Django: The African mind (Re)chained


In light of its nomination and the proximity of the Oscars, the members of the Kwame Ture Society of Howard University have collaborated to write a serious critique of the film, Django: Unchained. With African-Deep Thought as our critical methodology, it is our hope that this critique is insightful as well as engaging.

 In an interview, director Quentin Tarantino claimed he wanted Django to be "an ex-slave western hero". His "attempt" was decidedly unsuccessful. As such, we shall address why Django was a sidekick and why Django is offensive, specifically to African people.

 Django's intended role of sidekick in the film becomes evident from the opening scenes as he begins the movie in chains. Then enters the god-like – real hero – figure Dr. Shultz, and Django is effectively apprenticed to him. Dr. Shultz exhibits a tangible power over the other people around him. Eventually both Django and Broomhilda belong to Dr. Shultz because he has paid for them both – with written documentation to prove it. Shultz shoots and kills one of Django's former masters, trains Django as a sharpshooter and bounty hunter (but promises him only a third of the reward money), and masterminds the rescue plan for Django's wife. Django’s improvisation – i.e. his mistreatment of the enslaved Africans on Monsieur Candie’s plantation – of Dr. Shultz’s plan (Mandingo trading) reinforces the idea that the plan was conceptualized by Dr. Shultz.

 Ultimately Shultz position as hero is solidified when he kills Monsieur Candie with a fatal shot to the chest. Historically speaking, the hero almost invariably kills the main villain. Shultz gives his life for a righteous cause, simultaneously inheriting the glorious immortality of martyrdom and exonerating the heavy mantle of white guilt, to solidify his place in the viewer’s heart. Until his untimely demise on Monsieur Candie’s plantation, the plot of the movie is driven principally by the actions of Dr. Shultz and the repercussions of them. While this is enough to dismiss the movie as somehow good for Black people, there are several other factors that contributed to our conclusion.

 We contend that Django: Unchained was an intellectual ambush designed to dupe Black people, evidenced by: the over sexualization of Black women, lack of dialogue between Blacks, reinscribing the motif of the “Exceptional Nigger” (a phrase employed by Monsieur Candie), the passivity of the enslaved and the satirization of slavery.

 If Django: Unchained is being touted as a film that Black people can be proud of, what are we to make of the consistent presence of demeaning and degrading female imagery throughout the film? The hyper-sexualization of Black women in Django is magnified by their silence: the women of Candieland are quite literally wordless objects of sex and pleasure, decorative accessories places conspicuously for the use of anyone who may feel so inclined. In the cases where women are given the platform to speak, their lines are dripping with blatant sexual suggestion. When considering the history of rape and sexual trauma which existed between white men and Black women during the period of enslavement, watching enslaved women refer to their master as "Big Daddy", stimulates a poignant disgust rather than a lighthearted chuckle.

 The dialogue that existed amongst the Blacks in the film was either non-existent or centered around an axis of pathology. The Black men in the film were portrayed as brutes – with the “exception” of Stephen, who also falls under Monsieur Candie’s idea of 1 in 10,000 – and their dialogue was absent in most cases but pathological when present. There were several scenes when there could have been dialogue between Django and some of the other Black men, outside of him talking down to them, but this never occurred. The absence of dialogue is almost invariably the same when considering Black women in relation to each other, and Black men to Black women. When we consider Django and Broomhilda, here is a man who is in love with a woman and other than the few lines of German she spoke, Broomhilda says very little. In fact, her wordless image appears in the movie more often than her voice does, which once again indicates that Black women are to be seen but not heard. As a result, we can assume that Django loved Broomhilda because she was an “exceptional nigger”; after all, she did speak German!

