Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category
I learned last week through the WordPress pingback feature that?a substantial?number?of Brain Drain posts had been mentioned?on another site. As any blogger would probably agree, to see a pingback to what you’ve written?is an honor of sorts, a hat tip to your brilliance or at least a?mockery of?something quirky you’ve said. You smile,?feel full of yourself?for a minute (sometimes two)?and move on.?Instead, this?list of pingbacks aroused suspicion. This is a partial view:
- literature linked here saying, “Silence Speaks Louder In response to Richard Barsa …”
- literature linked here saying, “Anne Finch: Creating Her Own Space The poem ?The …”
- literature linked here saying, “Quills: Voyeur as the Voice of Reason The Voyeur a …”
- literature linked here saying, “Objectivity: A Question of Perspective In referenc …”
Although I’d like to think I’m that important, nobody is worthy of?being legitimately quoted?twelve times in a single day.
I followed the pings to?their source. There, a solid,?orange banner bore the photo of a young woman-child. She wore a skimpy, green silk halter and?cowboy hat. Her long, blonde highlights were?seductively fanned by some off-screen electronic device yet there was an innocence about her that threw me.?The small image was cocked to one side and framed as if it were a film negative but?that?didn’t produce the?negative feeling in my gut as much as the?title?”literature” in bold letters (with a?lower case?L and quotes included) under which were all my latest posts. Only one, Aisha in Rwanda: In Need of Humanity,?had been?offered up for redistribution, NOT?MY WHOLE DAMN BLOG.
Taking stock, a reflective exercise often assigned at the end of a class, is also a graduation requirement. This is my first draft. Tweaking to follow… although?references to?”navel gazing” and “mental masturbation” are definitely keepers.
The Collegiate Experience and My Intellectual Cosmos
This reflective essay has been assigned to help connect my Senior Seminar experience, with its focus on pre-romantic poetry, to the greater Saint Rose experience and thus my intellectual cosmos. To be honest, I find this task rather difficult. My trouble stems from the Senior Seminar portion of this ponderance. Let me first say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual, in-depth conversation every class has offered and that I find significant value in the exploration of early literary theory and the ability to measure today?s ideas by comparison. Still, I struggle to kindle some sort of greater passion for the subject matter in a present-day application that brings new awareness to light.
In my ideal world, Senior Seminar should be more than an entertaining intellectual exercise. I had hoped for a topic that would engage my passion, inspire me to action in righting some contemporary wrong and raise my own awareness as well as the awareness of those who read what new discoveries my research has to offer. Instead, I am reminded time and again, as we jest about the many ways in which poets have continually pondered their navels, that the struggle of the human experience merely shifts at a snail?s pace. Looking to history offers little more than greater historical knowledge of humanity?s slowly morphing circumstances, faulty attempts at understanding through overly general categorization, and constant repetition of these mistakes. While history is a fantastic place to begin, traveling back in time is not necessarily the best place to finish, at least in the opinion of this Saint Rose senior.
Having selected Philip Kaufman’s Quills (2000) as my ?Writers in Motion? film of choice, I watched it twice, first to take in the entire story and again to take notes. For further insight, I watched the DVD extras on screenplay writer Doug Wright’s commentary, costuming, setting and casting, searched for the text of the screenplay to read for sheer literary value, and hit JSTOR for some scholarly direction. I also found accounts of the Marquis de Sade?s real life on the Time Warner True Crime site and discovered another devoted to PVC fetish wear designed in the Marquis? name. Before I knew it, I had shoved so much material into my feeble little brain that my ability to create a single thesis ground to a screeching halt. I screamed, ?TOO MUCH INFORMATION!? and took a break. This is how I roll.
Reading Barsam?s last chapter of Looking at Movies offers the perfect springboard for this paper I have yet to begin. With graduation looming just 15 days away, that?s what I call salvation in print. One method Barsam suggests is a tracing of dualisms or binary oppositions. In Quills, that could include things such as:
- freedom of speech/censorship
Matthew Fry Jacobson Traces Racial Constructs in Whiteness of a Different Color
As the white race is somewhat new to scholarly examination, it provides a useful tool in determining how race is assigned and used to regulate the body politic throughout history. Rather than studying oppressed minorities and the effects they have suffered, the white majority holds far more control having dictated who deserves white privilege and why. In Matthew Fry Jacobson?s historical survey, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race, he effectively argues that race is a social construct rather than biological fact, particularly as he traces the shifting white privilege assigned or denied to the Irish as well as the interpretive operation of race upon Jews, and although he does little to address gender bias within racial categories or include immigrant source material and their own views of where they fit in, these shortcomings offer little dissuasion from his matter of point.
From the ACLU:
This Friday, you can join thousands of people across the country in marking a sad anniversary with an act of hope.
The first prisoners arrived at the U.S. prison at Guant?namo Bay on January 11, 2002. Guant?namo quickly became an international embarrassment. It has made a mockery of our laws and values for six long years. We won?t allow seven; this is the year we are going to end the national disgrace.
Nationwide, the ACLU has set January 11th as a day of protest, declaring that it?s long past time that we put an end to illegality and close down Guant?namo. The ACLU and organizations across the country are asking people of conscience to wear orange to protest Guant?namo. I hope you will consider standing in solidarity by wearing orange on Friday as well.
Guant?namo is a reminder that fundamental values of justice and fairness can sometimes be violated by the very government entrusted with upholding them. That?s why we hope you will get involved in one of the following ways:
Throughout this week, there will be events across the country- protests, prayer vigils, marches, and more – to bring focus to the injustices being perpetrated at Guant?namo.
Check out the materials available online: you can print out a poster and fact sheet, download a blog badge and get a toolkit with tools and tips on how to get further involved on January 11th.We?re running online ads on over 100 blogs to raise awareness and ignite further activism in new audiences. If you have a blog, please consider downloading and posting a badge, and blog about closing Guant?namo this week. Let us know about your blog and we?ll keep you on the inside track with updates, interviews and additional resources.
Guant?namo has become a stain on our nation?s honor. That is why it is so important you join the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are demanding the closure of the prison at Guant?namo on January 11th.
Thank you for standing with people of conscience to demand the US government close Guant?namo once and for all.
Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director ACLU
P.S. There is so much more we can do to spread the word and encourage others to join in this protest. Check here for more ways to get involved.
? ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor New York, NY 10004
Reposted from my Kenya blog, Alfajiri:
For days I have been able to do nothing more than hold my breath and watch the atrocities unfolding in Kenya as violent objections continue in response to the disputed election of President Mwai Kibaki. When it comes to news coverage, I want less of the dramatic “still smoking” violence and descriptions of how this looks at an international level and more about non-rioting families and what it means for them to be ?displaced.? The truth is, I have no clue as to what it entails, not on a level of daily survival. Where is the human interest? Why is it always the last detail to get covered? I despise the media’s limitations and, at the same time, am drawn to the stories like a moth to flame.
Yesterday I read “Kenya’s crisis spreads gloom over Africa,” a Reuters article in which journalist Barry Moody opened with:
Kenya’s sudden spiral into chaos after years as a regional anchor has badly set back Africa’s democratic progress and will strike a heavy blow against the economies of a wide swathe of neighbouring nations.
What troubles me most is that this statement pertains to Africa as a whole, as if an entire continent can ever be affected in one particular way by a single event. Skimming through Google or surfing a feed aggregate will reveal only a seriously flawed and over generalized assumption while missing the nuances involved. Sadly, these are the impressions that stick with people.
Interestingly, Moody ‘s argument lies in direct opposition to what his content suggests. Perhaps this is to create a sense of tension in his piece. Instead, it creates a great deal of tension toward the article for me. Although one quote backs his opening statement, the two most poignant quotes refute it by saying:
“The politics of every country in Africa are very, very separate. African politics are all local and all personal … I don’t think it has any wider implications at all,” said Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society.
