Why This Stoop Sitting Video Bothers Me

I came across this video a few weeks ago. It’s part of the Everyone film series. It’s a sort of character profile of New Orleans residents “stoop sitting.” I was reading through the comments on Vimeo and every one complimented the video on its cinematography, or the way it captured the people. One person even commented that this is a favorite past time for New Orleans residents. But I gotta tell you, as an African American, it kind of bothered me. Watch the video, then let me know what you think. Below the video I wrote the comment I left on Vimeo. As of this blog post writing, mine seemed to be the only dissenting voice.

If you can’t see this video in your email or RSS reader, click here.

Here was my comment:

I guess I’ll be the first one brave enough to say something I’m sure SOME body out there besides me must have thought: is this the best message to send to African Americans right now–or ever, for that matter) And is this really the kind of film that the NOLA community needs?

I’ve had the honor to make a couple of short videos addressing the plight and/or hope of people in the NOLA community. What has inspired me most is the loyalty and love of the city the people have. Their resolve to go back home, regardless of Katrina’s wrath. I’ve been inspired by their dreams and desires. What I would love to see are more films that play up THAT aspect of NOLA.

Does no one else find it oddly poignant that NOLA is such an economically depressed area, yet someone on this forum says stoop-sitting is the city’s pastime? If I didn’t know first hand what the real spirit and passion of the city was, as a cynical outsider I would connect the two more closely than they probably deserve.

I can’t help but think of the three “stoop sitters” in Spike Lee’s excellent “Do the Right Thing” who complained all day long about how the Koreans (who were woking hard from sun up to sun down) had a store in their (black) neighborhood. Meanwhile, all these three guys did all day was stoop sit and drink beer. Or who could forget The Mayor and his encounter with the urban kid who lambasted him for stoop sitting all day instead of working hard.

Spike did make sure to share The Mayor’s thoughts that that kid hadn’t walked in Da Mayor’s shoes, so he shouldn’t judge. So in a way, Spike showed both sides of the argument. But my interpretation of the message was this: MLK, Malcolm X, Medgar Evars and their ilk didn’t die so that black people could have the right to stoop sit. I know this is an aspect of the African American community, but I don’t know if it’s the aspect of the black community we should be so proud of.

I’m just offering thoughts for conversation. I am compassionate to the plight of NOLA and the fact that many people in that area (and areas like it) are dealing with things beyond their control. (I’m also aware that there are some people in this film who look as if they lack the physical or event mental capacity to work). But it’s because of times like these that we need films that inspire, uplift, and encourage those in situations like these to better their lives.

Just sayin’.

9 thoughts on “Why This Stoop Sitting Video Bothers Me

  1. I find it interesting that you infer the film isn’t uplifting. I found it to be a really warm portrayal of community, people and NOLA. The reason NOLA is like no other is because of this warm sense of community. Stoop sitting isn’t just an African American past time, either. Some of the most wonderful and interesting people I met when in NOLA were sitting on their stoop.

    I don’t want this comment to sound to personal – but maybe you’ve got your own personal hang ups which are causing you to view the short film in a certain light.

    1. Hi Jeremy,

      Tanks for your candor. I invite it, so I don’t take your comment personally at all. In fact, you’re absolutely right. As an African American in this country I DO have personal hang-ups. That is inherent in the title of this post. This video bothers me, and it bothered me BECAUSE of my personal hang ups. The thing is, I don’t thing those hang ups are unique to me. As I mentioned in my comment, the well known African American filmmaker Spike Lee definitely had something to say about this topic (Spike has never been one to be silent when something bothers him). My step dad (who grew up in Jamaica and I’m sure saw plenty of stoop sitters there) sad this was a sad commentary. Phil (commenter on this post) had a negative reaction to it too. I don’t think’s it’s a coincidence that the majority of people who have made, for lack of a better word, “negative” comments, have been black people. That says something.

      There is another dynamic to confess. Both me and my dad are very blessed. He’s an anesthesiologist. I’m by no means am as well off as he, but I have a roof over my head, clean drinking water, live in a safe neighborhood, and can make a living doing what I love. But, what we both have in common is that we worked our asses off to get that. My mom was a single mom with two boys who drove cross country from Philadelphia to CA and raised us for 8 years on her own before remarrying. I remember having to go with her to her work (she was a nurse) on the night shift and spend the night under her desk because she couldn’t afford a sitter. When I went to college, I was blessed to have my parents pay for my first year, but after that, I got a job and worked diligently to pay for the rest of my college education with no debt. So, part of my “hang up” I guess is that I, and other successful African American friends I have, worked hard to get where we are and have seen struggles to get here.

      I too love the portrayal of community in the video. I don’t deny it’s there. I know that it’s a big part of the African American community. I’m sure your experiences cause you to see this video through the rose-colored glasses of your own life. I naturally view it through the glasses of my personal experiences…my personal hang-ups. 🙂

      I love the conversation it has created. And I so appreciate your comment.

