Monday, August 19, 2013

For Conservatives, "The Butler" is a Great Lesson in the Virtues of Being a "House Negro"

Some conservatives are not too happy with the new movie The Butler. As I wrote here, The Butler is an extremely "conservative" and "American" movie that the Right should love. Nonetheless, their complaints are expected.

The Butler features a predominantly African-American cast. The docudrama's storyline also dares to culminate with the election of Barack Obama. These are two immediate strikes against its popularity among white conservatives.

Given that Barack Obama is the Right's version of Satan, The Butler is a logical focal point for Obama Derangement Syndrome.

Moreover, as Fox News guest Erik Rush suggested last week Obama is apparently organizing gangs of black people to attack whites with the movie being a pretext that is:  
...part of a plan “to initiate widespread civil unrest at the president’s push of a button” and add to the “instances of black-on-white violent crime since Obama came into office.” 
"Winfrey is promoting a new film, “The Butler,” which chronicles a black butler’s years of service in the White House during the Civil Rights Movement. 
While the subject matter should make for interesting fare, given Winfrey’s sensibilities and associates (like the Obamas, for example) there is little doubt that the film will be used in the ongoing effort to rile black Americans. As I’ve said in the past, racial tension is one of the many circuits the administration has constructed that, when completed, may be used to initiate widespread civil unrest at the president’s push of a button."
The Butler also depicts historical events which suggest that the Republicans are not in fact "the party of civil rights" as their propagandists have taught the party faithful.

Such a belief is laughable and sad: populist conservatives drunk on Fox News, Glenn Beck, and the other toxic emissions of the Right-wing echo chamber actually believe that Dr. King would be a Tea Party member even while the Southern Democrats are now Republicans, and the Tea Party GOP, who are channeling the demons of Jim and Jane Crow, are working hard to overturn the voting rights won with blood by the Black Freedom Struggle. 

If anything, the White Identity politics of the Republican Party are consistent in their talking points and revisions of history and empirical reality even if their fictions are dissonant with the truth.

And of course, The Butler shows Ronald Reagan--the "saint" that he was--supporting Apartheid South Africa. Reagan was on the wrong side of history on that (and many other) issue(s). Again, The Butler is "unfair" to depict such facts.

None of these products of the White Right's grievance and victimology industry are surprising. But even by the low standards of the Right-wing echo chamber, the following complaint about The Butler by John Boot of PJ Media was uncommon in its racist ugliness:
1. It casts the term “house slave” as something to be ashamed of.
“House slave,” “house negro,” or sometimes the even more vile term “House n—-r” has become a widely used insult deployed by blacks against other blacks for supposedly being too willing to go along with an unjust system (as opposed to “keeping it real” by participating in riots or going to prison). 
Channeling Malcolm X, self-styled radicals like Spike Lee throw the term at, for instance, Samuel L. Jackson, whom Lee once called a “House negro defending Massa” for working with the far more talented filmmaker Quentin Tarantino.  
Whitaker’s butler character is portrayed as the ultimate house negro, and is denounced as such several times. Though the butler is the hero of the film and is given excellent reasons in his back story for not wishing to be a troublemaker, The Butler isn’t subtle about pushing the audience to think there is something pathetic about a man who simply kept his head down and did his job for many years instead of agitating for change. 
In fact, distaste for being lumped in with such so-called house slaves can be a destructive idea for youngsters just starting out on the economic ladder. Everyone who isn’t born rich has to take orders when they’re just starting out.
Conservatism and white racism feed off of one another in post civil rights America through the deployment of ostensibly "race neutral" language and the presumption of "good intent" by white folks.

I would suggest that Boot's defense of black servitude and "wearing the mask" for the comfort of the White Gaze is akin to the racial chauvinism of the Ku Klux Klan or Stormfront. John Boot's defense of black servitude in the face of white racism is in some ways even more dangerous because of how superficially harmless it appears.

Boot's use of the white racial frame makes equivalent "paying one's dues" as a young or new worker with a system of white supremacy that robbed people of their labor and rights. PJ Media and John Boot also equates the Black Freedom Struggle and wanting equal rights with being a trouble-making "criminal".

A question: how could one not want to be a criminal, when for most of American history both seeking and acting on black and brown freedom, and our full human rights under the Constitution, were themselves considered a criminal act?

Boot clearly did not pay close attention to The Butler as these "subservient" black maids and butlers were actually very subversive and resistant to White Supremacy (quite literally in many cases as they helped to fund civil rights organizations).

Boot may not know that during slavery "house negroes" were also key in providing information to other slaves, ran away, resisted, and fought back against their "owners" just like the other human chattel who worked in the fields.

He is not alone in misunderstanding Malcolm X's rhetorical flourish as historical fact. 

