Archive for the ‘1980s’ Category


The Bechdel Test (1985) says that a film is not worth watching unless it fulfils three conditions:

  1. It has to have at least two women who
  2. talk to each other about
  3. something besides a man

It comes from Allison Bechdel’s comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For”. She in turn got it from Liz Wallace at her karate class.

It can apply to any story but Hollywood fails the test at a surprising rate, even now more than 20 years later.

NPR did a piece on the Bechdel Test a year ago. In it Eric Deggans, who writes about television for the St Petersburg Times, gave his own form of the Bechdel Test for race:

  1. At least two non-white characters in the main cast …
  2. in a show that’s not about race.

I did not know about the Bechdel Test till I read about it in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s post yesterday at the Angry Black Woman, but even I had something like it in my head:

  1. At least two black characters
  2. who are not stereotypes
  3. whose love lives we know about and
  4. who have their own storyline

“The Secret Life of Bees” would pass (the storylines of Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo), while the “Imitation of Life” would not (black characters are stereotypes).

Johnson gives the strict form of the Bechdel Test for race:

  1. It has to have two people of colour in it.
  2. Who talk to each other.
  3. About something other than a white person.

Like Deggans, I would add that talking about race would be, in effect, talking about white people.

deniseJohnson says most shows fail, though “Battlestar Galactica”, “True Blood”, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Veronica Mars” pass.

A show can pass the Bechdel Test and still be racist – and, likewise, it can fail and yet not be particularly racist at all. But it is a quick way of separating those that probably are racist from those that probably are not. And, more importantly, it gives you a way of thinking about stories and how white male they are in their point of view.

Deggans says that most shows fail the Bechdel Test because most successful television writers are white men. They just do not know what women or blacks talk about when they are not there.

Jennifer Kesler at The Hathor Legacy says it is worse than that: when she was learning to write for Hollywood they told her, in so many words, to fail the Bechdel Test: main characters should be white men and no one cares what women (or presumably blacks or anyone else) talk about unless it is about the main characters – who are white men!

But why? Because the white men who run Hollywood say it is what the “target audience” wants. But just what is this target audience? Kesler says in their minds it turns out to be “a construct based on partial truths and twisted math – to perpetuate their own desires”.

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Is it just me or do most black women on American television look either ugly or loose? While Asian women, on the other hand, are pictured as being better looking than they are?

SingaporeAirlinesGirl_4I have no facts or figures or university studies to prove it, but it has seemed this way to me for a long time.

I am pretty sure I am right about Asians: when I came to New York one of the first things I noticed were the Asian women: they were not nearly as good-looking as I expected. But then it hit me: most of the Asian women I had seen before then were on television or in magazines – nearly all of them model beautiful. Like in those ads for Singapore Airlines (pictured).

claireNot so with black women. There is like the Pine-Sol Lady (“That’s the power of Pine-Sol, baby!”) on the one hand and video vixens on the other, with not all that much in between. Where is the broad middle of Claire Huxtables? You have to pretty much go back to R&B videos from the early 1990s to see black women regularly pictured as having both grace and beauty.

The cover story of the June 29th 2009 issue of TV Guide is “Hot Bods!”  You turn to the story and all the men and women are white. Go through the rest of the issue and there are only five black women (listed here in order of age):

  • 55: Oprah Winfrey
  • 45: Michelle Obama
  • 45: Gloria Reuben
  • 39: Niecy Nash
  • 37: Jada Pinkett-Smith

I do not know anything about Nash, but the rest are admirable women. I think Gloria and Jada are still physically beautiful. But the youngest of them is 37! All the young, beautiful women in that issue are white. They do have young, beautiful women who are black on television, but, apart from old network reruns, most seem to be video vixens in rap videos shaking what they got.

A good example of what I am talking about is “Night Court” from the 1980s. I loved that show. It had both black and white characters, so it was doing good on that count, but look at the top female actresses, black and white, Marsha Warfield and Markie Post:

Marsha WarfiieldMarkie Post

Markie Post is pretty. Meanwhile Marsha Warfield is what? The Pine-Sol Lady.

