Having a voice (whether spoken, written or signed) is an important aspect in a society. We as individuals and as members of a specific group or gender have always had a need to express our voice.
I was watching the TCM channel over the weekend. One movie was going off and another was getting ready to come on. The movie ending was a movie about the old west, a Cowboys and Indians kind of movie. The movie coming on, ‘Murder Ahoy’, a black and white film, released in 1964 was based off of novels and characters written by Agatha Christie.
The movie began with Miss Marple, an elderly female fictional character who appears in numerous novels and short stories by Agatha Christie. Miss Marple, dressed in a white collar shirt, jacket, and tie, is sitting at a table among all men discussing matters when one of the men suddenly drops over dead. This sparks her amateur detective instincts to investigate. As she is following a trail, she slowly walks backwardly down a fire escape. Two men, who meet her at the bottom, startling her a bit, question her about her motives. She becomes stern with them and tells them they do not know what has just happened. They reassure her that they are well aware of what has just happened and then attempt to scoff her off. She asks them what they are implying. (We as viewers know what they are implying.) They deny they are implying anything. Then they tell her that maybe she is “not herself.” Miss Marple quickly and sharply responds, “I have always been myself.”
This is a classic example of a woman being presented as equally important as her male counterparts.
Agatha Christie, being a female herself, creates strong women with dialogue that expresses our own ideas and self-worth. Agatha Christie does not shy away from showing how women may be perceived and the stereotypes or the subtle oppression that exists, but she is able to use her platform to demonstrate how women are resilient, intelligent, have an important voice and are an equal contributor in any society.
Shonda Rhimes is a modern day example of this.
However, the old western movie that was going off, who had imitation Natives, got me to thinking about all the times we have allowed someone else to speak or portray an image for another race or group.
There are so many that I am afraid I will inadvertently leave off some so I will focus on these key groups.
Slave, Black African American, and old western movies, depicting Cowboys and Indians (Native American Indians), were more often written and directed by white men. It was their vision, their voice, their interpretation, and their dialogue that was written for the world to see, whether it was accurate or not.
I don’t doubt that “some” had good intentions of trying to capture that reality of a time in history but if we are writing from one side of history, we are not truly portraying a true sense of reality. If one has never been a slave, then one cannot truly understand or comprehend the intensity of what it means to live as a slave or being a direct descendant of a slave. Can you imagine a white director or writer telling a black man or woman, this is how slaves acted? Especially during early American film history, when the Black American voice was silenced and oppressed.
Alex Haley, who won a Pulitzer Prize special award in 1977, put names and faces to the American Slaves when he told his true story in Roots which also won a Golden Globe Award for Best TV series – drama that same year.
Same goes for the Wild West movies but with one added element, we didn’t even allow Native Americans Indians to act or portray their own roles in our films. And if we did, it was minute, with possibly one or two key members among hundreds of imitations. We either used other ethnic groups with similar characteristics or worse, we used white men and painted them brown.
Our American stories, were written to honor or glorify the white Europeans and early Americans about their fight for this country. But at what cost? These stories, whether for politics, for the news, for historical preservation or for entertainment, were written from one side, the white mans.
Sure, we’ve always had sympathy characters to tug at our hearts and make us question our motives and morals but when we turned the last page of the book, or watched the credits roll the screen, Americans went back living life as they always have.
Recently, one of my Facebook friends shared a YouTube documentary video of the history of the African-American Cowboys. In this video, real American black cowboys shared the history and the stories of their parents and previous generations, stating the origins of the American Cowboy is a culmination of the West African heritage and the Spaniards. They even shared about the history of the term ‘cowboy’ and how it came from the early American slave days. As commonly known, black males were referred to as boys, no matter if they were young boys or elderly men, during slavery and even up to the Civil Rights era. So the term, cow-boy, actually started back during slavery and had a whole different connotation than what it later came to represent in movies and folk-lore, which was a strong, rugged white man, like John Wayne, the Lone Ranger and many other western film icons. Could that have been early appropriation?
Have you ever watched a movie or a news story, read a book or an article that was written or directed by another race, ethnicity or gender who depicted your race or gender from their perception and felt that it was not a true depiction of you or your family, your history, or your people? How about when the white race is the minority in the movie? Or a movie, where instead of hiring people who represent your race or culture, the film crew hired another race, costumed them up with paint and fake hair to depict your race? And White Chicks does not count. Has your race ever been eliminated completely from historical facts or were the facts grossly distorted to benefit another race or culture? Not many of us White Americans have, especially in comparison to other groups?
Can you imagine going to a movie and having to watch people with your skin color or your culture being portrayed as subhuman, primitive heathens, being represented in a subservient manner, always obedient to the white man and when that does not happen, the consequences that resulted. That’s a systematic oppression.
There are a few other examples of this, too. Adoption is one.
For years, the books, the blogs and personal interviews relating to adoption were mostly by adoptive parents. They shared their one-sided view on adoption that society seemed to view as the most worthy, respected voice.
The story or stories that were handed down to the adoptee’s about their original, biological family and why they were available for adoption was communicated by adoption professionals to the adoptive parents who then passed the story to the child, if it was even shared or communicated at all. We’ve since learned over the years, that many of those stories were not true but a false misrepresentation of the facts to appease a need for a separation and relinquishment to occur. These false stories were needed in order to create a scorned, bad woman, someone who was lacking moral value, who was poor and negligent and was incapable of loving her own flesh and blood or turned away in cold malice. Adoption movies also played into the roles and stereotypes. Ironically, these stories conveniently left the males unmarred, who coexisted in the process of breeding.
White Americans but mostly White American males have been steering the course of our society for hundreds of years and have been exhibiting their white power and privilege over many centuries. White Americans started out as a minority in this nation and yet have managed to populate this entire country, almost wiping out the Native American Indian culture. White Americans have dominated politics, literature, media, and entertainment for years, have exhibited many atrocities on this land, none as great as the atrocities than to that of the Black, African American men and women, and yet somehow still seem to find ways to blame others for the demise of American culture and the American dream.
There is this need in our society to create a good people versus a bad people, a hero and a villain, a sinner and a saint, a better than or worse than, a systemic hierarchy, whether it is true or not. As in all things, there are always exceptions, there are always some truths. But when those truths are watered down, diluted or distorted to benefit another person’s ego or personal agenda, this is when we begin to create an oppressed, disturbed and dysfunctional society. We begin to honor the lies and deny the truths.
Here’s the thing, no matter how many lies are told, how much oppression is exhibited, how many times the legal records, history books, or the legal system tries to distort the facts, sooner or later, the truth will reveal itself. A lie can never change who we are, from the time we enter this world from the time we bid this world adieu.
The truth is White Americans (both males and females) have also protested and fought for the rights and equal treatment of all humans. This has been documented and we know this to be true. There is never an all or nothing in our society. That’s that great thing about living in a free society and country. But, as many who have fought for the protection of our equal liberty in our free society, there have been just as many fighting against it.
As humans, having a voice and sharing our voice is as old as life itself. From early biblical stories to folk lore to early American history, speaking up for things that matter to us, especially when we feel we have been forgotten or neglected or oppressed is a natural human instinct. We all have the same basic needs and our voice helps us attain that need.