Tag Archives: slavery

‘Blade Runner’ and race

by guest contributor Manish, originally published at Ultrabrown

In Blade Runner: The Final Cut, the 25th anniversary edition of that seminal film, little-known indie director Ridley Scott (A Good Year, Black Rain) uses yellow panic to convey a dystopian future. Impenetrable Chinese and kanji ideographs and Arabic vocals from the Brian Eno track ‘Quran’ signify a future where Earth is crumbling, most have moved off-world, and the seedy neighborhoods left behind are non-European. In Blade Runner, white flight means leaving for the sub-orbs.

In one scene, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) chases a replicant down a crowded street, pushing his way through a group of Hare Krishnas. The world may be run by spinners, androids, implants and megacorps, but like cockroaches, Krishnas and Chinese noodles survive. Make way, make way; Deckard locates and blasts Joanna Cassidy, in a scene reshot with the aging actress specifically for the final cut.

Deckard later tracks down a clue, decorative scales from an artificial snake. The music switches to tabla and desi vocals as he shakes down the Muslim proprietor. Paul Oakenfold sampled other parts of the soundtrack in ‘Goa Mix’ (’94). Artless though it is, Blade Runner’s multiculti melange is even today far ahead of ultrawhite sci-fi/fantasy films like E.T. (which crushed Blade Runner on their head-to-head opening weekend), Star Wars, and the modern-day Lord of the Rings. The only sci-fi films I’ve seen recently which were as multiculti were Serenity and Sunshine.

* * * * *

Blade Runner has held up remarkably well over time. It’s still gripping and panoramic and ambitious in a way not often attempted in sci-fi these days. Its atmospherics were remarkable. It was the Half-Life 2 of its time in terms of immersive, spooky audio and visuals; today, PC games are the new Blade Runner. The film’s models look great, non-CGI-fakey. With physical models, getting the lighting and physics right is pretty much automatic.

Later movies freely pinched from key scenes in Blade Runner. Silas in The Da Vinci Code was ripped from Rutger Hauer’s white-haired Jesus figure, complete with crucifixion reference. Daryl Hannah’s leotarded replicant crushes Ford’s neck between her thighs. The scene was gleefully echoed by Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye.

The ghostly, omnipresent advertising blimp showed up later as the floating zeppelin in Æon Flux. Hide-and-seek with living toys and assassins with calling cards have become fright flick staples. ‘Time to die,’ uttered twice in different contexts, is now a survival horror catchphrase. Blade Runner’s even got its very own ‘Han shot first‘ fanböi squabble, the unicorn scene. Continue reading

Book Review: Jabari Asim’s The N Word

by guest contributor Swerl, originally posted at Swerl

Pop quiz! Who said…

a) To be plain, I wish to get quit of Negroes…

b) I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in endowments both of body and mind.

c) I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race…

Answers?

a) George Washington (in a 1778 letter to his plantation manager)
b) Thomas Jefferson (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785)
c) Abraham Lincoln (1858)!!

These bon mots and more are revealed in Jabari Asim’s new(ish) book, The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why. What Asim (syndicated columnist and deputy editor of the Washington Post Book World) has accomplished in this slender, powerful book, is a concise history of African-Americans… as told BY whites TO other whites.

Through the lens of the “N” word, from first recorded usage through today, Asim makes the persuasive case that whites could not deal with the dichotomy of being good, God-fearing men of noble purpose AND slave owners. Instead of abolishing slavery at the birth of the nation, our glorious founding fathers created a myth around those they had brutally imported from Africa to MORALLY justify the Africans’ enslavement. To do this, they created the “N—–”, and bent reality to fit their story. It helped the whites sleep at night AND get their cotton picked. Africans were not the same race as whites. They were animalistic in their joys, passions and fears. Because their pleasure was only base sexual gratification and their pain was “transitory”, there was no moral imperative to keep families intact, honor their history, allow them to keep their names or grant dignity to them in any way. Because they were “fearful” of freedom, and too stupid to be of use, slavery was, in fact, a COMPASSIONATE alternative to freedom.

Because they were not human, it didn’t matter if white men slept with black woman, but it was an affront for any lust-crazed Negro to sleep with a white woman.

Because they were simpleminded, they loved to dance and sing merrily while working 18 hour days.

But, because they were animalistic, they could turn mean and evil and needed to be put down.

W.E.B. Du Bois cleverly called this “racial folklore”, and insisted that its presence made the “color line”, as he called it, transcend simple economic exploitation. For example, while other ethnic minorities have been or are being exploited for their labor, it is unique to the black experience to have an identity manufactured by the dominant white society and then brutally and systemically imposed — even imprinted — onto them, the “…belief that somewhere between men and cattle, God created a tertium quid, and called it a Negro — a clownish, simple creature, at times even lovable within its limitations.”

