Raven Symone
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Dear Raven Symone, Enough With The Trolling And Constant Urban Culture Shaming

Contrary to Raven Symone's comments about "ghetto names," they are by no means indicative of one's work ethic or performance. 

Charmaine was 16 when she had me. Barely ready for motherhood, her first major decision would be naming her chubby 8-pound, 6-ounce baby girl. The name Tyler was a contender for a while, and Adrienne almost made the cut, but her last minute decision to name me Shenequa has brought many blessings, as well as judgment, all of which I willingly take on.

I'm nobody's fool. I'm aware of the preconceived notions my name brings, coupled with the fact my mama was a single teenage mother and my daddy was out to lunch most of my childhood, I get it. I completely fit into the "ghetto" name stereotype. But contrary to Raven Symone's statement, my name—a decision I had no control over back in June of '85—is not indicative of my work ethic or work performance.

Raven Symone proves the caramel macchiato skin she's drenched in does not reflect the ideals and isms of black people, and that's okay. African-Americans are not monolithic. However, Symone's  questionable comments indicate her success on The View comes from her superhuman troll-like abilities.

To say you're not hiring someone named "Watermelon-Andrea" means you have bought into the white supremacist belief of professionalism and acceptance; that only Katie's, Kimberly's and Kylie's are worth an interview and Keishas, Kia and La Keia's have killed a tree for naught printing their resume, which will make its way to the trash bin.

Even using the name "Watermelon-Andrea" as an example is problematic in itself, and the obvious racial undertone of her fictitious name speaks more to the depth of her coonery than it does the argument she tried to make, but you know, that's so Raven.

Symone won't hire a "Watermelon-Andrea" but what about Kate Winslet's son Bear Blaze? Funnyman Jason Lee, who's starred in 2015's Alvin and The Chipmunks named his oldest boy Pilot Inspektor (yep, Pilot is the first name and Inspektor is his middle name). Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin's believed Apple was suitable to give their daughter and actor Penn Jillette's oldest is named Moxie Crimefighter. Are these names also unacceptable for Symone or do they get a pass?

And while these asinine comments about employment and names come from the same woman who's allegedly from every continent—not country, but continent—in Africa, and should be taken with a grain of salt, it's the ignorant audacity, coupled with the unjustified platform Symone has been given that irks my nerves.

To begin, her name is borderline in itself, being as though she's named after a bird, and her hair, whether it be fire engine red one week, or an indescribable shade of lavender the next, falls right in line with the ghetto names of many of those she alleges she wouldn't employ. So yeah, about that Raven?

I will not push the responsibility of representing the entire black community on Symone, or any brotha or sista who's been given that large a platform. That task is too large a load to carry, but Symone doesn't understand how her incendiary comments give the powers that be fuel to continue with their divisive tactics. Her racial tone deafness on that daytime talk show only does more harm than good and quite frankly, who the hell is Raven Symone to talk? She by no means represents me and my blackness, but when she sits on that stage spewing her f**kery, she unfortunately acts as a representative for the community, and homegirl, you ain't it!

There aren't enough SMHs or "Bye Felicias" to give Ms. Symone. I'm sure this comment, like all the rest, will be added to her list of f**k s**t and foolery, but for the rest of the millions who tune into watch The View just know Ms. Symone and I are not of the same ilk.

Not by a long shot.

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Opinion: The College Cheating Scandal Proves Mediocrity Is The Dominant White Gene

There are two ways one can look at the recent college cheating scandal: You can choose to view it with a water is wet kind of amazement. The cutthroat world of Ivy League acceptance has been fraught with bribery and legacy admissions for years, so actresses Felicity Huffman, Full House’s Lori Loughlin, and 48 other business leaders cutting checks so their child can cut in line isn’t surprising. It’s the American way. (Depending on the complexion of the American, of course.)

