Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Last Slaves of Mississippi?

I stumbled across this article just today and even though it was published a little over six weeks ago in People Magazine, it shows that the Amerikkkan myth that "slavery ended in 1865" is just that --- a myth. Forms of enslavement continued long after the end of the Civil War in the form of sharecropping, convict labor and persist in the disproportionate incarceration of Black people in Amerikkka's prisons.

The story of the Miller family's enslavement in 1961, is just another example of how enslavement was retained and refined by this nation towards its so-called "ex-slaves". For those of you poor eyesight like me, you may wish to click the reproduced pages below so that they will be more readable...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Spiderman and Roachman: On Being a Blackman in Amerikkka

Remember Jar Jar Binks?

He was the Stepin Fetchit alien birthed by George Lucas in his Star Wars saga, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The outrage over this racist and stereotypical depiction of Blackfolk forced Lucas to silence him in the last two prequels, after denying that Binks was a conflation of a foot-shufflin’, buck-dancin’ Rastafarian.

You would think that Hollyweird would have listened to the outcries of those who saw Binks as a racist stereotype, but apparently he’s been reincarnated as the new Spiderman 3.

Two nights ago, I went to its midnight premiere in Baltimore. I had never gone to a film so late in my life and expected to be one of only twenty or so insomniacs having absolutely nothing to do on Thursday night. Not. There is apparently a cult of people who frequent such films, since when I got to the 17-screen multiplex four of the auditoriums showing Spidey were sold out! Arming myself with a large bottle of water, a bag of popcorn and angry because I had left my chewing gum in the car that never fails to keep me awake when I have to do an all-nighter, I entered one of the crowded auditoriums and took a seat about ten rows from the giant screen.

I wanted to see the film, because the early trailers showed Spidey being clothed in a skin-tight black costume, like Elvis Presley in his famous Black leather costumes. As an observer of race and its symbolic manifestations in this racist world, I wanted to see how Alvin Sargent and Ivan Raimi (the writers) would treat the conversion of our arachnid super-hero from red, white and blue to black. I’ve learned that American films are often bursting with racial symbols that are occasionally overt, e.g., Jar Jar Binks, but often symbolic, e.g., Men in Black.

I wasn’t disappointed by the racial symbolism of Spiderman 3.

A mysterious, jet black, creepy crawly substance oozes from a crashed meteorite and transforms the nerdish Peter Parker, played by Tobey Maguire. It hitches a ride on Peter’s motorcycle after he and his girlfriend, M.J., spoon under a full-moon in an oversized spider web hammock spun by Parker. There’s never any explanation given for the substance, but in a very parasitic way it attaches itself to the host’s nervous system and enhances his powers of cognition, speed, dexterity and dancing ability.

This last point is important since essentially, Spiderman becomes a white racist fantasy of a Blackman in America --- Roachman, if you please. He humiliates and beats down MJ (they’re violent), he buys an all Black wardrobe (you know they like flashy clothes), he cool poses after he buys the outfit, and starts eyeing all the women that come his way. Essentially, his new found “blackness” is a double burden --- it makes him “cool”, but it also makes him mean, violent and a misogynistic. The sexually insecure, white, Peter Parker is transformed into a hypersexualized Roachman and sends a symbolic message to the mostly white audience that while being a Blackman can be “cool”, it also carries a terrible price that you should avoid at the expense of your whiteness. It sends a message to the Blackpeople in the audience, that Blackmen though “enhanced” in their melanin-based abilities to sing, dance, and fuck, we are also unable to “carry the burden” of it all and use them recklessly. Like Roachman, Blackmen are always on the edge of being violent and must be controlled, especially when it comes to their sexual responsibility. It is similar to the symbolism portrayed by Will Smith’s character in Men in Black, where his partner, the dour Tommy Lee Jones initially gives Will a smaller ray gun, because he can’t handle the “big gun” (penis) he wants so desperately.

In the end, Roachman regains his whiteness with the red, white and blue Amerikkkan flag waving in the background. Though boring, the storytellers let us know that it’s hard out there for a pimp and white supremacy provides controlled sexuality, gentleness with the opposite sex, understanding, tolerance and non-violence --- the exact opposite of what it actually does in the real world.

As I left the theater, yawning at 2:30 in the morning, I mused on how white supremacy is enhanced and refined by films such as Spiderman 3. I also thought about making a film entitled Roachman: The Adventures of a Blackman in Amerikkka, in which in one of the sequels, my superhero would meet Spiderman and kick his ass…

Friday, May 04, 2007

Was Humpty Dumpty a White Supremacist?

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.”

“The question is, said Alice, whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master - - that's all.”

---Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll’s two most famous books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, have a warm place on the bookshelves of our children’s bedrooms. Lest we forget however, they were written during mid-19th century Victorian England, and were biting satires on everything from poverty to public school education. The second book of the Alice duet, Through the Looking Glass, presents one of the most enduring characters in children’s literature. Although Carroll did not create Humpty Dumpty, (he was already a well-known figure in a nursery rhyme), he added character to the rather sarcastic and arrogant little egg, who ignored Alice’s warnings that the wall he sat on was too thin and might contribute to a nasty fall.

Humpty’s confusing dialogue on everything from “Jabberwocky” to “unbirthdays” leaves Alice rather bewildered, and reminds me of many contemporary discussions on race in America. Several pundits, politicos and others declare their firm grasp on understanding America’s most troubling problem, and like Humpty triumphantly state that a “word means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.” I am convinced that many of those who discuss words such as “racism” “sexism”, “political correctness” have no functional definition of the very words they use. They rely, as did their intellectual ancestor, Humpty Dumpty on their status of being “the master” and therefore possessing an inherited authority to define words and groups in whichever way pleases them at the moment.

When Alice challenged Humpty, she fought a losing battle; confronted with his unwillingness to listen and ignorance of nearly everything she talked about, Humpty’s “logic” beat Alice at every turn. Like Dumpty, contemporary pundits ask ridiculous questions based on little or no knowledge of the very subjects they discuss. On the issue of Black/White relations, they might state, “Affirmative action is the same as ‘reverse discrimination’, “Africans were primarily responsible for the slave trade.” or “I don’t know what to call you people, ‘Black’ or ‘African American.’” Criticism of the fundamental nature of these statements, can quickly plunge the questioner through the looking glass of “political correctness”, still another favorite expression of those whose brains burn out at the slightest suggestion of reading the history of those with whom they are unfamiliar.

Honest and clear dialogues on race are necessary if Americans wish to address our national agony. These dialogues will trouble those who wish to remain “masters” of words that are being redefined by people who seek to be a part of the great experiment called America. Those who cry “political correctness” nostalgically wish for the days when women kept their place, Blacks were colored, Asians were cooks and Latinos were gardeners. Similar to their intellectual ancestor Humpty, they are scornful of those who dare say that “We the People” includes those once denied access to the fruits of American democracy.

Was Humpty Dumpty a white supremacist? I think not. He was simply ignorant of other persons' experiences and felt that his worldview was the only one really worthy of consideration. That alone can be the seeds that water the weeds of racism. Dumpty’s techniques in glorifying limited awareness of other person’s histories, experiences and worldviews however, are characteristic of racists who insist on staying seated on the very narrow wall of ignorance toward other people.