 Django reinscribes the notion of individual advancement juxtaposed to group advancement. Throughout the movie Django, and to a lesser extent Broomhilda, were considered rare, exceptional niggers. This idea, where Blacks advance as a function of their exceptionalism, condemns the masses of Black people because it states that as a group Black people are inept “except” in those “Django” (1 in 10,000) cases (modernly read as Obama, Jay-Z, Mia Love etc.) In fact, maybe it is the lack of Exceptional Niggers among the enslaved that ensured the passivity during the insurrection caused by the real hero and his faithful sidekick, Django. We find it odd that there were no attempts, by the enslaved Africans at Monsieur Candie’s plantation, to assist Django as he shot up the nameless, insignificant whites (significant whites include Django’s slave owners and Monsieur Candie, both shot and/or killed by Dr. Shultz). Historically speaking, there are no slave insurrections that come to mind where there was only one assailant. Somehow this historical fact is not portrayed – though Tarantino made sure to overzealously use Nigger to maintain historical accuracy. Instead, we see Django take on an entire plantation alone, almost demonstrating Blacks’ adoration and/or indifference toward slavery. Even after Django (alone) has killed the three slave-traders, freeing himself and the other men in the caravan,. Tarantino declines to send those men back – even if on foot – to help Django defeat the rest of the plantation. Django rides off alone and the three Black men sit in an open caged-wagon in silence, waiting for their next captors. This movie has to be a satirization of slavery because it would be hard to prove that these events would have unfolded in a similar way if this was a true story.

 The satirization of slavery in Django is among the greatest factors that make the film unsafe for the African Psyche. It is surprising that Dr. Shultz's offensive and condescending lines in the opening scene went un-rebuked by Black audiences. Shultz says, “Now as to you poor devils, so as I see it, where it comes to the subject of what to do next, you gentlemen have two choices; one, once I’m gone you could lift that beast off the remaining Speck then carry him to the nearest town which would be at least 37 miles back the way you came or two, you could unshackle yourselves, take that rifle, put a bullet in his head, bury the two of them deep and then make your way to a more enlightened area of this country – choice is yours .” He goes on further to say, “Off chance there are any astronomy aficionados amongst you the North Star is that one.” This simply implies that the Black men were not “exceptional” enough to make their own decision such that Dr. Shultz had to point out the blatantly obvious. In addition, the satirization of the klu klux klan –though it may have been well intended to show the idiocy of racism – not only made lite of a serious situation but also gave whites an alternative with regards to genealogical attachment. In other words, whites who viewed the movie could make the claim that their ancestors were not the stupid klu klux klan but were more akin to the brilliant Dr. Shultz. But, even greater than that, the movie, in general, was intended to be funny and to satirize slavery; let us not forget the enslaved women enjoying themselves on the swing just as the whipping is going to take place. The unfortunate thing is that Tarantino and his cast, although comfortable satirizing slavery, would never make a film satirizing the Jewish Holocaust in the same manner.

 In conclusion, Django: Unchained failed as a movie under its various claims of heroism and historical accuracies. However, the movie did manage to successfully deceive some people who felt the movie was “good”. Blinded by the sentiment of love and one man’s revenge, people completely missed all the clandestine undertones, including: the over sexualization of Black women, lack of dialogue between Blacks, reinscription of the “Exceptional Nigger” , the passivity of the enslaved and the satirization of slavery. In addition, there were a number of other instances that should have offended people. For instance, Django says that “Broomhilda ain’t no field Nigger, she’s pretty”. The implications are quite far reaching and they too reinscribe a particular ideology aimed at colorism. As remediation for this psychological-trauma of a movie, we offer the movie Posse, by Mario Van Peebles, as an alternative if you need a western hero. Though the movie does not deal with slavery – it takes place after the emancipation proclamation – it does effectively deal with everything else that was overlooked in Taratino’s sorry excuse of a movie. Your (African) mind has been UNCHAINED.

Kwame Speaks: The Significance of Choice


In his autobiography, Ready for Revolution: the Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael [Kwame Ture], Kwame Ture describes his time at Howard University.

In the chapter aptly named "Howard University: Every Black Thing and Its Opposite," Ture credits his Howard experience with giving him the education that proved vital in that stage of his development.

Though we now know Ture as a giant figure in the proud legacy of Howard, he was once just another freshman in Drew Hall. This chapter gives the reader a glimpse into that time of his life while teaching a very important lesson about self-determination.

Anyone remotely familiar with life at The Mecca, or any other HBCU for that matter, will identify with his account. Ture writes that his experience at Howard confirmed him in his determination to struggle with and for his people.

He talks of those whom he labels "Afro-Saxons," seeking to emulate white society and values in hopes of being recognized as relevant, equal or important. These Afro-Saxons could be found across the campus in any number of spaces from administration to the student body.

However, he reminds us that at Howard he found every Black thing and its opposite. To counter these chocolate-covered anglophiles, there were "consciously black intellectuals of the first order" who represented a "splendid, stubborn commitment, a sense of duty and purpose". These people – Sterling Brown, Chancelor Williams, Eugene Holmes, and Arthur Davis among others - were "custodians of tradition, keeping truth alive".

