Chicago school of theology (2011). Subsequently, it was recognized at a North Carolina festival (2011), staged on a Chicago University campus (2011), a pulpit in Champaign for an African American Read-In (2012) before a full production was staged in Chicago (2012)….and now an invite to a Washington DC theatre festival.
Now at a time when life can’t get much busier---or more costly---it seemed risky, foolhardy, even indulgent to leave my 10-month-old baby and busy husband to follow this play…again…a play that costs money every time I board a plane, take a taxi or bed down in a hotel in a new city.
Nonetheless, I set aside some resources to travel to DC. Despite the expense, in my gut---for whatever reason---going to the reading seemed like the right thing to do. Yet, arriving in DC in the middle of a DC heatwave was somehow fitting. It was cosmic payback for spending “good” money on another TANGLED foray.
So, I made the most of the three day visit in the sweltering DC heat. I took tours, hung out with my cousin, made minor personal pilgrimages to beloved DC spots, connected with a wonderful new friend, and saw a festival play---all done in order to shut out my pre-reading anxiety.
Generally, TANGLED had been well received in previous readings and productions, but I worried about DC. Will there be an appetite for a play with presidential critique---especially on the heels of landmark legislation just two days earlier? How will the use of “strong” language be received? Sure, scores of people in Chicago die by the tens weekly with even more wounded, but would residents of “the DMV”---DC, Maryland Virginia---care?
Ironically, the evening I arrived and the day of the healthcare victory and Attorney General contempt vote, I decided to do a DC By Night Tour. My head was buzzing and I figured it would help me kill time, get my bearings and some exercise before my cousin arrived the next day, and stave off any homesickness that might creep up on me. Per usual, the tour stopped at the White House for 30 minutes and the bus emptied as we all sauntered over to peek through the front gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
To my UTTER SHOCK AND AMAZEMENT, there THEY were: THE FIRST FAMILY! THE OBAMA FAMILY: President, First Lady, First Daughters Sasha & Malia out strolling casually on the driveway in front of the White House. I could even see the First Lady was wearing a red and black dress, the President his standard White shirt and blue tie and the girl wearing their hair braided back in tops and shorts. Then the President lifted his arm to wave to the crowd as the First Lady hurried off with the girls trotting behind them.
THIS was so unexpected. I WAS DUMBFOUNDED---OF ALL THE CRAZY LUCK!!! I was in town to do a reading of a play about gun violence in OUR hometown---mine and the FIRST FAMILY’S--- and I stumble upon the first family on a tour. So of course I have to snap a photo to document the event (see photo above).
Now, as you can see, my angle is a bit cock-eyed. That is because no sooner than this photo was snapped did I hear “MOVE! MOVE! NOW! LET’S GOOOOO! Suddenly, I felt the crowd pushing rightward against me. Two secret service police on bikes were forcing the crowd to disperse IMMEDIATELY. MOVE! LET’S GO! THE TOUR IS CLOSED! YOU CAN’T BE HERE! YOU MUST LEAVE NOW! LET’S GO! CLEAR THE AREA NOWWWWWWWWWWW!!! So we all moved away from the gates excited, shocked to have “seen Obama…wait till I tell everyone back home” one man crowed in the dispersing crowd, the police scowling fiercely as they herded us onward.
What a moment: both thrilling and worrisome. It was indeed exciting to see the First Family on White House grounds. Yet, it was disconcerting to consider JUST HOW CLOSE we all were---armed only with cameras thankfully---to the White House before we were “removed” from the premises.
As I strolled back to the bus anxious to call Mama and my husband to share my glimpse of the Obamas, I felt like crossing paths with the First Family was a good omen that the production had their blessing somehow.
Then, two days later, on the morning of the reading, we awoke to hear that the city and surrounding area had been hit by a rare summer storm called a “derecho” resulting in downed trees and power lines leaving millions without power. Our hotel wasn’t affected in the least, but friends who we were to meet with lost power; or were completely stranded and unable to meet us. Yep, cosmic reminder #2 that: 1.) My notion of the Presidential blessing on the production MIGHT HAVE BEEN A TAD PREMATURE and 2.) This might not have been the best time for a trip to DC.
