Anyone who knows me knows I love watching old movies. But trust me, I ain’t waxing nostalgia as the vast majority of the movies I watch on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) are devoid of Black actors. Sometimes, the presence of Black actors makes me cringe. Something about the way they are cast, the manner in which they speak, how they are mimicked and ridiculed is downright disgusting. However, as a society progresses there is an expectation that they will address shortcomings and the manner in which people are treated or experience the society.
In my musings, I draw upon an instance from a 1948 movie Mr. Blanding to address an omnipresent societal problem that remains unresolved in American society. Point blank, the problem is far too many people fail to recognize and accept the contributions of Black Americans. This issue has far reaching ramifications, which need to be addressed in a real and meaningful way.
I draw my comparison from Gussie, a “warm and fuzzy” maid and nanny. The household she serves is made up a white couple. They are an “ideal” American family, which includes: the father (an advertising executive), a stay at home mother, and two small children. The problem is they have overextended themselves in trying to create the perfect dream home. The movie is charming, that is, if you like to see people struggling and fighting for stuff they don’t really need and will never make them happy. It wasn’t until the last few minutes of the movie when the entire movie fell to pieces, at least for me that is. You see, Cary Grant, I mean Mr. Blanding, flat out stole a tag line from Gussie to save himself from financial ruin. She made the statement, “if you ain’t eatin’ Wham, you ain’t eatin’ ham.” After he steals the lines to use in an ad, his family and their lifestyle are saved.
Not once does he give her credit or acknowledge her ingenious wording that captures the essence of her perception on the delicious ham she was describing. Shame! Shame! Shame!
This is one example of countless ways in which Black excellence is dismissed in our society. Even when we see it, we are so oblivious to the impact these actions have, not just for individuals, but for the whole of society. While this was movie created for entertainment, it contributes in many ways to the stereotypes associated with Black women and the manner in which we are overlooked as executives and senior level personnel capable to managing complex systems and producing innovative thought.
We can and should do better!