What separates the HBCU from other institutions of higher learning is the burden of service that is intrinsic to its mission. Beyond the pursuit of worldly treasures and social achievement there lies a responsibility to take the education gained and do.

Ture realized that, "In struggle one not only fights against something – injustice, oppression – but one must struggle for something equally real but positive." Because he identified these respective poles in his life, he was able to make the smaller decisions using these as a guide.

He struggled against the compartmentalization of African people into nationalist classifications. So, he made a conscious choice to defy campus social structure and deliberately interact with African students from across the Diaspora instead of restricting himself to those who came from New York with him.

He struggled for the liberation of all African people, without regard to class. Unsurprisingly, he engaged the disheveled man on the street corner and took his suggestion to read George James' Stolen Legacy. He struggled against ignorance and complacency within his own life. Consequently, he joined an extra - curricular reading and discussion group led by Professor Harold Lewis.

Each of us is faced with choices as well. Do you stop and engage the unkempt woman in McDonalds? Do you find that reportedly wise professor and ask for a reading suggestion? Do you postpone the dinner in the café and go to the event discussing political prisoners?

We are deciding now what kind of people we will be forever. There is no dress rehearsal; we are live. For and against what do you struggle?

Jocelyn Cole
(Published 2-23-11)

Kwame Speaks: The Cure


A wise man once said, "Work is the antiseptic that kills the Negro." Unfortunately, in recent days I have come to the realization that this is true and have been looking for the cause of this antipathy, for this allergic reaction has become an epidemic.

Why is work such a repellent? I have concluded through careful observation that it is not the subject of work but rather the requirements of work that generates repulsion in most. This is due to the fact that strong work ethic is a learned behavior.

In most cases, work ethic may be considered an example of a fixed action pattern, in scientific terms. A fixed action pattern is a sequence of unlearned behaviors that are essentially unchangeable and, once initiated, is usually carried to completion.

These behaviors are triggered by external forces called sign stimuli. Those who work, tirelessly, endlessly, and consequently with no sleep at times, exemplify this. This approach requires that effort is exerted until the task is completed.

On the other hand, others who do not have strong work ethic must learn it, and operant conditioning can be helpful. This type of learning is the association of certain behaviors with a reward or punishment in order to avoid or repeat the action, and is usually the process through which most learn (though it takes much more for others).

Ostensibly, in the case of the Negro, evasion is in the blood. For example, Araminty, better known as Harriet Tubman, evaded her hunters for years in order to not return to her oppression. Martin Luther King, Jr. evaded violence in order to gain civil rights.

Alas however, these examples do not sufficiently support my claim. Araminty did not evade work but rather worked exhaustively to free her enslaved brothers and sisters.

Martin Luther King, Jr. may have advocated non-violence but used protesting and legal reform as work through which he fought segregation. Can we honestly believe that following the violence, horror and threats experienced by his family that King defended non-violence? King fought consistently in the courtrooms and lunch counters to defend the rights of his family and many others.

I use these examples because many do not do the work to know about others such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey or Martin Delaney. In retrospect, it seems there are no feasible examples to support this claim, except the truth. The evasion of work occurs due to pure laziness and the incompletion of work is accompanied by excuses.

Yes, there may be uncontrollable outside forces that may affect a person's desire to work from time to time, but not all the time.

This allergy is simply called laziness and it affects many on a daily basis. Its side effects are excuses, excuses and more excuses. Disagree? Prove me wrong. You have the ability to do the hard work—the work that must be done. Stop feeding your disorder with the pseudo pills of excuses and DO THE WORK.

Samantha Obuobi
(Published 4-19-11)

Kwame Speaks: The Evasion of Work


"We sin because in our befuddled brains we have linked money and education inextricably. We assume that only the wealthy have a real right to education when, in fact, being born is being given the right to college training…We bury genius; we send it to jail; we ridicule and mock it, while we send mediocrity and idiocy to college, gilded and crowned."

When W.E.B. Dubois wrote these words in 1920 he captured, in a snap shot, the disproportionate nature of America education, particularly with regards to race. The sentiment expressed by Dubois still reigns true today. However, focusing more narrowly on class distinctions within race, this quote from Dubois takes on a somewhat different meaning.