Or you can view it for what it is: well-to-do white parents knowing their child isn’t good or smart enough to gain admission into the country’s top schools on their own, so they foot the bill. That’s correct, your mediocrity can’t cut it in the real world unless you sandwich it with your parent's money and your unearned whiteness.

Tuesday morning (March 12), breaking news revealed Huffman, Loughlin, and others paid up to $6.5 million in bribes to secure placement at Yale, University of Southern California (USC), Stanford and other top schools.

Orchestrated by William Rick Singer, the former head of college admission prep company The Key, parents would make handsome donations and Singer would ensure their child’s academic future in one of two ways: After payment was made to a secret account, Singer would either phone a Division 1 coach to secure an athletic credential despite the child not playing the sport.

Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli allegedly agreed to pay $500,000 for their two daughters to be recruits for USC’s crew team. To bolster the “admission” photos of the couple’s children on a rowing machine were sent.

Haters will say it’s photoshop...well, because, it was.

Or parents would pay between $15,000 to $75,000 for Singer to arrange certain exam proctors look the other way while 36-year-old Harvard Alum Mark Riddle aced the test. Riddle, who’s described by law enforcement as “just a really smart guy” faces several charges including conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Several coaches at elite schools, two SAT/ACT and college administrators, and an exam proctor all face federal fraud charges.

But yes, let’s talk about how Affirmative Action is the real culprit.

Education has long been a battleground in this country with white people (remember the Abigal Fisher case?) yielding the best the world has to offer, while slaves had to teach themselves to read by candlelight. Then activists and parents lose life and limb just so their child can be in the classroom with white peers during the civil rights movement.

Fast forward a few decades, minority students met with microaggressions by their white counterparts have long had to deny the belief they only merited a spot at a top tier academic institution via an athletic scholarship. Meanwhile, one student’s parents reportedly made a $1.2 million payment to get into Yale, and magically their child is a soccer star despite never kicking a ball.

America is in love with poverty, struggle, and strife. It appropriates our rhythm and fetishizes our blues. The land of the free and home of the brave has built dilapidated communities for its black and brown citizens and loves to tout success stories as proof “hard work” and “dedication” means you too can achieve the American dream. That all it really takes to gain acceptance into an Ivy League school is a “can-do” attitude and a little elbow grease.

Actually, it has nothing to do with elbow grease or a tenacious attitude. It has everything to do with students not being good enough and mommy and daddy making it all better with their money, fame, access, and influence.

Aunt Becky’s kid can’t compete with 17-year-old Mekhi Johnson from Baltimore who earned acceptance into all eight Ivy League schools. Felicity Huffman’s offspring can’t go bar for bar with Michael Brown from Houston’s Third Ward who worked tirelessly to get into Stanford and not only got into the university but 19 others, including Harvard, Yale, Vanderbilt, and Johns Hopkins.

Yes, boys and girls, unlike Brown’s namesake our children are deserving of the best and not just being shot down in the middle of a Ferguson street.

The brilliance is in the black and browness and your kids just don’t have it, but what you do have is power and you wield it sans grace. In 2011, Kelley Williams-Bolar was sentenced to 10 days in jail and three years probation for sending her children to a better school district in Ohio.

And if we’re not jailed for wanting better, we’re scrutinized for doing better. So while it’s ordinary for a white student to score high on a standardized test, Florida high school student Kamillah Campbell gets flagged for her 330 points SAT increase despite hiring a tutor and studying the Princeton Review Prep book seven months after initially taking the test.

Your privilege is putrid. Your hypocrisy makes my stomach turn. Your inability, as scripture notes, to see the plank in your own eye, has left you blind to your vile ways. How dare your child be so mediocre and you still deem it fit they deserve excellence?

The investigation is still open and law enforcement officials haven’t found evidence that support’s the idea one parent’s bribe may have bumped another student out of admissions. It’s also unclear if the students will have any legal actions taken against them.

I suspect the money that got the parents into this mess will be the money that will get them out of it. The rich stay rich the poor continue to struggle and the world goes round, right?

Right.

