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The arrogance of Quentin Tarantino is truly astonishing. Last night I finally watched the video shared with our email list by Black Feminist, Selina Nwulu. In the interview with channel 4′s Krishan Guru-Murthy Tarantino, without a hint of sarcasm, states that ‘I am responsible for people talking about slavery in America in a way that they have not in 30 years.’ WOW! Wow, WOW!
What can we take from that? Well, that Tarantino knows very little about what black people actually talk about. In his world we spend all day long mindlessly babbling the same expletives ‘n***er’ ‘motherfucker,’ ‘fuck,’ ‘sheeeet.’ Pushed on a subject he does not want to discuss, the possible links between violence on film and in the real world, he replies that he is not a ‘slave’ and a ‘monkey’ and Guru-Murthy is not his ‘master’. Thank you Quentin for using slavery as a metaphor to deflect an unwanted and difficult question. No diminishing going on there, clearly!
To add insult to injury, he goes on to messianically assert that the primary aim of the movie was to give ‘black American males a western hero that could actually be empowering.’ Forget historical facts like the Stono and Nat Turner slave rebellions.
Presumably there is nothing to give black women when it comes to this subject. When it is pointed out to him that the violence in this film includes rape, he looks bemused and quickly replies there is no rape in his slave movie. Yet Tarantino is banking on an audience whose collective understanding is that rape was a commonplace occurrence in the lives of slave women. Arguably, the very premise of the film, wronged husband seeking to rescue enslaved wife, hinges on the very fact that Django wants to save her ‘honour’. The rape of the black woman is really only important as an index of the damage done to the black man’s sense of honour and respect. Obviously the systematic rape of black women by white men is not interesting or nearly enough of a big deal. Rather it is the suggested insult to black masculinity that rape signifies is what is most important here for Tarantino.
It is unsurprising then that Tatantino fails to recognise the insulting nature of his sexist and racist shoot with Nichole Galicia for W Magazine. The shot plays on the trope of the white master’s ability to doubly abuse black women’s bodies. His silk Hugh Hefner imitation dressing gown suggests wealth and the acquisitive clutch of the (taboo) black booty, domination. Lest this framing of Tarantino appear too unnerving in that it tacitly plays on rape as an all too common fact of slavery, the naked (vulnerable) black woman is made to look sexually seductive, confident and happy with her lot. Nichole’s look wordlessly (how apt!) repeats the old racist saying ‘the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.’
I have not seen the film, nor will I waste the very precious hours of lifetime I have further enriching idiots like Quentin. He has, clearly, disappeared so far up his own ass hole he can’t quite understand that as a white man the freedom of his ‘artistic imagination’ should be sensitive to the very deep hurt his treatment of slavery has caused.
So, there we have it, another white massa/messiah come to save us from our collective ignorance.
by Lola Okolosie
Earlier this week, Ela Eke-Egele’s excellent analysis of Jaja Soze ‘Beautiful Sister’ showed how the supposedly politically progressive social commentary is, in fact, something quite reactionary, giving us a cliched representation of women as Madonna or whore. The following blog seeks to analyse how socially conscious music does not need to be at the expense of women and black women in particular.
Since becoming a woman I have learnt many disappointing things about the legend that was Bob Marley. The reality that he was a notorious philanderer was a let down to say the least. I had spent my childhood admiring the fact that here was a man that loved his wife so much that he had penned amazing songs like Is This Love and No Woman No Cry. Sadly, they were for and about his Miss World mistress and at the time he had fathered numerous children who are now denied access to his substantial estate.
All said and done though, there is something that happens to me when I hear a Bob Marley song that feels like coming home. It is the sound, along with Abba funnily enough, that would be around during the weekends, public holidays and general moments of relaxation.