Control Risks senior Africa analyst Chris Melville agreed: “While Kenya is at the heart of an unstable region, we do not consider that the current situation will significantly contribute to regional instability in the short-term.”
What I question is how a region so troubled could have been influenced by Kenya’s democratic process to begin with, particularly since this is not the first time that tribal issues have arisen over an election. Does Moody truly believe this? While I understand that Kenya’s economy is taking a serious tumble and that supplies and tourism are at a standstill at the moment, I tend to agree with Dowden and Melville. Politics and tribal relations have borders and, short term, economic factors will not likely create regional unrest. I suspect that the effects will have a broader reach only if the violence and turmoil continue for any great length of time. Obviously, the possibility exists – but we’re not there yet.
Aside from my concern, the current political situation has my family and friends understandably taking notice. Something happening half a world away seems surreal until you know someone with a connection, no matter how remote that connection is. All I can say is that I’m glad people are paying attention, regardless of the reason. Sadly, my greatest fear is that accounts of “uncivilized” people will tarnish some already suspect perceptions of those people worried for my safety. Must we always fall back on these words? These are a people in turmoil due to serious complications within their government. To call them uncivilized is too easy and has too many dire implications.
This is not to say that I’m not wondering what the violence means for both the country and for my trip. My first thought was that, although I?m standing by on purchasing airfare to Nairobi, ideally things will settle down before I travel and I can be of some help in restoring the daily functions within the already impoverished Kenyan villages of Kiminini and Kitaleto. Surely help will be needed there now more than ever. I have just learned that the NGOs affiliated with Village Volunteers have not gone unscathed by the violence and the effects of displacement. I hope against all hope that this isn?t so for the sake of Kenya and Village Volunteers, but if significant danger continues to exist over the next few months, my focus will have to shift to Ghana. Either way, I plan to go to Africa.
The Disintegration and Reclamation of Indigenous Identity in America (from the archives: 12.13.2006)
European settlers, civilized folk with a strong avarice for economic and territorial affluence in the New World, fought a dark and dangerous indigenous people for nearly three centuries after the arrival of renowned explorer Christopher Columbus. Offerings of Indian Territory were extended in an attempt to peacefully divide the land among both races, but the Indians resisted and violent battles ensued. Great American heroes were born out of such battles and yet benevolence prevailed as Americans generously offered gifts of English language and Christian religion to civilize the remaining savages. Unable to achieve the desired effect, the Indians have remained an unresolved problem for America, a country fondly referred to by its thriving citizens as ?land of the free and home of the brave.?
Indigenous history reveals a very different story, one of the invasion and occupation of the Great Turtle Island, genocide of the original island people, and for those few remaining, ethnic cleansing through assimilation. Forced to abandon their native identities and adopt European-American culture, indigenous people have been coerced to submit to an occupying force and are further marginalized by the power of the English language. In both its euphemistic and discriminatory capacity, English has bound Native Americans to a history and identity which is not their own, and in a way their own language could never have betrayed them.
To say these stories possess the dramatic elements of a theatrical production is a valid argument as it has already been demonstrated. The Euro-American version of history, much like Prospero?s narrative in Shakespeare?s The Tempest, offers a triumphant telling of European colonization. As Paul Brown remarks in ??This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine?: The Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism,? Prospero calls to his various listeners ?and invites them to recognize themselves as subjects of his discourse, as beneficiaries of his civil largess? (P. Brown 218). Shakespeare, understanding the usurping power of Europe in America, calls attention to Prospero?s mastery of language as power of ?civility? over ?savagery.? Interestingly, the English language, as used to strip indigenous people of their culture, eventually empowered them to address their oppressors and reclaim what is left of their Native American identity. By recording the struggles they have faced, Indians have elevated themselves far beyond mere ?linguistic subjects of the master language? (P. Brown 220).
Historically, the most powerful linguistic tool employed by expansionists was the euphemistic term “Manifest Destiny.” This concept legitimized American advances into territory already inhabited by Mexicans and American Indians. As Dee Brown describes in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, “To justify ? breaches of the ?permanent Indian frontier,? the policy makers in Washington invented Manifest Destiny ?The Europeans and all their descendants were ordained by destiny to rule all of America. They were the dominant race? (8). While Americans were purportedly fated by God to expand in the name of their great experiment of liberty, ironically, this liberty was not meant for all people. Indians were rounded up while soldiers ?concentrated them into camps? (D. Brown 7), allowing for American retrieval of Appalachian gold. Brown?s naming of a recognized dominant race indicates the point at which Indians became aware of two choices. They could either fight to retain the freedom of their land or submit to relocation, making way for the American harvest of natural resources with the promise of provisions in return. When Little Crow, chief of the Mdewkanton Santee, toured the rapid developing eastern cities, he ?was convinced that the power of the United States could not be resisted? (D. Brown 9), and yet he was ?determined to oppose any further surrender of their lands? (D. Brown 9). Black Kettle, leader of the Cheyenne, trusted the American offer of provisions as payment for his lands and relocated to ensure tribal survival. Black Kettle was killed on a reservation along side 103 fellow Indians in an attack of betrayal by American soldiers. Manifest Destiny was clearing the way and ?like the antelope and the buffalo, the ranks of the proud Cheyenne were thinning to extinction? (D. Brown 174). By the late 1950?s only the terms had changed. Leonard Peltier, in Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance, describes ?the most feared words in our vocabulary: ?termination? and ?relocation.? ? To us, those words were an assault on our very existence? (Peltier 80), as was the FBI term ?neutralization.?
Another effective tactic employed by American colonists was dysphemism, linguistically painting a damaging picture of indigenous culture. ?Savage? and ?heathen? were common terms associated with Indian people regardless of the observation Christopher Columbus had made, ?So tractable, so peaceable, are these people? (D. Brown 1). During the winter of 1868, ?In his official report of victory over the ?savage butchers? and ?savage bands of cruel marauders,? General Sheridan rejoiced? (D. Brown 169) in what could be considered his own savage slaughter, although he didn?t label himself as such. Placing the words into written military record simply reinforced a long standing stereotype already in place. Still, the lasting effects of his influence are evident in Sheridan?s most famous spoken words, ?The only good Indians I ever saw were dead? (D. Brown 171) which was ?honed into the American aphorism The only good Indian is a dead Indian? (D. Brown 172). Opposition to this type of attack on the Indians proved futile as only victory mattered to the government. When ?white men who had known and liked Black Kettle ? attacked Sheridan?s war policy, ? Sheridan brushed them aside as ? ?aiders and abettors? of savages who murdered without mercy? (D. Brown 170).
Sheridan proved quite influential in popular American belief. This same accusation of ?aiding and abetting? savages was bestowed upon Leonard Peltier more than one hundred years later. He has resided in prison since 1976 with no substantial evidence supporting murder charges for the deaths of two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Considered a political prisoner by many, he is suspected to be the scapegoat for a failed attempt by the FBI to exterminate more Indians, clearing the way to the reservation?s Uranium enriched soil. Former Attorney General and Peltier?s defense attorney, Ramsey Clark, in his preface to Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance says, ?There?s no question but that our own government was generating violence against traditional Indians at Pine Ridge at that time as a means of control and domination, some believe on behalf of energy interests? (Peltier xvii). Peltier himself says, ?I shot only in self defense ? I wasn?t trying to take lives but to save lives ? of a defenseless group of Indian people. That?s the only ?aiding and abetting? I did that day? (Peltier 170). Peltier has become the symbol of ?an Indian who dared to stand up to defend his people? (Peltier 14), his story bearing strong resemblance to early Indian warriors who rallied against oppression for the health and well being of their tribes. For this reason, he and they share the charge of aiding and abetting, although this phrase is no longer as damaging to Peltier as is a new legal term. ?So simple an act by the courts as changing my ?consecutive? sentences to ?concurrent? sentences would give me my freedom? (Peltier 171), a poignant example of bondage through language. Prison guards who attempted to cage Peltier?s spirit as well as his body often used degradation for provocation, talking about ?how stupid and filthy Indian people were, about how ugly our women were and how they had such loose morals, about how our children were ?defectives? and should be rounded up and shot like stray dogs? (Peltier 146). Peltier returned only his strength of silence.