So why is this? I offer the following reasons:

  1. Television is written and produced mostly by white men who do not take black women seriously as women: they are either undesirable or prostitutes – sexless or oversexed. There is no healthy, ordinary male reaction to them as women.
  2. Blacks mostly play supporting characters. Supporting characters are not supposed to upstage the main characters. So in practice that means blacks on the whole are not allowed to upstage whites.

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junot_diazHere is a part of it from The New Yorker, December 25th 1995. Think of Diaz as a teenager somewhere in Jersey in the 1980s:

Dinner will be tense. You are not good at talking to people you don’t know.

A halfie will tell you that her parents met in the Movement. Back then, she’ll say, people thought it was a radical thing to do. It will sound like something her parents made her memorize. Your brother heard that one, too, and said, Sounds like a whole lot of Uncle Tomming to me. Don’t repeat this.

Put down your hamburger and say, It must have been hard.

It was, she will say.

She’ll appreciate your interest. She’ll tell you more. Black people, she will say, treat me real bad. That’s why I don’t like them. You’ll wonder how she feels about Dominicans. Don’t ask. Let her speak on it and when you’ve finished eating, walk back through the neighborhood. The skies will be magnificent. Pollutants have made Jersey sunsets one of the wonders of the world. Point it out. Touch her shoulder and say, Isn’t that nice?

Get serious. Watch TV, but stay alert. Sip some of the Bermudez your father left in the cabinet, which nobody touches. She’ll drink enough to make her brave. A local girl will have hips and a nice ass but won’t be quick about letting you touch her. She has to live in the same neighborhood as you do. She might just chill with you and then go home. She might kiss you and then leave. Or she might, if she’s reckless, give it up, but that’s rare. Kissing will suffice. A white girl might give it up right then. Don’t stop her. She’ll take her gum out of her mouth, stick it to the plastic sofa covers, and then move close to you. You have nice eyes, she might say.

Tell her that you love her hair, her skin, her lips, because, in truth, you love them more than you love your own.

She’ll say, I like Spanish guys, and even though you’ve never been to Spain, say, I like you. You’ll sound smooth.

You’ll be with her until about eight-thirty, and then she’ll want to wash up. In the bathroom, she’ll hum a song from the radio and her waist will keep the beat against the lip of the sink. Think of her old lady coming to get her, and imagine what she would say if she knew that her daughter had just lain under you and blown your name into your ear. While she’s in the bathroom, you might call one of your boys and say, Ya lo hice, cabrón. Or sit back on the couch and smile.

But usually it won’t work this way. Be prepared. She will not want to kiss you. Just cool it, she’ll say. The halfie might lean back and push you away. She will cross her arms and say, I hate my tits. Pretend to watch the TV, and then turn to her to stroke her hair, even though you know she’ll pull away again…

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I saw this on one of my old videotapes. I still like it all these years later. It went to #4 on the American R&B charts in 1986.


It’s a fragile situation
It could fall apart at any time
And none would be the wiser
‘Cept you and I

It seems that we stopped talking
like we’re afraid to disagree
And after we’ve been through
Can we still be that naive

If my heart isn’t in it,
why cant you tell me so
If my heart wasn’t in it,
I’d have gone long ago
If your heart isn’t in it
why keep me hanging on
Just tell me and I’ll be gone
from your life

You treat me like a stranger
as if I wasn’t there

Oh, baby, I waited for a miracle
To make you show that you care

If my heart isn’t in it,
why cant you tell me so
If my heart wasn’t in it,
I’d have gone long ago
If your heart isn’t in it
why keep me hanging on
Just tell me and I’ll be gone
from your life

If your heart isn’t in it
why can’t…

I can’t go through the motions
I have to know

If your heart isn’t in it.
why can’t you tell me so

I can’t go to the limit
I have to know

If your heart…
Ooh, can’t you tell me so
I have to know
If your heart isn’t it
Why keep me hanging on
Just tell me and I’ll be gone
Don’t keep me hanging on
for dear life

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The police

police-brutalityThe police are those who are charged with protecting citizens from crime. They can arrest those suspected of breaking the law and put them in jail. They carry out court decisions. They are allowed to use violence, even deadly force, to keep the peace and preserve public safety. They maintain law and order.

