This Isn’t The “Magic” We Are Talking About

For the past 2-3 years, the idea of “Black Girl Magic” exploded on social media platforms as a celebration of the wonder, joy, and triumph of Black women and girls. I remember when Cashawn Thompson began spreading the word that “Black Girls Are Magic!” and we collectively jumped on the positivity train. Why the focus on us? Because for centuries, we have been relentlessly subjected to the cruelty forged at the intersection of sexism and racism, and it appears that we have finally decided we are not going to take it anymore.

Around the globe, we are celebrating ourselves in ways unseen before and it’s a beautiful thing. We are encouraging each other, supporting each other’s endeavors, and more and more, we’re breaking down barriers and making history. While there have been (and will always be) detractors who ask, “What about ALL girls?” or “What about ALL Black people?”, we understand the importance of this magical bond of sisterhood that only we can truly engage and understand. And yes, it’s rubbing off on others and we appreciate the support from all kinds of groups who don’t seek to co-opt this movement, but to uplift and affirm it for what it is.

With that said…

What the hell is this?

and this

In 2016 and beyond, we are still seeing “Magical Negro” movies. If you aren’t familiar with this particular cinematic trope, you can learn more here. An abstract:

“Movies featuring a “magical” or spiritually gifted Black lead character have been released for many years, and the trend continues to grow in popularity. These Black characters, often referred to as “magical Negroes,” generally focus their abilities toward assisting their White lead counterparts. At first glance, casting the Black and White leads in this manner seems to provide examples of Black and White characters relating to each other in a constructive manner; however, a closer examination of these interactions suggests a reinvention of old Black stereotypes rather than authentic racial harmony.”


First, there is Mr. Church, a new movie starring Eddie Murphy as a mysterious man who enters the lives of a dying woman and her daughters.

From IMDB“Mr. Church” tells the story of a unique friendship that develops when a little girl and her dying mother retain the services of a talented cook – Henry Joseph Church. What begins as a six month arrangement instead spans fifteen years, and creates a family bond that lasts forever.

Already, people are buzzing about Eddie Murphy’s “return” to cinema and how this might be the movie that finally wins him an Academy Award. When I saw the trailer, my face screwed up so tightly, I almost developed a headache. I was damn near offended. I’m not sure if Eddie is completely out-of-touch with all of the things that are happening in the world related to the devaluing of Black lives or the latest iteration of the affirmation of Black “free” identity or if he just doesn’t give a damn. It is based on a true story, as most of these types of films seem to be, right? Right.


Other questions:

Would this story present differently if the family was a Black mother and Black daughters?

Would my initial reaction be different? I am going to say it would because it wouldn’t strike me as aligning with the stereotypes and trope. Yes, I know it’s “based on a true story”, but I can’t help but wonder if that “true story” would even be developed into a film if the racial dynamic was different.

Would this movie be made if it was a White man cooking for a Black mother and her daughters?

Why is there only one other somewhat visible Black character? This movie can’t possibly get any Whiter and his presence only serves to punctuate just how White it is.

How will the racial and gender dynamics be addressed?  As it is based on a true story, my hope is that they discuss race and not take the “colorblind” approach to storytelling.

MV5BMjM0ODA1NjEzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzE0Mjc3OTE@._V1_Next, there is Same Kind Of Different As Me, a movie featuring Djimon Honsou (of Amistad fame) as a Black homeless man who helps a White man save his marriage.

From IMDBInternational art dealer Ron Hall must befriend a dangerous homeless man in order to save his struggling marriage to his wife, a woman whose dreams will lead all three of them on the journey of their lives.

This, too, is based on a true story. It’s a film based on the book of the same name, Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together. In the trailer, we hear the White woman say she saw this Black homeless man in her dream as an explanation for why they have to “help” him. Ok.

I’ll admit that my reaction to this trailer was slightly different from Mr. Church and I think it is because I’m rather used to the White-people-take-in-Black-person-who-ends-up-saving-them-from-themselves “true” stories and how good they make White people feel about themselves. Mr. Church just seemed completely absurd, but Same Kind… is at least familiarI’m a social worker and come across this type of White savior mindset and behavior all of the time.

Still, both characters exist to make the White people in the stories better and they, almost literally, magically appear out of nowhere when the White people are at their lowest and struggling the most. The Black man becomes their conscience, their advisor, their connector, their fixer-upper, and even if he has issues of his own, the White people remain centered. In Mr. Church, we can’t tell from the trailer if his Blackness is essential to the story as it seems to be in Same Kind… and I’m interested in seeing how that plays out.