There are way too many ‘favourite’ Bob Marley songs I could name, it is hard, very hard, to say one stands out amongst the rest because, for me, his songs are all about what is right for a particular mood. That said, as a young black girl growing up in 1980s and 90s England, I Shot the Sheriff was something that stirred a sense of political consciousness. The tale of Sheriff John Brown’s racist hounding of a young black man, who, I just assumed, was Marley himself, was something I could identify with. Aged 10, the song spoke to me about the structures of power that are in place globally and which run along colour lines.
So, when in 1991 the brutal police beating of Rodney King and the subsequent acquittal of the LAPD officers filmed violently battering him came to the world’s attention, my prepubescent self felt as though I had already been made wiser by Marley. The shocked news reporting would try to tell me that this was something out of the ordinary, however, Marley’s song had already made me sensible to the fact that such incidents were part of the everyday for black peoples across the world.
As a young girl it seemed odd that a song would begin with such a proud declaration of a violent act, ‘I shot the sheriff’ yet follow with what seemed to me to be an irrelevant denial, ‘but I didn’t shoot the deputy’. He had murdered a man no? What difference did it make if he was being blamed for the death of another? Why was he not more fearful of claiming the murder of the sheriff who clearly had more power? Why did he declare that ‘If I am guilty I will pay’ as though he had not just admitted it a few lines before? As stories go, this is as captivating as it gets. My 10 year old self wanted to listen further, to understand why the distinction between the two acts was being made.
I found myself rocking to the relaxed yet insistent syncopation of the reggae beat, eager to find out how this all began. Hearing the young man in the song talk of the Sheriff’s inexplicable hate, I felt an uneasy closeness to the experience. The Sheriff’s desire to ensure that nothing good would ever come to our anti-hero because every seed he’d planted would be killed before they grew was Marley, along with my parents, tutoring me on the ways in which racism works. The wish and power to crush, from the very beginning, any sense of hope in the young black person’s mind was something I may not have been able to put into words, but nevertheless I understood it. I understood it the way you know that rain is coming on a particular type of cloudy day; it is something your senses have grown so accustomed to that the knowledge is almost before sense.
I wasn’t surprised then that when ‘freedom came [his] way’, the Sheriff was ‘aiming to shoot’ him down. At the moment the line still echoes with the experiences of black boys and girls in our urban centres. In the 80s, many would have immediately thought of the ‘suspected persons’ laws that meant police would hound those with black or brown skin. As I listened to the song again, I was reminded of an article I read a few weeks ago,which reveals that in 2011, the New York Police Department made more stops of young black men than the total number of young black men in New York! And here in lies the beauty of this song; whenever I listen to it, I am reminded of the urgency and relevance of its message.
The anguish with which Marley tells us that, in self-defence, he shoots the sheriff, is something that was frightening at the age of 10. The danger of what Marley was proposing was clear. Would this be something I would do faced with the same scenario? In my late teenage years and older, I came to understand it as the necessary defence against the power of racism in my life. In order to become more myself, to not allow racism to diminish my potential, I needed to accept that it required me to act, to ‘shoot’ it down. However difficult it would be, however much it would compromise my position in front of wider society, it was something I would have to do. There are many songs I would bestow onto my children as a guide; I Shot the Sheriff is definitely one of them. At the level of a simple narrative, it is transfixing. Yet, its deeper meaning and message is something much more fruitful. It is the affirmation of an individual’s right to exist beyond the parameters set by the powers that be. For that reason it is a life defining record.
- Lola Okolosie
The life and traditions of the Acholi people was disrupted by the two decade-long civil war. Their tradition Nyom (marriage) in Acholi is a lengthy process, which begins with a boy seeing a girl and starting to court her. She is typically expected to be coy and hard to get in order to protect her morally upright reputation. The boy eventually wins the girl’s consent. He goes to her father and pays a small installment of bride price [otongo keny] after which the pair is considered engaged. This may last for a longtime depending on the final completion of bride price payment after which the bride’s status changes from girl [nyako] and becomes a house wife [dako ot].
