Cross-cultural conversations are needed and healthy
“More than a Single Story,” an on-going forum curated and hosted by founder Carolyn Holbrook, presented Nov. 15 a two-panel “Men of Color in 2017” event at Pohlad Hall, Minneapolis Central Library. On hand to reflect and comment on the subject were local men of letters Clarence White, Bao Phi, Anthony Ceballos, Keno Evol and IBé, who opened the event performing a humorous poem about a husband and dad going about their domestic duties.
Moderating was David Mura, award-winning author of Memoirs of a Sensei, Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire and Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality and Identity. Emmanuel Ortiz, scheduled to appear, could not attend.
The program was billed as “a discussion [of] what it means to be a man of color [these days]. What are the stories? What are the models of masculinity that have been given? How do they see themselves as sexual beings, fathers and partners?”
Holbrook herself is a well accomplished writer (Ordinary People, Extraordinary Journey: How the St. Paul Companies Leadership Initiatives in Neighborhoods Program Changed Lives and Communities). Through a career dating to the groundbreaking Colors, a journal of opinion essays, she is a leading figure in and, in fact, a veritable architect of what has evolved into today’s Twin Cities literary community.
She founded SASE: The Write Place, and served as executive director from 1993 until 2006, when she merged her organization with Intermedia Arts. She established “More than a Single Story” as a program dedicated to dismantling racial and ethnic stereotypes by acknowledging the diverse voices and exploring the experiences of people of color.
Asked why, as a woman of color, she believes it’s vital to illuminate issues pertaining to men of color, Holbrook said, “For one thing, it helps us understand each other better. In our community, we need to talk to each other more. I think they need to talk to each other more, just like the women do.
“Then, also, men and women need to communicate more so we can get to understand what each other is thinking about. This is what the series is about, having us talk to each other. The idea of men of color talking to one another is amazing; this includes men of color speaking across cultures,” said Holbrook.
David Mura concurred: “It’s healthy to have these conversations, even [if it’s] just among ourselves.”
Regarding the significance of such an event in the Twin Cities’ social climate of passive-aggressive issue avoidance and where it’s more important to be “Minnesota nice” than to straightforwardly address matters of race, Clarence White comments, “It’s part of the silent majority. If they can be silent, they can keep the secret of dominance.
“For us to have this conversation gets into a narrative we’re trying to build. It’s more real than that one seeks to dominate. [It’s] about us, about the world.”
Bao Phi and David Mura agreed that Asian American males endure being obscured by a cloak of social invisibility that, as Phi put it, “isn’t John Wayne. It’s not even the opposite of John Wayne. It’s the absence of John Wayne.”
Wayne, of course, epitomized America’s obsession with and Hollywood’s ideal of swaggering, two-fisted, White male supremacy. When challenged in a Playboy interview about the representation of Blacks in his films as executive producer, Wayne stated that they were represented the way they should be.
This was evidenced by Woody Strode as “Pompey,” the doting, selfless manservant in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Jester Hairston, as the valiantly self-sacrificing “Jethro,” who supposedly leaped in front of bayonets to vainly try and save Jim Bowie in The Alamo.
Mura acknowledged the double-standard stereotype depicting men like himself as un-masculine on one hand, idolizing the super-heroics of Bruce Lee on the other. “Bruce Lee is in many ways typical of our story, because he thought up the series Kung Fu for himself, but they wouldn’t let him play it. It was then that he realized, ‘I’m never gonna be a star in America.’
“He went to Hong Kong and said, ‘This is where I’ll be a star.’ And he was really right. That [the industry] would instead choose David Carradine for that role is just insane.”
Mura then noted with some amusement, “The other thing, when Bruce Lee was kicking White guys’ butts, Black audiences loved it.” He added, “We are in many ways invisible.”
As regards the perceived lack of masculinity, Mura said, “Steve Harvey made that stupid remark, ‘Who would want to date Asian men?’ Saying Asian men aren’t sexually attractive. ‘To a Black woman, it’s like eating Chinese food: Thirty minutes later, you’re hungry.’ It’s just stupid. Why would you say that?”
Posed the equation of being a man versus being a Black man, IBé observed, “Being a man, macho, aggressive a little bit, even in the board room, is good. But, take the same quality and put it in a Black man. Now, we got a problem.”
Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund sponsored the evening.
For more information about Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund go to legacy.leg.mn/funds/arts-cultural-heritage-fund
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Minneapolis, MN 55403