THE BLOG
01/06/2013 03:48 pm ET | Updated Mar 08, 2013

It's Absurd to Associate Django Unchained With Black Culture

Quentin Tarantino's film, Django Unchained has as much to do with the history and culture of American descendants of African slaves as Dumbo has to do with the plight of Weimar Jewry. Spike Lee says that it disrespects his ancestors. It does not. It has nothing to do with them. It has everything to do with one white man's fevered, second-hand vision of what it would be like to be something he probably can't conceive. It's like me attempting to write an intimate account of the pains of childbirth. I may have held a baby and changed a diaper, but one would doubt my authority on the subject.

Tarantino obviously knows black people, but only a white man in America could believe that this provides him with the authority to speak on the black American experience. Like 99.9999 percent of the white population, he has minimal intimacy with the culture of the descendants of American slaves. That culture, imbibed from birth by American blacks raised in black American households, involves an intimate, often subconscious acknowledgment of history, of a unique place in the American hierarchy, of a struggle against mainstream paradigms of who and what we are. These are intimacies of which whites are necessarily ignorant -- they're white. Just as I, as a male, have no intimate knowledge of birthing pains, whites have no knowledge of being black. They can gain an abstract conception, but that's it.

Of course, Tarantino has every right to make a film on any subject he chooses, and he knows his audience well. The film has become the white literati's preferred lens into the forbidden territory of black rage (a sort of reverse Uncle Tom's Cabin). But when blacks discuss it as if this product of white Hollywood is a legitimate expression of our culture or our rage, we do ourselves a gross injustice; we follow the pattern of outsourcing our history and self-image to the majority; we marry ourselves into the grotesque self-images that their history has tried to stamp upon us.

Django Unchained is nothing more than one white Hollywood director's fantasy of what black revenge would look like. It would be no more to us than another big screen cartoon if we dealt honestly and independently with our own history -- a history white studios or directors would never touch. Such history puts the lie to the frames and simplifications with which Americans maintain our halo of historical innocence on matters related to race.

If we lavished similar imagination upon the history of the blacks who fought for the British during the American revolution to escape slavery, the German Coast uprising, the Prosser and Vesey rebellions, the 'Crazy as St. Paul' Nat Turner rebellion, the Black Seminole rebellion of 1835, the innumerable anecdotal tales of black resistance against slave-owners, perhaps we wouldn't glom onto the work of a white director who (with his infantile insistence on his right to fling the word "nigger") seems frightfully similar to the clueless character in Lou Reed's infamous, "I Wanna be Black." If we taught ourselves to regard the Civil War as "a failed war to protect and extend slavery," and not "a war to free the slaves," we would be less seduced by the siren song of second-hand revenge fantasy. If we debated among ourselves the virtues and vices of real old-west outlaws like the notorious Rufus Buck Gang, Cherokee Bill and Isom Dart, perhaps one white man's notion of blacks in the old west would be less noteworthy. If we knew that black freedman populated Indian Territory and that a black lawman named Bass Reeves served as a Deputy U.S. Marshall for "Hanging Judge" Isaac Parker, we'd have a far richer, more complex view of our history than that promoted by the likes of Hollywood and Tarantino.

Yes, blacks are giving this film too much credence, but it's our own fault. We have outsourced our history to the majority and failed to devise the means to teach our history to ourselves. In a country in which we have been historically subjugated and reviled, we accept instruction about our history and our place in it from those who subjugated and reviled us. That's a bit insane. As long as we continue to do so, the likes of Django Unchained will rise from the level of mainstream curiosities from black-cultural dilettantes, to fake nipples mimicking the teat of cultural sustenance.

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