By Miko Peled: It’s no wonder Straight Outta Compton didn’t win a Golden Globe or an Oscar. Why in the world would anyone want to recognize a movie about proud, fearless young Black men who are talented and successful? Especially, Black young men who came out of Compton and made it big against all odds. Young, Black men who were persecuted by cops their whole lives, yet were courageous enough to look cops straight in the eye, and knowing they will be beaten and arrested, sang at the top of their voices “Fuck the Police!” No, there is no reason for the Academy to recognize, much less present an award to a movie like that. A movie like this is no more likely to receive recognition than a movie about young Palestinians throwing rocks and facing off Israeli soldiers – they are all practically terrorists.
By contrast America, and I mean White America, loves MLK Jr. For white America he represents the false notion of the good black leader who, unlike the Panthers or Malcolm X, understands that anger and violence are not the way to solve problems. White America has an MLK, Jr. Day, and lots of MLK Jr, streets and highways, but likes to forget the fact that MLK, Jr. was an uncompromising freedom fighter who was murdered, and quite likely by the US government.
Because of its selective memory, White America feels that it has come a long way since the days of Jim Crowe and so they no longer need to feel bad about racism. It is like the myth that the American Revolution was about liberty the American civil war was fought to free the slaves from their evil Southern masters. Where in fact the American Revolution was about white, Christian Europeans who came to colonize America and wanted to keep the spoils of their new found colony rather then pay taxes to other white Christians across the Atlantic Ocean. And in the case of the Civil War, Lincoln may have cared about Black slaves, though not so much for those in the non-Southern states, but he cared more about keeping the Union together.
A Black American friend of mine who is a lawyer and went to Yale Law School told me once that he is a product of affirmative action. “How so?” I asked him and he said that in his class at Yale Blacks made up exactly thirteen percent of the students. Something didn’t seem right to me. I’m a little slow, so it took me about twenty-four hours to figure it out. “If Blacks made up thirteen percent of your class at Yale,” I said, “and we know Blacks make up about thirteen percent of the population, then that’s not affirmative action, that’s quotas. Had it been affirmative action, there would have been at least fourteen or fifteen percent Blacks in the class, not to say thirty or forty percent.” Today people like to argue that Blacks have been pampered enough and it is time to end Affirmative Action and “level the playing field” so that Whites do not suffer discrimination, God forbid. Conveniently they ignore the fact that White exploitation of Black labor and Black talent in America is nowhere near being over and it will take centuries of affirmative action and billions in reparations before the playing field is leveled and Blacks are fully compensated for the holocaust they had experienced. All this to say, it is time to get started with reparations.
The reality in Outta Compton is far removed from the injustices Whites find digestible like slavery and Jim Crowe. It is raw, current, every day, deep rooted, hateful injustice. The young artists portrayed in the movie, Easy E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and other brilliant artists express the pain of the voiceless. The pain of Black America that is victim to systemic, brutally violent racism. Cops on a beat in Black neighborhoods drive around like Israeli soldiers in Palestine, enforcing the occupation, not like servants charged with keeping the streets safe. Beating and arresting Black kids for being Black, with no regard for their rights, their property or their lives. It is a reality White America wishes to know nothing about. Like Baltimore and Fergusson and Chicago and other Black communities around the US, spheres that Whites avoid at all cost, the argument of “we made progress on race” just doesn’t cut it, and where Black lives don’t matter.
The artists portrayed in the film are a sample of the unique abilities of Black America: A society that has contributed far more and has influenced far more than its relative size and under conditions few could survive let alone create and thrive. The volume and quality of writers, thinkers, scholars, artists, athletes and courageous leaders that Black America has yielded over the years cannot be over stated, proving that this is a community with tremendous inner strength and unlimited talent. Presidential candidates are courting Black voters now, or at least the Democratic ones. It was reported that Bernie Sanders had met with Rev. Al Sharpton in a café on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem. A white candidate sitting with a Black celebrity millionaire in Harlem, how progressive is that! Will Bernie also go to Fergusson and Baltimore and Chicago or maybe even Compton and sit with local Black leaders there? One can only hope.
Straight Outta Compton reminds us how White America was shocked by these young artists at the time. White America was enraged, claiming that these brave young artists glamorize drugs and violence. Glamorizing it? They were the voices of the victims of the drugs and violence, who, being Black and poor were otherwise voiceless. Law enforcement and public figures were condemning them for their voice, for their brutal honesty and for portraying a grim reality that is directly connected to the racist attitudes of the White establishment in America. In one scene we see Nancy Regan on television calling for people to “Just Say No” to drugs even as her husband was pumping drugs and weapons into South Central LA in order to fund a war in Central America. In another scene Easy E says: “The drugs come from Colombia, the weapons from Russia and we don’t have no passports.” These guys knew what was happening and they were telling it like it is. They were not glamorizing the violence they were pointing a finger, a middle finger, at the culprits of the violence, those who profited and continue to profit from the violence. Their only crime was that they were making Whites very uncomfortable. Isn’t that what art is all about?
The democratic presidential candidates are now talking about Black incarceration, thanks no doubt to Michele Alexander’s book “the New Jim Crowe.” They are both quoting figures that show that a disproportionate number of Blacks are incarcerated in America. Close to half of the entire prison population in the US is black, that means about one million Black men incarcerated, even though Blacks are only thirteen percent of the population and drug related crime is higher among Whites. One has to be impressed that the Democratic candidates finally noticed this, what an impressive learning curve! At the same time we may safely expect that unless they are forced to act, as soon a one of these candidates gets sworn in, if one of them is elected, this issue will be pushed aside.
In another unforgettable movie, Boyz N the Hood, in the final scene, Doughboy, played by the brilliant Ice Cube comes to talk to his friend Tre played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. In a scene that could have been shot in the West Bank or Gaza, with sounds of helicopters hovering above and police sirens in the background, Doughboy says, “Turned on the TV this morning, they had this thing on about living in a violent world. Showed all these foreign places… I started thinking man, either they don’t know, don’t show or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood. They had all this foreign shit, and they ain’t have shit on my brother.”
The truth is, as long as you’re Black, they don’t care.
Miko Peled is an Israeli writer and activist living in the US. He was born and raised in Jerusalem. His father was the late Israeli General Matti Peled. Driven by a personal family tragedy to explore Palestine, its people and their narrative. He has written a book about his journey from the sphere of the privileged Israeli to that of the oppressed Palestinians. His book is titled “The General’s Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.” Peled speaks nationally and internationally on the issue of Palestine. Peled supports the creation of a single democratic state in all of Palestine, he is also a firm supporter of BDS.