After the desegregation period, precipitated by Brown V. Board of Education, Black students began to gain access to White schools. The Black schools that these children attended prior to the desegregation period were inadequately funded but they were Black nonetheless, which, I would argue, made them better institutions for Black children intellectually, socially and culturally.

Integration still occurred, to the detriment of Black people, and to this day, we still see and feel the putrid effects of this act. Fast-forward almost 60 years later and the effect of desegregation, still remaining, has taken a slightly different countenance.

Many black scholars are now being reared in predominantly White institutions (PWI) from K-12. Then they either opt to attend a Black college more so for the "Black" experience, and not so much the education, or choose to attend PWI's for their college education. Blacks who have taken this path will defend their choice of predominantly White institutions because the school is stronger academically.

For example, a predominantly white high school may average a score of 500 or better on the SAT or GRE while the predominantly non-white school may average a score of 400 or lower. Coming from a non-White school, one may be left with the impression that Blacks educated in predominantly white institutions are better equipped to do intellectual work. However, based on my observations at Howard alone this is not always the case.

In fact, it appears that Blacks trained at predominantly white institutions are better at evading work rather than actually doing the work. Conversely, it appears that those educated at predominantly non-White institutions, although not always adequately prepared, tend to have stronger work ethic, which allows them to do the work rather than evade it.

I could certainly ramble on about the inadequacies of Blacks in White schools but, in a nutshell, the evasion of work seems to plague those trained at the "better" schools. The sad reality is that some Blacks trained at White institutions have been socialized to operate not only against themselves but against their people as well.

In the future, those who have the training to do intellectual work should use their skills to do the hard work that must be done instead of taking the easy road and evading work. In other words, Pick up a book and READ IT BOURGOISIE!

*This piece was written by Mike Leak. It was mistakenly attributed to Damarius Johnson.

Mike Leak
(Published 2-1-11)

Kwame Speaks: To Work Hard or Hardly Work


"How many successful Negroes have forgotten that uneducated and poverty-stricken mothers and fathers often worked [until] their hands bruised so that their children could get an education? For any middle-class Negro to forget the masses is an act not only of neglect but of shameful ingratitude...the salvation of the Negro middle class is ultimately dependent upon the salvation of the Negro masses."

As Martin Luther King Jr. penned these words months before his death, he pinpointed a central challenge facing the Black world today: community-mindedness. In building community, it is important to remember the poor, on whose shoulders the educated have stood (and stand today), and to offer instruction and inspiration in this work. It would therefore be good to heed their example.

A distinction could be drawn between the degree of work-ethnic of low-income workers and their more educated counterparts. The lower income workers' idea of work is defined by intensity and importance that exceeds the educated classes'. The labor of an educated class is typically less burdensome or taxing than their working class, lower-income counterparts. Low-wage work is often tiresome, laborious, but necessary. Moreover, for the low-wage earner whose work is often charged with the immediacy of securing survival needs, leisure is often unfamiliar. The desire to guarantee survival would also seem to suggest that having and doing productive work is an important goal for low-income workers. For the formally educated however, the idea of work is seldom motivated by necessity, and if it is, it is unlikely to be separated from the idea of leisure. Having a disposition that views work as invaluable and leisure as secondary is significantly important.

The American Negro Academy is an important model of this ideal. The ANA began in 1897 under the leadership of Alexander Crummell as an organization dedicated to the "special race problem of the Negro in the United States." In his urgency to meet these concerns, Crummell built an organization for the uplifting of the Negro race. Today, in an institution very similar in form and function to the ANA, the educated class must again meet and overcome, with the whole of the black race, the challenges ahead.

Crummell explains that the obligation of the educated is race-service, or servant-leadership. Crummell thought leadership should be "feeding the living soul." One must know as Crummell and King did, that human beings, in their mortality, face problems and have weaknesses. He also knew that these weaknesses must be embraced, both in individual and collective circumstances-and their source must pinpointed. Crummell and King dealt with the realities of human beings in the environment of black life and pinpointed the source of their challenges as the "special race problem."

Today, our diagnosis would declare a similar disease with little improvement, and the particular effects of our sickness, especially in our economic, political, and social lives remain to be determined. In this respect, the educated classes have the benefit of study and as a result, the encouragement of work. Hence, we must ask ourselves in working to find the cure: Do we work hard or hardly work?