In the subsequent pages, Asim traces the implementation of this “racial folklore” through American history, proving his point with devastating detail. Almost like a prosecutor, even if you have known all the facts, seeing them all pulled together in such a cogent way makes it clear to ANYONE that whites have tried to rewrite the reality of black America with the merciless, pernicious efficiency of Orwellian scope. “2+2=5″. Winston Smith needed not just repeat it, but BELIEVE it. Internalize it.

Slaves not willing to work in subhuman conditions? They’re lazy!
Slaves pretending to like whitefolk to get by? They’re jolly darkies!
Slaves try to run away because they don’t like being slaves? They’re aggressive, violent, predatory animals out to rape white women and kill white men!

Again, a quote by W.E.B. Du Bois sums it up perfectly. “Everything Negroes did was wrong. If they fought for freedom, they were beasts; if they did not fight, they were born slaves. If they cowered on the plantation, they loved slavery; if they ran away, they were loafers. If they sang, they were silly, if they scowled, they were impudent… And they were funny, funny — ridiculous baboons, aping men!” Continue reading

Riverdale Christian Academy celebrates graduation with a blackface party mocking slavery

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Wow. Now it’s not only college students playing with blackface, faculty and staff members are getting in on the act too. This Fresno, CA Christian school even played a game of “catch the runaway slave!” From Fresnobee.com:

Members of Fresno’s black community said they were stunned this week to see pictures of adults in blackface poking fun at slavery during a recent graduation celebration for Riverdale Christian Academy.

The photos, which were posted on the Internet shortly after the June 1 event, show staff and faculty of the small private Christian school dressed as slaves with captions describing activities at the party in Hanford.

“The slaves served lemonade — it was a riot,” read one caption beneath a photo of five women and a man at a lemonade stand. Each had dark face makeup and wore 19th century clothing.

“Someday we gonna be leavin’ when a workin’ day is done,” read another caption posted with a photo of three women holding gardening tools.

A third picture showed a white man in a Yankees jersey and top hat escorting another in blackface with the caption, “bringing home the runaway slave in the Senior skit.”

By now you know the drill with these blackface parties.

Step 1: Declare that you did not mean to offend anyone.

Step 2: Point to the fact that black people were at the party too, so obviously it wasn’t that racist!

Nice to see that Doug Spencer, the school’s principal, has been taking notes:

Spencer, who said he was sorry for the controversy, said his school, with a student body of 150, has “three or four” black students. One of those students attended the party. Spencer said that while he is willing to apologize to anyone offended by the skits, he has not apologized to the unnamed student.

“It was not offensive,” Spencer said. “And she hasn’t asked for an apology.”

Hat tip to Tate Hill at Urban Knowledge and Resist Racism

Turning Uncle Ben into Chairman of the Board

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

At a time when we’re seeing various institutions acknowledge and apologize for their involvement with the slave trade (the state of Maryland and Brown University are two recent examples), it’s sad to see one company so enthusiastically reviving a brand that was built on slave imagery.

The New York Times discusses a new campaign from Uncle Ben’s Rice that is attempting to give Ben a makeover:

Uncle Ben, who first appeared in ads in 1946, is being reborn as Ben, an accomplished businessman with an opulent office, a busy schedule, an extensive travel itinerary and a penchant for sharing what the company calls his “grains of wisdom” about rice and life.

Check out the Uncle Ben’s web site for a glimpse at the campaign.

Uncle Ben is a perfect example of the Tom caricature. From the excellent Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia web site:

The Tom caricature portrays Black men as faithful, happily submissive servants. The Tom caricature, as with the Mammy Caricature, was born in ante-bellum America in the defense of slavery. How could slavery be wrong, argued its proponents, if Black servants, males (Toms) and females (Mammies) were contented, loyal servants? The Tom is presented as a smiling, wide-eyed, dark skinned server: fieldworker, cook, butler, porter, or waiter. Unlike the Coon, the Tom is portrayed as a dependable worker, eager to serve. Unlike the Brute, the Tom is docile and non-threatening to Whites. The Tom is often old, physically weak, psychologically dependent on Whites for approval.

During the antebellum era, whites would often refer to elderly black slaves as “uncle” or “aunt.” It was a way of bestowing some respect without going so far as to treat them as actual equals by calling them “Mr.” or “Mrs.” This means that the very names of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are directly descended from the culture of slavery. Continue reading

Radar Online’s list of racial stereotypes in the movies

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Radar Online just published a great list called From Borat to Mammy: The top ten stereotypes in cinema history:

Hollywood has a long history of racial insensitivity—stereotypes are its stock in trade. But, as with Borat, watchdog groups are too quick to sound the alarm when things get out of hand. Unfortunately for film-goers with less-fragile constitutions, some of the most deliciously offensive characters in cinema have been relegated to the dustbin as a result. Where were the Golden Globes when Long Duk Dong dropped his L’s in Sixteen Candles? It just doesn’t seem fair. Come with us on a tour of Hollywood’s walk of shame, where we gaze, slack-jawed, upon the ten best stereotypes ever captured on film.

