Quoted: The RZA on Metaphors for the Black Man in America

In this culture, some of the deepest wisdom comes from horror movies. A perfect example is Night of the Living Dead. That movie and its sequels teach you about life.

For one thing, Night of the Living Dead predicted the dawn of crack. If you lived in the hood in the ’80s, you saw that movie come to life on the street. There’s a reason Public Enemy titled that song “Night of the Living Baseheads.”

Secondly, Dawn of the Dead was the great metaphor for American society.  The zombies were Americans, just walking through the mall, lost, trying to find excitement outside of themselves.  They forgot that excitement is not buying a new TV; it’s taking your shoes off and walking in the grass in your backyard  All those movies were really showing us ourselves.

When I first saw Night of the Living Dead, I was scared to death.  But when I watched it again at age sixteen (when they were up to Day of the Dead), I’d gotten knowledge of myself, and could relate to what it was saying about America.  The dead were alive, but they were blind, deaf, and dumb.  So to me, they were symbolic of black men in America.

The dead in those movies are alive – that’s just a description of physical matter, it’s active – but they don’t have life.  Life comes when you have knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, when you can see for real, touch and feel for real, know for real.  Then you are truly living.

Finally, all the Of the Dead films work as metaphors for the Five Percent.  The survivors are holdouts living among the mentally dead.  And interestingly, they tend to be led by black men.  At the same time, though, after the black man survives – he fights off destruction through the whole movie – a white man kills him. (pp. 44- 45)

Take a cartoon like Dragon Ball Z.  I mean, it’s a cartoon, but it’s one of the deepest cartoons in history. It’s hero, Son Goku, starts out as a kid, begins martial art training like San Te, and goes off on a quest for seven balls that unleash dragons that can grant wishes.  Now that’s a fantasy, obviously, a children’s story.  But it’s also based on a sixteenth-century Chinese folk novel, about a Buddhist monk who travels to India to find the Buddhist sutras.  That voyage represents a journey to enlightenment.  But to me, Dragon Ball Z also represents the journey of the black man in America.

You see it more clearly as the story goes on.  You learn that Son Goku is part of an ancient race called the Saiyans, who come from a distant planet and were known as the fiercest warriors in the galaxy.  So Son Goku has superpowers but doesn’t realize it – a head injury destroyed his memory, robbed his knowledge of self.  Then one day, he gets stressed beyond his limits and Hulks out into his alter ego, Super Saiyan – a nigga with dreadlocks. (Get it?)

This kind of story comes up in world literature, even in the Bible: Abraham is told his seed will be lost for four hundred years, in a land not their own, not knowing who they are or where they’re from.  That’s the story of the Jewish people, but it’s also the story of the black man in America.

So I say we are the Saiyans; I even use the name Goku as a tag when I write.  And when my hair is in an Afro? Word up: I’m Super Saiyan. (pp. 54-55)

–The RZA, from The Tao of Wu