This constant labeling was a large part of the language that Americans insisted was superior as they stripped Indian children of their native tongue. In 1884, Gertrude Simmons Bonnin ?attended White?s Indiana Manual Labor Institute in Wabash, Indiana where she experienced humiliation and insensitive treatment? (Fetterley 532). She would ?actively test the chains which tightly bound [her] individuality like a mummy for burial? (Fetterley 555). Bonnin?s mention of burial is telling as Americans attempted to assimilate the Indian children, a process in which much of their culture became dead to them. In 1953, Peltier attended the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school in Wahpeton, North Dakota. He, like Bonnin, was forbidden to speak anything but English without the consequence of a beating. ?Still, we did. We?d sneak behind the building the way kids today sneak out to smoke behind the school, and we?d talk Indian to each other? (Peltier 78). Indian language, the connection it embodied to the Earth and to others, became contraband, criminalized for decades.
During their Americanization, Bonnin and Peltier found themselves ?drawn to both cultures ? spread eagle between them? nearly torn apart by the conflicts and contradictions between the two? (Peltier 79). Claiming his individual identity, Leonard embraced each name he was given. He is prideful of his connection with French fur hunters through Peltier and recognizes Leonard for its meaning of lion-hearted. His Indian names include Wind Chases the Sun, symbolic of freedom, and He Leads the People, a call to action. The Christian and American labels, which can be interpreted as an act of assimilation, are respectfully declined as Peltier says of his indigenous identity, ?I am a native of Great Turtle Island ? Our sacred land is under occupation and we are now all prisoners? (63). Bonnin, in discarding her white American names, gave ?herself her own tribal name, Zitkala-s?, which means Red Bird? (Fetterley 532). This identification provided a solid base from which all other thought flowed for each author.
A?focus on connection?between Indian people is what inspired the English writings of Dee Brown, Leonard Peltier and Zitkala-s?. Dee Brown reached back through the past collecting sources of forgotten oral history to ?fashion a narrative of the conquest of the American West as the victims experienced it, using their own words when possible? (D. Brown xviii). Hoping that these words have not been dulled, Brown explains that ?we rarely know the full power of words, in print or spoken? (D. Brown xvi). The number of books sold is testament to the clarity of the words? sharp truth. Peltier is compelled to join his story with Brown?s history because ?speaking out is my first duty, my first obligation to myself and to my people? (Peltier 9) and ?Only when I identify with my people do I cease being a mere statistic, a meaningless number, and become a human being? (Peltier 43). Peltier, in particular, is most separated from his people behind prison walls. In writing, he is able to break free like Wind Chases the Sun. Combining her award winning mastery of oratory skills stemming from Indian tradition, along with her American English writing skills, Zitkala-s? publishes accounts of her childhood for “Atlantic Monthly”, providing a realistic and softer presentation of Indian family life and criticism of assimilation practices. Her regionalist ?desire to tell Indian legends and stories in an Indian voice ? in written English ? may have created an intolerable opposition to the oral story telling tradition she hoped to ?transplant?? (Fetterley 534). Caught somewhere between Indian and white society, her return to advocacy, or ?life as a reformer may indicate that the price she paid for attaining the language? was the loss of place? (Fetterley 534). Still, her struggle is documented and what culture could be preserved is.
People of indigenous descent have joined in a great discourse with traditional white American history. Their tale, after centuries of struggle, has just recently reached a greater audience with a fairly new possession of writing skills within a much longer history of oral culture. The English language, which originally attempts to bind them, is used to set them free because people, not the language itself, defines cultures as inclusive or other. Through their history, novels and poems, each author extends an invitation to a middle ground with no retaliation for the crimes committed against their people. As Shakespeare?s Prospero eventually learns, ?The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.? (Shakespeare 75, 28)
Shakespeare, William, et al. The Tempest Ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan. William Shakespeare, The Tempest; A Case Study in Critical Controversy, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin?s, 2000, 10-87
Brown, Paul. ?This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine?; The Tempest as the Discourse of Colonialism? William Shakespeare, The Tempest; A Case Study in Critical Controversy, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin?s, 2000, 205-229
Peltier, Leonard. Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance. New York: St. Martins Griffin, 1999.
Fetterly, Judith and Marjorie Pryse, eds. American Women Regionalists 1850-1910. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995.
Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001.
Nature or Nurture: Biological Vs. Social Conditions of Race According to Harper and Twain (from the archives: 10.31.06)
After the Civil War, while human ownership had become illegal, negative social attitudes and discrimination against blacks continued. Critics of discrimination began to speak out. Nearly 30 years after the American government declared equality for all, literary figures such as Frances E. W. Harper, in her 1892 novel Iola Leroy, and Mark Twain, in his 1894 novel Pudd?nhead Wilson, continued to question the validity of a still prevalent prejudicial classification. Their works have raised this question: Is identity formed through ?nature,? an innate quality passed on through a familial bloodline, or is it ?nurtured? through personal experience? According to both Twain and Harper, as proven through interesting plot twists and character perspective, they each believe people should be valued for their individual merit rather than ancestral association.
Prior to the end of slavery, race had been the divisive factor in determining human worth, a worth measured either by ultimate freedom or a bill of sale. The rules for making such determinations were created solely by white men, allowing them to wield power as they saw fit. Harper challenges the superiority of this white heritage through her creation of Eugene Leroy, a wealthy white man, tracing his steps and proving his power fallible more often than not. Disguised as a compassionate slave owner, doting husband and caring father to his mulatto family, Eugene effectively demonstrates how the whim of his will defines the position of those subordinate to his rank. While the kindness of freedom is extended to Marie, one of his slaves, it is offered merely to satisfy his yen for her. Beyond making her his wife, he offers no attempt to change society for the benefit of all black people. When Marie asks, ?Why do you not battle against public opinion, if you think it is wrong?? Eugene answers that he has ?neither the courage of a martyr nor the faith of a saint? (Harper 79). Harper uses this statement to show that the power of the white man is nothing if his conviction is as weak as his Christianity. In this way, the nature of Eugene?s supposed supreme bloodline is proven not so noble.
To further avoid the issue, Eugene sends his children, ignorant of their true identity, to be educated in the North. He believes the dishonesty of this maneuver will be outweighed by their protection from society?s cruelty. This avoidance promotes the very institution Eugene and his wife most want their children to escape from. Their daughter, Iola, unwittingly aligns her opinion toward slavery with prominent Southern ideals. In essence, both Iola?s sense of self and her opinion are defined by her white father?s influence as is her freedom. Harper illustrates this point when Iola says, ?Slavery can?t be wrong? for my father is a slave holder and my mother is as good to the servants as she could be? Our slaves do not want their freedom.? (Harper 97) Harper uses this opportune moment to pull the rug out from under Iola?s ideology. When Eugene suffers an untimely death, his power is visibly reduced to the illusion it had always been. He can no longer keep his wife and children harbored away from their truth and reality. At the whim of Lorraine, a white cousin, Eugene?s remaining family members are seen only for the black blood in their veins and the dollar amount on their bill of sale. Lorraine, as a matter of settling Eugene?s estate, relegates them to slavery. When she learns of the travesty, Iola says, ?I used to say that slavery was right. I didn?t know what I was talking about? (Harper 107). Only by walking in slave shoes rather than pretending to understand what it is to be owned does Iola challenge her original opinion.