Damarius Johnson
(Published 1-26-11)

Kwame Speaks: Still No Work, Consequently We Lack a Celebration


In 1943 the founder of Negro History Week, Carter Godwin Woodson, wrote that "[Negro History Week] is the week set aside by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History for the purpose of emphasizing what has already been learned about the Negro during the year." In March of 1950, Woodson lamented the African-American community in an article entitled "No Work and Consequently No Celebration."

It was written in The Negro History Bulletin, also founded by Woodson. The article criticized the celebration of Negro History Week without having studied the lives and work of the Negro prior to or after February.

Expanded and renamed "Black History Month" in 1973, the problem exposed by Woodson continues to plague us today. Instead of adhering to the guiding principles developed by Woodson at Negro History Week's inception, we consistently waste the time allotted to experience nostalgia- reminiscing on the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements but seldom discussing ways to build new and effective movements.

I do not encourage the Black community to disregard the work of our ancestors, I do encourage that we use those memories as a framework to construct new ways to uplift the race. What have we (especially the student body of Howard University) done that warrants a celebration this February?

We are students of a historically Black university; therefore, we must acknowledge that our duty is to rescind the necessity for Black History Month. We must make an effort to integrate our history into the collective history of the human experience, as it is not separate. Otherwise we will continue to fall victim to the cyclical nature of failure.

February: the only month we discuss the outdated accomplishments of our ancestors.

Which of us will be the subject of a middle school student's report in the year 2040? Let us be aware that our work lies not within how many names and dates we can recite from the past, but how many footsteps we can leave for future generations to follow.

Until the black experience, in its most accurate form, is the subject of discussion whenever there is one regarding history, there is work to be done. Let us not be weary, but let us push forth and be the harbingers of a new era.

As a community, we must produce quality work, lest Carter G. Woodson's labors be in vain. No longer can we celebrate what has been done or what we wish to do. I urge us all to celebrate what we are doing and breathe life into the unfinished efforts of Woodson and his like-minded counterparts.

Sheneese Thompson
(Published 2-16-11)

Kwame Speaks: In, But Not Of: The Futility of Our Quest to Exist Independent of Each Other


Who are we really? Are we a collective African people? Our inevitable unity betrayed by our skin, painted in beautiful earthy hues by the sun rays of our motherland?

It seems that the group consensus stands in opposition to this idea. We have all come out from among "them," in order to peer through our more individual, subdivided lenses through which everything we behold is colored. Our people are now "those people." Those ghetto, bourgeoisie, ignorant, "other than me" Negroes. At Howard, the stratification of groups often becomes too much to bear. I often wonder, what happened to the "we" that we once claimed to have ties with?

Our intrinsic desire to examine others so we can concretely define our individual selves is a direct consequence of human nature. We naturally engage in meaning-making concerning the world around us.

However, the extreme pursuit of this process which causes a suffocating emphasis on the failures and shortcomings of others, swiftly becomes a detrimental practice. Frances E. W. Harper writes, " of the great how to treat each other better. We fully comprehending our relations to society, and the reflex influence of that ignorance on its purity and progress."

We have been given the tools to practice community building, but we have created walls instead of pathways. What of connectedness? Family? Bison Pride?

The historical threads, which connect African descendants; threads that run deeper and longer than our brief sojourn on this planet, may become an inescapable net to be mourned. Our ties will be made of historical obligation and duty, or an unfortunate accident of nomenclature, rather than the genuine desire to be a part of each other. It is in this fashion that our "we" disintegrates. "We" simply are not.

Whether we choose to stand and bear the weight of our reality or reject and flee from it, we have a responsibility to each other. We belong to the people within and outside of the gilded gates of Howard University, and therefore must raise our collective voice within and outside of its walls to complete the symphony of freedom.

I come to you today as a concerned observer and a regretful participant. The faults, flaws, habits and inconsistencies of our brothers and sisters, have become more important than the brothers and sisters themselves. All African people should strive towards a time when we can acknowledge differences without bickering, condescension and name calling, and promote community as opposed to distance.

Harper continues, "We need men and women whose hearts are the homes of a high and lofty enthusiasm, and a noble devotion to the cause...who are ready and willing to lay time, talent and money on the altar of universal freedom."

At the end of the day, the setting sun illuminates us all again as the children of our ancestors, who charged us with the task of continuing on. Together. And perhaps, on that perfect day, it will finally, finally dawn on us that we are each others keepers. If we can change our perspectives of our individual selves and each other, opposing images may become reflections.

Ansharaye Hines
(Published 2-9-11)