Our Gang’s Little Rascals, Racial Stereotypes, and Kids Just Having Fun

Mrs. Allotherpersons loves this video clip, and she insists that I put it on my blog. It’s from the Our Gang/Little Rascals series. I think it’s OK… here it is, take a look and let me add some comments.

As a child, one of my favorite shows was The Little Rascals, also known as Our Gang. As described by Wikipedia,

Our Gang/The Little Rascals… was a series of American comedy short films about the adventures of a group of poor neighborhood children. Created by comedy producer Hal Roach, Our Gang was produced… starting in 1922 as a silent short subject series. Roach changed distributors… in 1927, went to sound in 1929 and continued production until 1938, when he sold the series to MGM. MGM in turn continued producing the comedies until 1944. In the mid-1950s, the 80 Roach-produced shorts with sound were syndicated for television under the title The Little Rascals.

I started watching TV in the early 1960s. The fact that my viewing included Little Rascals shows which were made in the 1930s and 1940s is a testement to the fact that back in the ’60s, there wasn’t a lot of content on network television. (That may be why I never cease to be amazed by the hundreds of TV channels we get today on cable or satellite.)

So I watched The Little Rascals, in all their black and white glory. And I’m not just talking about the film color. The Rascals was unique, in that it featured an integrated cast, and, the black characters were not treated as ridiculous stereotypres.

My favorite character on the show who was a black kid named Stymie. He got a lot of lines, he had good comedic timing, he was a master of facial expressions even as a youngster, and he was something of a leader among his cast of characters. He was funny without being ridiculously silly. (Now Alfalfa-a white character on the show-he was ridiculously silly.)

But The Rascals did sometimes reflect the stereotypes of the day (see the above video), and that’s gotten it in trouble with people who look at the show with today’s sensibilities. As mentioned in Wikipedia,

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GREAT Photo Slideshow: A Day in the Life of Black America

I’ve become something of a junkie for vintage photos of African Americans. I’ve purchased over a dozen photo books that feature images of black folks from slavery times through the 1970s, and I can’t get enough. Well, I would… maybe if I had more money.

As a child of the 60s and 70s, I never ever saw images of black people in the history books. It’s like we didn’t exist. And when images of black folks were displayed, it was always in a negative or demeaning or depressing context.

I never got the full picture.

Perhaps that’s why, when I am able to find vintage pictures of black folks, I am touched and filled and uplifted. These photos show that black life wasn’t always about being downtrodden. You can see moments of joy, of pride, of strength.

And seeing how they lived makes me even more appreciative for what I have, and for what they’ve given me.

In that light, you MUST take a look at this GREAT slideshow of vintage photos of African Americans, which I’ll get to in a second.

But first, turn on some background music to add to your viewing experience. This vintage gospel song (circa World War II) by Bertha Houston, We are Americans, Praise the Lord, will do. Just click on this sound bar below, and then immediately click on the photo of the two women to start the slide show.

Black-Bathers
Click on this photo or here to start the slideshow.

This is something of a takeoff on the many A Day in the Life of… photo books, such as A Day in the Life of America by Rick Smolan and David Elliot Cohen. But make no mistake, these are great photos that paint a vivid and compelling picture of African American life from days gone by.

The photos are from the Discover Black Heritage section of the Flickr website. (Flickr is a media storage site, similar to Youtube.) The Discover Black Heritage section has a bunch of other slideshows featuring black vintage photos, which are very much worth your time.

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Check It Out: ‘Treme,’ the Successor to ‘The Wire’

Actor Wendell Pierce talks about the upcoming TV series Treme.

Let’s get this straight: nothing will ever “succeed” The Wire. For my money, The Wire captured the complexity, diversity, and pathology of the black community better than any series we’ve seen on the small screen.

But if The Wire can’t be topped, perhaps its brilliance can be repeated.

That’s the hope for the upcoming series Treme. This new TV series comes from David Simon, The Wire’s creator, producer, and primary author. Treme will be based in New Orleans, and will look at the lives of musicians in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. (Treme is a neighborhood in New Orleans where many musicians live.)

Wendell Pierce, who is from New Orleans and played police detective Bunk Moreland on The Wire, will have a lead role in the new series. He shares his thoughts with the New Orleans weekly The Gambit. Clearly, he is overjoyed with the idea of doing a show that focuses on his hometown.

