Thursday, March 28, 2013

Life's Hoppin' Bob and Django Unchained's Stephen: Understanding the Uncle Tom complex

Have you ever heardd someone ask why Black people can't "unite" like other cultures, or why there is so much violence within the Black community (I will not digress to observe that there is inner-racial violence in any criminal element, such as Italian on Italian or Japanese on Japanese, except to say that the Black community does not hold a patent on the phenomenon).

Hoppin' Bob from Life, and Stephen from Django Unchained, bring to life characters who, on the face of it, seem particularly reprehensible but, on closer examination, are very understandable and, perhaps even, sadly sympathetic.

Well, almost.

Submission to the master meant life and connection. Any perceived belligerence, disrespect or presumption o self-determination meant either being sold off the plantation, forever separating slave husbands, wives and chilldren or, worse, whipping, mutilation, torture, hanging - not just for oneself, but for those around them. It would be quite selfish to cause any more pain and suffering than the burdens the times already imposed upon slaves.

A slave "with sand" (such as Django was labelled) threatened to encourage revolt amongst slaves. Indeed, rebellions were more frequent than slave masters might have preferred, which gave rise to the "state's right to a well-armed militia" to maintain slave patrols, which has been documented as the real reason for the Second Amendment to the American Constitution [eg., Hartmann, Thom. (2013). The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery. Sacramento, CA:].

Such characters had to be made an example, quickly and brutally, in hopes of innoculating the rest of the plantation slaves from catching the disease of rebelliousness.

As such, the more a slave behaved in a non-threatening way towards the master or his authority, the more likely that slave was to enjoy a modicum of peace, and keeping family together. And if he also lead other slaves to renounce their dignity and pride, well, he done a good thing.

(But, but...wasn't Life set in the 1930s, long after slavery ended? There is compelling argument that prison is the new slavery, which is what Life was illustrating - see my article Life, prison and the new slavery).

Anyway, once a slave surrendered individuality to see and reaffirm the world through the master's eyes, it's not difficult to see one, over time, not only reflecting that view (as the head house slave echoes the words of the master at the table, like an executive officer echoes the command of the captain) but also expressing the hate towards the slave as a representative of the master. 

Self-hate, then, becomes a twisted expression of survival instinct.

Internalized over centuries of brutal reinforcement, it will take some time to unlearn. We've come a ways, to be sure, over the last 148 years; but we've a ways to go yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment

What do you think?!