A few weeks ago, Tananarive went over to our local park to pick up Jason, and there were police there, and the kids were clustered around. Her heart was in her throat. She did not think “happy community outreach.” She thought Trayvon Martin. Jason is getting to “that age” where young black boys begin to look like threats. And it is typical for black parents to have to have “the talk” with them. A talk that very few whites I’ve ever met have any grasp of. To them, the police are basically helpers, the Thin Blue Line.
They don’t realize that for centuries, WE have been the ones on the other side of that line.
Before I continue, I want to state my position clearly: I did six years of research and have written half a million published words on the subject of race. My official attitude is that, good and bad, we are equal. That apparent inequalities are because of different circumstances or initial starting conditions, not anything innate. So guilt and shame on either side, black and white, is nothing but a lingering belief that we are NOT equal…only this time turned inward instead of outward. We’re all in this together. Anyone who EVER senses a different attitude on my part is 100% welcome to challenge me on the subject, ask me to prove how I believe we are equal, that stupidity, incapacity or evil don’t cluster in any corner of the genetic closet like toxic dust bunnies.
We discussed “District Nine” in our AFROFUTURISM class yesterday, IMO a film where the director/writer allowed his unconscious racial attitudes to shape his narrative in unfortunate ways. The story, of aliens suffering apartheid in South Africa, was a brilliant conceit in the short film version “Alive in Joberg” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le3y0QlLjJE
But in feature form, something went wrong. My theory is simple. If you have a deeply engrained negative attitude you are a bit ashamed of, you can keep control of it so long as you maintain conscious attention. But under stress, your real attitudes emerge. Tired, angry, drunk, overwhelmed…the flat rock flips over and the crawlies emerge.
“Alive in Joberg” was small enough that he could keep the entire project in conscious focus, and the creative aspects aligned with the technical, aligned with the philosophical–at least what he CONSCIOUSLY believed himself to believe.
But Neil Blomkamp is a white South African, which makes him rather like a white Southerner, someone dealing with the legacy of horror and oppression. It took many generations, deep removal from those who committed and defended the sin of slavery, to raise generations of Southerners who could have sufficient perspective to really see how horrible things were, and thus grasp that the descendants of slaves really did suffer enough pressure to explain the disparity in performance. To be willing to celebrate their ancestors without having to wear blinders about their failings.
Which is necessary to really believe in full equality. Without that, you PRETEND to believe it. You WANT to believe it. You feel social PRESSURE to believe it.
But in your heart, you don’t. My favorite test for these attitudes is the question: “under the same historical circumstances, would whites have suffered as much and been damaged as long?”
Anything other than a swift and clear “yes” and I think you are trying to wire-around a nasty mine field, a belief that whites would have done better but you can’t say that out loud. Or an UNCONSCIOUS belief causing stress as you try to work through it. Any hesitation, fum-fah, protest about the theoretical nature of the question, comparison with European immigrants (hell, EVERY white person in America is an immigrant or descended from them!), refusal to answer or anything else is evidence of conscious or unconscious conflict on this level.
“District Nine” places blacks as secondary in their own country–all the decision makers and power players are white. Well, couldn’t that be a conscious political statement? Yes, but then you have the responsibility to show the inwardness of the Africans, since you are suggesting that apartheid never really ended, it just shifted from one group to another. You have to SHOW that the Africans are as human, by showing their lives, loves, families. A single character would have done it. If you don’t do that, you are leaving the door open to a belief that apartheid was justified.
The aliens are shown as fully emotional and sentient beings, with hopes, dreams, intellect, courage, and families.
The white people are shown as fully emotional and sentient beings, with hopes, dreams, intellect, courage, and families.
The blacks…not so much. And no, I don’t for a moment buy this as deliberate, or a valid tactic to condemn racism yada yada. Science Fiction did this for a century, using aliens as “metaphors” for racial others, while excluding blacks and Asians from anything but secondary roles. If that. For most of my life, I could go into any SF bookstore and see thousands of books whose covers and content featured nothing but white people and their imaginary friends: aliens, robots, whatever. As soon as this started changing, predictably there were complaints of “PC” from those who never complained about exclusion. Wonder why.
No, aliens are robots do not represent us. They perhaps represent the way white people SEE us, which is pretty awful if you stop to think about it. There is clearly not the slightest concern for how we might feel knowing that. And THAT is the lack of extending your own humanity to others. You don’t think, don’t care about how the Others feel. When you simultaneously appropriate the imagery of their oppression to tell stories, that creates the APPEARANCE of an honest conversation (look at the laudatory interviews) while actually saying nothing at all.
Who, District Nine, is the black character whose home life we see most clearly (and therefore his “inwardness”)? The Nigerian gang-lord, a murderous, superstitious, lying, brutal bastard. The director said that, well, there WERE such people.
Sure. There are also millions of decent, loving, intelligent black people. The director chose not to humanize even one of them, except peripherally. That was his choice. In the short subject that birthed the film? A very nice balance of black and white characters. The metaphor therefore works.
In the full length film? It feels like the director IS his lead character, a man who thinks he is more “woke” than he really is, who must be infected by alien DNA in an “Alien Like Me” scenario, before he can begin to understand. To that degree, the film is pretty naked and interesting: the director exposing his own wounds, the “gap” between what he wants to believe (“we are all equal”) and what he actually believes (“whites are more human”). He can’t help it.
