Django

Inside: SPOILER ALERT; I do not recommend taking time out of your day to read my opinion about other people’s opinions; I feel like writing

Have you seen Django?

Hm.  Interesting.  Thoughts?

White people?  Were you uncomfortable watching it in the movie theater?

I wonder how many people who see it are aware of the conversations happening about and around it.

I listen to a fair amount of radio/podcasts, progressive and conservative, so I’ve been hearing a lot about it.  Mostly from the progressives and self-identified radicals.  Black academia.  There are some very conservative types whose response is, “Arm yourselves, white people.”

I saw it with a friend and afterwards he asked me, “So, what did you think?”

I said, “Huh.  I’m going to have to process this one for a little while.”

I enjoyed it.  Let me say that.  I wasn’t offended by it.  Well … I was offended by Samuel Jackson’s character.  It was so over-the-top.  It was supposed to be but it was distracting to me.  But in a way, this movie is how I expected the book “Black Hercules” to be.  And they actually used the phrase “Black Hercules” in the movie if memory serves me correctly.  That book was NOT anything like I expected and don’t read it.  Do not.

It was a good movie crowd at that theater.  I don’t like going to the theaters as much as I used to because folks don’t seem to know how to behave in public sometimes.  But this crowd watched attentively, reacted at various times and generally had a civil movie going experience.

I found it interesting where some of the reactions were placed.  In the wake of actual, real life, man with a gun cutting a swath of destruction, there was a little too much glee at the gory, blood spewing vengeance.  But then again, that’s what these kinds of movies are for.  Fantasy and outlet.

Tarantino

And this is a Tarantino, blaxploitation, spaghetti western.  It starts with gory violence, clever dialogue, more violence, clever dialogue and then a looooooot of talking, and then culminates in a blood spattered showdown.  In other words, it’s a Tarantino.

I could copy a bunch of links to editorials in here.  I’m not going to.  Suffice it to say that a fair amount of black people — mostly older — well, the ones I’ve heard have been older and educated and in blackademia.  So that’s a definite segment of population right there.

I’m all for deconstructing popular media, but wow.  I read an article the other day that said that there should be no humor involved (even incidental) in anything having to do with slavery.  Of course, the fact that a white man made a movie about slavery is offensive on its face to some.  I’ve heard that Django, the character, was fighting to save his wife and not to dismantle the entire institution of slavery and therefore the movie is racist.  I’ve heard that the fact that Django is trained and educated and enabled by a white liberal makes the movie racist or insulting.  I’ve heard that the fact that Django is not the one to kill Monsieur Candie makes the movie racist (despite the fact that he exacts vengeance on everyone else and rescues his wife).

Granted, the actual revolutions and uprisings of abolitionists, slaves and freedom fighters is underplayed in our history.  But then again, this is fiction as told by Tarantino.  I was not expecting an entirely accurate documentary that would somehow be the pinnacle of historic film making regarding slavery.

So I can’t get upset about it.  But I don’t want to, which is kind of my point here.

Professional Radicals

There are those whose worldview, however, calls for physical, righteously indignant revolution.  That’s what they fantasize about.  When they think of black people as a whole achieving some degree of economic success and societal independence, they see armed (possibly) revolution as the means.  Rhetorically and academically, anyway.  They want the “The Spook Who Sat By the Door” to come to pass.  Where the educated black man being exploited by the system is actually educating and arming, intellectually and otherwise, the would-be thugs on the street.

I want to use the word “toxic” when I think about our discussion about race.  But all of our discussions are toxic.  We’re so divided and ideological and self-reinforcing that we, as a society, can’t seem to talk about anything without being instantly offended or self-righteous (he said, ironically).

And the most vocal critics make a living off of 1) being informed and extremely educated about the history of race in America and the world (which is fugly beyond belief), and 2) internalizing the subsequent bitterness, bile and rage, and 3) getting paid to write and talk about it.

The Nigger Word

Some have complained about the use of the word “nigger” in Django.  That makes it racist to them.  What would they say if the movie, being set in slaves days, didn’t include the word “nigger” or if they had used alternative less offensive phrases.  That could have been seen as an attempt to mitigate some ugliness.

Have you heard/seen some of the discussions around the word “nigger” these days?  It usually boils down to the-word-which-shall-not-be-spoken-ever.  You can only refer to it by its initial, which may eventually be considered too inflammatory so we’ll refer to it with another letter chosen at random.  Well. Of course, if you’re black and not on TV or the radio then you can use nigger, nigga, and all of its variations every other word or so.  In comedy routines.  In songs.  Whatever.

In essence, black people (some) want to own the word “nigger”.  Black people (some) also want to own slavery.

I’ve been watching reruns of the “The Jeffersons” recently and occasionally “Sanford and Son”.  Back on TV in the 70’s and 80’s they used the word “nigger” in sitcoms.  They used it in context, of course.  Either a racist person was saying it, as in, “I would have rather died than have my life saved by a nigger.”

