I Hated The Best Man Holiday…And I Feel Really Bad About It

(The Champ’s latest at EBONY on whether he’s more critical of Black movies than he is with other types of films)

I really wanted to like this movie. Really, really. And since it didn’t happen, I started to feel bad about it. Ashamed, even. Why? Well, aside from Love Jones (which I loved), I’ve been pretty unenthused about most of the movies in the bougie Black romantic canon. (This includes The Best Man, Love and BasketballBrown Sugar, Just Wright, Why Did I Get Married, etc.) But, a few “White” romantic comedies made in that same period (Chasing Amy and High Fidelity, in particular) are among my favorite movies.

Was this my litmus test? Had I become one of “those” types of Black folks? The ones who laugh harder at jokes written by White writers, not because they relate to them more, but because since a White person wrote them, the jokes must be “better?” The ones who are unnecessarily hard on and critical of Black things, Black movies included?

After a couple days, I found an answer.

No. And yes.

No because, while there are dozens of Black-themed movies I didn’t like and had/have no interest in seeing, there are many I liked. Some I loved. Which mirrors my feelings about movies in general. Most are forgettable. Some are good. An even smaller percentage are great. But most are somewhere between “that was okay, I guess” and “eh.” It stands to reason that Black movies would follow that same trend. In fact, when thinking about the three Black-themed movies I saw at the theater this year, they did. One (Fruitvale Station) was great. I thought the other two (The Best Man Holiday and 42) were not. It’s not that I’m more critical of Black movies. I’m just not less critical of them than I am on other movies.

That said, I admit I may have been a bit more critical of The Best Man Holiday than I would have been with a “White” movie with a similar theme. When a movie features young, urban, professional Black people—basically, people like me—and receives praise for creating realistic and relatable characters and themes, I am going to be sensitive to the realness and relatability. If this is supposed to be some facsimile of the types of lives led by the type of people I know, and everyone’s saying they get it right, I want to see if they got it right. And, when it contains too many things that just could not have ever, never, ever, never happened in the same bougie Black universe I occupy—like married men sharing explicit sexual details about their wives (Why don’t movies ever get Black male conversations right???)—I can’t help but notice it.

(Read the rest at EBONY)

The Story Of My Mom, My Dad, My Basketball, And I

(The Champ’s latest at EBONY on the bond he shared with his parents through basketball, and how his mom’s recent death changes everything.) 

We’ll talk about the Steelers. He’ll reiterate they need to draft “one of those athletic Black quarterbacks” next year. I’ll say we have bigger holes to fill than at quarterback. We’ll both joke about how Mike Tomlin gets so angry at press conferences after losses that it looks like his eyes will pop out of his head.

We’ll also talk about the weather. News one of my aunts told him over the phone about one of my cousins. The deer family in his backyard. The raccoon family in his garbage cans. A new steak rub he saw on the Food Network. How my car is holding up. My job. Area crime. Obama. White people. A Roots CD I gave him. Terrelle Pryor. Cristo Redentor. If Ray Donovan is any good. My nephew. My knee.

We will then talk about the only thing worth talking about: basketball. And it will remind us why we need to talk about basketball now. Especially now. It will be a familiar conversation. We will both smile. And this will make us both sad.

To know why I love basketball is to know why I love my dad. He introduced me to the game when I was six. My birthday is Dec. 30th, the Harlem Globetrotters appear in Pittsburgh in late December of every year, and he took me to see them as a birthday present. Interest piqued, I’d watch the NBA playoffs with him, and listen as he explained where Earvin Johnson got his nickname from and why dunks weren’t worth any extra points. I’d implore him to buy basketball magazines for me—Hoops and Basketball Digest especially. He take me to basketball courts. We’d shoot around before anyone else got there; me working on my touch and him rebounding my misses while reminding me to be mindful of my follow through. Older guys would start to come. My dad would play with them, and I’d sit on the bleachers, watching and waiting for my opportunity to sweat the way they did.

As years passed, the basketball jones continued to grow. We’d shoot 500 jumpshots a day every summer. Me counting my makes, he reminding me to be mindful of my follow through. I’d grown big enough to finally play with the older guys, and he’d always pick me on his team, reminding me to shoot when I was open and hit the open man. He’d drive me to my AAU games and sit in the stands. After the games, he’d make sure to tell me I played well. During drives home, he’d let me know which rotations I missed and why it was my fault when I threw that no-look pass to that guy who dropped it out of bounds because he wasn’t ready for it. We’d watch college and NBA games together at home. He’d point out bad body language, and we’d both instinctively grunt “Eh!” when Tim Hardaway or Mark Price or Chris Jackson made someone look silly. During breaks in the action, he’d quiz me on NBA history.

