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October 1994


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Marc Pitre <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 28 Oct 1994 12:04:29 -0700
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After this post, to the possible delight of most Screen-L readers, I will
refrain from furthering this discussion.  Please note that my original
post in this thread mentioned that Pulp Fiction provokes "disturbing
questions about . . . racial attitudes."
On 27 Oct 1994, J Roberson wrote:
". . . Race can play a part in identity, but race is so nebulous a term
that I'd just as soon drop it from any definition. . . There are some
people you would never guess to have certain 'blood' in them. . .
"What I also object to . . . is making African American synonomous with
black/brown . . . skin.  I think that in certain environments, it's
possible to grow up as a young man without ever partaking in an
"African-American" culture."
And On Fri, 28 Oct 1994, J Roberson wrote:
> I just thought I ought to add some of the reasons I object to a
> definition of African-American culture.
> Defining an African-American culture (or a Latino culture, or an
> absurdly-broad "asian" culture) implies that there's a certain way to
> be African American.
I disagree with your logic here and above, which may be at the root of our
conflict.  I view African American culture as broad, as the totality of
expressions and experiences of African Americans, or black Americans, if
you prefer.  Conversely, you apparently see African American culture as
embodied by all things stereotypically black in America.  I see people
like your "computer-nerd" friend as adding to and potentially enriching
African American culture, not outside of it.  Maybe that's why you "hardly
ever saw the 'black' side of his personality:" you were looking for a
stereotype.  To me, your friend is every bit as black as Samuel L. Jackson
is, as Snoop Doggy Dogg is, as I am.  Yet we are each distinctly different
individuals.  That paradox is essential.
I view black people who also are painters, farmers, Wall Street lawyers,
or actors as each contributing to an African American culture which exists
and is continually evolving.  Take rap music for an example.  It didn't
exist 30 years ago.  And of course, rap is a part of current pop culture.
Yet few would dispute that it had its origins in, and is a part of,
African American culture.
It means that if you're African-American and don't
> want to partake of that culture, you're gonna get a lot of grief from
> both sides of the fence: other African-Americans who say you've sold
> out and call you Uncle Tom, and the "dominant" culture that treats you
> like they treat other African-Americans because of your skin color.
Again, it seems that you are equating stereotypical black behavior with
African American culture.  However, I agree that a black person who
behaves in a manner contrary to her or his stereotypical role will most
likely incur the grief of many.
> There is an African-American culture - a culture that has been observed to
> be primarily one based on African-American traditions. But so long as there
> is even one person of African-American descent who does not partake of
> that culture, labeling it an "African-American" culture is a misnomer.
I disagree.  Maybe our differences are semantic, but I would say that
person may be acting non-stereotypically and, as such, is adding to the
richness of African American experience and culture.
> To point this back at the particular movie in question (Pulp Fiction): yes,
> there are elements of the African-American culture in question. But Vincent p
> partakes of it. Mia partakes of it (to what extent is debatable). It's
> not a race-dependent culture - though I will agree that people not of the
> dominant race (and in African-American culture, people with dark skin are
> the dominant race - making them the dominant culture in what sociologist
> would call a sub-culture (I guess, since I think that sociology is a silly
> science anyway ;)).
I'm not sure I'm remembering correctly, but did you once say that you are
21?  (If not, please forgive me, I'm simply making an analogy.) If so, you
are much more definite in your opinions than most 21 year olds.  Does that
make you no longer 21?  Sure, you can and should not choose to let your
age get in the way of things.  But you are still 21 (until your next
birthday, of course).  Just as your age does not disappear simply because
most people of the same age act differently, my blackness doesn't
disappear, nor should it get in the way of my life, simply because I
behave differently than a stereotypically black person would.  Perhaps we
should all attempt to recognize the stereotypes, then look beyond them
when considering individuals
Regardless, Pulp Fiction and other Tarantino works include multiple
racial epithets and cultural references.  Much of this I find unsettling,
which may be Tarantino's sole intent (I don't know).  Before this
discussion, I felt it was important to express why I found those aspects
of Tarantino's work unsettling.  I don't know if I really got to it much.
I've got to get back to work anyway.  Thanks for listening.