Then, on the morning of the reading, we awoke to hear that the city and surrounding area had been hit by a rare summer storm called “a derecho” resulting in downed trees and power lines leaving millions without power. Our hotel wasn’t affected in the least, but friends who we were to meet with lost power; or were completely stranded and unable to meet us. Yep, cosmic reminder #2 that this might NOT have been the best time for a trip.
Thus, on that fateful night, my cousin and I staggered up the near-vertical hill to Howard University’s Blackburn Center moments before the reading was to begin. Sweat-soaked and breathless as we paused near the top, I wondered: WHAT ARE WE EVEN DOING HERE? PEOPLE ARE STRANDED IN SWELTERING HEAT ALL OVER THE REGION. WOULD ANYONE ELSE EVEN BE HERE? Yet, we pressed on…as we’d come too far to turn back now...and the taxi had long since pulled of anyhow.
When we finally arrived at the room where the TANGLED reading was being held, the room was warm and the crowd was sparse. Ok, cosmic reminder #3 that some readings of TANGLED can indeed go on without you. Nonetheless, my cousin and I made it with just enough time to greet a friend and we scampered into our seats mere moments before the performance began. We were briefly acknowledged by the director and the play unfolded before us all.
To my utter amazement, as the room became more and more populated, TANGLED---this story of a family negotiating gun violence--- captivated again. A growing audience laughed at the humorous passages, gasped at heartbreaking events and groaned in affirmation of truths revealed.
Yet, the post-show talkback revealed why the sacrifices made to be present for TANGLED audiences MATTER. During the Q & A is where folks discussed horrible personal connections to gun violence. It was HERE where the audience remembered students, relatives, friends gunned down or living with the physical and emotional scars of gun violence. It was HERE---amidst the Q & A--- where the audience members discussed scenes from the play that moved them, mattered to them, triggered something within them.
And in those moments, I understood my greater purpose: BEARING WITNESS and SITTING WITH those suffering from gun violence was a part of the fabric of this play.
Gun violence is so pervasive, so prevalent, so horribly mundane in daily American life. We hear about incidents daily, sigh, shake our heads and then quickly move on to weather, sports, traffic and the vitally important red carpet premiere or celebrity break-up. Yet, continued interest in TANGLED affirms our communal need to sit still, breathe, feel and process how gun violence is decimating our communities, our relationships and impacting how we relate to one another.
One of the actors shared: “this play mattered to me because too many of us in the Black community suffer from post-traumatic SLAVERY disorder…and we really need to grieeeeeeeve this thing…the effects of gun violence." He then looked down at the floor as the room fell silent digesting his words.
Another actor spoke of her three college friends ---one killed, one wounded and one jailed because of gun crime involvement. Between cast, playwright, director and audience, the talkback rippled with observations, analysis, suggestions, compliments on the play and requests to bring the play to various other cities and organizations. The night ended with me awash in a sea of tearful hugs and kisses, thanks, business cards, contact info on my notes and appreciation pressed into my hand.
After a closing conversation and thanks to the director, my cousin and I staggered off-campus praying to find a street with available taxis to take us back to our hotel. As we waited for an available taxi and swatted mosquitoes, I was overwhelmed at how kind, how sweet, how supportive folks were who attended the reading and how much TANGLED mattered for them. Such kindness washed away my earlier anxieties about the expense, the sacrifice, the relevance of the project for East Coast audiences and the challenges the text might pose to the audience in this election year.
Consequently, this reading at Howard University as part of the DC Black Theatre Festival mattered and ministered TO ME most of all. Despite the intense heat and the “derecho”, forty or fifty of us did gather to sit around the proverbial “campfire” to listen to the most recent chapter of folks trading guns and ammo for Africans lives.
The earnestness of the audience reminded me that our stories matter and that we need to hear our stories now more than ever. And if I am willing to go to tell the story, the Lord will take care of the rest and encourage my soul in the process---despite distance, a tough economy or even natural disaster.
In closing, I thank my husband Domonic for his enduring belief in this work and in me…and for tending to our sweet baby in my absence. I thank my cousin Joyce for coming to offer counsel, laughter, perspective and assistance. I thank my dear sisterfriends from Chicago---Marcia, Cathie and Courtney--- for offering good will, support and sistership in DC. Finally, I thank Professor Renee Charlow and the DC Black Theatre Festival for having a heart for this play…and for gathering us together to share stories to aid us in healing our communities.
---Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD
STANDING WITH Sandford, Florida…The NEW American Assignment
BY NICOLE ANDERSON COBB, PHD
During these moments when tragedy coerces us into “national conversations” about race, violence and/or crime, the longer I listen to the media coverage, the more aggravated I am by the absence of perspectives I long to hear.
Today, my frustration peaked listening to Jonathan Capehart on MSNBC providing commentary on the Trayvon Martin murder at the end of the Dylan Ratigan show yesterday. Capehart’s show-ending commentary on March 23, 2012 leveled heavy criticism against Sandford, Florida’s city manager, Norton Bonaparte, for not being emotional enough in addressing the Martin murder during his public statements.
However, in the same commentary, Capehart reveled in the emotion and sensitivity of President Obama’s remarks offered 27 days into the unfolding drama.
I was profoundly disappointed that Capehart could not even consider the range of emotions possible, available and PERMISSABLE for both City Manager Bonaparte and President Obama.
Furthermore, I wondered why Capehart was unable to cut Bonaparte some slack. While it took the President some time to find his footing AND voice on this issue, City Manager Bonaparte is negotiating a profoundly difficult climate and an ongoing torrent of considerations ON THE GROUND EVERY DAY and must do so with steadiness and professionalism in a situation changing by the hour.
More importantly, though, sorting through Capehart’s comments was useful for helping me figured out and write about why I often loathe these moments of grief and speculation orchestrated by our national media.
Trayvon Martin’s murder has indeed shed light on an abhorrent, atrocious, horrifying act: the murder of a child…and a tragedy compounded by the curious police work that followed the incident…and a Florida law that might have inadvertently fueled this act of cruelty.
However, following this murder, what has then ensued is requisite outrage, social media gone wild, cable post-mortems and protests organized to display outrage, defiance, calls to action, arrests, firings, etc.,.
And yet, for me what has been missing from this spectacle? KINDNESS AND COMPASSION FOR THE PEOPLE OF SANDFORD, FLORIDA of all hues and persuasions.
We have watched preachers, activists, the media, mourners and curiosity-seekers INVADE Sandford, Florida like locusts to protest, speak out or get the story on the ground.
We’ve even watched fashion play a role as supporters of the Martin family don hoodies to show solidarity with the victim…as well as express their own vulnerability to the same acts of aggression.
Yet, my question is this: while we grieve and vent, WHO WILL CARE FOR HE PEOPLE OF SANDFORD? While we wave fists of fury and contempt at rallies for city fathers and mothers, WHO PRAYED WITH the City Manager? WHO PRAYED WITH the Mayor? WHO PRAYED WITH the police officers---both outgoing Chief Lee and his replacement? WHO PRAYED WITH local elected officials, community leaders and clergy?
As we rallied in Central Florida, WHO WENT to Miami to see how Trayvon’s classmates, their parents, teachers and coaches are doing?
As we busy ourselves stocking up on hoodies, Skittles and tea, DID ANYONE EVEN ATTEMPT TO GO by the Zimmerman home to pray WITH them? WHO PRAYED ON SITE at the gated community FOR NEIGHBORS AND RESIDENTS navigating this national scrutiny?
See, I understand---as an African American female, former Florida resident, mother of an African American daughter, aunt of an African American nephew, and wife of an African American man with four brothers--- how easy it is for our sympathies to rest with the Martin family in the midst of an indescribable loss.
But as a follower of Christ, I can’t escape the gnawing feeling in my gut: that the church, communities of faith and individuals of conscience MUST MODEL COMPASSION FOR THOSE WHO HAVE TO LIVE IN THE MIDST OF THE HORROR THAT HAPPENED ON THEIR WATCH as public officials, law enforcement officers, citizens and neighbors.
This brings me to a scripture that presses on me heavily most days: Luke 10: 29-37 from the New International Version (NIV) of the bible.
In a discussion with Jesus, an expert in the law asks a question trying to determine how to “love his neighbor as himself”:
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Now, I know in this instance, it is quite easy for one’s mind to peg Trayvon Martin as that ill-fated man going down from Jerusalem.
