FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) _ Filmmaker Spike Lee issued a wake-up call to Generation Y before a full house at Northern Arizona University's Ardrey Auditorium Wednesday night.
The director of Do the Right Thing and When the Levees Broke said an entire generation of black and Latino youth is seemingly unwilling to pursue an education because they believe it carries a social stigma.
“We have young black kids and some Hispanic kids _ smart kids _ who fail class on purpose or who act dumb on purpose. In their misguided minds, if you speak correct English … you are acting white, you are a sell-out, you are an Oreo,'' Lee said. “But if you are on the corner, smoking a joint and drinking a 40 with you pants below your ass holding your privates _ you a gangster.''
He contended that an entire generation has seemingly forgotten that slaves were either whipped, castrated or hanged for secretly learning how to read and teaching other slaves.
“And if the master was having a bad day, you might get all three,'' Lee said. “They were willing to die to teach other slaves how to read and write. And now we are at a point where young black minds are willing to fail class on purpose because they feel if you get A's and speak correctly, then you are acting white.''
Lee said many of his movies contain the phrase “Wake up'' as a reminder that the social and racial issues explored in his films are still deeply rooted in American society.
He said he is not convinced that American society has eliminated racism despite the election of Barack Obama, the nation's first black president.
Most of Lee's 40-minute speech was autobiographical. He touched on his family, his films and his education.
More than 1,400 crowded into Ardrey to hear him speak, and another 350 heard him via a remote audio feed in nearby Cline Library
After his speech, Lee spent a half-hour answering questions, mostly from students. The social activist appeared to be humbled by an NAU graduate student named Stephen Hinkle.
Hinkle, who has autism, explained to Lee that his mother was advised to institutionalize him at the age of 5. He asked Lee whether he supported disability rights, noting that 73 percent of adults with disabilities are unemployed.
Lee, who starred years ago in Nike commercials as the fast-talking Mars Blackman, paused before admitting he knew very little about the disability rights movement.
“By you coming to the mic, it made me realize I've got some woodshedding to do and get some more information, and thank you for doing that,'' Lee said. “But like my man said, 'We can't leave anybody out' _ it's just not about Latinos, African Americans and gays. We've got to include everybody.''
Lee was brought to campus by the NAU Martin-Springer Institute to be its headline speaker for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Lee was chosen for “his advocacy for Hurricane Katrina victims, his candid portrayal of the challenges facing some African-Americans and his relentless focus on prejudice and racial stereotypes,'' Jane Marks, director of the NAU Martin-Springer Institute, stated in an earlier press release.
This year the institute is focusing on refugees and displaced people.
Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/
Pictured above is Spike Lee.