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October 1994


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J Roberson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 27 Oct 1994 13:15:33 -0500
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>Do you refuse to believe there is a distinct African American culture, or
>that there truly are vestiges of African culture in African American
I don't deny that there is a distinct African-American culture. What I
would prefer to do is divorce ethnicity from culture. Someone without
an ounce of African blood in them can still enjoy and partake in that
The point is that 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. I mean, the
joke of "funny, you don't look Jewish" is a perfect example. There are
some people you would never guess to have certain "blood" in them. I don't
like to partition people out on the basis of skin color, except where
there *is* a difference - and in an identity I don't think your skin colr
needs to play much part in your cultural identity. I'd rather partition
people individually, based on thoughts, actions, and character - not
sex, race, or other biological traits.
What I also object to - and am merely annoucing this, not accusing you
of it - is making African American synonmous with black/brown/however-you-
want-to-describe-it skin. I think that in certain environments, it's possible
to grow up as a young man without ever partaking in an "African-American"
What do you do if you're the only one of your kind? An adopted Korean in
a Montana household (I know of one). Tarzan? Mowgli?How does race
factor into your identity? It does - but it doesn't mean you'll feel
anything but skin color and nose shapes with others like you when you
encounter them.
>culture? Next time ask somebody or do some research before you weigh in
>so confidently about African American culture.
I'll weigh in whenever I damn well please. I do not speak lightly
or without some basis of knowledge. Yes, there is a distinct culture
that we call African-American. In fact, there are several. Why not
stop saying "this is African American" and describe things as they
truly are - that way you avoid pointless arguments of what is and
isn't African American, arguments which only add grief to young people
trying to find their identity.
"Why you doing that? Don't you realize you AFRICAN? Where's your pride,
"Why are you listening to that music? You're white! You're just trying
to appropriate African American culture!"
Again, partition people and things on what *really* counts, not their
skin or what hangs between their legs.
>You're kidding, right? Being black is not a hat that I can choose to
No, I'm not kidding. You can't shoose the hat, but you can choose how
you wear it.
>wear. There's nothing wrong with being black. It's not the only aspect
Nor did I say there was. You are black - and I really do not care.
>of my being, and it is a permanent part of me, regardless of what
>profession I pursue, regardless of what talents I have. I am an
>individual, yet I am part of a group. You must have heard of yin and
Yes, it is a part of you. How you let it interact with the rest of
your life is up to you though. If you want to be a man, be a man. If you
want to be a black man, be a black man. But like I said, I don't care
what the color of your skin is -I'm more interested in what people say
and do.
I feel the pull of yin and yang every day in my own identity crisis.
I feel it as an internal balance, not one of individual vs. group.
>entitled to your opinion, but I completely disagree that all aspects of an
>individual can and should be treated separately. I think that does a
>disservice to the richness and complexity of individuals. I'm also galled
It doesn't do a disservice. It just means that not all parts of your
identity are important in a given situation. When you're in a meeting
and someone asks you to prepare a stock report, your skin color and
your genitals are simply not important. When you go to a party, your
identity as a stock broker (for example) isn't important. When you
get pulled over by the cops, unfortunately, I grant that your skin color
is important - though it shouldn't be.
More accurately, the components of your identity are only as important as
you make them.
>by your repeated comparison between a person's inherent biological traits
>and said person's chosen profession as separate, equal identities.
But you create your own identity. You are born with dark skin. Does that
mean that all that you do will include or based upon your dark skin?
Possibly. You're born without an arm. Does that mean that your writing,
art, or whatever will reflect that lost arm? Possibly, but probab
I agree that you'll get treated differently because you're black, but
doesn't equality mean a world where only those deserving punishment
(based on actions) get treated without respect?
>Hmm. Wait, I get it: you're kidding again.
Like hell you get it. Are you going to tell me that only black people
call each other motherfuckers, niggers, etc? Or you going to tell me
that all that was African American culture? What's African-American
about buying boxers and cussing every five minutes? Is that unique to
the African-American culture? I don't think so.
