School Daze| Prioritizing Identity(s)

At a moment in Tongues Untied (23:50) conflict between managing identities and perceptions of identity were explored through the question, “Priorities… where does his loyalty lie, what is he first- black or gay?” This specific marginalized group of gay, black men fail to receive support from their peers as they face scrutiny about their “commitment” to each group. There’s this false perception that association with one group nullifies association with the other.

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This idea that identity requires singularity is also seen throughout School Daze, in particular, with blackness and womanhood. It was interesting to rewatch the hair salon after Tongues Untied because it further highlighted these intra-community tensions. The violent verbal attacks between the Wannabees and Jiggaboos seemed to be a conflict between either embracing black heritage or womanhood. These tensions continue to exist even today, though I will say I am not completely familiar with the arguments at hand. From what I can understand it seems to be a conflict between embracing a natural look and complying with Western beauty standards by straightening hair, wearing colored contacts, or lightening skin. The Wannabees vilify their counterparts by attacking their choice to remain natural. In later scenes they refer to them as “animals” and critique their “nappy” hair despite the fact that they were born with the same curls. The J’s strike back by denouncing the W’s choice of complying with Western beauty standards and perming their hair, even though it is every woman’s right to present herself in however manner she feels most confident.

This violence between the women reaffirm for me Lee’s final “wake up” message as one that recognizes how counterproductive intra-racial violence is to a community. These women are both subjected to the same (and in some ways greater) discrimination by both men and the outside, White community. Yet, they fight against each other and perpetuate self loathe using the same discrimination set forth by other groups. Much like the conflict between the Gamma’s and the non-Greeks, the violence between these groups only further distances them from achieving full integration and equality with the world outside of Mission.



Identity and Exclusion

Something striking to me in Tongues Untied was the use of a clip from School Daze. The clip was used alongside a homophobic routine by Eddie Murphy to depict conceptions of homosexuality by black comics/filmmakers in the 1980s, particularly in relation to AIDS. A main focus of the film itself is the stigma of homosexuality within black heterosexual communities and the exclusion of black gay and trans men. The reason that the use of the scene from School Daze stuck out to me, however, is because that film also focuses on exploring exclusion and clashing identities within black communities, particularly between genders, generations and skin tones. But the use of the clip illuminates what School Daze leaves out.

In some way, then, Tongues Untied illuminates the flatness of Spike Lee’s exploration of sexuality in the film. Although School Daze explores gender, sexual violence and identity within on campus, it does so specifically on the terms of heterosexuality — which plays into a larger trend of exclusion which Tongues Untied speaks back to. Although the scenes in School Daze that include homophobic slurs could be taken to represent the neglect/disrespect of non-hetero identities in black communities, it still exemplifies what is missing (or essentialized) in conversations about black identities in the 1980s, and perhaps still today.

Fundamentally, identity is much more of a web– weaving gender, sexuality, race, intra-racial identities, and age (just to name a few) together — rather than composed of distinct elements, such that conversations about identity must make an effort to explore how each web of identity is woven rather than the individual threads.