This sudden twist provides an opportunity for Harper to perform her magic, demonstrating that bloodline can neither promote nor confine a person to any particular character. Forced to finally identify with their black bloodline, Iola and her family suffer a never-ending series of social injustices, testing their true mettle at every turn. Just prior to the family?s separation, Iola asks, ?Mother, are these people Christians that are robbing us of our inheritance and reducing us to slavery? If this is Christianity, I hate and despise it? (Harper 107). Marie answers, ?I have not learned my Christianity from them? The most beautiful lessons of faith and trust I have ever learned were from our lowly people in their humble cabins? (Harper 107). This sentiment lies in direct conflict with Eugene?s lack of a strong sense of faith. Regardless of being torn apart, suffering an enormous sense of anguish, loss and sadness, neither the Leroys? black bloodline nor their new environment turns them away from their sense of Christian and moral decency. In fact, Iola and her brother Harry reject opportunities for easier lives based on the whiteness of their skin because acceptance would require denial of her true identity and thus her family. Instead they created their own value based on achievement, using their accomplishments to give back to their community. The capacity for honesty, independence and moral humanity as demonstrated by her characters is what Harper believes to be most the honorable and superior power, shattering the white society?s belief that the black race is inferior.
Twain examines these same social conditions of race in Pudd?nhead Wilson by crafting his commentary around a mullatta slave mother desperate to keep her child from being ?sold down the river.? In her desperation, Roxy switches her white-skinned slave boy, Chambers, with her master?s son, Tom. At first glance, it seems likely that the boys should grow similar in nature, sharing the same mother, household, and skin color. The hindrance comes from the smallest amount of colored blood contaminating Chamber?s ?whiteness.? This affliction, as viewed by whites at the time, is enough to result in a person?s confinement within the institution of slavery. Unaware of the switch themselves, the boys become Twain?s perfect experiment. Because opportunities are offered and denied to each based on a false perception of origin, they grow to be very different men. This development of character, or lack thereof, allows Twain to demonstrate the validity of personal merit over lineage.
The boy now known in town as ?Tom,? Roxy?s real son, is given every opportunity to reach his full potential but, as the narrator states, ??Tom? was a bad baby from the very beginning of his usurpation.? (Twain 75) This sentence draws a compelling connection between Tom ?becoming? white and turning bad. From this point forward, Tom commands an undeserved respect because he is believed to be the descendant of an honorable bloodline. As Roxy describes it, ?She saw her darling gradually cease from being her son? all that was left was master? and it was not a gentle mastership either.? (Twain 81) Immersed in a white environment, the undesirable traits of white society shape ?Tom? into a frightfully cruel person, regardless of his true lineage. Able to escape every transgression, the perceived ?whiteness? of Tom?s race excuses his squandering of a Yale education, cloaks his corrupt gambling habit and heavily shields him from suspicion when he murders his uncle. Twain has attributed not one desirable or redeeming quality to this boy, leaving room only for moral bankruptcy. Joining the white race has robbed ?Tom? of decency and demonstrates the sole effect of environment, or ?nurture,? as the most influential aspect in molding personality.
On the contrary, ?Chambers? develops true strength of character by facing the hardships attributed to the race he is believed to belong to. In his childhood obedience to master ?Tom,? when asked to steal, fight and win games by proxy, the experience makes him stronger and more clever. Even through thievery, ?Chambers? retains his sense of decency, stealing only out of obedience and not by choice. ?Tom did his humble comrade these various ill turns partly out of native viciousness and partly because he hated him for his superiorities of physique and pluck, and for his manifold cleverness? (Twain 79). Twain strongly suggests here that jealousy and the feeling of inferiority is what drives whites to oppress blacks, poignantly addressing the viciousness present in the white population. Interestingly, Twain refers to viciousness as ?native,? a complicated term considering the children?s racial swap. This use of the term obviously refers to the native ?nature? of whites, yet their environment has the most ill effect on one not of their own bloodline.
Twain, like Harper, makes his character walk in the shoes of the slaves, giving him the experience to understand the value of freedom and how wrong ownership of another human being is. Interestingly, once ?Tom? learns of his true mother/son relationship to Roxy, his emotions become firmly rooted in both disgust and fear, ?the ?nigger? in him asserting its humility? (Twain 118). Self hatred is born out of his white orientation and aimed at the colored blood he embodies. Still, Twain believes that this recognition is not fully transformative. As the narrator explains, ?In several ways his opinions were totally changed and would never go back to what they were before, but the main structure of his character was not changed, and could not be changed? (Twain 119). The damage of the white race has far reaching effects extending to the core of ?Tom?s? very being. When ?Tom?s? black lineage and ?Chambers? claim on the Driscoll?s dwindled fortune is finally revealed and each resume the position of their birth, their identity is permanently damaged with no hope of return. Each of them is destroyed by both sides of slavery?s coin.
Harper and Twain, by addressing the racism issue almost 30 years after the Civil War, reveal open wounds still bleeding long after the abolishment of slavery. Unfortunately, these wounds still hang open today. To significantly challenge society?s perception of a white superior race, each author nobly confronts the validity of the concept of classifying superior or inferior people. By demonstrating the ill effects of a harmful environment, even in the event of ancestral ignorance, identity is proven to be ?nurtured? through personal experience, for better or worse. Lineage plays no role. The one common denominator, according to Twain and Harper, is that the value of people resides solely in individual merit. Whether speaking about the past, present or future, slavery and its remnants of racism are damaging to the character of all people, regardless of their skin color.
“Nature Versus Nurture.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 27 Oct 2006, 03:04 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 30 Oct 2006
Harper, Frances. Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987.
Twain, Mark. Pudd?nhead Wilson. England: Penguin Classics, 1986.
The Trappings of Race in Frank Wu?s Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White
The social commentary Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White by Frank Wu, is a valuable tool in the study of race construction in America. Wu not only provides interesting insight into the experience of being Asian American through the sharing of personal stories, he also employs his legal and scholarly skills of logic to articulate interpretations of, and to propose solutions to, the issues surrounding the disparity between race relations in America. Providing an effective balance of emotional engagement and analytical argument throughout the book, Wu?s use of Asian Americans to demonstrate the need for affirmative action is compelling and convincing, although his generalizations of whites through careless wording is troublesome. Also, in paying attention to the distinction between Asian Americans and African Americans, addressing the replacement of these problematic labels would have been a welcome addition.
To summarize, Wu uses the ?yellow? race to turn ?white? discrimination of both ?black? and ?yellow? in America in on itself for the benefit of the full spectrum, including ?red? and any other imaginative color label in use. His central argument states:
Asian American examples can enhance our awareness of the color line between black and white, rather than devalue the anguish of African Americans, because Asian Americans stand astride the very color line and flag its existence for all to see. If the color line runs between whites and people of color, Asian Americans are on one side; if the color line runs between blacks and everyone else, Asian Americans are on the other side. The line, however, is drawn in part by Asian Americans and in turn can be erased by us. (18)
Using this logic, Wu unveils the Asian American ?model minority myth? for the socially constricting racial stereotype that it is, regardless of the positive or negative responses it generates. Wu believes it should be rejected by all, including those Asian Americans who benefit from it, because it is a gross oversimplification of a massive population, it harbors a subversive negative commentary about African Americans by way of unfair comparison, and it has the effect of subverting the experience of racial discrimination of Asian Americans as well as turning them into a threat for whites (49).
In order to peel away layers of discrimination, Wu addresses two interesting questions often asked of Asian Americans. When the question ?Where are you really from? is posed by an American, it reinforces the idea that Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners based on race. This doubt of citizenship stems from an baseless fear of a foreigner?s lack of national loyalty, allowing for significant cultural events like the internment after WWII to the everyday practice of discrimination at present. To remedy this, Wu believes that minorities should be granted and must participate in the making of political policy and immigration law with as much of a right as those who ?were here first.? The other question aimed at Asian Americans is ?Do you eat dogs?? Wu says the implication of asking this, while the cultural practice exists, is the accusation and indication of a less civilized or savage race. To combat questions like this, Wu suggests adopting a new combination of assimilation and multiculturalism since neither has been effective on its own.
