As much as things change they stay the same.
I was reminded of this cliché as I watched “School Daze.” The Spike Lee Joint released in 1988 about the fictional HBCU Mission College, featuring Laurence Fishburne, Tisha Campbell, Giancarlo Esposito and, of course, Spike Lee.
I watched this movie in October 2020, a full 32 years after the movie’s release, and it still resonates. Unfortunately, the overall message Spike Lee wanted us to glean from the movie still needs to be heard today.
I didn’t set out to watch “School Daze.” I kind of went down a blast-from-the-past rabbit hole with my daughter. I wanted her to watch “Lean on Me” because it’s a classic, and so she could see how predominately Black high schools were often depicted in Hollywood. Looking at this movie today, it has a lot of questionable moments.
After we finished “Lean on Me,” “School Daze” came next. I figured why not? It’s a good movie with plenty of comedy. I also knew the movie had plenty to say about Black life. What I didn’t realize is just how poignant those messages were at the time and how relevant those messages are today.
Lee did a good job of breaking down different groups of Black folk — the townies, Greeks, intellectual/woke brothers, the just-want-to-make-it brother, light skin, dark skin, good hair, nappy hair, Black conservatives, elders, youth, upper middle class. It’s all there. Sometimes one character fits into more than one of these groups, and isn’t that how real life is? Aren’t we all the physical embodiment of an oxymoron?
Not only did Lee brilliantly break down the various groups of Black people, he also exposed how we, as in Black people, judge each other’s Blackness based on where we fall into these groups.
Watching “School Daze” made me realize that our judgment of each other may not be as blatant today, but it’s still there. That’s so sad.
As much as I want to be seen as an individual, I’m also aware that I am part of a collective that must unite for change. One change I believe we should all work toward is eradicating anti-Blackness from our culture and replacing it with more love of being Black. We need to stop putting people in the “too Black” box and “not Black enough” box based on hair, complexion, upbringing, etc. — things that don’t matter and one has no control over. We need to instead worry about what one is doing to uplift and move Black people forward so future generations are empowered and have real wealth.
See, that’s one of our problems. We focus on the wrong thing. In 2020 we shouldn’t be focused on skin complexion or hair type, but I still hear people getting hung up on these things. We shouldn’t be focused on looking rich, but instead building actual wealth. When do we realize we have bigger fish to fry? We have these gaps — education, health, wealth — to contend with, but yet we’re worrying about who is better than whom based off a metric of white supremacy. Yet, too many of us are too blind to see it.
Respectability politics is just stupid, and it’s time we stop adhering to this divisive philosophy created to make us acceptable to white people. It’s never worked. It never will. Let’s use that same energy to better our community and ourselves. Let’s leave the dumb stuff in 2020. It’s time to wake up!