Above is a memorial by the Hillside Terrace apartment complex, formerly known as the Hillside Terrace housing projects. I might have been the most privileged person to live there. Every Monday, I had a mother who took me back to a hippie section 8 apartment (and later in my early teenage years, a house in the suburbs). When I was hungry (and if I didn’t tell my crack head father) I could go to my grandmother’s to get something to eat. I got up early every morning to go to a school that-though nestled in a sundown town-was first rate. Feeling sorry for my father, the 23rd street Crips didn’t pressure me to join their ranks. People understood this before me, especially my friends, and when-after I had fully moved to the suburbs-I would go back to the block to hang around, they would respond by whipping my ass.
Enacted after a remodel, this place is dedicated to all the people who we’re murdered in the area during the terrible span I lived there. I would like to think it is also for the people who died as collateral damage. People like my homeboys who either OD’d or committed suicide, or the young women I knew who were so badly abused by young thugs, old playas, and a patriarchal community who deemed them scourges if they got pregnant regardless of age. Or elders who lived in a war zone and died of too much trauma.
What is haunting me about “Chi-raq”, is that he, along with a great deal of viewers and movie critics, have told those people that all this pain wouldn’t have happened to them if women would just “not give up the booty”. This theory, the linchpin to the umpteenth time he has foisted his Artaudian nihilist id on characters and called it a complicated narrative, has been espoused by Lee on television, radio, and various other Reddit light districts of black social media. In the opinion of this author, it is one of the most psychologically abusive theories I have heard in my life.
Before “brave liberals” throw a temper tantrum, let me establish my “objective” bona fides. There probably isn’t a black poet in this planet more critical of Black Nationalism than yours truly. When I wrote The Homeboy Songs, I wrote unflinchingly about gang members, drug dealers, and political figures who wanted to blame every problem a black person has on white people, and received a tremendous amount of brutal feedback from people in intellectual scenes. I didn’t say these things because I hate black people, but because I love the black people nationalists, gang members, drug dealers and political hustlers hurt more than the offending parties. My cranky, itinerant liberalism has earned me enough enemies and-in defense of my principles-I’ll put sugar in their tears and make sweet tea.
But Chi-raq? Where do I start? How about here: If Lee wants to dump an Ocean Liner’s worth of weight on black women by saying that violence in the inner city would be cured if they “closed their legs”, then he needs to read every single statistic he can of what happens to black women when they don’t. Primarily these: http://www.blackwomensblueprint.org/resources.html. Sixty percent of black girls will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. For every rape reported by black women there are 15 that aren’t. And if black women or girls do fight back or run away they face an inhuman structural system bent on putting them in prison for resisting. http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/07/the_sex_abuse_to_prison_pipeline_how_girls_of_color_are_unjustly_arrested.html.
Those willing to point out that Spike is granting female sexuality the power to positively change the black community fail to realize that in doing so, he is separating black women from being human. And every time that happens in to women in humanity, violence always follows. And especially in Spike Lee’s films. In She’s Gotta Have It, Lee uses the rape of Nola, the main character who has multiple boyfriends, as a statement against “female promiscuity” He hasn’t gone that far since, but in movie after movie, Spike keeps going back to this image of the sexually active woman he has in his head. He Got Game, She Hate Me, and 25th Hour, were all animated respectively by… his visions of gold digger from the projects, a lesbian couple who stud a black man to produce babies for other lesbian couples, and a money grubbing drug dealer’s girlfriend who snitched on him. (Even in his Masterpiece, Malcolm X, a “loose” white woman is involved in a young Malcolm X becoming a drug crazed criminal.)
It is also telling that-after a generation of statements on the cacophonous fringe of far left and quasi men’s rights politics, Lee has discovered his conservative voice…to vent against a civil rights group helmed by women. The director has made a cottage industry doing films and bio pics overlooking the misogyny of preeminent black male cultural and political figures. Get On The Bus completely overlooked Farrakhan’s gruesome beliefs on women, pregnancy and rape. His documentary on Jim Brown glossed over the details of the domestic violence/attempted murder charges against him, and completely overlooked the other five cases of domestic violence and rape that he either settled or skated from.
I could go on! His documentary on Kobe Bryant completely overlooks the fact that he settled his rape trial and put in writing that he what he did in that hotel room was without his accuser’s consent. Lee was instrumental in rehabilitating Mike Tyson’s image, even-in spite of his hundreds of rape denials-he admitted in his memoir that he did have his victim’s sexual consent. The one man stage show on Huey Newton that he directed completely ignored the fact that Newton admitted to beating, raping and killing women (https://books.google.com/books?id=BJT_n7Xl6JwC page 292).. And I’m supposed to believe that Lee-who has spent a generation defending dysfunctional black men like a metronome quasi-sociopathic parrot-has somehow found his Ellisonian center in critiquing the Black Lives Matter movement? And spare me the defense: any basic google search will find the cross pollination of BLM activists with community activists fighting to keep streets safer; and if you are too lazy to look that up you need to not bother me or any other black writer with a conscience.
No, Spike Lee’s Black Lives Matter critique has little to do with a new-found conservatism as much as it has to do with the trigger that makes so much of White America jump for joy: a blanket critique of black people. The mass of people willing to overlook the sexual horror of Chi-raq’s premise shows a modern American verity: that If you are a black man, you can do much of anything under the sun if you got a trick bag of insults against rappers and single mothers. The dossier and snuff films of Clarence Thomas. The mistress Glenn Loury beat in a crack fury. The sexual harassment charges put on Herman Cain and Allen West. The 105 women who put sexual harassment allegations toward “Don” Juan Williams that he was forced to apologize to. The horror that Bill Cosby has been for so long. And if Cosby is all but dead, the Cosby archetype is still frighteningly with us, a specter so much of White(and Black) America refuses to let go, a specter whose iterations have been here since the kingpins that were negro slave catchers.
Though the complete opposite of a conservative, my father also understood this. He had people in his life that-if not willing to give him a safety net-wanted to provide him with housing considerably safer than Hillside Terrace in the late 80’s. In his addiction and relapses, he kept going back to that place, not just for drugs but also a spot where he could sexually abuse me and face the least repercussions. To say that I have had some tough days would be an understatement, but art, therapy, healing, nature and friendship have played a vital part of my life; and every bit of health and sanity I have I’ve clawed for.
And even though I had to fight for everything I have, I still realize that I am a fortunate son of that troubled strip of soil, precisely because there are no fortunate daughters. The brutality inflicted on Black women and women of color in my neighborhood (and many other neighborhoods throughout history) might not have much quarter to those who want to champion Chi-raq’s and it’s theories. But to every one else, it feels like Spike-and America-is dumping a weight on black women that feels like something closer to death than responsibility. I don’t have that weight on me. But viewing it makes me understand that the agony of Hillside Terrace had nothing to do with the building, and will be a part of my life until the day I die.