I went to see Twelve Years a Slave today and I will not be the one to review this film, as I believe others have done a better job than I could do. However, I will say this, I had read the book and found it a much more intimate account of Solomon Northup the man than the movie provided, albeit I thought the movie did the book justice, and indeed, did the history of slavery justice.
My intent was to see the movie when it first came out in New Orleans, but my plans were thwarted and so I saw it today, which coincided with the police being at my house this morning as I filed a report against trolls commenting on my Facebook page as well as commenting on this site with racist and threatening vitriol. I had also filed a report with the FBI and because I am an investigative reporter by trade I was able to break the veil of the avatars and actually find the people’s names and for some of them, where they are employed.
Is it fair that I have to spend my time responding to the dregs of society?
One of the challenges of any parent, much less a transracial parent, is to raise your child to understand that the world out there is not all peachy keen and you have to do this delicately, teaching them that there is fair and unfair without giving them too much of the real world so that they can develop within their fantasy world, which ironically will better equip them to deal with the real world. The notion of fairness is a sprawling topic. I spoke with someone who has been writing about antiracism for decades and she spoke a lot about teaching children about fairness.
Is it fair that you are right-handed in a right-handed world, and your friend is left-handed? Is it fair that there are countries where some children cannot go to school because they live too far away from the nearest one and don’t have transportation? Is it fair that some people have more money than they know what to do with and yet some people go hungry? Is it fair that women get paid less than men to do the same job?
And in teaching children about fairness, you begin to introduce them to the privileges they have as well as the disadvantages. And as they learn about the fairness of being able to run faster than their friend, or their friend being able to jump higher than them, then they are prepared to grasp the larger truism about the world in which we live.
I’ve been watching on Tuesday nights, Professor Henry Louis Gates’ series on the history of African Americans (Many Rivers to Cross) and it is a miniseries that spans 500 years since the first African man set foot on U.S. soil. The series is fascinating in its portrayal of resistance and how this country’s promise of the land of plenty made greedy snakes out of white people who thought to get rich off of the free slave labor of Black people. Both in Twelve Years as well as in the Gates’ series, you begin to understand fully how this conflict dehumanized the oppressor more so than the oppressed.
There is a price to pay the character played by Brad Pitt in Twelve Years says, and I fear we will be paying it across my son’s lifetime as well. My son, who is growing up so fast and before you know it, he’ll be watching and learning and reading about the history of African Americans, his heritage, about Jews and the Sephardim, my heritage, and then he’ll learn more about the violence that gave birth to this nation – from the history of the First Peoples by them, not by those who chose to destroy them:
When I was a boy, the Sioux owned the world. The sun rose and set in their land; they sent ten thousand men into battle.
Where are the warriors today? Who slew them? Where are our lands? Who owns them?
What white man can say I ever stole his land or a penny of his money? Yet they say I am a thief.
What white woman, however lonely, was ever captive or insulted by me? Yet they say I am a bad Indian.
What white man has ever seen me drunk?
Who has ever come to me hungry and left me unfed ? Who has ever seen me beat my wives or abuse my children? What law have I broken?
Is it wrong of me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am a Sioux? Because I was born where my father lived? Because I would die for my people and my country?
Sitting Bull – Teton Sioux
To the history of how the Chinese built the Transcontinental Railroad.
To how we treated Americans during the Japanese internment.
To our continuous and uneasy relationship with our neighbors in Mexico.
There will be much to sour his view of the world and people in general, but everywhere there will also be reminders of the human spirit – as with holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, who wrote:
Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.
Today, as the African American police officer came into my house and began to read the emails I’ve received from knuckle dragging haters, I felt compelled to say, “I’m sorry you have to read this” because even as I read it, I was painfully aware of the fact that those words would hurt my son much more if he were reading them – that is until he is able to discern that the words and opinions of others do not make you who you are, nor can they tear you down either.
In the end, we all have to answer to what it means to be responsible, even if it is to our own selves. In the words of Bob Marley: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”