Saturday, August 2, 2014

'I am Groot', 'We are Groot', and James Baldwin Asks 'Who is the 'Nigger?''

We are having an interesting conversation about the word "nigger" and my reinstatement of my personal embargo on its use here.

As is our habit during the weekends here on WARN, for those so inclined, I would like to share something for us to meditate on in the form of a semi-open thread.

Is there any single word which has received such a sustained amount of discussion, coverage, and debate in 20th and 21st century America? Is this obsession a reflection of the centrality of the color line and our continued grappling with it, our efforts to exorcise racism and white supremacy, two of the poltergeists which still plague American cultural life?

Brother James Baldwin--he was so beautiful was he not?--is so brilliant in his discussion of the word "nigger" in the 1963 documentary Take This Hammer. He is no "nigger"; there are no "niggers"; the "nigger" problem is outside of his psyche. In several words, he sums up what it would take others far less gifted, far more time, to summon.

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy last night. It was wonderful. The fates would like me to see it again--they left me a ticket on the floor of the theater lobby that I traded in for a movie pass. They were kind. Someone else's mistake and error is my gain.

Last summer, I was enamored with the word and concept "grok". I no longer "grok" because I discovered that the innovator of that language, Heinlein, was a white supremacist.

"I am Groot" and "We are Groot" is my new word fixation and philosophical cue. As I think about the ugliness of the word "nigger", and my renewed rejection of it, "I am Groot" is a helpful and wise phrase.

Once you see Guardians of the Galaxy I think you will understand my point.

What news items, events, or interesting discoveries do you have to share?


Improbable Joe said...

I loved GotG! GROOT! It was cool how Rocket could understand what Groot was saying and by his responses let the audience know what he was saying. I loved seeing Knowhere, the head of a Celestial occupied by a hodgepodge of species. Cool cameos by actors and characters from the comic books like Cosmo the Soviet canine astronaut.

And yeah, the "We are Groot" line was surprisingly powerful. Amazing how Vin Diesel is almost a better voice actor than in live action stuff.

chauncey devega said...

Vin may have a career ahead of him doing motion capture and voice acting. Groot actually had me with a tear in my eye at the end. Talk about a loyal friend. I love the misfits in Guardians. What was your favorite part of the movie?

chauncey devega said...

Sending positive energy on the job. May the Force be with you!

I need to check out the Stratfor analysis. Sobriety is a tough path. All you can do is be there and encourage him to get back on the right path. Why did he slip? Something going on emotionally?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I get one free weekly report and I try to make the time to read them. I don't know if you'll be able to read it, but here it is. You can't reason with most conservatives on the issue, though.

Maybe if I get the job I'll start paying for their reports, like $250 a year... about the same as most newspapers, I think.

They also have an analysis training program I was interested in attending. A few months in Austin.

Buddy H said...

Vin was the voice of the Iron Giant.

Improbable Joe said...

The music and the dancing... especially the last little bit of dancing at the very end to Jackson 5.

chauncey devega said...

I am going to see it again on this week, maybe twice. I had a pass to the James Brown movie that was just mediocre. While watching it, I kept saying, damn, I need to see GOTG again.

Somewhere a young person watching it will decide that they want to make movies for a living. What magic.

Shady Grady said...

They lost me on the James Brown film where he showed more emotion over the death of his promoter/manager than he did over his son.

vintagepeugeot said...

Yes! GotG was so awesome! Caught it Thursday night with a group of rad science nerds (heaven), I will definitely be catching another matinee this week after work. Been jamming to Awesome Mix this morning.

My boyfriend and I kept saying "Nothing goes over my head, I am too fast, I will catch it." all weekend, so I have to say that was one of my favorite moments. He was indifferent to seeing it, then raved about it all weekend. He'd like to make Asimov's Foundation series a movie. Have your read those?

I'm going to agree with the "We are Groot" line, I noticed a slight mist in my eyes. I was so glad they propagated Groot into a planter at the end.

Bob Macias said...

As a longtime fan of Heinlein, his views on race and society are yet another layer in the amalgam of his long and complicated life.

I can no more dismiss his huge body of literature, most of which I adore, simply because of a major flaw in his character with regards to his personal beliefs. Among many other elements of his long life, he had issues with understanding and/or accepting other races of people. Similarly, I will never understand how people can dismiss and denigrate the amazing work of singer k.d. lang simply because she is gay. Doesn't compute.

We humans are imperfect vessels, given to moments of high clarity and glaring ignorance. So it goes.