"House negroes" had a special intimacy with white people. In addition, those slaves who worked closely in "the big house" were usually subjected to more surveillance, threats of rape, and denied the sense of community and opportunities for relative freedom that those who lived in the slave quarters were afforded. 

No black human chattel had it easy during America's slaveocracy; "house negroes" and "field negroes" just lived differently while sharing much suffering in common. 

Gone with the Wind depicts a world of loving black maids and servants. This is a lie. Those black "house negroes" despised and hated their white owners because familiarity breeds contempt. Black house slaves--and later on, domestics, butlers, and maids under Jim and Jane Crow--were subjected to many cruelties by those white folks, who despite the intimacy and close proximity, refused to see people of color as fully human. 

It is a disruption of the many fantasies of Whiteness to acknowledge that those doting black maids, servants, and butlers, had little use for their "white families" except as a way to earn a paycheck in a racial economy that denied black and brown folks full upward mobility and opportunity.

Black conservatives are a fantasy projection for White conservatives. As I have repeatedly written about on We Are Respectable Negroes and elsewhere, black conservatives are participating in a political minstrel show which features harmless darkies who know their place and are submissive to "Real (White) America" and the White Right. 

That so many black conservatives agree (and find affirmation) with John Boot's and PJ Media's declaration of support for White fantasies of black subservience and submission is sickening. Such distaste is overcome by the reality of how playing the black conservative is a lucrative role in American politics.

The Butler is a study in the many forms that resistance to White Supremacy took in the United States; it is not an endorsement of black and brown submission to white racism--however much that conservatives in search of "good" blacks and "model minorities" would like it to be.


Vic78 said...

Conservatives are a joke. Look at their heroes. We shouldn't expect much from them. Why won't they go to Stone Mountain and set themselves on fire to protest their losses?

chauncey devega said...

my friend, they are no joke. they are playing for keeps. mock them at your peril.

Learning is Eternal said...

There is truth to your statement about the house slave. Being we don't currently exist in that epoch of antiquity, we don't know who betrayed us more in our fight for freedom. I know some field negroes were just as loyal, if not more, to the system of white supremacy in all its colonial holdings & capital/imperialistic ventures throughout the ameriKKKa's. Unlike the house slave you described being a pivotal part, essential to the overall plan, I don't see none of these black conserves' looking out for us like that. How cool it would be if we had more 'Spooks Who Sat by the Doors' of the republican/tea party by day running recon to their people, strategizing, raising an army by night. Allen West, Mia Love, Rev. C.L. Bryant, (DO NOT WATCH RUNAWAY SLAVE!!!) Michael Steele or Stacy Dash would not be game for such a task. Knowing that, I would use them as 'Bo gator', an albino alligator.

SunKissed said...

I wonder if there is a parallel between evil dictators and those who are invested in preserving white supremacy? Dictators who come to power by means of force, deception, and cruelty usually become paranoid that they will lose power by the same means. Everyone, even those closest to them becomes a suspect of plotting a coup against them. There is the constant fear of uprisings from the people, real or imagined, that leads to even more strict and cruel treatment to preserve power. Loyalty to the state must be demonstrated with an almost religious zeal by everyone lest accusations of treason and sedition be hurled at you. In some cases even the people become untrustworthy of one another, dropping dimes on neighbors in a bid to wash the stink of treason off lest they themselves be accused of it and lose their lives. Not to mention the constant propaganda, the omnipresent images of those in power.
Someone far smarter than I am could probably write such a book showing the parallels between cruel dictatorships and white Americas treatment of black folk and other people of color. If such a work doesn't exist already.

The Sanity Inspector said...

I haven't seen the movie & probably won't (only time I go to the theater is to take my kids). But I trust that Forest Whitaker does a superior job in it. I really liked him in Bird, and hope someone out there continues to make thoughtful black films of comparable quality.

Watcher said...


Good to know you've got PJ Media on your radar. Have you done any pieces on their current Black Conservative mascot-cum-revisionist historian, Alfonzo Rachel?

chauncey devega said...

No. Do I need to put on the hazmat suit?

Needing2Know said...

Pardon my ignorance of current events, but what does this mean:
"Tea Party GOP, who are channeling the demons of Jim and Jane Crow, are working hard to overturn the voting rights won with blood by the Black Freedom Struggle."
How are they doing this and what do you think the outcome will be?
Thank you

Watcher said...

Yup. Here's a taste:

chauncey devega said...

That is an allusion to the Tea Party GOP's efforts at voter suppression and rolling back civil rights laws following the Supreme Court's horrible decision a few months ago.

What will happen? Lawsuits are taking place already in response to Southern Republican governors' efforts to go back to pre-Voting rights acts laws.

chauncey devega said...

Bird, Ghost Dog, so many greats w. Whitaker. I hope he gets another Oscar.

chauncey devega said...

Well there was a "black" chapter of the KKK in Virginia or upper Maryland too.

Shucking and bucking for money.