(Hat tip to Angry Asian Man.) So who’s on the list?

Long Duk Dong
From: Sixteen Candles, 1984
Played By: Gedde Watanabe
Groups Offended: Asians, exchange students

Speedy Gonzales
From: The Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie, 1981; various Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies animated shorts
Voiced By: Mel Blanc
Groups Offended: Mexicans, mice

James ‘Buffalo Bill’ Gumb
From: The Silence of the Lambs, 1991
Played By: Ted Levine
Groups Offended: Gays, transsexuals, lesbians, serial killers, cannibals

Dick Hallorann
From:The Shining, 1980
Played By: Scatman Crothers
Groups Offended: African-Americans, mystics, Lady Cleo, Dionne Warwick, most of the Psychic Friends Network

Jar Jar Binks
From: Star Wars: Phantom Menace, 1999; Attack of the Clones, 2002; Revenge of the Sith, 2005)
Voiced By: Ahmed Best
Groups Offended: Jamaicans, nerds

Pagoda
From: The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001
Played By: Kumar Pallana
Groups Offended: Indians, hipsters

Grand Vizier Jafar
From: Aladdin, 1992
Voiced By: Jonathan Freeman
Groups Offended: Arabs, street urchins

Caiaphas
From: The Passion of the Christ, 2004
Played By: Mattia Sbragia
Groups Offended: Jews, Jews for Jesus

Mr. Yunioshi
From: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961
Played By: Mickey Rooney
Groups Offended: Asians

Mammy
From: Gone With the Wind, 1939
Played By: Hattie McDaniel
Groups Offended: African Americans

Madonna, Africa, adoption, and the white man’s burden

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Before I get started with this post, a few clarifications. First, I don’t think that Madonna is the evil, attention-hungry, Angelina-copycat that others are making her out to be. I’m sure she was guided by the best of intentions when it came to this adoption. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t buy into essentialist notions about blacks, whether she realizes it or not.

Second, we have no way of knowing exactly what transpired during this process. Was she really led to believe that David’s father’s whereabouts were unknown? Is it true that his father never visited David at the orphanage? Was David’s father misled into believing this was not a permanent adoption? We’ll just never know, and it’s best not to make assumptions about any of the facts.

Third, I do not oppose international adoption and no, I wouldn’t prefer to leave the orphans to die. But are those ever really the only two options?

Okay, with that out of the way…

I was struck by how many times Madonna used the phrases “I will give him a life” or “he didn’t have a life” when referring to her adopted Malawian child, David, during her interview with Oprah on Wednesday.

And I think this gets at one of the main problems I have with the way international adoption is discussed in this country. There’s always this unspoken, underlying assumption that:

  • keeping the child in the home country = no life or a bad life
  • bringing the child to “the West” = a good life

The situation in Malawi is dire, yes. But discussions about international adoption always make it seem as if every single child who doesn’t get adopted by an American family — no matter what country the child is in — is going to die. Like, right now. But that’s just not always the case.

Also, we really need to question the assumption that the benefits of international adoption will always outweigh the negative repercussions. I encourage you to read this post of Ji In’s at Twice the Rice, in which she writes that “there is irreparable pain and there are primal wounds inherent in adoption that no privileged upbringing can erase.”

Can a better standard of living, healthcare, education and loving adoptive parents ever make up for what is lost when a child is removed from his or her country and culture? Shouldn’t every effort be made to try and keep families together? Shouldn’t adoption be a final resort? I don’t pretend to have the answers to those questions, but I’m disappointed that the questions are rarely, if ever, even asked.

If a country is experiencing such extreme poverty that it cannot adequately care for its children or orphans, is international adoption the best solution? Or the only solution? If, like Madonna was, you are so moved by a country’s troubles that you feel compelled to do something to help, are there other things you can do? Things that could actually help solve some of the underlying, fundamental problems that have led to this dire situation in the first place? Those questions are never asked either.

I was surprised that Madonna so willingly and unquestioningly accepted the orphanage’s claim that no family member — not even the father — had ever visited David since his arrival at 2 weeks old. Not only did she fully believe it, but she immediately assumed that it meant that “no one was looking after David’s welfare.”And during the entire interview, she didn’t once acknowledge the fact that David’s father might have kept custody of his son, had he had the resources. Her focus was on his apparent gratitude to her: “Thank you for giving my son a life.”

This lack of acknowledgement of a father’s loss reminded me of the old slavery-era essentialist notions about blacks that were created to justify oppression. Black people were characterized as subhuman and bestial. That meant that the notions of democracy and freedom this country was founded on didn’t really apply to them. Black men were said to not love their wives and children the way white men did, therefore it was perfectly okay to split up families and sell them off to different plantations.

Could a similar essentialist/white supremacist notion be at play here? Does Madonna believe that David’s father couldn’t possibly love David the way she can? That the affection and parental relationship she can offer is inherently superior to his? Continue reading