Straight outta patience with white fear

Members of N.W.A. as depicted in the new film 'Straight Outta Compton,' which opened to big audiences and beefed up security at movie theaters last weekend.
Members of N.W.A. as depicted in the new film ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ which opened to big audiences and beefed up security at movie theaters last weekend.

“Excuse me ma’am can I check your purse?”

I conceded to paying $8 for buttered popcorn, but drew the line at paying $5 each for bottled water when I already had some at home. So when the question came I thought, “dang… they’re going to confiscate my water.”

But water wasn’t what the ticket takers at the Regal Theater in Renton’s Landing were looking for. They were searching for firearms, and said so outright. I submitted my purse for inspection before being allowed to enter the matinee screening of ‘Straight Outta Compton’ — the new N.W.A biopic — last Sunday. But it unnerved me.

On my way out I decided to ask more questions. The ticket taker directed me toward the manager, a white woman standing with two other theater employees. I introduced myself as a journalist and asked her to tell me more about the new policy regarding searching people for firearms. The other two employees scattered and I saw a look of fear flash across the manager’s face.

“I was here just three days ago to see Rickie and the Flash and no one searched my purse then. Is this a new policy?” I pressed.

The manager declined to answer and referred me to Regal Theater’s Media Relations Line. I called and left messages, but have still not been given an answer, which I guess is an answer in itself.

If she had cited the recent movie theatre attacks in Louisiana or Nashville, I might have paused to consider this as an explanation. But even that wouldn’t have explained why only movie goers headed to ‘Straight Outta Compton’ were being searched. Across the country theaters have chosen to add security for this movie. Another Globalist writer reported that police were out in force at the Southcenter AMC theater Thursday night for the premiere.

I took my dad, who is visiting from Milwaukee, to see Straight Outta Compton on Sunday. Do we look like suspicious characters who should be searched for weapons?
I took my dad, who is visiting from Milwaukee, to see Straight Outta Compton on Sunday. Do we look like suspicious characters who should be searched for weapons?

And yet no one is willing to explain the fear behind this policy.

Is it a fear of gang violence?

If so how come there was no extra security at the SIFF when Romeo is Bleeding or License to Operate was shown? Both movies dealt with gangs and yet somehow people were able to watch them without any violent incidents.

Is it a fear of another movie shooting?

Were the teenager ticket takers really going to be able to disarm a gunmen if one of their random sweeps yielded a weapon?

Or is it white fear once again manifesting in the form of irrational and ineffective measures to somehow mitigate the potential for black anger?

Oh yeah, I did watch the film too. ‘Straight Outta Compton’ was everything I hoped it would be with standout performances by Oshea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube and Jason Mitchell as Eazy E. I laughed, I cried, I got pissed off and even though I lived through the 90s and more or less knew the story and how it ended, I found myself in the grip of a fascinating saga better than a telenovela.

The movie chronicled the origin story of the controversial rap group N.W.A.. Our protagonists, young Eazy E., Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella and MC Ren were just kids on the verge of manhood, grappling with complicated home lives and trying to find economic stability while pursuing their passion for music.

That of course is radically different than how they were characterized by the media at the time. The members of N.W.A. were portrayed as villains perpetuating violence and misogyny through their music. They were literally the poster boys for everything scary and black. Copies of the album ‘Straight Outta Compton’ were burned by concerned white parents who didn’t want their children exposed to profanity. In protest of the song ‘Fuck the Police,’ law enforcement rushed them off stage mid-concert, inciting a riot in Detroit.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Whether they were villains or heroes, or more realistically just rappers making music that reflected their circumstances, over the course of two and a half hours the members of N.W.A. were humanized, and it made for a kick ass movie experience.

Beyond recounting the legacy of the group itself, the film was a period piece that captured the raw desperate rage of black people in L.A. living through untenable racist police brutality during the late 80s and early 90s, culminating in the riots after the Rodney King verdict.

Remembering back to that time, even as far removed as I was growing up in predominantly white Madison, Wisconsin, I was glued to the news. This was before the time of youtube activism. While now everyone has an iPhone and even the ACLU has an app to capture police brutality, the grainy footage of Rodney King being beaten to within an inch of his life was the first time we collectively witnessed contemporary racialized violence in that way.

That footage captured and made public a truth that black people already knew and that white people were all too willing to negate or ignore. Here was the proof that racism had not ended with slavery, the end of Jim Crow laws, desegregation, or whatever bench marks had been set as the standard of progress.

The Midwestern racism I grew up with came mostly in the form of microaggressions. No one burned a cross on our lawn. I wasn’t chased by dogs or hit with a fire hose. I wasn’t the first to integrate my school the way my mom was, although as one of the only black people in most of my classes it sometimes felt that way.

Racism was being confused with the other black girl in my class even though we looked nothing alike, it was being put in remedial reading in second grade when I was already reading at a fourth grade level because that was the group all the other black kids were in.

In that moment in time, watching the assault of Rodney King and then the subsequent acquittal of the white police officers who were so indelibly guilty made me want to set something on fire. There was no riot in Madison, no looting, but something within me burned at the injustice of it all. It’s still burning.

In the wake of the one year anniversary of the murder of Michael Brown, and the long list of other black people killed by the police…Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin…and on and on, the song and spirit behind ‘Fuck the Police’ are alive and thriving. I heard it chanted at the last Black Lives Matter Rally I attended, and though it made me uncomfortable as we were being escorted by a group of armed police at the time, I understand the anger, grief, and frustration behind it.

What makes the film so timely is that it feels as if history is repeating and once again we are ripe for an explosion.

Perhaps that is the biggest fear — the unspoken tension that no routine security screening can prevent — that there must come a reckoning, an answer for the bodies piling up and the systemic racism the perpetual lack of justice.

As the credits rolled I was left with a lot to contemplate about stereotypes, the commodification of black culture, and our society’s passive acceptance and validation of the expression of white fear, whether it manifests as something as seemingly trivial as adding extra security to a black movie, or in the murder and brutalization of black people. Fear has been a reoccurring theme in the news, and has even become legally permissible, as in the case of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law that makes fear a reasonable excuse to defend yourself with prejudice.

But when will black lives matter more than white fear? That is the revolution I have yet to see televised, even on youtube.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for this moving, poignant and thoughtful piece. It made me stop and think for a while. I think you hit on a great point – the way fear has come to weigh more than a basic value of life. There is so much work to be done.

  2. Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t Sandra Bland commit suicide and wasn’t Trayvon Martin killed by an armed citizen?

  3. @Mjfm4 Trayvon Martin was killed by an armed citizen who was not held accountable by a jury infected by a culture that prioritizes white fear to an extent that a black life could be taken without justice because to them it was seen as reasonable for a grown man with a gun to be afraid of a black child wearing a hoodie and eating junk food. And no I don’t think Sandra Bland committed suicide. But rather than engage in that debate, let’s look at a reoccurring theme, another black person is dead for no real reason and without any accountability.

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