Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

One More Year-End Summary

January 10th, 2007 by Ajuan Mance

This is a list of the media’s most refreshing depictions of U.S. Black folks in 2006.

This list is a deliberate attempt to think beyond the idea of “positive images,” a concept that relies on a false binary which, in turn, derives from the problematic notion that there are good ways to be Black and bad ways to be Black.

Like negative stereotypes, the “positive image” approach to depicting Black people results in an oversimplification of the richness and complexity of U.S. Black life. Just as people within the Black community can easily understand how images of Mammy and Sambo degrade and dehumanize, so too can African Americans–especially African American youth–see how some of the so-called positive images offered to us oversimplify U.S. Black life in a way that strips us of important elements of our personhood.

It’s not positivity that we need so much as a sense possibility. The following list recognizes those representations of African Americans that expand the range of possible meanings, manifestations, and possibilities for U.S. Black people:

 1. Akeela and the Bee (film): Brainy Black girls aren’t perfect or saintly–spelling whiz Akeela Anderson has trantrums, lies to her mother, gets crushes on boys, and really does care about what other kids think–but when they have the space and support to pursue their talents and passions, they can thrive and excell.

 2. Octavia Butler (novelist): The tragic and untimely death of this award-winning author drew attention to the existence of a small but impressive (and rapidly growing) cadre of Black science fiction writers. The all-too-brief coverage of Butler’s life and legacy revealed for a moment the existence of a stunningly original body of smart, speculative, futuristic novels that place Black protagonists at the center of their sci-fi narratives.

3. The Pursuit of Happyness (film): The spelling error is deliberate in the title of this biographically-based film whose warts-and-all depiction of African American fatherhood suggests that Black dads don’t have to be perfect, highly-educated, wealthy, or all-knowing to be loving, stable, and positive forces in the lives of their kids.

4. Ed Gordon and Farai Chideya (journalists): 2006 began with Ed Gordon at the helm of NPR’s suprisingly popular African American news magazine, News and Notes. In September he was succeeded by former correspondent and substitute host Farai Chideya. No matter which of these accomplished and erudite journalists was at the helm, though, News and Notes presented a wide-ranging and often unexpected mosaic of Afro-diasporic opinions and ideas that was responsive to but not circumscribed by the major news stories of the day.

5. Deval Patrick (governor elect): If Massachusetts governor-elect Patrick’s biography began when he entered high school, his profile would, on the surface, be indistinguishable Boston Brahmin raised with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth (Milton Academy, class of 1974; Harvard, class of ’78; Harvard Law, class of ’82). In reality, though, Patrick’s acceptance into the prestigious Milton Academy was preceded by 14 years characterized by the peculiar juxtaposition of the inauspicious circumstances of his upbringing (he was raised on welfare and shared a single bedroom with his mother and sister) with his exceptional academic performance (he was first in his class in middle school). Of course, this real life success-against-the-odds story  has an even more dramatic ending, with election to the governorship of Massachussets, as only the second African American governor in U.S. history.

 That’s all for ’06. Can’t wait to see what 2007 has to offer.

 Posted by Ajuan Mance

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  1. dresramblings

    Real depictions of people are more important than trying to live up to the stereotypes (or down depending on your view). The hope that many will begin to see that not everything is, pardon the pun, black or white with any issue is one that may finally carry us forward instead of looking back and not being thrilled by the results.

    This list lets you truly see the real experience, one I live every day. Kudos for the post. Great site. I look forward to reading it more often.

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