Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Deadline Publishes Mea Culpa After Backlash Over "Ethnic Diversity Castings" Piece  Deadline Publishes Mea Culpa After Backlash Over "Ethnic Diversity Castings" Piece BBC Orders Steve McQueen's "Epic" Drama Series on a Black Community in London, From 1968 to 2014 BBC Orders Steve McQueen's "Epic" Drama Series on a Black Community in London, From 1968 to 2014 It's Official! Trevor Noah Will Indeed Succeed Jon Stewart as Host of 'The Daily Show' It's Official! Trevor Noah Will Indeed Succeed Jon Stewart as Host of 'The Daily Show' Producer of 'The Walking Dead' Says There’s No Conspiracy to Kill Off the Black Male Characters Producer of 'The Walking Dead' Says There’s No Conspiracy to Kill Off the Black Male Characters Tyler Perry Delivers OWN Its Biggest Viewing Audience Ever Tyler Perry Delivers OWN Its Biggest Viewing Audience Ever Roger Moore Says Idris Elba as James Bond is "Unrealistic" Because He's Not "English-English" Roger Moore Says Idris Elba as James Bond is "Unrealistic" Because He's Not "English-English" Dr Dre Hopes the N.W.A. Movie Will Correct Notions of the Group's Treatment of Women + Working on Inspired Album, More Dr Dre Hopes the N.W.A. Movie Will Correct Notions of the Group's Treatment of Women + Working on Inspired Album, More TV Casting Directors React to Deadline's "Ethnic Castings" Article (A Fad That Will Eventually Pass?) TV Casting Directors React to Deadline's "Ethnic Castings" Article (A Fad That Will Eventually Pass?) Taraji P. Henson Will Host 'Saturday Night Live' for the First Time in April (How Many Black Women Have Hosted?) Taraji P. Henson Will Host 'Saturday Night Live' for the First Time in April (How Many Black Women Have Hosted?) For White TV Writers Who Have Considered Racism When *Ethnic* Diversity Is Too Much For White TV Writers Who Have Considered Racism When *Ethnic* Diversity Is Too Much Watch: Kenyan Filmmaker Ng'endo Mukii Tackles 'Globalized' Beauty & African Self-Image in Award-Winning Short Film 'Yellow Fever' Watch: Kenyan Filmmaker Ng'endo Mukii Tackles 'Globalized' Beauty & African Self-Image in Award-Winning Short Film 'Yellow Fever' Apparently, Many of You Aren't Pleased With the "All-New" 'Single Ladies'... What's Going on? Apparently, Many of You Aren't Pleased With the "All-New" 'Single Ladies'... What's Going on? Alfre Woodard and Gbenga Akinnagbe are a Dysfunctional Mother-Son Pair in Trailer for 'Knucklehead' Alfre Woodard and Gbenga Akinnagbe are a Dysfunctional Mother-Son Pair in Trailer for 'Knucklehead' What to Expect in Season 2 of 'Empire' (Less Opulence; Spike Lee May Direct, Oprah May Guest-Star, More) What to Expect in Season 2 of 'Empire' (Less Opulence; Spike Lee May Direct, Oprah May Guest-Star, More) 73 New TV Pilots & Series with Black Actors in Starring and/or Supporting Roles Ordered for Next Season. Here's the Full List 73 New TV Pilots & Series with Black Actors in Starring and/or Supporting Roles Ordered for Next Season. Here's the Full List HBO Seeks Diverse, Emerging Writers for HBOAccess Writing Fellowship HBO Seeks Diverse, Emerging Writers for HBOAccess Writing Fellowship Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Buzzfeed Investigates Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

'12 Years A Slave' And The White Fantasy Of A New Species

Shadow and Act By Márcio de Abreu | Shadow and Act February 3, 2014 at 1:24PM

'12 Years A Slave' And The White Fantasy Of A New Species
77
12 Years A Slave

12 Years a Slave will not be released in Brazil until February 28. I could not resist the urge to watch it. As a Brazilian who lived in the US for four years, and who had the chance to experience American culture from the standpoint of an ethnic minority member, here is what I learned from Steve McQueen’s latest masterpiece.