That is one view. From living in New York I have come to have another view: They serve and protect the rich from the poor and whites from blacks and Latinos. They care little for black lives, even middle-class ones. They are a law unto themselves, cover up for each other and even get away with murder. Judges believe their lies,  newspapers tend to take their side and the powers that be turn a blind eye.

Nearly 90% of the people that New York policemen shoot at are black or Latino. It has little to do with blacks and Latinos somehow being more dangerous: 77% of the time the police are the only ones doing any shooting!

Blacks in New York are ten times more likely to be stopped by the police than whites. It has little to do with crime: only 10% of the stops lead to an arrest or summons. Nearly half of blacks are searched for weapons when stopped while fewer than a third of whites are – even though white suspects are 70% more likely to have a weapon.

I used to live in a part of New York with a high crime rate: hundreds were shot dead every year, black and Latino. You could hear the gunfire. Then one night I saw something I will never forget: policemen along the north side of the street that served as the colour line, one every few blocks. They were guarding the quiet white and Asian neighbourhoods behind them. If blacks kill each other, who cares, so long as white people are safe.

So when white people tell me of all the crime that black people do compared to whites, which they always say like it proves something profound, I just want to roll my eyes. If their neighbourhoods were as ill-served and ill-protected by the police as black neighbourhoods are then over time they would have terrible crime rates too.

Most black men have been stopped by the police for no good reason. Obama too. And even those who have never been stopped (yet) have heard enough stories to know how racist the police can be.

The reason things like O.J. Simpson and Henry Louis Gates, Jr become such heated issues in America is because whites and blacks view the police so differently. Because their experience of them is so different.

Most whites seem to have a childlike trust in the police that is naive and unfunny. It is hard for most blacks to feel the same way. So when a Sean Bell or Oscar Grant, unarmed black men, are killed by the police it is not seen as a “mistake” but something far worse.

See also:

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American television for the most part is the world according to white men. Because most of the writers and producers are white men. That is why black characters on television are few and are mostly flat or stereotyped.

Some general patterns in American prime time network television:

  • When a network is new it will come out with plenty of black shows, like “Martin” and “Roc” on FOX or “Girlfriends” and “Moesha” on UPN. They do this to get their numbers up quickly in certain key cities. It works because blacks are underserved by the older networks. But they are just using blacks as a stepping stone. Once they get a foothold, white shows drive out black shows.
  • Half of black characters appear on comedies while less than a third of white characters do. That was as true in the 1970s as it was in the early 2000s.
  • Black dramas are rare, particularly middle-class ones. When they do come out they tend to be safe, boring and not given much of a chance to catch on. That means that most dramatic roles for blacks are on white shows where they mostly play safe, boring supporting characters.
  • Many shows have no regular black characters at all, supporting or otherwise. Like “Cheers”, “thirtysomething”, “Seinfeld”, “Friends”, “Sex in the City” and so on. In fact, it seems like most shows are either almost all white or all black.

These are just general patterns. There are, for example, some white shows with good black characters – who get their own storylines, who have love lives, who are more than just cardboard cut-outs. “ER” is a good example.

But most shows are not like that. If they have black characters at all they turn out to be sidekicks, best friends, judges, doctors, secretaries, police officers, etc. They are there only to serve white characters. Like the doctor on “The Simpsons” or Uhura on “Star Trek”.

The great thing about “The Cosby Show” is that it did not show blacks in a flat or  stereotyped way. And it also showed the black middle-class, something you barely ever see on television.