If I go see either of the films.

Which I probably won’t.

I’ve seen a number of Black folks praising Mr. Church already and they seem excited for it. Perhaps they are eager to see Eddie Murphy finally “win”. It doesn’t help that this movie comes from the guy who made Driving Miss Daisy. Everything isn’t for everyone, I guess.

Sometimes, I wish I’d never taken Donald Bogle‘s film class. *kicks rocks*


Witnesses To Hunger: My New Work in Philadelphia

I’m happy to share that I am the new program manager of Witnesses to Hunger, a national community advocacy organization compromised of caregivers of children who live in poverty and navigate food insecurity and other devastating effects of poverty. I moved to Philadelphia from my home, NYC, to embark on this new endeavor and my hope is that you can follow along and be supportive in this journey.

I began working here in June 2016 and since my start, I’ve been overcome with an amazing sense of fulfillment and gratitude. I’m happy that the women trust me to lead them towards becoming dynamic advocates for themselves and national spokespeople for those living in poverty.

Learn more about Witnesses to Hunger and how you can help us in our work.

Check out this podcast from Talk Poverty. I’m speaking with one of the Witnesses about the program and how poverty needed to be centered at the DNC, but wasn’t.

Check out this video from Fusion and hear from the Witnesses themselves.

We Have Had to Defend Ourselves Against Online Threats

Check out my latest for the NY Times about online harassment and how we need to actively address this issue


For several years, I have endured vile, occasionally violent, harassment on social media. When you’re a woman who speaks up about feminism, race, liberation and the like, you can expect pushback. Too many have been socialized to engage in the collective silencing of women.

And social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are often safe spaces for bigots to say whatever they want without fear of consequence because relatively few people are penalized for online harassment.

Read more here.


We Have Not Had Nearly Enough “Slave Movies”

I was born about three years after Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of An American Family was published and about two years after the novel transformed into a ground-breaking, 9-time Emmy-winning, made-for-television miniseries. Its first run aired for eight consecutive nights and made history by attracting the largest viewership of any series in American history. Over half of the American population watched Roots— unheard of then and even now.

I saw parts of the series as a child and in its entirety as a teenager after I read the novel. Though it was a bit dated by then, it deeply resonated and was one of the things that inspired in me a keen interest in studying the narratives of enslaved people in the Americas. I went on to get a degree in African American studies from the University of Pennsylvania and my coursework involved quite a bit of in-depth historical study of these narratives.

Though cliche, I was motivated, in part, by the saying “If you don’t know where you come from, you won’t know where you’re going.” I still consider the original “Roots” series an essential viewing for everyone, not just Black Americans.

Though there have been less popular sequels to the original series (Roots: The Next Generation, 1979, and Roots: The Gift, 1988), many people agreed that “Roots” did not need to be remade; it was fine the way it was, for the time it was made, and should be heralded as a staple that is revisited over and over as needed. So when the first rumblings of “Roots reboot” echoed across social media, the most common reaction was, “But…why?!”

Roots series NYC premiere

LeVar Burton, the original Kunta Kinte, speaks to the NYC premiere audience at Lincoln Center (May 23, 2016)

Even LeVar Burton, the actor who originated the role of Kunta Kinte, said he was not sold on the idea of remaking the series. At the White House premier, he said he was skeptical, but after consulting with Mark Wolper, one of the executive producers, he was convinced that a re-imagination of the series was necessary for a younger generation and for those who didn’t get to fully experience the original series. I’ve actually met Black folks over the age of 30 who have never seen it. No shade, but it’s one of those things I’ve assumed every Black person had seen at least one part of, yet that isn’t the case.







Program from White House premiere of the new Roots series

Program from White House premiere of the new Roots series




I received an invitation to view the pilot at The White House at an event that featured panels that included activist DeRay McKesson, blogger/author Luvvie Ajayi, director Mario Van Peebles, actors LeVar Burton (original Kunta Kinte) and Anika Noni Rose (new Kizzy), and some of the producers and writers.