Ultimately, under stress, truth will out. And the making of a full motion picture is a massive undertaking. He simply couldn’t keep it all under control.
But…does that make “District Nine” a bad film? No, it makes it a tough film. Especially for those who want to believe that racist attitudes are rare. No, Tribalism is nearly universal–and racism is just a more specific and toxic form .
It is EXTRAORDINARY to actually believe in equality. It takes serious energy to burn away the billions of subtle and explicit inputs to the contrary. In America we’re swamped with them, to the degree that if you genuinely follow the implications you run into vast armies of people defending the defenders of the institution. Defending the symbols, and criticizing those who dare suggest that there might be something wrong. Attacking the of those who want or support equality, attempting to “gaslight” them on a massive cultural level, trying to avoid the guilt and shame and fear that would result from really understanding what happened.
From the safety of being the heroes of the story, America can condemn the Holocaust. Terrible! Couldn’t happen here!
Except…it did. Didn’t look the same. Was chronic instead of acute. Slow-motion over centuries (1619 until, arguably, about 1970) rather than compressed into about eleven years (1933-1945) but costing about the same number of man-years of life (simply track the differences in life expectancy and infant mortality). Equal horror, in my opinion. And unlike the holocaust, the perpetrators were never punished, never forced to confront their victims, were able to promote their version of reality and deny deny deny the truth.
Plenty of our fellow citizens still defend the event, and its after-effects, and current manifestations. Watching otherwise decent people mocking and joking about Trayvon Martin, church slaughters, and believing BLM protest marchers were “pretending” to be frightened is an eye opener. Saying black fears for their children was an “inconvenience”.
I held Tananarive when she came back from the park, shaking.
Inconvenience my ass.
It is not an “inconvenience” if you believe that your lives are not as important, your children not as precious, and that the very force you fear is the force the majority population considers to be acting in their interests. That they automatically side with the police, even in instances where there are videos of beatings and shootings of unarmed people. The temptation is to think that those officers are acting out the unconscious or unspoken desires of their supporters. They are the tip of the spear, the active arm of their paymasters. They are not separate from the rest of the community…they are the id of that community. And so long as they do not admit that they do NOT embrace equality, no conversation, laws, or smaller actions will long have effect. The rubber band will snap back into its original shape as soon as attention flags.
I recently read an Quora article about “how narcissists trap you.” https://www.quora.com/How-do-narcissists-trap-you
Gaslighting, Scapegoating, Divide and Conquer, Playing the Victim, Vilifying True Victims, The Smear Campaign, Silent Treatment, Guilt Trips, Cycle of Abuse:
I was immediately struck by how many of these apply to racism:
Gaslighting: Slavery wasn’t that bad. The north is as bad for racism. The civil war wasn’t about slavery, etc.
Scapegoating: The problems within the black community are solely its own fault. Immigrants got over it.
Divide and Conquer: “You’re not one of them. You’re one of us.” Grading on skin color or perceived “whiteness” (of speech, perceived intelligence, whatever.) Connect on economic or moral issues, but to stay in the “tent” you must agree (or be silent upon) racial issues.
Playing the Victim: Southerners are oppressed! The Northerners were oppressors! White people are oppressed!
Vilifying True Victims: Unarmed blacks shot dead in the street were thugs.
The Smear Campaign: Bringing up the supposedly criminal past of a victim.
Silent Treatment: Refusing to hear the screams of the bereaved. Not even believing their grief and fear are real.
Forgive and Forget: “Lets move on from the past” without ever fully admitting wrongdoing.”
Guilt Trips: Africans enslaved you and sold you to whites…
Cycle of Abuse: Dangling freedom and equality if you’ll just shut up about oppression…
How many of these apply to South Africa? I honestly haven’t studied them enough to say. But they certainly did create a “Divide and Conquer” scenario with “coloureds”. The temptation is to think…yeah. There’s a lot of similarity.
Here’s a definition of Narcissism: “self-centeredness arising from failure to distinguish the self from external objects, either in very young babies or as a feature of mental disorder.”
What can cause failure to mature? A gap between deep beliefs and your stated beliefs and actions. You cannot follow two paths at once. It tears you apart. Denies you the energy you need to awaken and mature.
What can cause a failure to fully accept human equality? The realization that the people and heroes you admire were less than you think. But note that you don’t have to demonize them. If whites were and are victims of these poisonous perceptions…so are black people. And Asians. And whatever. It is a nearly universal human illness, and it is painful to awaken from it.
District Nine is a film about black pain for white people. It has no apparent concern for how black people might feel watching the appropriation of their agony. It is narcissistic and nearly solipsistic, a film made by a man who is probably a good man, certainly a talented and intelligent man, who has not worked out his issues as thoroughly as he and his circle of advisors probably believe. Instead of patting himself on the back, he needs a slap in the face and a scream of WAKE UP!
My goal is simple: ONE MILLION AWAKE, AWARE, ADULT HUMAN BEINGS. The path is clear: to support thousands of writers and artists who believe in human equality, and willing to stand up to those who ask us to go back to sleep. You are my brothers and sisters, my tribe.
All you have to do to escape the trap is to refuse the tainted ego bait. Simply believe that we are basically equal. If you see unequal results, there had to be unequal circumstances.
That simple belief sets you free. Then…the Hero’s Journey and the Chakras, the tools of Lifewriting, show you everything you could ever want to know about the world we’ve created, as well as the path out of the political and social swamp.
You’re just one decision away from the peace you’ve always sought.