In 1999 the Screen Actors Guild counted the number of black characters on prime time network television. America is 13% black but its prime time characters were 16% black. But half of those were on comedies on UPN and the WB. Those shows are gone.

To get a rough idea what the number is now, I counted all the black people in the latest issue of TV Guide (July 27th 2009). Not counting the ads, it comes to just 6%.

Cable television is worse: blacks are seen mainly in reruns of old network shows and in rap videos and reality shows that push the worst ghetto stereotypes imaginable. In the 1990s BET, the main black cable channel, was kind of good but now it seems to hate black people. That leaves TV One. Is it any good?

And for news how come Michel Martin does not have her own show on MSNBC? Her and Pat Buchanan would be priceless.

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JuneJordanJune Jordan (1936-2002) was an American writer, poet and professor. And one of my favourite authors. By the 1990s she had become one of the top black women writers in the country. She was best known as a poet, though she wrote children’s books and essays too.

She was born in Harlem. Her parents came from Jamaica and believed in the American dream. They later moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. Her father was a postman, her mother a nurse. Her mother was “shadowy” but her father was “very intense, passionate and over-the-top. He was my hero and my tyrant.”

Her father beat her, from the age of two, while her mother stood by and did nothing. Her mother would later kill herself. Jordan was sent to an all-white boarding school in New England, when that kind of thing was rare.

Growing up she read and studied the writings of dead white men, but one of them she particularly liked: Walt Whitman.

She went to Barnard and fell in love with a white man. They married – in 1955 when that kind of thing was rare, even in New York. She dropped out of school, had a son and helped to put her husband through grad school. But it did not last: in 1965 they divorced.

After that she supported herself mainly by teaching English literature at universities: City College (late 1960s), Sarah Lawrence (early 1970s), SUNY Stony Brook (1980s) and Berkeley (1990s). At Berkeley she taught black and women’s studies. She made full professor in 1982. She cared about her students and loved teaching – she did not see it as a burdensome duty like some professors do.

Jordan began writing poetry at age seven. She never stopped writing, whether it could pay the bills or not. She saw words like a lover, seeing their naked beauty and their naked faults. She did not write the sort of books that could be made into Hollywood films or be safe enough to become best-sellers.

But that was her strength. She wrote the truth, she wrote what she saw with her eyes and felt in her heart. But they were not just in her heart: The things that were inside me that I did not know how to say, she knew how to say them and she did.

First they said I was too light
Then they said I was too dark
Then they said I was too different
Then they said I was too much the same
Then they said I was too young
Then they said I was too old
Then they said I was too interracial
Then they said I was too much a nationalist
Then they said I was too silly
Then they said I was too angry
Then they said I was too idealistic
Then they said I was too confusing altogether:
Make up your mind!
They said, Are you militant? Or sweet?
Are you vegetarian or meat?
Are you straight? Or are you gay?
And I said, Hey! It’s not about my mind.

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Michael Jackson (1958-2009), the King of Pop, the Gloved One, was an American singer of pop, R&B and rock music. He sold 750 million records worldwide – only Elvis Presley and the Beatles can even hope to match that – and had the number one album of all time, “Thriller” (1982), which sold 65 million. Janet Jackson is his sister.

He was American, he was black, he was universal. Even Imelda Marcos, she of the many shoes, cried at his death.

He was famous also for his dancing, making moves that no one thought possible, like the moonwalk.

