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Black Is...Roscoe Jenkins? I Don't Think So...

I recently paid a visit to the Boston Public Library, and came across a pamphlet called "Black Is...2009."  The pamphlet lists an array of suggested fiction and non-fiction readings, as well as DVDs that seemingly represent what it means to be Black.  Though I was enticed by the title, I was also in a hurry.  For this reason, I quickly grabbed the pamphlet, bolted out the library door, and walked back to work.

Once I made it to my desk, I placed the pamphlet by my computer--never to think about it again--until my coworker came by some days later, and asked me [excitedly, I might add] if she could take a look at it.  What happened next was both comical and thought-provoking, more so because it made me firmly evaluate what it means to be Black. 

My coworker took one look at that list and said, "Oh my GOD!  I know I am not seeing 'Meet the Browns' on their DVD list!"

Before everyone starts grabbing their picket signs and protesting the Boston Public Library, please keep in mind that while the Fiction and Non-Fiction lists had some great titles to choose from, The DVD list made my coworkers and I reel from embarrassment.  Alongside non-fiction works like The Obama NationLeftist Politics and the Cult of Personality and Toni Morrison's A Mercy, we saw DVD titles like "College Road Trip" and "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins".

Needless to say, many of us were unable to make a distinguishable connection between the DVD's, nonfiction, and fiction works suggested.

While I am trying not to be crass, I fail to see how  "College Road Trip" or "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins" are accurate portrayals of the African American experience.  Both movies are comical in tone, and rely on stereotypes that grossly exaggerate aspects of African American culture.  For this reason, suggesting that someone view these types of movies in celebration of Black History Month is not only problematic, but offensive.  Further, for the Boston Public Library to even suggest that movies like "College Road Trip" and "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins" encompass the African American experience implies that all African Americans are good for are a good laugh.  This not only diminishes the contributions of African Americans to cinema, but can also gives non-African Americans the impression that all African Americans are cultural laughing stocks.

To prove the validity of this claim, another coworker (who is white) said, "Wow, if I were a I white person simply trying to learn more about African Americans, I would definitely get the wrong idea!"  Though we all laughed in jest, her assertion touched upon a fear many African Americans share--being grossly stereotyped and characterized as buffoons and idiots.  For this reason, all my coworkers encouraged me to write a blog that discusses this problematic pamphlet.

It is my hope that once this blog is published, my coworkers and I will touch base with the "2009 Black Is..." Committee members to discuss our concerns.  Our dialog will not be demeaning or negative in tone; rather, it will [hopefully] show the committee members that there is more to being Black than shucking and jiving...