Luvvie Ajayi speaks t her experiences as a Nigerian-born woman growing up in American culture

Luvvie Ajayi speaks t her experiences as a Nigerian-born woman growing up in American culture



In the first panel, Ajayi and McKesson spoke on the importance of knowing one’s identity and engaging in the fight for liberation. One of the lasting images/scenes from the original series was that of Kunta Kinte being given his name and defending his right to have it while being whipped by an overseer. “In Yoruba culture, our names are our shields,” said Ajayi. I appreciate the ongoing conversations about Blackness and identity and how enslavement had a severe impact on how we, descendants of the enslaved, identify and understand ourselves ethnically and culturally.







DeRay McKesson speaks to the audience about his work as a protestor and activist

DeRay McKesson speaks to the audience about his work as a protestor and activist

In speaking about protest, McKesson stated, “Protest is the idea of telling the truth in public.” When people lament the development of movies or TV shows that focus on the experiences of enslaved people in America, I pushback and remind them that we have not had nearly enough of these stories told. Centuries of enslavement, rape, torture, and murder, and we can barely count on two hands the number of major mainstream projects that adequately present a better understanding of what life was like for our ancestors. We could produce a new movie or TV series every month for a decade and still not come close to telling even a fraction of the important stories.

There are so few visual representations of these experiences and we have to stop pretending that telling these stories hold us back or shames us. When we learn about schools changing the narratives and making attempts to sanitize the truth about slavery, we know that we need even MORE of these kinds of movies and TV shows.

These stories must be told. (I recently interviewed Jurnee Smollet-Bell and Amirah Vann, stars of the hit series Underground on the WGN network about the same idea.)



At Lincoln Center for the NYC premiere
Me…At Lincoln Center for the NYC premiere (May 23, 2016)

I also received an invitation to the New York City premiere at Lincoln Center where more of the actors were present and greetings viewers and fans. After watching the pilot twice, I cannot help but share my excitement for this new series and encourage everyone to watch it.

Producer Mark Wolper, actor Malachi Kirby (new Kunta Kinte), actress Anika Noni Rose (new Kizzy), and director Mario Van Peebles, White House premiere of Roots (May 17, 2016)

Producer Mark Wolper, actor Malachi Kirby (new Kunta Kinte), actress Anika Noni Rose (new Kizzy), and director Mario Van Peebles, White House premiere of Roots (May 17, 2016)



One of the critiques of the original “Roots” was that it didn’t hold White people accountable enough and perhaps that was because of the positive associations people had with the primary White actors; they were some of America’s most beloved TV dads at the time. This re-imagination spares no one and does a fantastic job of showing just how savagely barbaric those who engaged in the slave trade and in the ownership of enslaved people were.

There are graphic scenes depicting torture and they will make you turn your head, but they are important! We cannot shy away from this reality, even as we distance ourselves from centering Whiteness in our narratives. There is no room for White redemption in these stories and I’m honestly glad to see little of it in these modern portrayals of Antebellum America.






White House premiere of Roots series
Tony Award-winning actress, Anika Noni Rose,
portrays Kizzy in the new Roots series.
White House premiere (May 17, 2016)

I really enjoyed how much more of a focus they put on the lives of people before they were kidnapped and sold into slavery. We got to see and connect with the joy and love people shared in their lives, their traditions and customs, and their strength and commitment to each other. It reminds us that our identities do not begin with slavery; we descend from people whose lives were rich and full before encountering Europeans.

I was one of the skeptical ones, but I am truly sold. I hope you all tune in with your friends and families and watch this re-imagination of the classic Roots story.

Check out the trailer:

Watch the premiere on the History Channel on May 30, 2016 at 9pm/8pm c and join in livetweeting each night using #Roots and @RootsSeries


I met Derek Luke. Yassssss.

I met Derek Luke. Yassssss.

Forest Whittaker as “Fiddler”

Emayatzy Corinealdi as Belle

Follow along on social media

I Don’t Owe You Sh!t

So, the weather is getting warmer and well, people don’t know how to act in these streets.

Some days, you want to be nice. Other days, you just don’t want to be bothered.

You’re already mad because you wanted to wear way less than what you opted for and it’s 90+ degrees outside.

You’re already mad because you just left your house 37 seconds ago and already two randoms had something to say about your ass.

You’re already mad because by the time you got to work, several assholes made you feel like a piece of raw meat in a lion’s den.

So… send a clear message to these folks






Check out my T-shirt campaign and order yours today!!

Shirts come in various shapes, sizes, cuts, and colors. Be sure to peruse all of the options.

Click HERE for your new bad ass statement tee.

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