  2. I can understand your concerns. I too would be if they had portrait a lot of Puertorrican laying around and all that it implies. But the first question I would ask, if this a true representation of a situation? Why happens? and What can be done?

    Actually, it very well could have been puertorrican instead of black people. If you go to some neighborhood in New York or Philly you could see the same thing but with puertorrican. Yes, it may invigorate some people’s bigotry, but I thinks it would bother most of us the “right” way. And hopefully, into action.

    While I can fully understand the importance of uplifting and inspiring movies, I also think there is an important place and need for truthful social commentary of a situation as it really is.

    I saw the movie couple of time. Firstly, is well made. Love the technique. second, is a great social comment of a real situation, idleness of a community. And as such, I think is very inspire. It will inspire people to feel offended by the situation that lead those in the area to idleness and make them take action. It may bring to light a situation that was ignored and make people take action.

    He probably could have gone into the causes but he chose to exclude them and portray how the cope with the situation and make the best of it.

    That is my two cents.

    1. Thanks for the comment David. I totally agree with you. I think it is important for films to portray social commentary about the truth. Even if the truth is hard. But most filmmakers don’t make a film just to show an aspect of community just for the sake. There is usually something they are trying to convey. For what it’s worth, I think these filmmakers were trying to portray the aspect of community in NOLA. I don’t think they were trying to show how lazy black people are. 🙂 As I replied to Jeremy above, I saw it that way because of my own experiences. I would guess by the majority of the comments, the filmmakers were successful. I admit that I am a minority dissenter (pun completely intended). But I just wanted to offer my minority opinion to give others a different outlook. In the end, I still believe, this film does not inspire these people to raise themselves out of their conditions. Heck, maybe they don’t want to be raised out of it. That could be the case too.

      One last thing about Spike’s movie is that even though he didn’t explore WHY, he did show both sides of the argument. Something to think about. It would be interesting to see how this film would be received if there were one or two voices that spoke to what I’m saying.

      As always, thanks for the comment.

  3. Ron, I gotta say I love your comment. I really enjoyed the cinematography but I might have gotten a different message.

    What I found compelling is the comments that the individuals make in the film. The underling message that they all want to be accepted, be part of something, weather that be to have their own space or to be part of the community. It struck me hard that we all want to be loved, maybe I was spurred to think more about because of your comment. I’m reading “The HELP” right now and it has really reminded me that it really was not that long ago when things were quite different. Honestly, it’s quite crazy that it was so recent really.

    I’m going to have to go and rent Do the Right Thing … you’ve got my brain thinking for sure and I really appreciate it. Thank you.


  4. I can see why you would be troubled by the way that the black community is being depicted in this short. This is not a depiction of a “progressive” community. I’m sure it is easy to fill in the blanks and create a profile of dependence and poverty. Even though the characters are black, is this unique to the black community?

    I am provoked to think after seeing this short. Maybe judge. But more so to THINK.

  5. Whew. The end of this movie choked me up. I felt like there was absolutely no future for that little girl. None. No hope. I imagine her 30 years from now sitting on her stoop as well, wasting away like her ancestors.

    I realize it comes w/ the socio-economic status, but it’s sad. This makes me sad for my people.

    If the intent of this is to show people what their life is like in the ghetto, or under the conditions of urban blight then it works. I do NOT think it’s ‘uplifting’, in fact I feel run over. Powerless. Deflated.

    The overweight African-American woman on the step reminds me of a ‘Mammy’. The mammy caricature was purposely constructed to imply ugliness. Mammy was portrayed as dark-skinned, often pitch black, in a society that regarded black skin as ugly, tainted. She was obese, sometimes extremely overweight. The attempt was to desexualize mammy. The assumption was this: No reasonable white man would choose a fat, elderly black woman instead of the idealized white woman.

    The men are ported the similarly in this film. Jobless, drinking, no ambition, run-down, poor health losers.

    I feel like this movie drags our struggling culture backwards. Regresses us. I felt like anyone watching it could assume that 75% or more of the black culture is still doing this. Doing nothing. Sucking up government assistance.

    Other than make me aware of this wasteful activity, I’m not sure what the call to action is.

  6. If I were to watch this video before I read you comments, I would have to be honest with the majority of the comments I read in that for myself, it makes me want to sit outside and relax. I didnt look at it from the point of view your commentary stated.

    In that light, I went through and counted 32 white (from my best guess) positive comments to 3 positive black comments. I dont know if that slice is a profile of vimeos usership or not. It did however when combined with your comment show just how many are not aware of the things you stated.

    Having lived all over the country and seen this popular pastime in mostly black communities, my eyes are opened to what you are saying.

    Thank you for sharing, Ron.

  7. Ron, you are on point. I commend you for your poignant observations and I liked how you said in your comment that you know other people are noticing it too. An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop. As a minority too I find it upsetting when I go into the Chicano community where my church is located and seeing so many people ‘chillaxin’ and complaining about life. I get what you and GetYourPhil are saying. Let’s pray that hope prevails- but realize that we have to get off our duff to make things happen.

Comments are closed.