His number one songs on the American R&B chart:

  • 1969: I Want You Back (Jackson 5)
  • 1969: Who’s Lovin’ You (Jackson 5)
  • 1970: ABC (Jackson 5)
  • 1970: The Love You Save (Jackson 5)
  • 1970: I’ll Be There (Jackson 5)
  • 1971: Never Can Say Goodbye (Jackson 5)
  • 1974: Dancing Machine (Jackson 5)
  • 1979: Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough
  • 1979: Rock With You
  • 1982: The Girl is Mine (with Paul McCartney)
  • 1983: Billie Jean
  • 1983: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
  • 1983: Somebody’s Watching Me (with Maxwell)
  • 1985: We Are the World (as part of USA for Africa)
  • 1987: I Just Can’t Stop Loving You (with Siedah Garrett)
  • 1987: Bad
  • 1988: The Way You Make Me Feel
  • 1988: Man in the Mirror
  • 1988: Another Part of Me
  • 1992: Remember the Time
  • 1992: In the Closet
  • 1995: You Are Not Alone

This does not even list the songs that “merely” made it to the top ten, like “Thriller”, “Ben”, “Got to be There” and “Black or White”.

On top of all that he made music videos into an art form in their own right, thus making MTV’s name. The strange thing is, MTV did not want to play him at first because he was black!

He was on stage by age six, on television coast to coast by age 11. Everyone loved his music, even white people, even then.

But growing up so famous meant he never had a proper childhood. That is why Elizabeth Taylor was one of the few who understood him. Even worse, his father was cruel. In some sense he was never a boy and yet always a boy.

He bought a place north of Los Angeles and called it Neverland Ranch, after the Neverland of Peter Pan. He put in a zoo, a roller coaster and a Ferris wheel. He invited children over, many of them dying of cancer.

Some of the children stayed over night and, sadly, some parents took advantage of that to spread ugly stories about him to take him to court for his millions, in 1994 and 2005.

Nothing was ever proved, but he had become so strange by the early 1990s – he had a pet llama and doctors were slowly turning him white – that many believed it.

He married, twice, first to Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis, and then Debbie Rowe. He had two children by Rowe, Prince Michael (1997) and Paris Katherine (1998). They divorced and he had a third child by an unknown woman, Prince Michael II (2002), better known as Blanket.

Hoping to make a comeback, Jackson sold out 50 shows in London for 2009, but then died suddenly just weeks before the first show.

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sudan_oil_map_10inThe worst genocide since Hitler took place in Sudan. No, not in Darfur, but in southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains. From 1983 to 2000 at least 1.9 million died, all of them black Africans, most of them Christians.

Sudan is two countries that the British made into one: the north is Muslim and Arabic-speaking. The people are dark but not black Africans. The south is black and mostly Christian. It has two-thirds of Sudan’s oil.

The government that carried out the genocide was run by Arab-speaking Muslims from the north. It was not just a case of genocide: it was also a jihad, a Muslim holy war, the largest in living memory.

As a genocide it is upstaged in the Western press by Rwanda, where 800, 000 were killed, and even Darfar, where 300,000 have died so far. Both are much smaller genocides.

As a jihad it is upstaged by the one fought by Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which, so far, has been far less deadly, though it is directed against Western interests.

The genocide was directed against the Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk and Nuba. It sold tens of thousands of them as slaves. It destroyed Christian churches, schools and hospitals. It wanted to clear the lands where there was oil.

The government kept food from reaching the south knowing full well that people there were dying of hunger.

For example in 1998 in Bahr al-Ghazal, the very province that Alek Wek fled more than ten years before, government bombings spread terror and caused 700,000 Dinka to flee their homes. Then the government stopped Westerners from flying in food, causing 70,000 to die of hunger.

In the Nuba mountains in the centre of the country the Nuba were sent to “peace villages” where the women were raped by government soldiers – to make their offspring lighter (the Nuba are very dark). Their children were taken from them and sent to the north to serve as slaves. Over 100,000 Nuba “disappeared” never to be seen again.

The south was fighting a war of independence against the north, it is true, and the rains in those years were not always the best. But if you look at scale of the killing and who was killed and what the government did and did not do, it is clear that it was bent on wiping out its own citizens based on race and religion.  That is genocide.

For some reason all this got very little press in the West and few knew about it. I find that very odd. Darfur and Rwanda had no trouble getting plenty of press.

