Sunday, January 27, 2013

On the Sugarfoot

Remember this?

That came from this:

Friday, January 25, 2013

Mr. Kid President, will you please be my mayor..?

If you haven't seen this kid already, you gotsta catch up. Another bit of brilliance from Kid President. 

Do you think a young brother could really play a role like this before NeO? Wouldn't  it have come off strange? Tragic?

But not now. You can allow yourself to feel the hope that's embodied in this very slickly produced movie because it's documenting demonstrated truth. The order has changed. Even if Obama's a bioengeneered robot, the narrative he is creating is going to produce a lot more little brothers like the one in this video. I feel pepped.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Substitute

Thankfully, I never had to play the role of substitute. It's a different type of teaching experience because you enter the classroom under a premise that no one really believes: that you are just as capable as the educator you're replacing. In reality, you have no idea what was previously taught, who the children are, or what were the class expectations. Hopefully, the teacher has left a detailed lesson plan, but even if they did, the kids know the deal. You are an adult they are unaccountable to. If something goes wrong in this class, on this day, you will be blamed.

Mr. Fullwood was my model for what a sub should be. He was a huge guy (to us) and big enough that you didn't feel bad about making jokes about him, but also big enough that you didn't want to piss him off because he could squash you. He smiled like a yellow-toothed Cheshire cat at all of our dumb jokes, even when Jon Silk always asked him if he was going to be giving the class the "full wood" that day. Although his voice was coated with tar from the pack of smokes he kept in his breast pocket, he didn't raise his voice often. But when he did, people got quiet. Most importantly, he had both a sense of humor about his dour profession, and a corresponding pride in what he was doing. He made us do whatever was on the lesson plan and he made sure nobody got too crazy. Even though it must have been primarily a way to scratch a couple of nickels together, we got the sense that he cared about us--even if only for 60 minutes.

This experience, along with my time working in Baltimore public schools (Higher, higher!), inspired me to write The Substitute, which was recently published in 2 Bridges Literary Review. Check it out when you get a chance. But before you do, prepare yourself with some instructional videos from Key and Peele.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Those that can...

...should show somebody else how to can. That's my teaching philosophy. If you want your kids to be better writers, than they need you to model it for them, as scary as it sounds. Don't be afraid to make yourself a writer in your own classroom. That was the main topic of discussion in my interview with former Indiana Review editor Alessandra Rolffs. But really the best reason to click is the picture of my daughter, Little Miss Knowitall. Check it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Django: An Unlikely Black Fairytale

I met Robert Croston in Teach for America purgatory summer training. Dude is an awesome school leader and had something smart to say about Django, so I'm turning over the mic.

At it’s core, Django: Unchained is a counter-narrative and graphic fairytale about a black man’s commitment to honor his marriage vows and reunite with his wife despite the institutional fetters of slavery.

But of course, this is no kid's fairytale. The damsel in distress is an enslaved comfort woman and the knight in shining armor is a runaway turned bounty hunter. In this story, the dragon gets shot through the heart, the ogre gets kneecapped, and the castle is blown to smithereens.

Django (Jamie Foxx) is a black slave that hooks up with a bounty hunter by the name of Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz), who gives him freedom and a new job: hunting white fugitives. Despite his new employment and emancipation, Django never gives up on rescuing his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who was sold down the river to Mississippi's fourth largest plantation: Candieland. Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) owns the plantation and his loyal houseman Stephan (Samuel L. Jackson at his sinister best) runs the show. 

When Django tells Schultz his story, the German marvels at Broomhilda's name and recounts a Norse legend about a maiden named Broomhilda who was freed from mountaintop captivity by a shining knight. As the bounty hunters mount up for their quest, it's hard not to see the enterprise as a fairytale. 

Foxx does not have to act an ass like the last black actor to land a major role in a fairytale box office smash. In fact, Django, according to Monsieur Candie, is more than a Mandingo fighter, a violent black male slave dripping testosterone; he is a 1 in 10,000 type “nigger” (sic). His ability to defer gratification—for blood or sex—in order to carry out the clever ruse they use to purchase Broomhilda’s freedom distinguishes him summa cum laude from all other Romeos and Prince Charmings. 

Unfortunately for a fairytale about black lovers, Foxx’s and Washington’s performances are on the pedestrian side. Apparently all that was needed was pretty faces and household names to fill the roles. Interestingly, Django’s altruistic appeal to take Broomhilda’s beating for running away is the single most passionate scene they share during the entire film. Foxx and Washington spend little time on screen with each other expressing their love in words or touch beyond the predictable passionate kiss after the heroic rescue of the final scene.

Django’s selfless love compels him to traverse KKK-saturated lands and defy black codes to rejoin his wife. But beyond his death-defying conquest, Django’s love for Broomhilda is only weakly portrayed by his daydreams, which call to mind a General Mills farmer imagining his long-lost award-winning sunflower.  Broomhilda is more like Django’s stolen property, an object to be possessed rather than a cherished companion. As a married man, I would have preferred to see daydreams of the wedding ceremony, “honeymoon”, or a hand holding stroll through the field. 

Despite all this, Django is an American Legend. Django does what maybe 1 in 10,000 men would do as a fugitive: He risks almost certain death to infiltrate and destroy the master’s house in order to save his wife and restore his family. Django is more than a cinematic tale of gore. It's a clarion call to black men to fight for their families no matter the racially oppressive economic and social conditions of America. Even so, as Americans, we should consider the Broomhildas of our personal and collective hearts held captive by any number of institutional “isms,” especially racism and capitalism. Pursue her with a reckless abandon; there is no tomorrow.

-Robert Croston

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Grey: A Screen Shot Collage

Through an unfortunate series of events, Misstraknowitall finds himself home alone. Instead of fixing my leaky shower or grading a desk full of student essays, I delved into my Netflix queue and finally watched The Grey. Maybe it was missing my ladies at the beginning of a new year, but something about Liam Neeson's battle against wolves and his fear of mortality grabbed me. So, I used screen caps to make a collage about it. The words are all captions from the film. Wannaseeithereitgo.