However, I would offer that the city of Sandford, Florida IS THAT AILING MAN. And I believe that the scripture is calling us to stop gawking at Sandford in judgment, stop pointing at Sandford bitterly, and stop sweeping into Sandford, taking what we need to feed our anger, grief, fear, or network news segment and leaving the Sandford community in tatters.
Despite the difficulty of doing so, WE MUST see Sandford, Florida, WE MUST have compassion for Sandford, Florida and WE MUST help Sandford, Florida bandage their old, deep, abiding wounds that created the climate where such a tragedy can happen.
Sandford, Florida is that injured, bloody soul now shamed, trampled, judged unfit before the nation. However, I challenge us to consider the aspects of Sandford, Florida that exist IN ALL OF OUR COMMUNITIES.
IN ALL OF OUR COMMUNITIES, innocent folks are GUNNED DOWN DAILY.
IN ALL OF OUR COMMUNITIES exist heroic neighbors and citizens working to live together in community…and we have folks who are disgruntled, seeking notoriety or a way to belong--- in a culture where easy access to gun’s falsely affirm one’s masculinity, status, power, freedom, offer some semblance of control over perceived threats.
IN ALL OF OUR COMMUNITIES, we have individuals in positions of authority who hide behind or ignore uncomfortable truths and problematic laws and policies.
IN ALL OF OUR COMMUNITIES, we have factions within them that are historically (or contemporarily) hostile to one another based on race, class, faith, country of origin or competition for resources.
So, my prayer is this:
1.) I pray that this is a moment where we have the courage to seriously look at the tensions in IN OUR OWN COMMUNITIES, ON OUR OWN CAMPUSES, IN OUR OWN INSTITUTIONS and figure out how to address them before they erupt in the kind of tragedy that has occurred in Sandford, Florida.
2.) My second prayer is that we---particularly people of faith-- tread a bit more lightly and compassionately into wounded communities that have enough to deal with on top of our national disdain and judgment.
3.) Finally, I pray that---when the glare of the national spotlight dims---there will be people of faith who will be willing to sit in Sandford, Florida communities, breathe with Sandford, Florida communities, cry with Sandford, Florida communities, pray with Sandford, Florida communities and aid Sandford, Florida communities in examining the fears, biases, strongholds keeping the from living well together and finding a fresh path forward.
Mobilization, rallies, righteous indignation and calls for justice absolutely have their place. I just hope there are those willing to join hands WITH those in Sandford and bear some of their burdens on the path to reconciliation and transformation.
As a nation that has been warring for a decade, we know well how to shoot one another. The ONGOING challenge is to commit to embracing one another so that we may SIMPLY LIVE.
---Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD
Nicole Anderson-Cobb, Ph.D. is a Chicago native who grew up on Chicago’s Southeast Side in the Calumet Heights community. Dr. Anderson-Cobb earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (1995), a Master’s degree in History (1998) and Doctorate of Philosophy in History from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (2007).
In addition to her work as a professor, Dr. Anderson-Cobb is also a playwright and CEO/Founder of Samaritan Road Productions Company. Samaritan Road Production Company is an umbrella entity for plays, courses and workshops that seek to promote reflection, dialogue, conflict resolution and personal, group and community transformation.
Dr. Anderson-Cobb’s play TANGLED---which examines gun violence in post-Obama Chicago--- opens at eta Creative Arts Foundation March 29-May 20, 2012. For more information, see http://myemail.constantcontact.com/TANGLED.html?soid=1101823335792&aid=TRCGxQv-xa8#fblik
For more information or to contact Dr. Anderson Cobb:
Nicole D. Anderson Cobb, Ph.D.
Samaritan Road Production Company
1717 W. Kirby Avenue
Champaign, Illinois 61821
I hope this message reaches you well. Just wanted to let you know that I have established a Facebook page to keep you abreast of ongoing SRP projects and to thank supporters of those projects. Check out the SRP Facebook page at the link below:
Be well and take wonderful care!
Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD, Educator, Playwright & Founder of Samaritan Road Productions is the author of the SRP blog "Writing On The Go"