Archive for December, 2012

Free Slaves, Black Codes and Good Masters

FREE SLAVES

Despite the fact many books often contain some variation of the phrase “slaves were free,”  this statement is absolutely incorrect.  Slaves may have been free to leave the plantation, but in 1865 State Governments in the south enacted laws created to keep slaves in invisible chains.  These “Black Codes” were actually revised slave codes created to subjugate and exploit Black people in general, and they were strictly enforced.  The Black Codes are only one of the hundreds of reasons why it’s historically incorrect to refer to slaves as being free.  According to the Black Codes:

If former slaves failed to secure jobs they were charged with vagrancy and jailed.  Since they weren’t able to pay their fines,  local white authorities farmed them out to work on chain gangs.

Former slaves were prohibited from congregating in a group unless a white person was present.

Former slaves were prohibited from learning to read and write.

Many former slaves worked on farms, were paid meager wages and had their hours and duties strictly regulated by whites.  These are just a few of the laws Blacks were subjected to and if  they violated them Blacks were whipped or branded.

FORMER SLAVE INTERVIEWS

During the 1930s the WPA dispatched workers to interview former slaves and to record their experiences on tape.  I listened to some of these interviews a few years ago and heard white sounding male interviewers ask, “You’re master was good to you?”  These men were asking the slaves a leading question.  Were these interviewers trying to sway the slaves to say “yes?” Former slaves were being questioned by men who looked like their ruthless ex-captors who used guile  and trickery to exploit and deceive them.  Given this reality and the way the question is phrased, I don’t doubt a lot of former slaves said that their masters were good to them.  Nudging slaves to say that their masters treated them decently gives people the wrong impression that slavery wasn’t that horrible after all.

In that same vein, I heard what sounded like a white interviewer ask a former slave if her master was good to her.  She immediately said, “Yes.” He asked if she knew how to read.  She relied, “No.”   They conversed some more and again he asked if she knew how to read and again she said, “No.”  The woman told him she attended a church and that she sang.  He asked how she was able to remember all the songs and she  slipped up and said something about using a book.  Clearly she knew how to read, but she lied about that and most likely the “good master” bit because she didn’t know if this man, who resembled her master, was friend or foe and she wasn’t taking any chances.

I met someone who knew a man who had interviewed former slaves for the WPA.   I don’t know the WPA man’s race but some slaves detailed how cruelly the masters and their wives treated them.  When the WPA employee submitted that information to his white boss, the boss destroyed it.  How many others distorted,  sanitized and gave this type of Black history the deep six?

N-Word & Racial Double Standard in Films

The movie industry employs a gross double standard when it comes to race.  It allows white characters to freely assault Black characters with racist bile, but largely gags Blacks from saying anything racially demeaning to or about whites. That’s because the industry honors the feelings and humanity of white viewers and therefore spares them from being a racial target. “Django Unchained” is the rare exception.  Black viewers are subjected to over 100 racist slurs (particularly “n***er) in “Django.”  Blacks are also subjected to excessive racist slurs in a staggering number of films in general, even when these movies are otherwise non-racial.  When race is pertinent, Black characters, and by extension Black viewers, are clobbered with racism as if we’re subhuman.  The degree to which this is permissible is criminal, especially given how fiercely the industry protects white viewers from racial harm.

When Black viewers settle in to watch a movie they risk being racially jarred by the gratuitous racism prevalent in an inordinate number of films.  It often rears its head in unlikely places so it’s tough for Blacks to avoid.  “Hangover II,” released in 2011, is a prime example of that. It’s a movie about the misadventures of four white men in Thailand.  That sounds like a safe film where Black viewers can escape and not be racially stung.  The synopsis gives us the impression it’s a movie that Blacks can peacefully watch and just be entertained like other human beings.  We get comfortable in our seats, we chuckle at various points and then BAM! a white man says “ni***a” two times, song lyrics contain “n***er” twice, an Asian man says “n***er” two times and a man from the Middle East says “n***er” twice.  That’s 8 times Black viewers are racially jolted. This movie takes place in Thailand, no less!  Disturbingly, there are loads of supposedly non-racial films that lob the n-bomb at us as well.  And plenty of these films, made-up largely of  white actors,  devote time to Blacks targeting each other with “n***er.”   These frequent n-bomb scenes appear to be a cinematic way of saying,  “We now pause to denigrate the Black race.” 

Many whites who complain that Blacks are “so sensitive” and “preoccupied” with race would be wise to examine the movie business.  It suffers from a chronic obsession with marginalizing and demeaning the Black race and it inclines millions of viewers to have a Black bias.  It also conditions viewers to regard Blacks as “n***ers.”  That’s just for starters and that’s just one industry.

Filmmakers who use Black slurs excessively attempt to justify this practice by saying the racist language is “authentic” based on the time period and/or story-line. These same filmmakers hamstring Black characters from making “authentic” racially degrading comments about whites.  Evidently, realism has no place in films when it hurts the feelings of white-skinned viewers.  I’m not making a case for abusing whites, however,  I’m making a case for treating Blacks with similar consideration.

Here are a few of the many films that clobber Blacks with excessive slurs.  

Movie                                              # of Black Slurs                           # of White Slurs

Blazing Saddles -1974                   20  Nigger (Mostly)                                    0

Bad Boys II – 2003                         14  Nigga                                                       0

40-Year-Old Virgin – 2005         15  N***a                                                       0

Cotton Club – 1984                        16  N***er                                                       1   Fay

Crash – 2005                                 10  N***er (Mostly)                                     3 Cracker         

Dirty – 2005                                   47  N***er                                                      1 I hate whites

Edmond – 2005                             15  N***er, Coon, Spade, etc.                   0

Jackie Brown – 1997                     38  N***er                                                    0

Mississippi Burning – 1988        21  N***er (Mostly)                                   0

Pulp Fiction – 1994                       14  N***er                                                      0