Even before the box-office hit "Barbershop" had ended, I grasped the power of the moment in my neighborhood theater: An African-American audience felt liberated enough to look at the wrongs of the past and walk away laughing.
Even though some civil rights leaders have been offended by jokes in the movie, they represent real strength not the kind that comes from the ballot box or the boardroom, but the kind rooted in a heartfelt belief that a community's chief concern is its own viewpoint, not what others might think.
Ever since the civil rights movement, African-Americans have gauged power and progress to a degree by how well or poorly whites treated us or thought of us. Protect the image at all costs that's the unwritten, unspoken mandate our children were taught. And it's certainly understandable once you stop and consider the image that some European Americans had developed of us, and presented to us, via the media. For decades, anytime a white made an offensive racial comment or statement, blacks went on the attack. Ground is harder to gain and easier to lose when you are the minority.
This strategy, however, does not fit the young African-American artists of today who are trendsetters in fashion, sports, and music. Hip whites now monitor what these black trendsetters think, say, and do and not the other way around, as it was a generation ago.
Different generations wield power in different ways. But what happens when there is still only one set of leaders who try to represent the old and the young? You get a clash, the type of drama unfolding outside movie theaters showing "Barbershop."
In one two-minute "Barbershop" scene, Cedric the Entertainer who plays a funny, off-the wall character named Eddie pontificates in the hallowed halls of earning: the community barbershop. He wisecracks that since Rosa Parks was not the first black to refuse to ride on the back of the bus, she was not "special," just "tired." He goes on to tell the barbershop crowd, which soundly protests his assertions, that O.J. Simpson "did it," and Rodney King got what he deserved. He also takes a swipe at Jesse Jackson and makes quick mention of Dr. King's extramarital affairs.