“Luxury may possibly contribute to give bread to the poor; but if there were no luxury, there would be no poor.” ~Henry Home
In 1989, director Spike Lee released Do The Right Thing, a movie based on the growing racial tension that was brewing in urban communities over the United States. In this film Mr. Lee shows the decline of his neighborhood, Brooklyn, New York on the hottest day of the year and exhibits the racial tensions that had been brewing for many years.
The movie mainly takes place in Sal’s Pizzeria an all-Italian establishment where the main character, Mookie, is employed as the delivery man. Mookie is a father who sees his son on a weekly basis and still lives at home with his sister with one thing on his mind: Da Paper (money). He is constantly late to his job and takes extra long excursions while out on delivery, including showers and love sessions with the mother of his child, Tina.
Throughout the movie we are introduced to characters that are true to life in urban communities. There are three that are pivotal to the climax of the film: Smiley, Buggin’ Out and Radio Raheem.
Smiley would be considered the village idiot who has a speech impediment that is highlighted throughout the movie. Though Smiley has a falter in speech he does not quit proclaiming the works of the great activists Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he devoted his time to selling the famous picture of both leaders shaking hands and a meeting. Smiley seems to represent the state of the urban community, well read of the glorious past but stammering to reach positive progress in the present.
Buggin’ Out is most definitely the political radical and rebel of the neighborhood who seems to be on the hunt for a conspiracy at all times.
He is able to call the injustices of the “black man”, but unable to realize the blatant disrespect that he shows towards others-like being fifty cent short for a slice of pizza. He also attempted to assault a man who smudged his Jordan tennis shoes and told him to “Move back to Manhattan!” but had not picked up a single piece of paper on “his block”
Radio Raheem is the strong-willed young man who gives little but demands much respect. Among his peers, he is feared and is considered a nuisance for playing his radio loudly everywhere that he goes. In the neighborhood he is considered an alpha male that runs his block; in the sights of local store owners he is a menace to society. With Fight the Power by Public Enemy blarring from his stereo we assume this young man has a mood of arrogance and misplaced rage.
These three join forces after Buggin’ Out decides to stage a sit-in of Sal’s Pizzeria because of the lack of “black faces” on the Wall of Fame at the establishment. The owner also asked Radio Raheem to turn off his music when he comes in to get a slice of pizza and Smiley was assaulted by Sal’s eldest son. This triad begins to demand respect and begins to violently take action towards retaining it, resulting in the breaking of Raheem’s radio and a brawl between the store owner and Radio Raheem. The police are called and try to restrain both individuals, seeing that Radio is 6 foot forever one officer uses his billy club to subdue the mighty giant, leading to his untimely death.
Though these young men have valid reasons to retaliate, one cannot help but assume that there may have been a better way to handle or even prevent this situation.
The urban community is desperately demanding the respect of their lives but there are conflicting images that show that we may not deserve it. Though based in Brooklyn, the setting reminds the viewer of most urban areas found in the United States – empty store fronts, trash blowing like tumble weeds and abandoned cars on the side of the street. It seems as if the community is asking for something that they lack for themselves. Throughout the picture, we see how the residents regard employment, women and essentially themselves- they tend to value tennis shoes and fashion more than the former.
Now, 20 years later, the urban community still faces these same conundrums: education vs. physical prowess, underemployment vs. employment, and the safety of children in the community. What could the community do to initiate safety and security for the residents ? Is this social change too much to ask for? Of course not, but responsibility must be taken so such actions can begin to be implemented.
The urban community must take responsibility for the well-being of the neighborhood. No one loves trash but the trash can and the trash man (and that depends on who you’re asking). How can someone respect trash? As a culture, we try to get ready for when we hit it big , acutely focusing only on the end result. Any coach will tell you, how you practice is how you play (meaning: you get out what you put in.) If the streets and sidewalks are covered in trash, others will associate the residents with the image.
I became a mother at the age of 13 years old, so I can relate to Tina’s situation with great empathy. If you have been following, you understand that I suffer with low self-esteem and Jones-itis. As a young lady I rushed through life wanting to have a boyfriend, someone to validate that I was woman. I foolishly thought that if a man had a baby by me, he would stop his life to build a life with me- which is possible but not at 13. As a little girl I remember hearing fairy tales and watching them on television, those girls were not much older than me and I had to seize every moment even if I had to create some. Fairy tales are justthat- fairy tales. In both Tina and I were in search of Prince Charming and ended up with Mookie. We are 2nd generation teenage mothers without fathers for whatever reasons and
are looking for the attention of a male that will always be there.Though this seemed logical 14 years ago, I now understand that the only true security that I will have is myself and my decisions. In urban terms- you can’t raise no man so raise your child(ren).
The last two years brought the unfortunate deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis and the convictions of their killers. The racial tension was grinding creating a dialogue full of anger and rage leading to riots that blossomed to more death. It seems as if these deaths would have brought about real answers, but questions only remain. Are black men viewed as violent creatures without fault? I must beg to differ, not only has our television image been compromised but our music sends us straight to the guillotine, decapitating our characters portraying the lot as no-good-baby daddies and welfare dependent baby mama’s. Our dress displays the demographic as slovenly kept and uncouth worthy of the bare minimal in education and opportunities.
Though we are under educated we have the dream of being millionaires. Indeed, there are many men in history that have been successful without education – Benjamin Franklin, Henry Ford, and Russell Simmons- these men didn’t get rich selling drugs, neither did our favorite rapper. The men mentioned above had not only a business plan but a life plan as well. They lived a very meticulous life that lead to a routine of success, though they may lack formal education they made up for that with positive productivity.
As a community we are responsible for our respect, looking for outside validation will leave us with feelings of hopelessness. We will continue to be short-changed by the government and city officials if we do not begin to care for the things we want others to fix and change. Though other communities seem to have more money, power and privilege we are not free of responsibility. It costs nothing to get some garbage bags and some friends and clean up our blocks. Becoming involved in the community schools and recreation is little to nothing and keeps our communities active and healthy.
Money is time and energy in paper form that we spend in various places. Let’s make our community one of those places.
Next Issue: Solutions for Situations