John Wayne once said, "Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery." And the congregation of America says, "Amen". But as you may know, the Duke didn't say this. It was Mr. X, no not Xavier, but Malcolm. Does that change things for us? Why is it that when the Duke says this it feels "virtuous" but when it comes from the mouth of a black man, it's feels "violent"?
While watching Birth of a Nation, I couldn't help but reminisce about the first time I saw Mel Gibson's Braveheart. So much of Nate Parker's (director, producer, screenwriter) artistic choices reminded me of Mel Gibson's style of storytelling. I felt affirmed when I noticed, in the credits, the director's shout-out to Mel. But while absorbing Nate's portrayal of Nat Turner's rebellion in the South, I began to think of the first time I saw Braveheart in the theater. I remember folks cheering for Wallace just the way we cheered for Nat. But this time around it was only half the theater that cheered. And even in the midst of the cheer, you could feel the trepidation, the anxiety level increasing, when we saw the black man rise in revenge. Whether we'd like to admit it or not, you can feel the nation's subconscious fear of the angry black man. I even heard some say afterward how wrong or uncomfortable it was to watch the black man resist and fight. We have been conditioned to embrace the MLKs, with its non-violent posture, but we resist the force of Malcolm's call for dignity and the right to self-definition because we are not comfortable with the expression by which that may happen. I wondered to myself, why is it that we applauded young white boys when they said they wanted to be like William Wallace (wholeheartedly endorsing John Eldredge's version of manhood), but we are afraid if a young black boy may now have a role model in Nat Turner? Why didn't any Christian, Pastor, mention the violent nature of William Wallace's revolution and resistance to the British Crown but the first thing I hear after this movie is how we should be careful not to endorse "revenge," "violence", and "un-christ-like responses" in Nat's revolution? Let's admit it, we are comfortable with the white man as the liberator, and we are comforted when the black man assumes his role as the submissive man. Even in black revolutions, we cheer when it's done submissively and with non-violence (Selma). But when the white man uses violence to liberate, we cheer and celebrate.
Fudge, something is wrong.
You see, for me, the problem is not in what is defined as good, bad, violent, Chrisitan. The problem is that one group of people are controlling the conversation and saying to others, especially ones that have experienced oppression, how to define things and themselves. I can't imagine if someone, other than a Korean, lecturing my father on how to deal with the Japanese occupation of Korea. Or can you imagine a German, after their defeat in WWII, controlling the conversation that the Jews were having about how they shall continue onwards from the Holocaust? Wasn't it Karl Barth who wrote, "A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity."? What I'm suggesting is that the black man must be the one who determines and defines himself/herself and determines what is heroic to their children. The African American community must be the ones to define what was and is Christlike behavior and response. The fact that we continue to interrupt and determine for the other what is allowed and what isn't perpetuates the violence they've experienced since the days of slavery in America! We can not determine, define, limit or shape the conversation. The black man/woman must invite us. Otherwise, we resemble the white slave owners in the movie who were telling Nat what to preach, determining what the accurate interpretation of the Word of God is! The once oppressed must ordain their prophets lest they become the empire's puppets.
At the end of the day, I realize that we Americans are comfortable with Danny Glover supporting Mel Gibson kicking ass, Samuel L. Jackson guiding Captain America as he beats the crap out of (illegal) aliens and sends them back to where they came from. But we are not comfortable if Black America tries to define itself. To that, I end with a word from Public Enemy, "Fight the power" in Jesus' mighty name.