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Singer-songwriter Michael Jackson waves to fans after he is found not guilty on all counts in his child molestation trial at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse June 13, 2005 in Santa Maria, California.

Opinion: We Can't Ignore 'Leaving Neverland'

Leaving Neverland is not the documentary I thought it would be.

Dan Reed’s two-part, four-hour long HBO docuseries is polarizing and controversial. Subjects Wade Robson and James Safechuck were two of a series of boys Michael Jackson befriended during the height of his fame, and Leaving Neverland chronicles their accounts of meeting the star and being brought into his inner sanctum: touring with him, spending extensive amounts of time at Neverland, gifts and favors bestowed upon the boys and their families – and Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse.

The controversy around the documentary, however, isn’t whether Robson and Safechuck’s stories are believable, but whether it merits watching at all.

Jackson superfans have been rabidly swarming anyone who mentions Leaving Neverland on Twitter, sending court transcripts and links they argue debunk allegations made over the years and discredit Robson and Safechuck. Some fans have complained about black writers, especially, who’ve reviewed the documentary without dismissing it as a farce.

Those fans are about to be mad at me.

I believe one’s approach to Leaving Neverland depends on what Michael Jackson era they experienced. I’m old enough to remember Thriller’s release (I was in elementary school), to remember the “Black or White” video premiere on TV (middle school), and to remember the Wacko Jacko tabloid era. Michael Jackson was synonymous with scandal for over a decade. Severe alterations to his appearance; questions about his sexuality – or lack thereof; his unusual obsessions like The Elephant Man’s remains; his propensity to take a chimpanzee with him everywhere, and then take young boys with him everywhere; his incredibly strange marriages first to the princess of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Lisa Marie Presley, and then to Debbie Rowe, the mother of his children (who seemed like the most random white woman on the planet for Michael Jackson to procreate with); and finally his behavior as a father, covering his kids with masks in public (which I think many of us understand, now), and dangling his infant baby over a hotel balcony. For much of the ‘90s, Michael was prime tabloid fodder, and his relationship with black culture was complicated. Black comedy was peppered with MJ jokes, including jokes about his alleged pedophilia. Even as we were jamming to Dangerous, we still clowning him – I remember the extensive analysis of his awkward kiss with Iman in the “Remember the Time” video. Michael was weird, but he was still a musical genius. There wasn’t a conversation, then, about the limits of separating art from the artist.

When 13-year old Jordan Chandler accused Michael of sexual assault in 1993, I was a senior in high school. I don’t remember if I believed it, but I know I didn’t not believe it. I at least believed – as I still do - that Michael’s relationships with the boys in his life were completely inappropriate as a grown ass man. Even if he was a socially and emotionally regressed Peter Pan-figure. I wasn’t that invested, though, because by 1993 Michael wasn’t the mythological, faint-inducing King of Pop he was when I was a kid. He was a deeply flawed character who still put up some bangers. Like I said before, it was complicated.. By the second trial a decade later, I believed the accusations. I followed the spectacle and had seen the surreal Martin Bashir documentary, Living With Michael Jackson, which prompted Jackson’s 2003 arrest on nine counts relating to child molestation, but I was even less invested. Michael was acquitted both times, but also settled with both families.

Over the years, however, I’ve grown doubtful. There were walk backs; Jackson’s housekeeper’s son said during the Chandler investigation that Michael had fondled him, only to then refuse to go on record with the statement or testify. The 2005 Arvizo trial was messy: Bashir doubled back on previous public comments to defend Michael’s relationship with the children. Witness testimony from the alleged victim’s brother came apart during cross-examination. Questions about the Arvizo family’s intentions and credibility arose with revelations that the mother was under investigation for welfare fraud and the father had pushed the young sons to shoplift in the past. Also, since I wasn’t actively engaged during the trials, I hadn’t closely examined all the details. But I’d watched every interview and statement - Michael hadn’t done as much public speaking as he did following the first set of accusations since the beginning of his solo career. It was morbidly fascinating. I thought I knew real facts and not misinformation or spin, but I felt I needed to take another look.