Or a black man, as in, “You crazy, niggaaaaaa!!”

“Good Times”, too.  Any show that tried to convey the black experience (before sitcoms became more slapstick and cartoonish).

Somehow we went from speaking openly and recognizing and artistically reproducing the reality and patois of language to a kept, censored, politically correct environment that is more caustic than ever.  What’s up with that?

It’s like we went backwards.  We regressed.  All this hypersensitive language policing and what not.  The “padded playground” phenomena.  And it hasn’t helped.

So this furor about Tarantino’s use of the word?  Meh.  And he does like saying “nigger”.  No question about that.  And making blaxploitation movies, too.  He’s obviously obsessed with the things that he’s obsessed with.  The movies and viewing experiences of his younger years.  It’s a little strange but whatever.  What famous, creative person doesn’t seem a little off somehow?

Black Media

And yes, it’s also a perpetuating cycle.  Why don’t black directors and producers make movies about slavery or whatever that reach the masses and everyone sees and talks about?  Why not a Carl Weathers movie that’s a historical fiction action prequel of “Action Jackson”?  Wesley Snipes in “Nat Turner: Werewolf Slayer”?

Partially because those types of projects have trouble getting approved by decision makers in Hollywood.  Because they don’t bring in the same bank as Tarantino.  So we end up with Spielberg making epic movies about black history like “Amistad” and “Red Tails” as opposed to … uh.  Name someone.

How about a remake of “Rosewood”?  Would black people go see “A Solider’s Story” if it were recast with Beyonce and Jay-Z?  DMX, Nas and Treech.

Here’s a question about the movie?

You know the part where Django shoots the ever-lovin’ s— out of Ms. Laura?

“Say goodbye to Ms. Laura.”

“Goodbye, Ms. Laura.”

The audience kind of enjoyed that moment.  Partly because of the surprise and hyperbolic violence, I’m sure.  But also because she was getting her comeuppance.

I wondered:  What if Mr. Candie had had children?

Whitewashing history, though.

So all this talk about this movie.  All this impotent frustration and anger about it. To me, it’s just not worth the energy to get riled up about it.

History is definitely important.  Education is important.  Context is important.  Not letting history be rewritten is important.

There are Holocaust deniers.  There are so many on the internet white washing the entire era of slavery and Jim Crow laws as some benign time long ago that wasn’t necessarily America’s best moment but it’s blown way out of proportion.  If you talk about slavery on the ‘net, the response from a lot of trolls is that black people owned slaves, too.  Or that white people weren’t doing anything more worse than anyone else.  Like, that’s their takeaway.  It’s another form of Holocaust denial.

These distortions need to be countered.  But, in my opinion, the Afrocentric 1.0 approach is not the solution.

The black population is not a monolith, obviously.  In many ways it’s as fractured as America as a whole.  Communities and groups maintain a strong culture and identity out of necessity and circumstance.  The black community is scattered and diverse.

Black farmers have different circumstances and needs than a middle class black family with two kids thinking about affording college, and different needs than a black mom in the military, and different needs than a black family living in the most “urban” of urban areas near the poverty line who have yet to have a family member attend college and worry about their neighborhood school with the 70% dropout rate, and different than a retired senior citizen couple with health complications.

You may not be aware of this, but amongst minorities there’s a notion that success obligates you to help those come after you.  At least there used to be.  If you were in the public eye you had a responsibility to be upstanding and a role model because you’re representing all black people.  Well, you don’t have a choice because the sins of one minority are extrapolated to the entire population.  That’s just the way it works.

But along with our culture, we’ve grown to embrace rugged individuality as well, for better and for worse.

Whitewashing the present, too. The new Jim Crow.

I’m seeing more and more racist outbursts online.  The general gist is that black people are subhuman.  Are monkeys.  One person in the comments on Jezebel referred to black women as “shitting out nigglets”.

Double the dehumanization.

Another on Bossip, which is a site I generally avoid for a lot of reasons, referred to white women as “human females” and black women as “your own apes”.

I do have a sense of outrage.  Believe me.  I don’t deny that there’s actively overt and subtly undermining racism in play in our culture.  In the world.  Google “racist slurs” and “soccer football”.  I also don’t deny that young, poor people and minorities and black people are troubled.  Yes, there are a lot of young, troubled, disaffected white youth, too.  No doubt.  There’s plenty of evidence and corpses to back that up.  But that doesn’t detract from the day to day self-destruction occurring in certain segments of the black population.

The Sandy Hook massacre doesn’t somehow make Chicago’s murder epidemic understandable or relate-able.