When addressing the topic of racial profiling, Wu dismantles what he calls rational discrimination and asks that we perfect it by relying on logic rather than what history dictates when making damaging determinations about stereotypes. He sees the use of stereotypes as a self fulfilling prophecy which produces the result it seeks. We must resist the urge to repeat our mistakes, otherwise, those who discriminate miss out on the experience of enriched diversity while those who are too often discriminated against suffer from a wound that, constantly re-opened, festers with negativity.
Ending on the power of coalitions, Wu argues that Asian Americans, in joining with other groups across racial lines, will be more effective in reaching their goals, but coalitions can only go so far until whites acknowledge and shift their attitudes relenquishing their power of privilege. In a somewhat clich?d ending, in part because it is based in truth, Wu places faith in the youth of America with their strength, passion and detachment from the past to restructure the mistakes of previous generations.
What I think Wu does best in this work, which I have not addressed in my summary above, is to leverage the position of Asian Americans against the black and white color line in order to revitalize an old argument for the continued importance of affirmative action in America. As he explains the obvious, that ?the crux of affirmative action is the use of race to respond to racial disparities? (167), he asks that we consider the floating position of Asian Americans in quota arguments in order to identify the ways in which they are used to leverage power by whites. Too often the end result is the exclusion of blacks and various other minorities from particular institutions and to exonerate whites from fixing systemic disparity riddled by these covert acts of racial discrimination. In either of these outcomes, the impact on Asian Americans and blacks is doubly negative. Blacks are held to a standard which is neither equal nor realistic, especially when the Asian American ?model minority myth? is a fallacy created, in part, to oppress blacks. Asian Americans who often proffer the advantage of white privilege in this arrangement are simultaneously placed at odds with blacks, Latinos, Hispanics, and others in a racial move they did not instigate. Ultimately, rather than to allow the continued negative practice of things like college alumni preference in order to secure positions for white families based on race rather than merit while closing doors to others, positive forms of affirmative action works to open those doors to ?others? that are otherwise closed. According to Wu, Asian Americans can play a specific and valuable role in the betterment of all American culture by unselfishly supporting affirmative action, even if it provides no direct benefit to themselves, because shouldering the shared responsibility in the name of a greater societal good will debunk whites arguments against the success of this measure and set a worthy example to follow.
While Wu?s argument is solid, what becomes problematic is his sloppy wording. Statements like the following present a problem:
Asian Americans also disprove the claim that it is affirmative action rather than racial discrimination that makes whites resentful of people of color? So if Asian Americans accept the same duty as whites, without begrudging the gains of other people of color, whites hardly have any cause for complaint. (71)
This generalization is cause for one of those moments where I, as a white American in support of affirmative action, cringe. Even with my recollection of Wu?s claim that he is ?taken aback by the inference that [he means] to cast aspersions on all whites by discussing some whites? (25), I cannot let this slide, if only for the reason that quotes like this constantly get pulled out of context much in the way I have done here. Taken aback or not, had Wu said ?some whites,? or even ?many whites,? this statement would have been accurate. The accuracy would not only relieve me from feeling unjustly categorized as I don?t fit his description of a resentful white begrudging the successes of people of color, but it would spare Wu the negative perceptions that take him aback. I could be argued that this is Wu?s attempt at educating whites on how it feels to be accused of being flawed based on race alone, to de-doxify white ideology in order to reveal its power and limitations, particularly as he refers to our ?postmodern world.? Still, I suspect the move is largely unconscious. Wu himself argues for a strong dose of honesty which impacts a person differently than a gross generalization when, earlier in the book, he likewise makes reference to generalization using terms like ?always? or ?never? as a way to confine a person to one position. Wu is aware, on an intellectual level, that the same argument holds to true in general reference to an entire population. Subconsciously, it would appear that he reveals his referential flaws in not a racist but a racial sense.
?I?d also like to point out that while Wu pays attention to the distinction between Asian Americans such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and others in several of his arguments, he never addresses another kind of flawed wording. While the umbrella term ?Asian American? refers to a genealogical track back to the origination continent of Asia, ?African American,? as used to describe blacks, makes no distinction between those people from the continent of Africa or those from places such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic or Jamaica. Truth be told, people of variously perceived races come from many different countries and making ?African American? referent to a single continent of origin for all blacks the greatest assumption of all. Likewise, the same logic applies to all ?fill-in-the-blank? Americans and is applied unevenly across nationalities because many fall under the indistinguishable umbrella of ?Caucasian.? That said, before America can adopt new ways of embracing ?the other? we must first remove these archaic, loaded and tired terms from our vocabulary and begin to refer to people as what they truly are. We must come to a point where the all inclusive term ?American? finally stands alone.
Wu demonstrates a strong ability to articulate the poignant and complicated issues surrounding race and, moving beyond mere identification, offers some challenging but logical solutions. In opening up this discussion, it is interesting to note that Wu is unable, as of yet, to recognize his own trappings within racial language. As much as we identify otherness in order to distinguish our own sense of self, the language of otherness must eventually come to represent inclusivity by achieving a greater level of accuracy. Generalizations cannot continue to be made in the name of making a point and, although Wu says minorities must denounce the derogatory and stereotypical labels cast upon them, such a ?spic? and ?chink,? to recognize the inaccurate language we use to distinguish groups without derogatory meaning is important as well. ?Asian American? is strictly a racial label when used to describe second and third generations of Americans with no ties to what is assumed their ?homeland.? Wu comes close to addressing this in his last chapter but then misses the mark. If he can see how this label fails in terms of Asian Americans, why does he not apply the same logic to ?African American?? Listing my concerns is not to say that this diminishes the value of Wu?s work (particularly since I recognize the ways in which I fall into the same traps myself – even here). On the contrary, to analyze Wu?s linguistic operation within the text is as informative as the text?s intended content.
Postmodern Realities in the Film The Last King of Scotland
To examine Kevin MacDonald?s The Last King of Scotland, a 2006 film based on the 1998 novel of the same name by Giles Foden, is to explore the implications of historiographic metafiction?as well as its limitations. This film, in particular, offers an interesting vantage point having been produced for Western society while simultaneously popular within Uganda. To reach some determinations, I will begin by addressing the ways in which fictional Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, helps to reveal the problematic Western representation of Uganda?s former president, Idi Amin, a dictator known as the Butcher of Africa during his rule from 1970-1979. I will also examine the repercussions of Garrigan?s insertion into the story and the ways in which his presence impacts the Ugandan nation?s sense of history. By doing so, I intend to make a case for the ethical handling of postmodern art in order to avoid further Western colonization.
This film?s popularity in Uganda is undeniable, as is the reason for it. According to the New York Times World Africa video, ?The Last King of Scotland Opens in Uganda? by Jeffrey Gettleman, nationwide accessibility to the DVD had been prevalent prior to the official release thanks to the influx of pirated DVDs from the Chinese underground. For the equivalent of 20 cents, as opposed to the inaccessible $5 admission to Uganda?s only theater, masses of people have continued to file into small huts lined with wooden benches to see their history (Gettlemen). National interest signals the grand scale of a Western cultural impact upon this African nation and the social effects are important to explore in order to avoid future erasure of Uganda?s historical heritage.
The reason for this film?s popularity is the disparity of historical knowledge that spans the generations. Seemingly not addressed for the youth by their education system, it appears that Ugandans are using this film to fill in their historical gaps, many referring to the ability for children to learn about their country (Capturing Idi Amin). According to the Washington Post article, ?In Uganda, ?Last King of Scotland? Generates Blend of Pride and Pain Crowds Flock to Oscar-Honored Film About Idi Amin,? Timberg explains why this film is so important to them:
For Ugandans too young to have clear memories of Amin?s reign, ?The Last King of Scotland? gave them a welcome dose of insight into their own national history… After seeing the movie, said Alice Mwesigwa, 32, ?it was, ?Wow, this is real.? (Timberg)
Anyone over twenty remembers Amin in some way. Mwesigwa has her own experience to compare with the film and comes to an interesting determination about reality. But is this real? Does this film constitute Uganda?s history? The answer to that question is not so clear.