In the cases of Robeson and Safechuck, neither ever brought accusations against Jackson while he was alive. In fact, both testified in his defense against Chandler, adamantly denying Jackson had ever been inappropriate with them. Robson initially declined the request to testify again in 2005, but said his mother convinced him support Michael. Safechuck’s mother also told him he should show up for Jackson again, but he refused. The men also hadn’t cut Michael out of their lives. Robson, best known as the creative director for *NSYNC and Britney Spears at their massive peaks, took his wife to meet Jackson soon before his death and even discussed collaborating. He and his family attended Michael’s funeral at the Jackson family’s invitation. Then, several years later, both men publicly alleged Jackson had abused them for years, and sued the late entertainer’s estate and existing companies. The lawsuits were both dismissed because too much time had passed since the alleged abuse happened; there was no decision on the credibility of the accusations.

I not only understand the skepticism around this documentary, I shared it. Why now? Are Reed, Robson and Safechuck trying to ride the #MeToo wave? Is it a money grab? (Reed says Robson, Safechuck and their families weren’t compensated for their participation.) Also, this docuseries doesn’t meet the investigative standards of Surviving R Kelly, with reporters, people who worked with the artist, psychologists, industry executives, and multiple points of view presented. While there is video footage of Michael with Safechuck, Robson and their families, and at points relative news and TV clippings to establish time and circumstance, this is solely their and their family’s side of the story. The Jackson Estate and family have condemned the documentary and the accounts. I was honestly watching it just to be able to say I did my due diligence before dismissing it.

I was caught off-guard.

#AfterNeverland, an @Oprah Exclusive. After watching the 2-part @HBODocs #LeavingNeverland on @HBO - tune in to see Oprah's conversation with Wade Robson, James Safechuck, and doc director David Reed. Monday at 10p. pic.twitter.com/92E8yiRM73

— Oprah Winfrey Network (@OWNTV) March 1, 2019

Leaving Neverland isn’t just a story of Michael’s alleged abuse. It’s a story of how grooming and long-time abuse affects victims and their families. In the first part of the documentary, both men recount how their relationships with Michael developed and evolved, starting with the awe of having the sun of the biggest superstar in history shine on them, and growing into grooming - not just of the boys but their families - and eventually alleged physical abuse. After part one, I still wasn’t convinced. I believed some of it, but the very graphic details were hard to reconcile.

Part two changed that, for me. Reed told Oprah Winfrey during her post-show special that Leaving Neverland “isn’t about Jackson, it’s about what happened to Wade and James.” In the second part of the series, Robson and Safechuck tell Reed how Michael’s influence affected them as they grew up. How they handled his distance as they got older, how they and their families supported Michael during his trial, how emotional trauma started showing up in their lives, how they processed his death. Most importantly, why they finally decided to tell their story, and how it impacted their families.

Nothing rang false. Nothing felt contrived.

Now, I have to process what this means for my personal relationship with Michael and his music as a fan. After his death, I simply placed all the problematic questions about him to the side and celebrated the parts of him I loved, as I believe many of us did. We started filling in the gaps in Michael’s story - his emotional trauma, his loneliness, his desire to recreate childhood. I had even come around to the theory that Michael was completely asexual. But I also believed he was manipulative; enough stories from the music business exist to confirm that. And I believed he didn’t think the normal rules of life applied to him. Now I believe it was much deeper and more disturbing than that.

Some of the fans I’ve seen rallying furiously against the documentary in an effort to protect Michael's legacy seem too young to realize that his legacy was complicated and murky when he died, that he was redeemed in death. But we can’t afford to keep ignoring inconvenient truths about the figures we love. No matter how much brilliance and joy they gave the world, no matter how troubled or broken. Leaving Neverland and the reexamining of Michael is not a smear campaign against Jackson, this is a reckoning.