In any case word of it in America spread mainly through churches. It became an issue with the Christian right, a big part of President Bush’s base. And so America pushed for a peace deal for southern Sudan and got one in 2005. But now the Sudanese government is doing the very same thing in Darfur, where the people are black too, but in this case not Christian.

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That day

Once upon a time in China there came a day that no one can talk about in public. It is not even in the history books.

In the centre of the capital there is a great square. They say it can hold a million people. It is across the street from a big red palace where the emperor used to live. No one lives there now. Above the palace gate is the reason why: a huge picture of Mao, the man who brought communism to China. His body lies at rest at the other end of the square.

The old men who ruled China in those days had fought with Mao. But now they forgot what they had fought for all those years ago. All they cared about now was their own power and wealth.

To stay in power they told the newspapers and television stations what to say. They held elections but only men who agreed with them could stand for office.

There were still some good men left. About two months before that day one of them died. His name is no longer written  in the history books. About 200,000 came to the square for his funeral. Three of them got down on their knees on the steps in front of the government building asking the prime minister for change. The prime minister did not come out.

The funeral turned into protest. Students came to the square and would not leave. It lasted for weeks. The government would not bend. Even a hunger strike did not move it.

The students made a white statue of a lady holding a torch and stood her in front of the picture of Mao. They said she stood for liberty.

Support for the students spread among the people. Now the government was in danger of falling. It sent the army into the capital, but the people blocked its way.

The ruler of China was lying in a bed. He was very sick. He ordered the army to clear the streets and clear the square. Even if the streets had to run with blood: a million deaths would be a small price to pay.

And so when the night came the shooting began. It lasted all night long: the sound of the army killing its own people. Those who got in the way of the army tanks were shot down or crushed under its wheels along with their bicycles.

When the tanks got to the square they knocked down the statue of liberty. The people threw bricks and stones at the army, whatever they could, they set trucks on fire, they beat up and killed soldiers who got separated and took their guns. But the army kept shooting and shooting and shooting. Some students stood in front of the monument where the funeral had begun all those weeks before. They waited for their deaths.

By morning the square was cleared. The hospitals said at least 1400 died that night.

– Abagond, 2009.

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This is from 1987. There is a good chance I saw her then – it was a show I watched – but like the audience there I would not have thought much of her! But in less than ten years she would become huge, more powerful than two Cleopatras.

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Edmund Perry

EdmundPerryEdmund Perry (c. 1968-1985), a 17-year-old black boy, was shot dead on June 12th 1985 by Lee Van Houten, a white plainclothes policeman,  a few blocks from where Perry lived on West 114th Street in Harlem. The New York Times does not ordinarily report murder north of 96th Street, but this time they did: Perry, it turned out, had just graduated from Exeter, one of the top private schools in America, and was set to go to Stanford University.

At first it seemed like yet another case of an out-of-control policeman who held black life too cheaply. But it turned out not to be so simple: Perry, according to witnesses, was trying to rob Van Houten! With his brother Jonah, no less, who was an engineering student at Cornell at the time! Jonah was later tried and found not guilty. Van Houten’s shooting was ruled justifiable.

Robert Sam Anson, a white writer for Life magazine, had a son at Exeter who knew Perry. Anson wondered what on earth would possess Perry, with such a bright future, to throw it all away by robbing someone.

After ruling out a police cover-up, Anson asked Perry’s friends and neighbours about him. They always had such nice things to say. At Exeter it was the same. But all the nice things they said did not add up. In time he found that Perry had been selling drugs at Exeter. But that only deepened the mystery.

Exeter was not a great place for blacks. One black student said they were a kind of minstrel show put on to give white students a sense of diversity: “By God, their kids are going to be well-rounded. They’re going to have Rossignol skis and Lange boots and a black roommate for ‘an experience.'”

It seems the racism at Exeter affected Perry far more profoundly than the other black students. It consumed him with anger and made him a radical, one who saw Martin Luther King as a sell-out.

