Review -- Creative Tension, Season 2 by Reverend Elliott Robinson

Creative Tension, Season 2 (Elliott Robinson)

With the tagline "where we give a voice to people in periods of struggle forgotten by history", the podcast, Creative Tension is reminiscent of the current affairs and community-focused television shows hosted by Tony Brown and Gil Noble. "Tony Brown's Journal" and "Like It Is" were weekly and non-episodic; both shows tackled issues that impacted the Black community.

Creative Tension - hosted by Reverend Elliott Robinson - takes a similar approach, except it has episodic seasons and is theme-focused. 

The theme music is provided by Julian Reid & The JuJu Exchange. Rev. Robinson has an impressive educational background - a Bachelor's degree from SUNY at New Paltz; a Juris Doctorate from Howard University Law School; and Master of Divinity from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. To round this out, he has southern roots by way of South Carolina and a New York City upbringing.

These experiences help him bring a broad lens to topics, in a scholarly and approachable manner. The first two of three seasons take a close look at America and "The Jim Crow Years". The podcast premiered in 2017 and Season 1 is exceptional. I listened but at the time had not begun reviewing podcasts.

For Season 2 which started in March 2019 and ended in June 2019, I jotted notes and am able to give an overview of the topics and featured guests, and a summary of episodes.

Episode 11. Blackface - A Racist Practice that Won't Die; Guest: Pellom McDaniels, PhD

This timely episode addressed Virginia's Governor Ralph Northam admitting it was him in blackface at a college fraternity party. He then offered an "unapology", stating it wasn't me but never offered who the two men were. Obviously someone with knowledge of the event must have pulled Northam's coat and refreshed his memory. The question still remains, why did Northam think it was him pictured?

Episode 12. Mammy, Movies and Madea - The Mammy Caricature in Film; Guest: Dr. Kimberly Wallace Sanders

This episode traced the origin of the Mammy caricature from the film "Gone With The Wind", a role which Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress; to its roots in the 1830s novel "Partisan Leader". The discussion led to an analysis of the 1934 film, "Imitation of Life", and how the Mammy caricature is now kept alive by black male actors in drag.

Dr. Sanders closed out the episode with the thought-provoking sentiment, "Sometimes we see Mammy when she isn't there."

Episode 13. Banished from Sumter - Run Out of Town During Jim Crow; Guests: Jim Crow survivors Elliott Robinson, Jr. and Allen Cromer

This episode provided first-person accounts of what it was like to live under Jim Crow. The guests discussed the confrontations they had with whites, and the written and unwritten rules they had to follow: to not walk alone; not looking at a white woman; and more.

Episode 14. The Black Brute Caricature - Black Male Violence & Athletics; Guest: Pellom McDaniels, PhD

The episode gave a context for the invention and perpetuation of the brute caricature. At its core, it justifies the treatment of black men. The imagery of black men as beasts of burden; not being intellectual; emotionally driven. The brute is a challenge to white masculinity, and portrayed as desirous of the white woman, e.g. the character Gus in Birth of a Nation (film).

The episode provided in-depth examples - everyone and everything from Jack Johnson, The Mann Act, Vagrancy Laws, Ali vs. Foreman, Mike Tyson and the LeBron James Sports Illustrated cover picturing him as "King Kong".

Episode 15. Remembering the Dead: A Conversation with EJI - Fulton County Remembrance's Allison Bantimba (Guest)

The episode followed more of an interview format where Allison Bantimba discussed becoming aware of Bryan Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). That's what put her on the path to head the Fulton County (GA) Remembrance Coalition (Soil Collection)  -- The Palmetta Collection.

The Palmetta Collection is a remembrance for five black men who were lynched, after being shot to death by white men who ambushed a warehouse where the accused were being held.

Future plans include doing a collection for the victims of the Atlanta Race Riots, and other victims of lynching and racial violence.

Episode 16. How Can Black Men Reclaim Their Smile? - A Conversation with Carlton Mackey (Guest)

The episode highlighted the work being done to change the narrative and how the simple gesture -- of a smile -- is a form of liberation and resistance. Mr. Mackey says it's 'not a statement to tell brothers to smile'. Instead it is "what makes you smile?" He states the most common answer is, "no one has ever asked me that."

He views it as part of a larger movement of black folks reclaiming their joy.

Episode 17. The Coon Caricature: From Stepin' Fetchit' to Modern Urban Radio; Guest: Dr. Pellom McDaniels

The episode brought an understanding to the forever topical, political caricature: The Coon. A summary of the discussion: Started with the 1930s Stepin Fetchit films with Will Rogers that popularized the coon caricature. The core characteristics were that of a trickster who is doing one thing while pursuing another, using broken dialect, and shiftless.

To counter these stereotypes, there came "John Henryism", as in working twice as hard, dying in the pathway and never having enjoyed the fruits of one's labor.

The coon feeds a particular desire for an audience. An example is J.J. Evans from the television show, "Good Times". His character lightened the burden, negotiated a reality where blackness was not valued; and he shielded himself from that reality. J.J. was deflecting all that was real.

In modern radio, when there's a duo or trio, there's always a person that plays the coon caricature. Why is that still appealing to listeners?

This kind of release is necessary for some folks, provides a release, a space to laugh. While "we" disagree with what it might perpetuate...we have to try not to be judgmental. At the same time, we have to realize circumstances are different and we want to provide opportunities for our children to develop, and not diminish their humanity.

Episode 18. Watermelon - Why African-Americans Rarely Eat it in Public

This episode was a round table discussion: age range of mid-30s to mid-50s, five men and four women. The topics ranged from: Coon Songs 1800s to 1920s; Coon stereotypes -- various; including eating chicken and watermelons.

The core topic was the sociopolitics of eating watermelon. African Americans were allowed to harvest watermelons for themselves during slavery. It eventually was used as a food to demonize African Americans.

Do you eat watermelon on the rind in public? As a form of liberation? As a means of resistance?

Episode 19. Reclaiming Rest in a Grind Culture - A Conversation w/ The Nap Bishop, Tricia Hersey (Guest)

This episode concluded this season that addressed unconventional forms of resistance. Ms. Bishop highlighted several transformational views: Lack of sleep is a racial injustice issue, and rest as a healing portal. Sleep as a way to forget trauma.

She states sleep deprivation is linked to the top three causes of death. Black people have sleep deprivation over centuries. Their dream space was taken. Grind culture is brainwashing. Being alive is production. If you can rest, you can get to higher thinking. Capitalism keeps trying to get you to speed up; they tie it into your worth.

Season 3 is now available on Creative Tension, with links and access to whichever platform you stream your podcasts.

Recommendation: HIGHEST


Reviewed by Guichard Cadet