Modern Melting Pot

What's new in racism.

Tarantino’s Django

Tarnishing “The Gift of Spirit”

Some people tend to devalue qualities they find in others that are missing in themselves.

Generally those who commented on Saying You’re Black Doesn’t Make it So! understood what I was attempting to get at in that post. Slavery is over and to look back on it in order to artistically project revenge as a powerful force growing from it, is to do a disservice to the legacy of redemptive power that it produced.

That is why I said that I would not go to see Quentin Tarantino “Django Unchained”, I took this to be the reason that Spike Lee said he was not going to see it either. Yet as bet.com reported “The controversy surrounding Django hasn't stopped its rise either critically or commercially. Django has grossed over $120 million since its Christmas Day release, making it Tarantino's top-grossing film to date. Analysts credit much of Django's success to its support from the Black community.”

And now “Django” has gotten a 2013 Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.  The question is: best picture of what? Mass masochism, said a comment to the “Saying You’re Black” post from a site visitor named Bartlett, who charged that for black people to sit through the film was “a perverse participation in a session of psychological self-degradation by paying money to have someone call their ancestors torrents of N-words.”

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I knew what Bartlett meant and I knew what Paul meant by his comment, N-words and mass masochism. There may well be in the African American community people who get a perverse quasi-sexual satisfaction from sabotaging the self and others, and destroying their neighborhood and neighbors in black on black crime.  After all they are doing these things to N-words. 

I would make the case that seeking the otherworldly (redemption) reduces the focus on seeking change in the this-worldly (revenge against the things, human or otherwise, that victimize you). Can it be that it is the excessive search for freedom from worldly concerns rather than mass masochism that accounts for the community problems that Paul talked about?

Does a group of people forced for too long to focus intensely on the spiritual in order to survive develop a sense not of mass masochism but of mass messiah-ism.  Neither redemption nor revenge is absolutely good or bad.  Thankfully our nation has cultural support for both.

I did not want to see “Django Unchained”, because it was, to my mind, almost sure to be a false picture of slavery. It would be as if a film about South Africa’s Nelson Mandela’s life presented scene after scene of Mandela  plotting revenge during his 27 year imprisonment.

“. . . most expected that when he (Mandela) emerged, he would be riddled with a lust for retribution. But the world has been amazed; instead of spewing calls for revenge, he urged his own people to work for reconciliation -- and invited his former jailer to attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest,” said Bishop Desmond Tutu, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Mandela set up once he became South Africa’s first black president. .

In my understanding of the history, slaves were not consumed with plotting revenge. They spent the vast majority of their time looking inside to find the spirit of redemption.  And those who found it survived. They brought out of slavery what W. E. B. Dubois’ 1903 classic The Souls of Black Folk called “the gift of spirit.”

At the beginning of  “Saying You’re Black”, I mentioned that “disgraced and now imprisoned Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich said in Esquire Magazine: "I'm blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes..." My point was that Blagojevich had no idea how complex it is to be black, to be fated to carry “the gift of spirit” in this very complex world of merging racial/cultural values.

In Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Barack Obama wrote: “The emotions between the races could never be pure; even love was tarnished by the desire to find in the other some element that was missing in ourselves. Whether we sought out our demons or salvation. . . ” 

There is a tendency in some people to devalue qualities they find in others that are missing in themselves. I won’t see “Django Unchained” because I do not want to see Tarantino using black people’s stories to seek out his demon, revenge, in a place where he could much more easily have found salvation. 

George Davis is author of the new spiritual spy novel, The Melting Points, about three women pursued by danger as the clockwork universe melts around them. In development is a television series based on his soon-to-be-published nonfiction novel, Branches, which continues the spiritual journey that Alex Haley dramatized in “Roots.”  It continues the journey of America towards becoming an exceptional, multiracial nation.

George Davis is professor emeritus at Rutgers University. His latest book is Until We Got Here.

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