This is what happened when I decided to confront my history in one day.
January 18, 2016
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, I had the day off and decided to watch all of the black historical films that I’ve been avoiding since the year 2012.
First, let me explain my avoidance. These films as a black person are just hard to watch. They are completely necessary to watch but hard nonetheless. I take on the emotional burdens of these historical films depicting Slavery or the Civil Rights Movement. My mind does not allow me to separate between this being a movie, made by Hollywood, from the fact that this Hollywood made movie is a depiction of actual events and occurrences that took place in the past, and so I watch these films as if these movies are real and I am emotionally burdened by it all.
In spite of this, I just decided I wanted to be radical and not just watch one of these movies but all of them in one sitting. I wanted to watch D’Jango Unchained, 12-Years A Slave, The Butler, and Selma (if I had time, I would’ve thrown in the Malcom X movie). I dived headfirst. I started with Selma because it was MLK Day. Selma had a few rough scenes that shook me to my core and made me cry. The police ruthless beatings with the batons, the violence, the hatred, the disrespect, it messed with me but I kept going.
Next up, I tried to find 12-Years A Slave. I couldn’t find it on Hulu or Netflix. My friends later told me, God spared my mind because that movie is a hard one. One day I will come back to it.
Then I watched D’Jango which was interesting. I liked it. It showed a black man empowered during slavery even though he was a murderer…hmm. What I hated most about this movie was the dog scene where a runaway slave was torn apart by dogs. This was a practice of slave masters during slavery, it just hurt so bad to watch.
The Butler, was next on my list. I was surprised by how great this movie was. It’s really powerful. The opening scene is a tearjerker. The rape and murder of Cecil Gaines parents illustrate how dehumanized black lives were during this time. Cecil Gaines worked hard and made his way into the White House, but he resented his eldest son who was a part of the struggle. His son was a part of the civil rights movement, the freedom rides, the Black Panther movement, and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. These historical references added so much substance to the movie and illustrated just how challenging the times were. Certain parts of this movie hurt to watch. Cecil constantly fought to get paid equally as the other white butlers but was shut down and told he could quit. His work as a domestic although underestimated and looked upon as uncle tom’ ish made a huge contribution to the plight of our race and I thank him for his work and the work of many black domestics of our times just trying to make a living for their families.
January 19, 2016
By the time I watched all three of these movies I was emotionally beat. I tried to go to sleep but I couldn’t. My mind was having a hard time processing all of the injustices and wrongs against blacks. I stayed up thinking for most of the night and before I knew it I was running on 2-hours of sleep and my alarm was ringing for me to get up and go to work. I got on the 4-train, and was reading Ta-Neshi Coates Between the World and Me via Audible. Coates was talking about lynching’s and I listened attentively. Then it was time for me to get off and catch the local 2 or 3 train at Borough Hall. The train was already in the station so I had to run, run fast to catch it before it left without me. A black man held the door for me so I wouldn’t miss it. I smiled at him and walked to the center of the train. There was no seat for me so I stood up. I held on to the rail tight when I realized my heart was still racing from my small little run to the train. It was going faster and faster and I was sweating. Coates was still in my ear so I turned him off. Suddenly I felt like I was going to collapse. The train felt like it was moving closer and closer in on me. I blacked out (literally and figuratively) for a few seconds. I didn’t know it then but I was probably having an anxiety attack. I got off the train at Wall Street and went back home. It just wasn’t meant for me to go into work that day so I took the day off just to process everything some more and rest.
I say this all to say that our history is deep. Our history is filled with some truths that are hard to digest. Never try to jam it in one day like me. Take your time; allow everything you read or watch to process before you proceed for more.
However, through this, what was comforting was when I told some of my friends, they didn’t judge me, they completely understood and said they’ve also had similar reactions which made me feel like I was not alone. Confronting your history and gaining that consciousness of America’s dark and nightmarish past against Blacks is not easy but the knowledge you ultimately gain is empowering. After seeing what our ancestors have done for us just so we can live as freely as we do today, I kind of feel like I have an obligation to them to never settle for mediocrity.
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