So last night I stumble on a re-run of Oprah's show featuring Will Smith and his role in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness. In short, the film, which I intend to see, is about the real life events of Chris Gardner who found himself homeless with his son and eventually overcame the odds to become materially successful. The reason I say materially successful is because if you read is Keppler Speaker bio it reads:
Christopher P. Gardner is the head of his own brokerage firm and lives in a Chicago townhouse -one of his three homes,-with a collection of tailored suites, designer shoes, and Miles Davis albums.
Yes in the celebrity driven mentality of the US. These things are what are important. Not contributions to the poor or other philanthropic activities which could have easily been mentioned as a part of his bio, rather the important thing pointed to here are the bling, because everybody knows that bling is THE definition of success.
It is an inspiring story and regardless of the critiques in this entry I would encourage folks to see the movie or read the book. That said, I need to get back to the point of this post.
On Oprah, and other venues, Will Smith has been saying that "only in America could this happen." This is plain and utter bull. It is unfortunate that many black people (among others) seem to think that the world begins and ends in America. I hate to break Will Smith's bubble and it is unfortunate that Oprah doesn't have either the sense or the inclination to do so, but there are equally inspirational stories in other parts of the World whether it be Japan, England, France, etc.
The other part that bothered me was the overall "bootstrap" mentality that was present in the show, though I cannot say whether it will be so in the movie. The clips show clearly that Gardner not only owed his success to his own fortitude but to the kindness and opportunities extended to him by others. Indeed that is how all people who are successful get that way. There is no I did it on my own. There is I did what I could on my own and I reached out or people reached out to me for the rest. The reason I am stressing this is because the The Black Agenda Report recently blew Oprah's cover in detailing her blatant disrespect of poor women:
For 30 minutes before the show, Oprah's cheerleader worked the audience into a frenzy of hatred against moms on welfare. When the show started, Welfare Warriors member Linda, an Italian American mom with 3 children, was sandwiched between two women who attacked and pitied her. The African American mom on her right claimed to have overcome her “sick dependence on welfare” and bragged about cheating on welfare and allegedly living like a queen. The white woman on her left was not a mom but had once received foodstamps. Both women aggressively condemned Linda for receiving welfare. Throughout the show Oprah alternated between attacking Linda and allowing panel and audience members to attack her. Poor Linda had been prepared to discuss the economic realities of motherwork, the failures of both the US workforce and the child support system, and the Welfare Warriors' mission to create a Government Guaranteed Child Support program (Family Allowance) like those in Europe. But instead Linda was forced to defend her entire life, while Oprah repeatedly demanded “How long have you been on welfare?”
By the time we arrive home, we had received calls from moms on both coasts. They called to warn us about the promos that Oprah was using to advertise her show, during the 24 hours leading up to it: “THEY CALL THEMSELVES WELFARE WARRIORS AND THEY REFUSE TO WORK. SEE OPRAH AT 4.“
So it is clear that Will Smith's commentary is meant to be another "shit on the poor" session by implying that people in dire straights are in such straights purely by their own doing and not because there are other forces at work that not all people can overcome. Simply put we are not all the same and cannot and will not all have the same resilience. It's called human variety. Just as Oprah apparently can't take having children, many others can. Just as some people can run 4 minute miles, many others cannot.
So it would have been nice if Will Smith had used his time and celebrity to bring these issues up during his tenure at the show but instead he decided to play historian and social commentator when he could have left that to those more qualified to do so. Great actor, bad commentator. So we are left still pursuing sense.