Reference to the story as ?real? is problematic in that?certain elements of the story are obviously not real. While contamination of reality is inherent in any narrative, this particular?process begins with the novel. In the interview ?Giles Foden, The Last King of Scotland? conducted by BoldType, the English author (who spent a portion of his early life in Africa) is asked whether his portrait of Amin is based on ?research, memory, imagination, or a combination of all three.? Foden answers:
All three, but trying to keep the research at bay was a problem. I kept discovering these amazing things about Amin which I wanted to put in the book. This was disturbing, as I felt like I was being ?dictated? to, or suffering the kind of demonic possession that Amin believed existed. Still, I guess I must have pulled through: mainly I tried to hang onto to the idea that this was a story. I wanted to make people turn the page. (Boldtype)
Foden embraces the stereotypical ideas surrounding the dictator, those of his disturbing behavior and belief in demonic possession, and applies them to the research process itself, as if the unearthing of facts is somehow unearthing Amin?s power and forcing Foden?s hand in what to write. This interpretation reveals the lens through which Foden performed his research, indicating his own biased making of meaning through his processing of facts. Foden also reminds us that his novel is?ultimately a story designed to sell and entertain, a process that allows him to distill Amin?s?many advisors down to the fictional Dr. Garrigan. Screenwriters further distill Foden?s entire novel down to a screenplay where the collective influence of the director, producers, actors and editors departs from the novel and adds their own impact to the film.
When Ugandan viewers make meaning of the final product based on their own cultural experience, they seem to confuse the film The Last King of Scotland with history and reality. This confusion is understandable and reflects the concerns of theorist Frederic Jameson. As stated in Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism:
The new spatial logic of the simulacrum can now be expected to have a momentous effect on what used to be historical time. The past is thereby itself modified… the past as ?referent? finds itself gradually bracketed, and then effaced altogether, leaving us with nothing but texts. (Jameson, 18)
Jameson blames the postmodern, in this case historiographic metafiction, as?having foregone the signposts that had traditionally signaled the difference between?fiction and reality. Furthermore, Jameson would argue that the filmmakers are referring to a history that never happened, a simulacrum, a copy with no original. History has been replaced by the likeness of history.
In response to Jameson?s disapproval, one must question whose telling of history gets privilege. History has generally been the tale of the victor or dominant culture. Theorist Linda Hutcheon in The Politics of Postmodernism offers an alternative position in relation to Jameson?s argument:
Such a clashing of various possible discourses of narrative representation is one way of signaling the postmodern use and abuse of convention that works to de-doxify any sense of the seamlessness of the join between the natural and the cultural, the world and the text, thereby making us aware of the irreducible ideological nature of every representation – of past or present… postmodern fiction does not, however disconnect itself from history or the world. It foregrounds and thus contests the conventionality and unacknowledged ideology of the assumption of seamlessness and asks its readers to question the processes by which we represent ourselves and our world to ourselves and to become aware of the means by which we represent ourselves and construct?. (Hutcheon, 51)
Although the business of reality and historicity appears convoluted up to this point, to apply Hutcheon?s theoretical definition of historiographic metafiction allows for the elevation of the fictional Dr. Garrigan to the status of a useful tool used to explore the multi-faceted Amin and allowing for new interpretations. James MacEvoy who plays Garrigan says of his role:
This film is not just about Idi. It?s not just about Uganda. It?s about the way that Britain, and maybe the rest of the world… looked at Uganda because I?m very much Britain?s looking glass in the film? (MacEvoy, Capturing Idi Amin).
MacEvoy, through his character, reflects back the full spectrum of how the British government has played a part in Amin?s dictatorship. Garrigan has access to Amin in ways that Amin?s friends, family, government, subjects and the international community never have. Many individuals saw only the side that Amin wanted them to see. The British media saw only what they wanted. Garrigan sees all.
The most widespread information about Amin?s dictatorship consists of a collage of stereotypes. Jon Snow, a well known journalist in the United Kingdom with former access to Amin says:
In the early 1970?s there was still a lot of racism about and I think Amin appealed to a racist stereotype of Africa. If he hadn?t existed we would have had to invent him. He was a perfect kind of larger than life, ogreous, you, know, people eating monster of a dictator.? (Snow, Capturing Idi Amin)
The problem with this statement is that Amin was not always perceived as a ?monster of a dictator.? In fact, he began as a loyal soldier of Britain, escalating in status from mess hall duty to commander and eventually president. He was initially known as a charismatic and gregarious man by the British government. So what brought about the change? If the movie teaches us anything new about Amin, it is that he was largely invented by the media through a dance of push and push-back.
MacDonald, Whitaker and McAvoy met with journalist Jon Snow to better understand Amin?s relationship with the press. As MacDonald recalls from their interview:
[Jon] had got to know Amin very well when he was a young journalist? he talked very interestingly about how Amin had seduced him, how he had seduced all the press corps. So even when people went to Amin to ask tough questions, to say ?I?m going to find out what?s really going on in this country? I?m going to put him on the spot about his murders that we?ve heard about,? they would come away laughing. They would come away feeling that Amin was a decent guy. He was funny, and also the news desks back home would be saying, ?Give us more of that footage of Amin dancing, or footage of Amin in his kilt. We love that. It?s so funny.? And Jon Snow says that he still feels guilty about that, that the press betrayed Uganda or let them down, at the very least. (MacDonald, DVD Commentary)
At the very least, the press failed to represent an accurate portrayal of Amin?s wrath and fury but that is not the least of it. Because the media played a significant role in suppressing all but Amin?s folly, they essentially created the caricature he had become and drew a stereotypical shield of protection around a madman?s murderous activities. This stereotype became a veil used by Amin himself. Amin?s character became a Saturday Night Live skit. Song parodies surfaced. On the ?Sucks or Rules? website posted in November 2007, Amin?s image battles for votes against a picture of Bob?s bitch tits from Chuck Palahniuk?s contemporary film Fight Club. That this legacy of buffoonery continues today is lingering evidence of the enormous impact of 1970?s media.
This passage also reveals the reciprocal mastery of Amin?s personal representation, even at the time when his paranoia was out of control and there were international rumors surfacing about his massacre. He gave the press what they wanted and they settled for what he fed them, the ?charming fool.? While journalists had no direct hand in Amin?s slaughter, they cannot be exonerated from playing their part. Snow may feel some remorse about the veil that media cast over the truth, allowing the world to giggle throughout the massacre of an estimated 300,000 people, but he appears to have little understanding of the media?s own bloodstained pen if, in 2006, he can say that the media would have created Amin had he not existed.
Amin intentionally re-represented this stereotype repeatedly to the press, in part because his reality had become terrorized by it and, in part, because the exertion of terror at his hands had exceeded it. According to MacDonald:
Amin wore a distorted mirror reflecting back to the colonial masters in Britain what he had learned from them. He took ideas like bagpipes and kilts and imposed them into a completely inappropriate world? In some horrible way he was like a sort of puppet who has come to life. He was like a plaything of the Empire that turned around and said, ?boo.?? (MacDonald, Capturing Idi Amin)
Like Hutcheon?s example of the marionette in Lady Purple, Amin becomes the puppet of the Empire, a dually constructed reality as both the stereotype and the representation of that stereotype. In this sense Amin is himself postmodern, somewhat illusory with his multiple costumes and cultural allusions, a fractured identity representing something beyond explanation and yet harkening toward something familiar.
More than that, the very tactics the British taught him as a soldier in their colonizing army, using the power found in the barrel of a gun, are the tools Amin used to shape his own national and international identity. Which is Amin?s real identity, clown or tyrant? His is neither under the constraints of the small box of meaning he is placed within and both simultaneously. In revealing the construction of the real by the press and by Amin, we reach a new understanding that representation becomes its own reality.