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Spike Lee attends the 24th annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on January 13, 2019 in Santa Monica, California.
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Spike Lee’s 'BlacKKKlansman' Oscar Nods Show Power In Sticking To Your Guns

The nominations for the 91st Academy Awards have been announced, and per usual there were some things of note. How did Toni Collette not get nominated for her performance in Hereditary? Does the Academy hate Mister Rogers? Who are these people that think Vice is good? Each of these is worth exploring separately, but another big takeaway is that both Black Panther and BlacKKKlansman are nominated for Best Picture.

Black Panther was not only the highest grossing domestic release of 2018 (just the third film in history to gross $700 million), but it was critically acclaimed as well, currently holding a 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Its nomination for Best Picture makes it the first superhero movie to receive that honor. The fact that a $200 million blockbuster that thematically wrestles with pan-African identity could even be nominated is worth a celebration in itself. That doesn’t even cover the other six nominations the film earned. Funny enough, people may be able to thank Black Panther’s big screen arrival to the man who first put any mention of the character on the big screen. That, of course, is BlacKKKlansman director Spike Lee.

For the first time in his career, Spike Lee is nominated for Best Director. The honor is significant in that he’s no stranger to Academy recognition. His seminal film Do The Right Thing (1989) earned him his very first nomination in the category of Best Original Screenplay. Almost a decade later, 4 Little Girls (1997), the film about the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, would earn him a nomination for Best Documentary Feature.

At his best, Spike Lee has captured, perhaps better than any other black filmmaker, the cultural momentum of African American life.

BlacKKKlansman tells the real-life story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) — the first African-American to join the Colorado Springs Police Department—who infiltrates the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan by posing as a white man. Upon the film's release, it received critical acclaim and was widely seen as a return to form for Lee.

Lee’s career dates back to the 1986 release of his debut film She’s Gotta Have It (which has since been adapted into a Netflix original series) and was followed by School Daze in ‘88. Both films were well received, but it was his 1989 film Do The Right Thing that elevated Lee’s status as a director. On the surface, it mainly focuses on a day in the life of a pizza delivery man named Mookie (played by Lee), but it’s pulsing with commentary about racial tensions between Brooklyn residents as well as those between African-Americans and the police. That social commentary, along with the distinct look and feel of the neighborhood where it’s set, the colorful characters, and the emotionally charged finale, are just a handful of characteristics that have become synonymous with Lee’s work. The film received critical acclaim and has since been added to the National Film Registry. Although it earned Lee his first Academy Award nomination, he would ultimately lose to Tom Schulman for Dead Poets Society.

At his best, Lee has captured, perhaps better than any other black filmmaker, the cultural momentum of African-American life. He’s remained vocal about the importance of African-American history, with films such as Malcolm X and Miracle At St. Anna. He’s offered his take on current issues that are unique to black life (the aforementioned School Daze, Jungle Fever, Chi-Raq). He’s also never shied away from being a proud New Yorker, as several of his films are set in his native Brooklyn (Crooklyn, He Got Game, Red Hook Summer). What makes Lee such an interesting figure in the world of modern film is that he’s clearly an admirer and student of classic cinema, but has consistently tried to offer an outsider’s perspective. A common criticism of his work is that he often gets in his own way with bloated plots and story beats that don’t always fit, or that his message sometimes comes across as preachy. While his dedication is admirable, one starts to wonder if the scarcity of black filmmakers working for major studios, let alone being recognized by the Academy, drives his tendency to overindulge. How many other filmmakers of color are working as consistently as him, with the freedom to tackle so many of these issues? There are points in his career (2004's She Hate Me) where it seems like he really just wants the void to be filled with anything he can throw at it, rather than run the risk of it disappearing altogether.

And that brings us back to BlacKKKlansman, and how incredible it is that the Academy is finally giving recognition to Lee’s work as a director. Among its six nominations, Lee has three (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture).