Wendell Pierce

The show is expected to debut in 2010. I’m looking forward to it.

Black Masculinity: 50 Cent and Barack Obama

This is a very interesting documentary that looks at black masculinity, by comparing rapper 50 Cent and presidential candidate Barack Obama.

It’s very insightful and provocative, and worth noting on your blog. Thanks to the Tariq Nelson blog for the heads-up on this.

Obama Campaign Addresses Black Economic Issues; Did You Hear About It?

{Hats off to the South Florida Times, an African American news source, for the article referenced below.}.

Some observers of the Obama campaign complain that it is not doing enough to speak to the specific concerns of the black community.

But what if the campaign was speaking to the concerns of the black community… and nobody knew it?

Consider this article in the South Florida Times, in which the Obama campaign does speak specifically to African American economic issues. I don’t recall any reporting of this in the mainstream press. But then, this is not of real interest to the “general public”:

Black unemployment in the United States reached 10.6 percent last month, up from 9.7 percent in July and an average of 8.8 percent during the first quarter of 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On Tuesday, Sept. 9, the Obama campaign seized on the statistic to attack both the Bush administration and the John McCain campaign.

The McCain campaign in Florida did not respond to a request for comment.

“I wish we could say that reaching 10.6 percent is the highest unemployment we’ve had under this administration,” said former Bill Clinton administration Labor Secretary Alexis Herman during a conference call with members of the black press Tuesday. “But we’ve actually seen rates as high as 11.5 percent.’’

Herman and other surrogates said economic issues would take center stage in an Obama presidency, and they assailed what Herman called “a constant economic deterioration for the African-American community” under George W. Bush. The overall unemployment rate rose to 6.1 percent last month, with unemployment for whites at 4.9 percent and for Hispanics at 7.7 percent.

“We’ve actually lost more than 500,000 jobs in the African-American community,” since Bush took office in 2001, including 55,000 jobs since December 2007, Herman said, citing U.S. Department of Labor statistics and contrasting the grim numbers of what she called record low unemployment, “the lowest since the Department of Education began collecting the data” during the Clinton years.

“The fact is that when you look at the unemployment numbers” under Bush, she said, “we have lost good jobs in our community, particularly in construction and manufacturing, where we are disproportionately employed. Any attempts to continue to open the doors of the middle class and to move us up the economic ladder really have been stopped dead in its tracks by this administration.”

Herman said that by contrast, Obama has proposed increasing the minimum wage from the current $6.55 to $9.50 by 2011, which she said would disproportionately help black women, plus a “long-term plan to target urban areas” for economic development, rebuilding the infrastructure of American cities, ending tax breaks for employers who ship jobs overseas and providing tax breaks for companies that create jobs in the U.S.

It is worth noting that the comments from the Obama campaign on the black economy were made around the same time as the “lipstick on a pig” controversy. Guess which of those two news stories was widely reported, and which was not?

I encourage you to go the South Florida Times’ website to read the rest of the article, and browse through the site’s other contents as well.

Two Disturbing Videos About Black Stereotypes

These are two disturbing videos. Don’t say I didn’t warn you in advance.

The first is about Black Stereotypes from prior to the 1960s.

The second video, The Children Are Our Future; The Children Are Freak Dancing, looks at pop culture’s effect on the behavior of black children.

Which is more disturbing, and why?

Thoughts on CNN’s “Black in America,” Parts 1 and 2

After an unsatisfying Part 1, CNN’s “Black in America” Part 2, did live up to the hype. I found several portions of the show compelling to watch.

What was wrong with Part 1? It wasn’t “bad.” I just found it bland and uninformative. It was like a series of reports that you might see from a high-end local television station. It was well done, but they covered a lot of ground (the black family and the black woman), and it seemed like they didn’t dig deep enough into any one subject. The show didn’t shed any light on hidden or neglected facts, it didn’t offer any unique insights or perspectives, and it didn’t uncover any previously ignored inconvenient truths.

I don’t think audiences, black audiences in particular, learned anything new in Part 1. Absent being informative, I would have settled for something that struck a poignant or inspirational cord, for example. But I was neither informed nor moved by Part 1.

But Part 2 did strike a cord with me. The difference between the two parts was that Part 2 focused on people whose lives showed the breadth and complexity of the black experience. Instead of focusing on issues, they let the lives of these men tell the story. And those stories were great to watch.

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