“What college did Oscar Robertson go to?”

“Eh…wait…I got it. Cincinnati, right?”

“Good job.”

High school and college were versions of the same process. We didn’t practice together anymore—he was approaching 50, and I’d just work on my game by myself—but he still came to every game and still gave me the same advice. The grunts still occurred while watching college and NBA games, but they were peppered between us pointing out where Robert Horry mistakenly “popped” instead of “rolled” after setting a pick and theoretical debates pitting a 2001 Allen Iverson against a 1989 Isiah Thomas.

He’d also make sure to let me know how much he enjoyed watching me play basketball.

We’re both adults now, living on two separate sides of the same city. I’m busy. Not as busy as I say I am. But still busy. And, for the past few years, we haven’t watched as many games together as we did before.

This year will be different though.

While the story of my dad and I can not be told without basketball, the story of my dad, my basketball, and I can not be told without my mom.

(Read the rest at EBONY)

“Yes, I’m Black (And I Write For EBONY). No, I Don’t Want To Talk To You About Race”

two-white-guys-and-a-black-guy

***The Champ’s latest at EBONY discusses why he’s not always interested in having race-related conversations with White people***

As soon as Mike learned I co-founded a website called VerySmartBrothas.com, work for EBONY.com, and frequently write about race and culture, his eyes lit up, and a strange look formed over his face. For Black people who do what I do and happen to find themselves at bars with conservative but “well-intentioned” White people who find out what you do and don’t interact with Black people that often, that look is unmistakable.

“Oh sh*t! A smart Black person! I can finally unleash all these thoughts about Obama, crime, Trayvon, democrats, MSNBC, “the Black community,” Don Lemon, and Al Sharpton! Let me buy him a round, and let’s talk about race!”

I obliged. We spoke about racism and the fallout from the Zimmerman verdict. Although I had to correct his “facts” a couple times, it was a good conversation. Actually, calling it a “good conversation” would be underselling it. Even while we were talking, I recognized how rare it is to have two people from opposite sides of the political spectrum sitting down, having a beer, and just sharing what’s on their minds. (An actual, completely organic Beer Summit!)

Yet, after 10 minutes or so, I took a gap in the conversation do to the “Well, it was nice meeting you.” thing people do when they want to end conversations, and started talking to other people. A couple minutes later, he came over and apologized, obviously thinking I left because he offended me in some way. I told him not to worry about it, and he walked away, still bothered.

What Mike failed to realize was that just because this was his rare opportunity to talk to a “smart” Black guy about those touchy race-related subjects doesn’t mean that smart Black guy actually wants to have the conversation right then and there.

Yes, I am very interested and invested in race, racism, and the effect bias has on our behavior and our culture. It literally fascinates me. Yes, I talk about those subjects frequently, and write about them even more frequently. And yes, I recognized the importance of Black and White people actually speaking to each other about this stuff instead of shouting at.

But, I came to that bar to drink, laugh, and talk about basketball, BBQ burger recipes, and the bartender’s ass…not George f*cking Zimmerman.

Read more at EBONY.com

Why I Can’t Really Get Into Magna Carta…Holy Grail

***The Champ’s latest at EBONY explains why Jay-Z’s new album has left him underwhelmed***

“With a household net worth of a billion dollars, MCHG is the first solo album where Jay-Z is actually the person he’s always rapped about being. When he raps “Basquiat in my kitchen corner/Go ahead lean on that shit Blue, you own it” and “Surrounded by Warhols/my whole team ball” on “Picasso Baby”, these aren’t colorful fabrications from a kid showing how far his imagination can stretch or even the truth-bending claims of a moderately successful rapper insecure he’s not bourgie enough. This is a man who can actually afford Basquiat bath mats and Warhol toilet paper.

From a technical standpoint, this is actually one of Jay-Z’s better albums. His subject matter and production is as complex and diverse as it’s ever been, and his flow hasn’t lost any of its signature effortlessness. Aside from his perfunctory forgettable track with his wife, nothing on MCHG is skip-worthy.