The girl always looks out for the boy who owns plenty of cattle. However, a boy chiefly depends upon his lineage to get both the permission to marry a girl and the ability to provide the material goods required to pay her bride price. After the visit, the boy satisfied with what he saw, tells his family, who subsequently find out about the young lady’s clan and family’s status socially. Acholi bride price is traditionally settled in cows, sheep, goats, spears and hoes. Bride price is of no obvious benefit to the woman rather to her family. At the time of negotiation she is an object of trade between her buying husband and her selling family.
Marriage traditions have also undergone transformation due to modernity and education. Parents and clan elders now rarely have anything to do with choosing a partner for their children. The war in northern Uganda began in 1986 and was marked by the Lord’s Resistance Army’s well documented brutality against civilians, including the seizure of children to be used as fighters and the widespread use of mutilation, cutting off the lips, ears, noses and limbs of victims. The violence led to nearly two million people being displaced from their homes and being forced to live in refugee camps. At the same time the Ugandan army was repressing people and their were allegations of land stealing which have not been resolved. In 2008,the government of Uganda and the LRA rebel group announced they had reached agreement on a system of war crimes trials and other methods of accountability for atrocities committed during the country’s long-running civil war. Both sides hailed the agreement as a significant breakthrough that removed a major obstacle to a final end to the conflict.
In the past parents tended to marry their children as early as possible as a way out of poverty but the bride price for a girl also comes in handy as a support to the rest of the family. If married early, the girl is likely not to be educated, but destined for producing children and work. She has inherited her mother’s life. When the boy’s family agrees, he is given a green light to marry the girl. He informs her and she in turn, announces to her parents that special visitors will be arriving on a given day to conduct the marriage ceremony. The girl’s mother then informs the girl’s entire family. In preparation for the visitors, the structures in the girl’s homestead receive a new layer of mud mixed with cow dung. On the agreed day, the boy, his father, brothers and other family members go to the girl’s home and are welcomed into the house of her mother. The visitors are not allowed to stand, but kneel throughout the introductions, with the girl’s father asking the questions. He asks the visitors who they are and the boy’s father responds appropriately. The girl is asked to ascertain she knows them.
Often, the girl’s bride price is not spent but saved to offset her brothers’ bride price’s when it is their turn to marry and pay. Bride Price refunds are made in the event of a divorce, although the value refunded depends on the terms agreed upon when the dowry is paid. Traditionally the parents of the boy have to pay five heads of cattle, six goats, and household goods right from the needle to the clothes of the parents.
Acholi women enjoy great freedom to divorce once not satisfied with their husbands but on condition that the new husband pays the bride price that her earlier husband had paid. Fornication and adultery are punished in the Acholi tradition. It costs 5 sheep for fornication and 15 for adultery.
Amid growing concern about the future of the Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University (highlighted on this the History Workshop website recently by Angela V. John), Gemma Romain – last year’s Vera Douie Fellow at the library – reflects on the unique value of its holdings, and the urgent need to safeguard these collections
I am among many researchers saddened and concerned to learn that The Women’s Library is threatened with having to find a new custodian or have its opening hours reduced to just one day per week. The foundations of The Women’s Library date back to 1926 and for the last ten years it has been housed in a dedicated building converted to purpose with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is Britain’s largest archive of women’s history and its suffrage collections are UNESCO-awarded. The Library holds over 60,000 books and pamphlets and over 500 archival collections dated from the mid-nineteenth century to today on subjects ranging from equal suffrage, campaigning against sexual violence, international women’s rights, black women’s struggles and racial equality, lesbian activism, and economic and civil rights. It includes personal papers of individuals including the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, Octavia Wilberforce, Ray Strachey; oral histories and testimonies including interviews with women supporting the miners’ strike, and organisational archives such as the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, records of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. The library also contains a museum collection including badges, banners, paintings, and postcards. For more on the history of the library and some of its unique contents, see Angela John’s posting.