One of the most valid statements I hold close to my world view comes from Heinlein's 1940 novella, 'If This Goes On...' about a future world where our nation has morphed into a pseudo-theocratic government that holds sway in a society that has devolved into a feudal sword-and-axe reality:

"When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, 'This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know', the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything -- you can't conquer a free man. The most you can do is kill him."

Yes, this statement can me twisted into any number of contexts, but that's what literature (and all other forms of art) is all about: giving the receiver a window into their own beliefs, their own understanding of conscious existence.

chauncey devega said...

I felt like it was superficial and glossed over the contradictions of the man--he made so many happy w. his music, used music to keep his soul and sanity alive, but was a control freak and tyrant and abusive to his wives.

The approach to the chronology was also unnecessary. Tell a straight story and avoid the tricks...that do nothing to help communicate the message.

If you knew nothing about James then it was passable, if you know anything at all about him the movie was just okay. A low "B" on my scale. The performances should have just been concert footage if all they were going to do was lip sync.

The writer/director did have one good idea and didn't use it enough--having James' young self be a repeated device to show vulnerability, fear, and how far James had come and his destiny could have really been special.

Courtney H. said...

Good luck!

Myshkin the Idiot said...

thanks, got two calls for interviews this week. I have high hopes

chauncey devega said...

Interesting point. I would disagree with this comparison however--

"As a longtime fan of Heinlein, his views on race and society are yet another layer in the amalgam of his long and complicated life.

I can no more dismiss his huge body of literature, most of which I adore, simply because of a major flaw in his character with regards to his personal beliefs. Among many other elements of his long life, he had issues with understanding and/or accepting other races of people. Similarly, I will never understand how people can dismiss and denigrate the amazing work of singer k.d. lang simply because she is gay. Doesn't compute."

Being a white supremacist is very different from someone's personhood as a gay person and how some would choose to seriously consider how the former impacts one's work and creative vision and how other choose to reject someone's work and art because of the latter.

The moral authority and "tolerance" is with those of us who are not white supremacists and choose to reject the work/art of those who are. With Heinlein I have chosen not to have the asterisk of "he is great but happened to be a white supremacist". Others can make a different choice.

Bob Macias said...

Point well taken, sir. However, I think the comparison is far more apt than you do and is a definition that requires an individual's personal context. Whether the issue is racism or sexuality, criminal behavior or ignorance of geopolitics, no human being is devoid of bad choices, bad behavior or bad education.

Racism is a learned behavior that sometimes is banished from one's psyche, sometimes not. Mr. Heinlein's latent hostility towards other races, as with all others who hold the same views, was something that he was taught, that he learned... it became a part of his operating system that never needed (from his perspective) to be excised. That is to his personal detriment.

For me, his work stands on its own merits, regardless of the kind of man he was in his personal life. Does that matter since I am of Mexican heritage rather than African? Perhaps it does.

Should I refuse to listen to Wagner's 'Flight of the Valkyries' because he was a rabid anti-Semite? Should I discount all of the Founding Fathers' writings because they mostly all owned slaves?

I never discount an individual's personal hatreds, but holding on to the anger it can instill only lessens me as an individual. Understanding that hatred gives ME the power.

And once again, a very solid point taken in your response. Yours is a viewpoint that is always thought-provoking, informative, and often really damned funny! Thanks for that.

chauncey devega said...

This is a choice that we as individuals have to make. I would say that w. the Framers, European philosophers, etc. etc. most of them were white supremacists. What do we do with that? We ask how does it impact their theorizing, work, and conclusions.

"For me, his work stands on its own merits, regardless of the kind of man he was in his personal life. Does that matter since I am of Mexican heritage rather than African? Perhaps it does."

The merits of his vision cannot be separated from his white supremacist attitudes--the latter are not something that are compartmentalized, they are part of who he was/is and the work that resulted.

If Heinlein didn't like black people I would have to assume that he likely did not like Hispanics or Latinos of color either. Moreover, what of linked fate and a sense of human decency and principle? Ought it to be that I cannot understand because I am not a member of X or Y group? We need to work harder on that type of provincialism as a species and culture.

We all make our own choices. Heinlein is a white supremacist. I have chosen to not read his work for pleasure. Now, does that mean if I was teaching a course on classic sci-fi would I include him? Of course. To not do so would be irresponsible and dishonest. But, I would also make sure that the students knew the context of his bigotry and also about work such as Freehold were his racism is overt and sickening.

balitwilight said...