Along with the aforementioned nominations for his films, Denzel Washington earned a Best Actor nomination in 1993 for playing Malcolm X in Lee’s film of the same name. He lost to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, and Lee has remained vocal in his criticism of that decision. More recently, he was one of several black celebrities who boycotted the awards in 2016 amid the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. His relationship with the Academy has had some tense moments, so for him to finally receive these nominations, for a film that doesn’t stray far from what he’s been doing for most of his career, almost makes this a feel-good story.

BlacKKKlansman feels like a natural extension of Lee’s most recognizable work. The film isn’t set in Brooklyn, but it does feature an everyman protagonist who must learn that he doesn’t have all the answers. And through that protagonist, Lee gives himself the right balance to deliver the messages he wants. Whether it’s dealing with the relationship between African Americans and law enforcement, militant approaches to social justice, America’s history of lynching, the effects of white supremacy on non-black minorities, or white supremacy’s larger social influence, Lee is able to tackle race in a way that serves as both a genuine history lesson and a lens through which people ought to examine the current political and social climate. The relationships between Ron Stallworth and the other characters help Lee communicate a multilayered commentary on race. The audience doesn’t just see how Ron approaches the topic as it relates to the Klan, but he also has to figure out how to work with his fellow police officers, as he is the first and only black man on the force. The film almost takes on too much weight in giving him a love interest (Laura Harrier), but because she’s an activist, Ron is forced to consider that even within the black community, people have varying ideas on how to achieve justice. Each of these dynamics serves a specific role that allows for Ron to grow throughout the film.

Commentary aside, the film scored well with critics and audiences because it allows the audience to have fun at the expense of people who often get the last laugh. Make no mistake, the Klan looks terrible here. Not just in the inherent evil that they stand for, but in perhaps being some of the dumbest individuals Lee has ever featured in any of his films. These are the things that make the heavy subject matter palatable. The very idea that Ron’s partner Flip (Adam Driver) is a Jewish man that has to pose as an aspiring KKK member, is one giant joke in itself. There is no coincidence that David Duke, former grandmaster of the KKK and one of the film’s antagonists, leads chants of “America first.” Lee undercuts that humor periodically through the film, most notably in a finale that draws a direct line between the KKK and the 2017 Charlottesville rally (that David Duke attended) which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer.

Perhaps the most noteworthy bits about Lee being nominated this year is that the person who brought the project to him, Jordan Peele (also nominated for Best Picture as a producer on BlacKKKlansman), is the first African-American to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out. That film, about a black man who goes to meet his white girlfriend’s family, makes race the key ingredient in its plot and its broader commentary, much like a majority of Spike Lee’s work. It's also similar to another film that is nominated for Best Picture this year, Marvel’s Black Panther, which oddly enough brings the character’s journey to the big screen full circle.

Spike Lee's relationship with the Academy has had some tense moments, so for him to finally receive these nominations, for a film that doesn’t stray far from what he’s been doing for most of his career, makes this a feel-good story.

Perhaps we should thank Spike Lee for that.

In the screenplay that earned him his first Academy Award nomination, Do The Right Thing, there is a scene in which the character Junebug is trying to organize a boycott of Sal’s Pizza. After asking some people in the neighborhood, he’s mostly met with no's. One of the reasons offered? Black Panther. “Black Panther eats pizza. We eat pizza,” says Punchy (Leonard Thomas) as he holds up a single issue of, you guessed it, the Black Panther comic book. This mention probably didn’t pique general audience interest quite like Chadwick Boseman’s debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War as the first live-action appearance of the character, but the idea of manifesting these things into existence isn’t complete nonsense.

As it stands, neither Black Panther nor BlacKKKlansman is favored to win Best Picture, but a strong argument could be made about Spike’s chances to take home the Oscar for Best Director, which would make him the first black recipient of that award.

The first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture, and the chance of us seeing the first black winner for Best Director? Punchy from Do The Right Thing had the right idea.

Black Panther blazes a trail in cinematic history. Spike Lee blazes one, too.

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