In The Last King of Scotland, although Amin addressed the press with complete composure and charm, Garrigan allows us access to the extreme rage and paranoia Amin unleashes behind closed doors, as well as his genuine struggle, confusion and cries for help to his advisors. Whitaker says of researching his role of Amin through countless interviews with those who knew widely varied sides of him:
I wonder if we can look at Africa without the context of intervention? There is a schism in African history, and Amin was a big product of it? He?s not Satan? He?s not the devil. My search was to find the reasons he made the decisions that he did. (Haygood, 1)
Through Garrigan, we learn the secrets that Amin?s advisers kept while in fear of their lives during his rule. Amin felt betrayed by the British. Once embraced and empowered by the country that flat out ignored his first massacre while in their service during Uganda?s colonization, the country had finally turned its back to him at the time of Uganda?s independence. This is the information that Whitaker refers to as having fallen into ?history?s schism.? This interesting phrase implies a failure on the part of history in general, one that Garrigan?s story helps to supplement by revealing Amin as a multifaceted human being, lifting the veil from the limitations of media stereotyping and historical representation.
Although this new multifaceted representation of Amin is interesting, it does not come without a price. Regardless of the attempt to create a composite of Amin?s advisors through Garrigan, this character influences Amin?s decisions within the film and impacts storyboard situations that never actually happened. These events, in turn, fictionalize Amin?s story. Director Kevin MacDonald defends this by saying:
We have taken liberties, as the novel does and I think one of the reasons we feel happy doing that with Amin in particular is because there is something about [Amin] that is almost more fictional than it is real. You never really can pin down what the historical reality is. (MacDonald, Capturing Idi Amin)
This is Hutcheon?s point as well. One might consider this a small price to pay for the revelation of history?s limitations, and perhaps this is true in the case of the film?s attempt at respectful representation of Amin as a person. In other aspects of the film though, liberties are taken too far.
The story of Kay, one of Amin?s many wives, is as mythical and mysterious as Amin?s. Some suspect Amin killed her for being unfaithful, although, in Time Magazine?s 1977 article ?Big Daddy in Books,? Kay?s most probable story is summarized in a review of Amin?s former health minister Henry Kyemba?s novel, A State of Blood:
For once, Kyemba exonerates Amin: “I do not believe, as I first did, that Amin had a direct hand in Kay’s death.” Instead, he writes, she died during an abortion that was being performed by her lover, a doctor. Kyemba speculates that the doctor dismembered the body in an effort to hide it, but then changed his mind; he committed suicide a few hours later. When informed of his former wife’s death, Amin requested that the body be sewed back together; at the funeral, he raged to her assembled family about her unfaithfulness. (?Big Daddy in Books,? 2)
In the film, there is a departure from this story. Kay and Garrigan have a one night stand and consequently conceive a child. Garrigan asks permission to use the presidential hospital to perform an abortion in order to spare Kay and himself a torturous death at the hands of an angry Amin. When Dr. Thomas Junju denies them access to Amin?s hospital, Garrigan asks, ?What other choice does she have, some back street job in a village somewhere?? Thomas replies, ?It?s the only choice you?ve left her. But I don?t expect it had crossed your mind here to wonder, a white man with a black woman. What does she need with such things? (The Last King of Scotland). Junju brings up a new colonizing aspect to Kay?s story that had never existed prior.
This interpretation is not simply new, it is riddled with a new sense of conflict, invoking global dichotomies from black/white, masculine/feminine and colonizer/colonized to the ultimate life/death situation. MacDonald explains his intentions:
The man with the black woman was kind of like the racial, political element which has not really been a part of the story so far. And suddenly we see it all from a different perspective. We see him as the white man who has come in to rape and pillage the country in a way and to use a woman in a way that, you know, was the old colonial manner of doing things. You see Garrigan in a different kind of light.? (MacDonald, Director?s Commentary)
Kind of like? does not begin to describe the message MacDonald is sending. Kay is not Garrigan?s first Ugandan conquest, although she is the most important. Garrigan had been scooping up resident women as he pleases since his arrival in Uganda. As Amin and Garrigan?s relationship grows close and they enter a love affair of sorts, Amin?s wife Kay becomes the outlet for Garrigan?s sexual manifestation of that love. Although Amin shares a great deal with Garrigan, Kay is something Garrigan takes without permission, violating not only the Ugandan leader?s trust, but by ultimately destroying Kay?s well being. The resulting child, a symbolic zygote of cultural fusion at the most basic human level, is aborted before it can see the light of day. For her infidelity, Kay is dismembered; her limbs positioned in a gruesome and unnatural position, and put on display at the city morgue by Amin, an adulterer himself. The film?s message here is that, while men enjoy freedoms not afforded to women, women who don?t remain in their place will suffer the gravest of consequences. This is the ideology that is being consumed and reinforced in Uganda for mere pennies a viewing.
That the filmmakers struggled with the inclusion of the dismemberment scene offers little comfort. The only available commentary sympathetic to Kay?s cinematic plight is that of Forrest Whitaker:
Idi Amin kills her, takes the body, cuts her up and sews the parts on differently, which is one of the most gruesome images in the film. And I think that image will stick with people really strongly. And that?s, that?s not true. (Whitaker, Capturing Idi Amin)
With his consuming interest in bringing authenticity to Amin?s role, Whitaker?s tone here is remorseful, as if he finds this a tragic failure within the film. On the contrary, the actress who played Kay, Kerry Washington says:
There are things about [Kay?s] life that people are very sensitive about. People that remember her get very upset when they remember her and while it?s true that she did have an affair behind Idi?s back and she did become pregnant and seek an illegal abortion, she did not have an affair with a white man, which is, you know, I guess, dramatic license. (Capturing Idi Amin)
Washington?s remarks are flippant at best. In the case of Producer Andrea Calderwood, the same holds true when she says, ?We just felt it was such a powerful moment to dramatize Idi?s frame of mind ? we weren?t just being gratuitous about it? (Capturing Idi Amin). An awareness of the decimation of Kay?s memory exists on some level for these women, but not at the level it should. Amin and Garrigan are the prime focus, perhaps in part due to their gendered coding and internal acceptance of the message.
In the end, Garrigan is seen for the traitor he is to Amin and tortured. Hung from meat hooks through his bloody, pale, white chest with arms limply outstretch in the air, the imagery is strikingly Christ-like. Garrigan refuses to scream as if taking on the sorrow of the hundreds of thousands of slaughtered Ugandans, refusing to give Amin the satisfaction of watching him suffer the way he enjoyed watching his people suffer. Dr. Thomas Junju, the man who refused to help at the hospital, cuts Garrigan down and helps him to escape the country at the risk and eventual realization of his own peril. When Garrigan asks why Junju helps him after refusing to at the hospital, the Ugandan says,?Go home and tell the story to all. People will believe you because you are white” (The Last King of Scotland). This statement can be read in two ways, as a tool used to sell the film to Western audiences or as a commentary on how the world refuses to recognize the plight of Africans unless told by whites. These interpretations are not exclusive to one another. Although this is the case, in this instance the director offers a frank assessment of reasoning behind this telling of the story. According to an article in the Washington Post, ?[MacDonald] didn’t want a movie that fictionalized the story to the point where the white character becomes a heroic figure. ?It’s unfortunately the economics of moviemaking,? he says? (Haygood, 1). While meaning and interpretation of the film?s message essentially comes from within the text itself, it is difficult to ignore the operation of capitalism working to direct the tale in order to generate ticket sales.
With the film?s break from Amin and Kay?s lived experience, I return once again to the questions ?Is this real? Is this Uganda?s history?? It appears that the answer is no on the most literal level, yet, on a subversive level, the film wholly reifies dominant cultural realities. Theorists Horkheimer and Adorno, in Dialectic of Enlightenment specifically address the medium of film as a form of entertainment, calling out its false promise of cinematic escape from societal pressures while codifying the audience into believing existing social norms are okay and resistance is futile.
