On Being a Maid
The co-writer of Miracle at St. Anna says there's a cultural war in Hollywood. Guess who's winning?
In fact, you're actually as dumb as they are -- dumber, maybe -- because you played into the whole business. Robbing a character of their full dimension, be it in fiction or nonfiction, hurts everyone the world over. Need proof? Ask any Native American, Asian, Latino, gay American or so-called white hillbilly. As if hillbillies don't read books, and Asians don't rap, and Muslims don't argue about the cost of a brake job.
There's nothing wrong with being white. I'm half white myself and proud of it. There isn't a day that passes that I don't think about my late white Jewish mother and the lessons she taught me about humanity. But bearing witness to this kind of cultural war over the course of a lifetime will grind a man or woman down in horrible ways, and that's my fear.
I remember, as a young saxophonist, just out of Oberlin, standing at a tiny jazz club in West Philadelphia watching the great jazz tenor man Hank Mobley in his last days, sick, broke. It was a jam session, and he strode onstage to reach for the magic one more time, to conjure up the power of his younger years, when his mighty tenor powered Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis when those guys were the toast of Europe. Drink destroyed him.
He was helped onstage by the kind musicians around him, and he stood there swaying, barely able to hold up his horn in that rancid little joint. When he put his mouth to his horn to play, it broke my heart. I felt like I was being strangled. His ability to play had vanished, and I saw my future.
It was a terrible lesson for a young man fresh out of college, and I did my best to forget it. But I understand it then and I understand it now: This is what happens when you walk through a supermarket and hear Muzak playing ninth chords borrowed from your history; when you see instruction books made from the very harmonic innovations you created; and, in my case, when you spend a lifetime watching films that spoof your community. Your entire culture is boiled down to greasy gutbucket jokester films, pornographic bling-rap or poverty porn.
I used to think that if only there were a peaceful way, we could make Hollywood listen to the sound of America's true drumbeat: the voices of working-class poor, blacks, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans and the so-called rednecks of this country; the people who walk the land, work in the Kmarts, run the fast-food joints, drive the trucks, stand in line at 4 a.m. for the iPhones, go to church for redemption and sell the knockoffs on eBay.
But the new breed of Republicans have taken that high ground. They've gotten rich off it. That leaves me with nothing but the notion that Washington and Hollywood may just be alike. They're engaged in a cultural war. They take your gun and use it on you, and it makes you sorry you drew your gun in the first place. It makes you wish you were a maid.
This article was originally published at 40Acres.com. It is reprinted with permission.
James McBride co-wrote and co-produced the Spike Lee films Miracle at St. Anna and the upcoming Red Hook Summer.