Every morning, especially on Monday morning after weekend happenings, I watch the news.  I see a parade of depressing stories about black men shooting and stabbing each other.  Raping and exploiting young black women.  Beating and robbing.  Usually, the story is in the news for multiple days if the victim is white and well-to-do or photogenic.  They’ll follow the trials in those cases, too.  Well, when the suspects are still on the run after any homicide there are updates.

When I’m tooling around DC, especially at night, maybe with an expensive camera on me, I’m not worried about some racist white person pulling up and beating me to death or dragging me off somewhere to taunt, torture and lynch me.  In DC, if another human being is going to do me harm, chances are it’s going to be a black dude.  I say this from the experience of getting attitude and confrontation for no good reason from black men on a few occasions.  And I’m a black man.

When you hear the phrase “The New Jim Crow” it’s usually about the prison industrial complex.  Basically, there’s an entire class of citizen in or previously in the criminal justice system.  The majority of them are black men and increasingly black women.  MANY of them are there for non-violent offenses and drug related charges.  For various economic and societal reasons, black people charged with the same crime as a white person will tend to get a harsher sentence.

I mean, come on.  I grew up in a blue collar area where dysfunction was no respecter of men and women.  I went to college.  You can’t tell me that white kids in colleges and high schools aren’t gettin’ to’ up on a regular basis and doing stupid stuff.  And you think, “Kids.”

Then again, white college kids don’t tend to murder each other in the streets every day.  Not sure how that translates to the violation of young women, but that would just be speculation on my part.

Anyway, once you have a record you become a citizen with fewer opportunities and rights.  Your life is less stable in a number of ways.  Your family is affected.  If you have kids?  You can’t provide for them if you’re in prison.  Can’t vote in prison or if you have a felony (is this on a state by state basis)?

It’s a vicious cycle.

But when I hear talk shows where this is discussed they talk about it as if … like it’s a matter of racist alien abductions.  As if young black men who are over-represented in the criminal justice system are unceremoniously zapped there through entirely no fault of their own.

Over five hundred homicides in Chicago in 2012.  DC used to be the per capita murder capital of the world a few years ago.  Crack epidemic in the 80s (and cocaine madness among the well to do elites).  Cities like Oakland seem to be proud in a way about its association with literal pimping.

They talk about it like there aren’t choices being made.  Or as if young black men aren’t independent actors in their own lives.  In an effort to hold society accountable, for the sake of discussion they automatically absolve the individuals.

How do we change it?

I don’t have the solution for any of this.  Obviously.  Apparently, no one does.  The fractured, self-oriented nature of our society and culture makes it even harder to deal with.

How do you change a culture of of self-hatred?  How do you change a culture where you see someone that looks like you and you call them nigger and gun them down over words or for a coat that costs a few hundred dollars?  How do you change a culture that sees women as body parts?  That feels entitled to own the object of their affection?

I don’t know.

America, how do you change a culture that produces family annihilators?  Massacres?  Murder suicides?

Don’t know.  I do know that these issues aren’t unrelated.  They’re a part of the same culture.

I also know that all of the bloviating in the world about who gets to use the word “nigger” is meaningless.  So is the “slavery is ours” mentality.  It makes for good discussions and allows for vicarious venting and fomenting of racial angst, though.

But the solutions and actions that could possibly begin to improve our mental and cultural state are not “because racism” and “because slavery”.  I don’t see the potential for action there.

And in walks Django

Okay, I was offended that Tarantino said that “Roots” didn’t seem real enough to him.  No, not The Roots.  “Roots”.  The epic mini-series about Alex Haley’s ancestors’ experience in America.  But whatever.  Given QT’s movies maybe “real enough” means blood spattering mayhem.

Clinging to that historical anger over slavery so vehemently isn’t helping.  Because it makes it almost impossible to talk about anything else.  How can black people deal with very real issues when anyone else talking about them turns into a knee jerk reaction where someone is accused of being racist?  “What do you mean, where are young black men getting their guns?  Are you saying that black men are somehow disposed to being criminals by their nature?  Thanks for that, Hitler.  We’re out of here.”

How can we address, say, HIV infection rates in DC (young black people have the highest increasing rates) if the “wrong” person questioning why — what  behavior is associated with this — is called out as racist?  “Oh, so you’re saying that black people can’t control their impulses and are uneducated.  How ‘Birth of  a Nation’ of you.  Conversation over, racist!”

So yeh.  There’s a lot of fodder for someone who considers racial frustration their mantle.  A movie about a black ex-slave undertaking a perilous quest to rescue his beloved wife in a land where he’s considered less than human, regaining his dignity along the way and subsequently taking bloody revenge on slavers, plantation owners and ultimately her captors.  Somehow racist.

Oh well.  Unfortunately, that fits right in with all of our other national debates where we call each other names, dismiss one another outright, and reassure ourselves how superior, right and true our views are.  And the chattering class will chatter.  The bloggers will blog.  The pundits will … uh … pund?  It?

Carry on, America.

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