Yet, if I had to rank favorite Jay-Z albumsMCHG would finish last. As stated earlier, Jay-Z’s main draw has always been how good he was at convincing you he’s as rich as he currently is. But now, when the person finally matches up with the persona, the persona ceases to be as compelling, and the music ceases to resonate. The level of cognitive dissonance needed to be a serious rap fan is no longer necessary when listening to an album made by a person who no longer has any need for hyperbole. After at least a dozen listens, there’s no doubt Jay-Z is the only rapper who could have made MCHG. Unfortunately, there’s also no doubt that MCHG is the only album this Jay-Z—a maven salesman with nothing left to sell—can make. It’s not elevator music as much as it’s music made by (and for) people with elevators in their homes.”

Read more at EBONY

Sistas In Science

***The Champ’s latest at Ebony profiles four Black women who happen to be close friends…and all happen to have PhDs in STEM fields. (VSB vets should recognize at least one of them)***

Four Black women. All friends. And, all granted PhDs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields before reaching 30.

What sounds the premise for an urban fairy tale has been the reality for Jessica Porter, 29, Marguerite Matthews, 29, Dahlia Haynes, 31, and Racquel Jemison, 27—a reality made even more unlikely when reading statistics about Black people and STEM PhDs.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Black people are 12% of the U.S. population and 11% of all students beyond high school, yet they received just 7% of all STEM bachelor’s degrees, 4% of master’s degrees, and 2% of PhDs. And, out of 5,048 PhDs awarded in the physical sciences, such as chemistry and physics, 89 went to Blacks—a number that gets even smaller when removing Black men.

Yet, Porter (a Boston native and current senior sensory scientist at Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati) met Matthews (who matriculated at Spelman and is currently doing a post-doc at the University of Portland) in 2006 while both enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh’s neuroscience PhD program. In 2010, they met Jemison, a Morgan State grad and doctoral student at nearby Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) who will receive a PhD in chemistry this fall. A couple months later, Jemison introduced them to Haynes, a post-doctoral research associate at CMU who received her PhD in chemistry at Clemson University.

The ladies soon grew close, forming the nexus for a “crew” of grad students and young professionals who migrated to the Pittsburgh-area for work or school.

EBONY.com recently had the opportunity to sit down with them and discuss Black women in science, the importance of early STEM education, and the value of having a strong network of friends.

EBONY: Cases such as the one with Kiera Wilmot reinforce the idea that, from a lack of administrative support to Black students not given the same allowances other students are to experiment, there may be substantial social and institutional barriers preventing Black women from entering and excelling in science-based fields. Do you agree with this assessment?

Dahlia Haynes: This question reads unclear. I am not aware of this case but what allowances are we as Black women not getting? I, for one, have received great institutional support to excel in science based fields. I do believe however that it is because of the (White) people I had around me who were heavily invested in diversity. Socially, unfortunately is that there remains very few of “my people” in the STEM fields. This starts from an early age however. Where I’m from in particular, the only successful careers that were popularly known were the “Huxtables” (medical doctor or lawyer). To overcome this, being scientists has to become socially more acceptable at younger ages.

Marguerite Matthews: I don’t think there are barriers preventing Black students from going into or excelling in the sciences, per se. But I do think there is a lack of support, encouragement, and proper education for many Black students – especially those coming from more disadvantaged economic backgrounds. Similar to Dahlia, I had teachers who pushed me into STEM opportunities, which inspired me to pursue science in higher education and as a career. Exposure to these opportunities, and feeling empowered to thrive in the sciences, has made a world of difference. Unfortunately in the case of Kiera Wilmot, the stereotype that Black kids are thought of as criminals first, not scientists, is being reinforced. This type of experience – being faced with criminal charges – may totally deter her from pursuing science in the future. And while this likely isn’t the case for all Black children, it highlights that society often does not value Black children, even those who are proven to be good students, as future innovators and intellectuals.

Jessica Porter: I do not think that there are barriers preventing Black women from entering or excelling in science based fields any more than there are barriers for White women. Science remains to be a male dominated field so the issues from my experience have had to do more with being a woman than being Black. In addition, as  a Black woman, we check two boxes, which tend to be very important for funding especially at a time when scientific funding is being cut. I don’t want to think that the reason I received funding was because I was Black, but being Black did help. In most science fields, the government or non-profit organizations pay for higher education through grant funding, thus eliminating the barrier and making a scientific education cheaper and easier to pursue.

Racquel Jemison: I think I’m more inclined to agree with Marge.  There isn’t enough support for our young Black students to pursue interests in the sciences.  It’s primarily those few heavily involved teachers or mentors that encourage early exposure to the sciences, and quite frankly, there aren’t enough of them.

Read more at EBONY