But maybe it is. Gosh, Tarantino uses all that language and it's
African-American. OK, how many white people partake in that culture?
Vincent, for one. Aside from being white, Vincent seems just like his
partner, racially. So white people *can* partake of this African
American culture! And if white people can do that, then black people
can partake of other cultures! Gee, that makes race pretty
irrelevant, doesn't it!
>They may get in the way, but they're there. Again I say being black is
>not a role. We are defined by our ideas AND by our flesh, regardless of
>what we prefer. You can try to separate mind and body all you want. It
>ain't gonna happen.
Well, then change your flesh - if you want to. You can't literall change
it, but you can change the way you deal with it. Like I said - you have to
wear the hat, but you get to pick how.
This is not an argument for "being black sucks - don't be black." It's
an argument for *be what you want*. If you want to be black, go right
ahead. It's like my brother - white skin & red hair - he "likes hanging
around black people" and on field trips usually goes on the bus the black
kids ride (he's in high school).
Now, since he isn't black he doesn't have to put up with the shit that
my other brother, a short, *very* quiet and passive black man, has
to deal with. Things like having the Truancy department call my dad about
"a black youth in his house" (he's 21 and) or the police pulling
him over for arriving at my parent's car to fast, or the police pulling
him into the car because our psychotic neighbor says he walked through
his yard. . . these things will affect the development of an identity,
but there's nothing African about them, and there shouldn't be anything
American about accosting the innocent.
>It bugs me because I don't enjoy hearing "nigger" sprayed at me from every
>direction. I don't even like typing it. But maybe, to you and others, the
>inherent malevolence of the word is irrelevant because blacks AND whites
>say it in the movies now.
The use of that word is another topic entirely, one which I'm not
entirely read up on, but I'm aware that it's a divisive subject -
on the one hand Dr. Dre and Friends go on about "The Day the Niggaz
took over the world" but Flavor Flav says "I don't wanna be called yo
niggah." And that's just from the rap scene - it doesn't include academic
discourse ;)
>It bugs me also because Tarantino is considered "cool" in part because of
>his knowledge of and liberal appropriation of black culture and dialog.
Well, for the record, I would say that Tarantino is a good director,
but I'm not a big fan of his, simply because of subject matter. He's
very good at doing things that I'm not interested in.
>The man obviously has talent, yet his current demi-god status incites
>parallel pop-culture images of Elvis and Eric Clapton in my mind.
It'll pass - hopefully. I'm just waiting for the staff of Film Threat
to stop blowing him. ;)
>You, J, are obviously not shy about expressing your views on blacks and
>references to black American culture in QT's films. My concern, at the
Well, if it helps, here's my "background" in black culture. It came
primarily through a white woman, Diana Marre', a butch dyke professor
from Arkansas. She had studied English, and later Theatre, all the while
specializing in what are now called African American studies. Anyway,
she was initially expected to teach courses in women's and sex/gender
studies - which she had no interest in - because of her sexuality. But she
was more interested in AA studies.
Anyway, I stage managed a production of hers, a double bill of "Dutchman"
and "Funnyhouse of a Negro" (the latter of which is like Lorraine Hansberry
on acid). From that and the African Americans I worked with (one a pretty
straight business-track athlete, the other a young woman who changed her
name to a. . .I forget the tribe, the name was Ajola, I think) I learned
what I learned of black culture - which I discussed sometimes with a good
black friend of mine, a computer geek with the voice of James Earl Jones,
one who rarely spoke about being black. Aside from his skin color I
hardly ever saw the "black" side of his personality - he was just like
all the other computer geeks I knew ;)
>beginning of this thread, was directed at how few others acknowledge the
>racial questions raised by QT's films.
Well, maybe that's because the questions aren't important to us, or
simply don't exist for us. That's the way good stories work - they
have elements that you don't pick up on until the 3rd, 4th, or later
J Roberson