‘Django Unchained,’ Detroit in chains!
By D. Alexander Bullock
Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie “Django Unchained” has come under fire from notable filmmaker Spike Lee. Lee thinks the movie is disrespectful to African American history. The movie is set in the South two years before the Civil War. Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx plays Django — a freed slave who is intent on saving his wife, Broomhilda.
“Django Unchained” may be disrespectful. I wonder if the same kind of artistic license could be taken with the story of the Jewish Holocaust under Hitler and Nazi Germany. My suspicion is no. However, African Americans have long struggled with our own sense of self-worth partly because of our history in America.
“Django Unchained” may be disrespectful, but it rings true. African Americans live in a context ultimately framed by political, economic and social forces beyond our control. In the movie, Django’s freedom and his slavery (and that of his wife’s) are beyond his control. Also, both his antagonists and partner in the movie are Caucasians. He cannot win his bride or save his life without them.
One hundred fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, most African Americans live with the reality that we operate in an economic and political context beyond our control.
Harold Cruse, in his book ‘The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual,” charts the response to the American experience by African Americans in America and their flaws. There have been two key approaches to the American experience by African Americans: assimilation and separation.
The integrationists believe in assimilation. They cannot understand the success of African Americans separate from corporate white interests and shared democratic aspirations. Their language is the language of accommodation and partnership.
The nationalists believe in separation. According to the nationalist, there can be no true Black power without creating separate African American institutions: Black banks, Black churches, Black schools, etc.
Still, the dream of true accommodation and partnership has been deferred and the hope of self-sustaining institutions remains a hope. While we struggle to keep hope alive, the reality of no money, limited political power and a growing underclass that has no loyalty to party politics, middle class values or liberal arts education raises growing concerns about the future of a freed growing and vibrant Black Detroit.
In the movie, Django was unchained. In reality, Detroit is in chains. Beset with the problems of violence, financial instability and poverty, Detroit is in chains. Coleman A. Young is dead. Kwame Kilpatrick has been deposed. Black labor leaders are on a ship with an uncertain future and the Black underclass is growing. Detroit needs strong community-centered leadership.
For the many who thought Gov. Rick Snyder was going to be the savior of Detroit, it has become apparent he has no interest in saving the entire city of Detroit. He has chosen his urban policy approach: emergency management. In the wake of over a $1 billion surplus in the state of Michigan coffers, he has refused the path of a holistic urban reinvestment approach for a limited approach that saves midtown and downtown. His office of urban affairs is a joke. It is a testimony to ill-conceived tokenism. It has proposed no policy to deal with foreclosure, insurance redlining or help for small business owners to gain access to capital. While adopting the language of small government, he has single-handedly engaged in a full scale attempt to take over public education in the state with the Educational Achievement Authority through a legislative mandate.
Despite these realities, the deeper problem in Detroit is that a revival in Black Detroit without white corporate help seems impossible. African Americans seem to be in chains and unable to help ourselves. Black suppliers have been eviscerated in the wake of the auto-industry’s makeover. Previously controlled African American cities and school districts are under paternalist state management. Black homeowners have been drowned by the floodwaters of foreclosure and Black bodies bleed red blood on dangerous Detroit streets. It seems that in 2013, Black Detroit will have to choose between independence and solidarity between sacrifice and survival in order to become Detroit unchained.
D. Alexander Bullock is pastor of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church, president of the Highland Park NAACP and Rainbow PUSH Detroit Chapter/state coordinator.