The ways in which this operates can be demonstrated through the specific relationship between Kay and Garrigan as outlined above. Horkheimer and Adorno explain:
In every product of the culture industry, the permanent denial imposed by civilization is once again unmistakably demonstrated and inflicted upon its victims. To offer and deprive them of something is one and the same? Precisely because it must never take place, everything centers on copulation. In films it is more strictly forbidden for an illegitimate relationship to be admitted without the parties being punished than for a millionaire?s son-in-law to be involved in a labor movement. In contrast to the liberal era, industrialized as well as pop culture may wax indignant at capitalism, but it cannot renounce the threat of castration. This is fundamental. (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1232)
This film?s message, not only of forbidden sex but of the forbidden combination of black and white, is imprinted upon both Western and Eastern cultures, reinforcing the ideology of cultural separation and domination of one over another. In this way, cinematic entertainment allows for now escape. ?The culture industry tends to make itself the embodiment of authoritative pronouncements, and thus the irrefutable prophet of the prevailing order? (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1234) We, as a newly global audience in this world of accessibility, do not confine our national ideologies within our own borders. While Western films offer the forbidden to reinforce that its attainability comes with sharp consequences, this Western message now dominates the globe.
What careful analysis of the film?s depiction of Amin reveals is that, rather than being a departure from contextualized history, or what?Jameson calls ?a ?revolutionary? break with the repressive ideology of?storytelling generally,? (Hutcheon, 47)?this film decenters the ideological notions of authenticity and subjectivity of film itself. In the handling of Amin, it demonstrates the power of news media?s influence of news media while simultaneously revealing that British news broadcasts offered no more objective truth than does this piece of fiction. Hutcheon would remind us that this is not an issue about media per se. Baudrillard?s theory of simulacra and media?s neutralization of the ?real? assumes that there was a ?real? to begin with. She instead counters that??there is nothing natural about the ?real? and there never was ? even before the existence of mass media? (Hutcheon, 31). Ultimately what we must understand is that narrative, whether in the form of historical record, journalism, cinematography or fiction, is inherently powerful in its representation but also has limitations.
For The Last King of Scotland, this is where the power of historiographic metafiction ends. Through the seduction and consequential murder of Kay as well as the depiction of Garrigan as the white savior of Uganda, the film becomes Western film culture?s colonization of Ugandan history working to reinforce the power of white dominant culture. Horkheimer and Adorno see the only ability to transcend made available through true art. This art:
certainly cannot be detached from style; but it does not consist of the harmony actually realized, of any doubtful unity of form and content, within and without, of individual and society; it is to be found in those features in which discrepancy appears: in the necessary failure of the passionate striving for identity. (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1232)
What Horkheimer and Adorno call for here, in essence, is the work of the postmodern. Like Hutcheon, they describe the kind of art that truly wrestles with and de-doxifies ideology in order to reveal its power and flaws. As The Last King of Scotland proves, the power of historiographic metafiction is reduced dramatically when it is centered on the laws of capitalism. Its ethical power to expose and inspire revolution against powerful ideologies can only be unleashed when art is produced for art?s sake and not for profit.
“Big Daddy in Books? TIME Magazine. Time Inc. Sep 19, 1977. October 24, 2007 This article covers breaking news of Amin in the 70?s as well as the rise in film and books addressing topics to do with the dictator. The review of A State of Blood, written by Amin?s former health minister, Henry Kyemba, is addressed in the majority of the article. This is where I pulled my information on Kay?s death from in order to compare it with the film?s version. Kyemba is an interesting author to cite since he acted a part in the film as well.
“Capturing Idi Amin? Special Feature Documentary. The Last King of Scotland. DVD. 2006. Two Step Film/BBC Scotland. 2007. Asking a question similar to my own, this film explores the implications of inserting fiction into reality. This is helpful in gathering many Ugandan viewpoints in reaction to the movie as well as what the people hope it will accomplish within their own country. It also provides access to Amin?s Minister of Health, and others who remember Amin.
The Last King of Scotland. Dir.Kevin MacDonald. Perf. Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Simon McBurney, Gillian Anderson. 2006. DVD. Fox Searchlight, 2007. Primary text.
Horkheimer, Max and Theodor Adorno. ?From Dialectic of Enlightenment From The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.? Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. 1223-1240. Horkheimer and Adorno?s theory says that the culture industry, specifically that of film, functions as more than a form of entertainment. They call attention to its false promise of cinematic escape from societal pressures and expose the ways in which it codifies the audience into believing existing social norms are okay and that resistance is futile. I specifically use the description of forbidden sex, offered and revoked within the film as a lesson for life.
Haygood, Wil. ?This Role Was Brutal: Forest Whitaker Tried to Humanize Tyrant Amin.? Washington Post. October 1, 2006. December 1, 2007 <http://www.washingtonpost.com> This article addresses all the ways in which Forest Whitaker educated himself on Amin in order to bring him to life. The portions useful to my thesis are where Whitaker says Amin has fallen into the ?schism? of history, a useful commentary about the limitations of history in general. It also depicts how Director Kevin MacDonald envisioned the story. MacDonald states that the ?economics of moviemaking? requires a white heroic figure. This falls in line with my use of Horkheimer and Adorno?s theory to prove that this film provides a certain cultural reality.
Gettleman, Jeffrey, Adam B. Ellick, and Courtenay Morris. ?The Last King of Scotland Opens in Uganda.? New York Times. February 21, 2007. October 26, 2007. <http://video.on.nytimes.com/> This video highlights the film?s premiere in Uganda and the reception of this western production within the country. There are several references to the accuracy of Whitaker?s portrayal of Amin and a young man who brings his young brother to learn Ugandan history. The most pertinent piece of information is the widespread DVD underground allowing nationwide access to the film. It demonstrates the grand scale impact of Western culture upon the Ugandan nation.
“Giles Foden, The Last King of Scotland.? Boldtype. December 1998. October 25, 2007 <http://www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/1298/foden> This interview with Foden explains his consolidation of Amin?s cabinet into the character of Garrigan and his process in selecting facts to include about Amin. This, in conjunction with Hutcheon demonstrates the fluidity of meaning surrounding facts in history and fiction.
Hutcheon, Linda. The Politics of Postmodernism, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2002. Hutcheon explains historiographic metafiction which, through dedoxification and self-reflexivity, reveals the power as well as the limitation employed by the medium of narrative. I use this theory to defend the insertion of fictional Garrigan within the history of Idi Amin as the character provides a new view into Amin, the man.
Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992. Jameson?s points about the postmodern confusion of fact and fiction and the lack of lived history being identifiable is one way to look at historiographic metafiction. With the loss of the referent, this explains the Ugandan?s conflation of fiction and history. It also contrasts nicely with Hutcheons? positive analysis of the postmodern as performing a very specific task.
MacDonald, Kevin. ?Director?s Commentary? The Last King of Scotland. 2006. DVD. Fox Searchlight, 2007. MacDonald provides the back story on filming with Ugandan extras, experiences with Amin research and representation, and the western viewpoint of Ugandan culture. There are too many ways to list in which this information influenced my writing. Suffice it to say that the impact is immeasurable.
“Man Boobs vs. Idi Amin.? Sucks or Rules. DWLyle. November 4, 2007, November 24, 2007 <http://www.sucksorrules.com/battles/detail/people/156911/man-boobs-vs-idi-amin>. This website pits one image against another and allows members to vote on which one sucks or rules. Although the point is unclear, what is interesting is that Idi Amin, a postmodern butcher of a dictator is pitted against Meatloaf?s man boobs from Chuck Palahniuk?s Fight Club. Amin continues to infiltrate pop culture.
Timberg, Craig. ?In Uganda, ‘Last King of Scotland’ Generates Blend of Pride and Pain.? Washington Post. February 27, 2007. October 26, 2007 <http://www.washingtonpost.com> This article covers the ways in which Hollywood?s Oscar buzz surrounding the film impacted Ugandan?s in Kampala. He mentions that there are drastic differences between Amin, Foden?s novel, and finally the film and compares the film with others about Africa that have been successful in Uganda. The last paragraph was most useful, highlighting the reactions of a realistic view of history through this piece of film fiction.