His white teachers and classmates did not understand him: every time he tried to open up and be honest with them he wound up hurting their feelings. He could not talk to them. The only people who understood him were black students and the one white teacher who had grown up in Harlem. But they could not help him.

Perry did not fit in at Exeter, and yet Exeter changed him so much that he had a hard time fitting in with Harlem.  He was torn between two worlds with no place to call home.

Anson made all this into a book, “Best Intentions: The Education and Killing of Edmund Perry” (1987), but in the end he had no answers. Michael Eric Dyson, who could have wound up becoming another Perry himself, said it was because Anson did not try to understand the black world that Perry came from, so he could not understand Perry or his anger.

The book was turned into a made-for-television film, “Murder Without Motive: The Edmund Perry Story” (1992).

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Vietnamese Amerasians are those who were born to an American soldier and a Vietnamese mother during the time of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s. Outcasts in Vietnam, most are now in America living in poverty. Few have ever seen their fathers.

There are about 22,000 of them in America, at least 4,000 of which are black. Maybe 2,000 more still live in Vietnam but there is no way of knowing.

In Vietnam they were called “half-bloods” and “children of the dust”. They had no fathers in a land where fatherhood is strong. They were mixed in a land where almost everyone is pure Vietnamese. To the Vietnamese they looked like black and white Americans, they looked like the enemy of a long war in a country broken by that war.

They were outcasts. They were unwanted. Sometimes their mothers were outcasts, seen as loose women. Sometimes even their own mothers threw them out to live on the streets. Other children called them names, beat them up or were not allowed to play with them. Most only went to school for a few years. Some cannot even read.

When Saigon fell in 1975, about 2,000 of them were flown to America and were adopted. Of the rest many were hidden or made to look more Vietnamese. Any proof of their American fathers, like pictures and letters, were destroyed for the most part to save them from being killed by the army.

In 1988 America passed the Vietnamese Amerasian Homecoming Act. If you went to the Amerasian Transit Center in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), an American official would look at you and if you looked white enough or black enough he would send you on to a camp in the Philippines where you would learn a bit of English and something about America (not necessarily what you needed to know) and then be sent on to America where you would get some help for six months and then be left to sink or swim.

Most sank. Good work was hard to find: their English was bad, they had little education and no car. So most live in poverty.

met_amerasianLambert1Only 3% found their fathers. Partly because they had little to go on, partly because most of these men did not want to be found. Most fathers, when found, refused to see their children. Yes.

Full-blooded Vietnamese who live in America want little to do with them – they do not seem Vietnamese to them. Even to Asian Americans they often look too white or too black. And, because they are foreigners in America, black and white Americans do not see them as one of their own either.

So they are caught in the middle with no place they can truly call home. “Children of the dust” turned out to be a cruel truth.

For those who are black, sometimes called Afro-Amerasians, it is the worst. They got the least education in Vietnam, experienced the most racism and learned all the Vietnamese stereotypes about blacks, so much so that self-hatred and self-doubt is common.

– Abagond, 2009.

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This song is so obscure that it has no lyrics online! And yet not so obscure that it is not on YouTube.

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Here are the top songs on the R&B charts now, 10 years ago today , 20 years ago, etc. Through the wonder that still is YouTube, you can hear them all (Can you believe it has already been ten years since “No Scrubs”?):

2009: Jamie Foxx and T-Pain: Blame It

1999: TLC: No Scrubs

1989:  Jody Watley: Real Love

1979: Peaches & Herb: Reunited

1969: The Isley Brothers: It’s Your Thing

1959: Brook Benton: It’s Just a Matter of Time

1949: Big Jay McNeeley’s Blue Jays: The Deacon’s Hop

Curiously, the hardest year was not 1949 but 1989! The top song on May 3rd 1989 was Karyn White’s “Love Saw It”. I could not even find a bad audio of a live performance for that one, so I went for Jody Watley’s “Real Love” which did not become number one till May 6th. But even with that one there was no embeddable music video for the radio version of the song.

Update: 2019: Lil Nas X: Old Town Road









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