In 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup, a free black man, is forced to fight two distinct battles. The first one is lost before he even has a chance to fight. Tricked and drugged by two white men, Solomon is kidnapped, sold into slavery and sent to work at a plantation in Georgia. The second battle lasts over a decade and represents the most sordid and horrifying feature of American slavery exposed by Steve McQueen’s new film. Throughout the 12 years during which Solomon spent in captivity, he had to fight against the restless and brutal attempts of his white oppressors to force him to embody the most bizarre of all racist fantasies: the existence of a different type of species – not quite an animal; not quite a human – which they called “niggers”. Certainly, to a great extent, that was the fate of not only Solomon Northup, but of every African-American that lived in the United States during those days.

No other movie before 12 Years a Slave – not even Tarantino’s parody of slavery, Django Unchained, and it’s 115 uses of the most infamous of American racial slurs – has been able to reconnect the word “nigger” to its past in such a genuine way, and to present such a clear and explicit demonstration of what the term actually means and does. More than just an offensive racial epithet used to refer to individuals of African descent, in 12 Years a Slave the word “nigger” symbolizes a subhuman being, a creature incapable of self-rule, doomed to live under the yoke of a master, and whose presence in America represented a necessary and convenient burden with which white folks had to cope.

It is, although, important to acknowledge that however convincing slaves would be when displaying their submissiveness, their ignorance, their servitude, their inferiority and their childlike ways in the face of their “master”, they did it with the sole purpose of preserving their lives. In other words, the existence of a grotesque creature such as a “nigger” could only be real in the racist mind, and the conformation of black slaves to this white fantasy a strategy of survival. To role-play while preserving his true identity was a skill Solomon Northup had to learn the hard way. The strength of spirit African-Americans needed to have in order to endure such a state of psychological warfare was best summarized over one hundred years later in the words of James Baldwin: “you can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger”.

It is, however, curious to see that the echoes of such a horrific white endeavor resonate today through the mouths of black youngsters and hip-hop artists. Is such phenomenon a product of ignorance? Is it the expression of a deeply rooted lack of self-worth? Would it be the result of an ongoing systematic racism in America? Is it internalized hatred transformed into self-hatred? Or is it, as many like to say, just cultural appropriation? Whatever the case may be, after watching 12 Years a Slave, I am inclined to agree that the acceptance of such a trend by some African-Americans does not represent a continuity of the struggle endured by their ancestors in order to preserve and affirm their humanity. One of the most valuable lessons one can learn from Steve McQueen’s film, and its shockingly raw portrait of the reality of slavery in America, is that a “nigger” is not a human being, but a fantasy of the white racist mind. Today, to label someone or allow to be labeled a “nigger” is to be respectively a perpetrator or an accomplice of such a fantasy.  

But, perhaps, as a person who is not from the United States and who is not African-American, I can’t completely grasp the appropriation and contemporary use of the word “nigger” by some Blacks in the US. However, the fact that there are today a significant number of African-Americans who advocate for its abolition, and that repudiate its usage regardless of context, tells me that I should not regard my own position on such matter as a result of a supposed inability to fully understand Black American culture. In any case, I can’t imagine how any American of African descent, after watching 12 Years a Slave, could still be able to call one another a “nigger”, or even a “nigga”, without feeling slightly uncomfortable, to say the least.

*In Brazil, to address or refer to someone using an offensive racial slur is considered a non-bailable criminal offense that can result in 1 to 3 years of imprisonment.


Márcio de Abreu is a Brazilian Cultural Critic and Producer specialized in Afro-Brazilian culture.


This article is related to: 12 Years a Slave, Things That Make You Go Hmm...


Shadow & ActNewsletter