I can't wait to see that film. I like your recognition of the resonances in the line: "I am Groot". It could very well mean: "see me for who I AM, not your constructed label for me". You might just as well say: I am John, or Jane - not "the black person" (or the "white" person for that matter). Mind you, "white" people only seem to become the "white" person when a "black" or "asian"... person enters the frame and the nervous racialist tic kicks in. Other than that, they DO get to be Groot.

For example, look at this post defending Woody Allen's refusal to use "black" actors:

Woody Allen's defender asks why we insist he should write "black" characters - "after all, based on Allen's limited world-view it's OBVIOUS he would have very little perspective or authenticity". Replace "black" with "brown hair and green eyes" (let's call them "Green" people) - and you will see how much sense this actually makes. It is actually even crazier because the populations lumped as "black" people probably have more genetic/cultural differences than the populations of humans with brown hair and green eyes. But people with brown hair and green eyes are permitted to be "Irish" or "Greek", or "Afghan" - or even just "John".

The tragedy is that not only racists hold on to this bankrupt racialist frame: many who have been its historical victims still cling to it for dear life. The Xhosa and Zulu people knew who they were before the Boers tried to lump them as "Blacks". But tragically in America, this is much harder for many - and also the true lesson of "Roots" has been forgotten. The race matrix needs to be dismantled. Or to put it differently, "I am Groot".

chauncey devega said...

"We are Groot". He is so wise and intelligent. I hope that viewers of the film understand that fact. I loved Drax too. As my heterosexual life partner pointed out each of the characters, to varying degrees, has to deal with some type of bias or discrimination against them--and towards others. Very smart observation.

Bob Macias said...

OK then... you and I will disagree on this issue, but it is a thorny one nonetheless. I would hope in another 50 to 100 years or so, when we are a nation (and world) of a totally-integrated race of humanoids, these issues will cease to be relevant, tossed into the historical dumpster. That will truly be a great time, too bad I'll be dead and gone by then! Many thanks for engaging this discussion!

chauncey devega said...

Always good to have a spirited conversation and to learn from one another. Remember racism is not about color or phenotype. It is about power. 100 years? Not gonna be a dent in it. Some other distinction will rise to take its place.

Lkeke said...

I took my 9 yr old niece to see it this weekend bc she insisted and was Hella excited about it. I was indifferent, but I actually really, really liked it.

I interpreted I Am Groot to mean We Are All One Being. And yeah, Rockets love for Groot, which I caught pretty early on, really struck a chord with me. They're my two favorites, of course.

I kept saying Drax's line to my niece all evening afterwards and yeah...on the way home ,we put on some Jackson Five and danced like Groot in the car.

chauncey devega said...

Movies bringing families together! We are Groot. Aren't those moments special. You may likely forget going to see GOTG in a few years, your niece will remember it always.

vintagepeugeot said...

That's a great observation. Quite insightful, your h.l.p. is.

T. Jones said...

What news?
On CNN last night I listened to a white man provide play by play of a horrific shooting in a store in the Bronx where a gunman, with drink in hand, shot a prone man at least seven times at point blank range and then stepped over him to exit. The gunman was followed by at least five other young Black/brown men who also stepped over the injured man to exit. CNN followed the clip with a two or three minute montage of Black and brown people beating or assaulting each other in various locations and with particular viciousness.
The producers followed the clip with a guest who calmly explained that this type of animalistic behavior was typical for the community because it was simply part of Black culture. He explained that events like this occurred all of the time in "those" communities because in "their culture" they didn't value life and had no regard for each other. The CNN anchor feigned surprise at the scheduled guest's position and suggested that this brutal slaying was unique and certainly not representative of what she then tried to describe as the culture of "poor people". The guest smiled and suggested that she was naive then went on to assure her that these type of murders happen all day every day in Black communities.

Ten minutes later I watched Israeli politicians explain that it was Hamas' fault that Israeli rockets were killing hundreds of men, women and children- instead of actual combatants.

Still later I watched CNN explain that the Ukrainian rebels who had stolen personal effects from the mangled bodies of passengers on flight MH17, were currently preventing Dutch responders from collecting the remainder of those bodies by shelling the area.

Not once did any CNN anchor or guest pundit relate the horrific violence of these events to white or European, Jewish or Ukranian or Russian "culture".

Makes you want to holler.

chauncey devega said...

Thanks for the tip. Lots going on here. Do you have a link?