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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

ODE TO AMERICAN BLACK PEOPLE

scenes from the movie a screaming man

Saw a beautiful African film today from Chad. It was called A Screaming Man. The film had nothing to do with screaming. It was a screaming inside story, but it's the story of a man who cried because screaming would not matter. Screaming is outward. The man in the story was inward. He lived in a city in Chad, worked as a pool attendant at a foreign hotel that catered to white people vacationing from Europe. The hotel was evidently bought by the Chinese; the new owners changed the staff, firing people who had worked there all their working lives. The man we follow, and I say follow because it's like a camera is watching him go about his daily life, he's a quiet man with a good cook for his wife and a 20 year old son. The hotel fires him and hires his son to be the pool attendant. The government army conscripts the son against his will. The rebels are closing in on the city and people frantic, walking in a hurry to Cameroon. I'm guessing it might have been N'Djamena, Chad, a city on the Cameroon border. A finger of Chad extends to Lake Tchad where the borders of four countries meet, Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger. It's another African story of rebels vs government troops, both armies brutal to the civilians in between. No military action is shown. Only the everyday life of a man whose life is changing with uncontrollable circumstances rolling over him. Our man's son is mortally wounded in battle. His dad finds him in the battlefield hospital, takes him away on his moped with a sidecar, the boy dies in transit home. His dad sat with the body beside the river til sunset, then set it afloat down the river and watched it ride the flow. It's a deeply emotional story of minimal action, minimal language. It's people living their lives; the viewer of the film sees them like through a peephole. It's very much like a Harold Pinter screenplay in this way. 


Good, simple people living their lives the best they're able in post-colonial Africa caught between two armies indifferent to the lives of everyone concerned. We look at Africans in refugee camps on the news and it's just another case of black people starving to death in a world of sorrow. This film shows the lives of the people in the camps before they left home to survive. They're people like us reduced to nothing left but prayer. I was a little disappointed when I saw today's mail and the movie was A Screaming Man. I wasn't in the mood for gunfights. I'd forgotten what the blurb said about it several months ago. A flash of Sylvester Stallone with a flame thrower strapped to his back scorching gooks right and left. I'd seen something in the netflix blurb about A Screaming Man that made me think it would be a good one. The title put me off. It sounds like one of those films I wouldn't watch for any reason. The original French title: Un homme qui crie, a screaming man. I feel like the word crying defines the man better than screaming. His entire inner being was indeed screaming, but it manifested crying. His crying was hopeless screaming. His screaming was repressed and wrung into crying. Sure, he was screaming inside, though it seemed to me the story concerned how the screaming was repressed inward into sobbing. The character of the man was brought to the surface in the course of the story. The people around him showed him respect, a man who doesn't make karmic waves that come back on him. Everybody who knew him called him Champ and Champion. He quietly flows along his day's routine with a happy family, good relationship with his son and wife, who reflect his inner stillness in their own characters. They are people living their lives, being unextraordinary, like us.


It appeared at times to be an allegory of living under circumstances way beyond our individual or even collective control. I see it in people I know, two people working full-time to maintain a place barely on the outskirts of poverty to raise their kids. Military takes the only child and returns him a corpse. Just a few months from homeless when the company you had a good job with down-sizes again. Rebels on a killing spree heading toward town to take over the radio and television stations. Get across the border as fast as you can go with whatever you're able to carry on foot. This is continuous everyday news several places in the world. I saw the mothers and fathers of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, and an almost endless list of other black people in America sent home dead without recourse. In town today, I saw by chance a black woman I've known to speak with a little bit. We spoke for a few minutes. She has kids. My heart wept for her. I saw another black woman I did not know and my heart wept for her. The statistics coming forward since the Mike Brown murder are sending a shock wave through my being to the toes and fingertips. I feel such incredible sorrow for the black people of America. I had not realized before that the black people I know and all the others live their lives on alert that the color of the skin they happened to be born with is a target. Champ in A Screaming Man setting his son afloat down the river brought the fathers and mothers to mind of all the young black men killed without recourse dealing with the corpse of their son. They can't scream, because nobody outside the family cares; they can only sob inwardly all the way to the soul. 


The image of Mike Brown asleep on the street in a puddle of his blood for four hours, yellow and black police tape keeping mother and father and everyone concerned waiting four hours to get an ambulance or something there to take him where they take dead niggers. I've seen these events on the news all the way along, but didn't put them together into an overwhelming question, how can I live without oppressive guilt for being white and male in America? I have felt this before. It's not a legitimate feeling for a white man to have, from either side of the fence. Black people know better than to trust any white man. And white people don't trust a nigger-lover. Lord have mercy, and everybody is calling themselves Christian. It really can't be said simpler than love thy neighbor, the core of the Master's teaching. Thy is old English for your own. Why is not practicing the counsel of the Master, at least to try it out and see what it's about, a part of Christendom? We have black Baptists on one side of the tear gas barricade and white Baptists the other side. The white Baptists see rabid monkeys and the black Baptists see Storm Troopers with themselves in the crosshairs, and no concerns about love thy neighbor inhibiting the fingers on the triggers. The cop that shot down a kid on his knees, hands up saying don't shoot, is a hero among white people of certain political and religious persuasions. I knew this in the white people I grew up among and have lived my entire life among, chose to let it be; I don't have to do it. I left that mind when I left the church I grew up in. I could not live in that mind and believe it had anything to do with the Christ, no matter how it's justified. I feel cornered in that my heart weeps for individuals I have found all my life to be incredible people, true human beings. I don't mean black people as seen on tv and in movies, but person to person as people in my world wherever I am, neighbors. I feel sorrow finding my white skin an automatic authority like a cop uniform to the black people I know and have known. I had not realized it was this bad. I am changed. I don't know how, but it will show down the line.   



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1 comment:

  1. Thank you Tj for writing this blog and telling it like it is. I live amongst prejudice every day...people I know, relatives and so called friends...all of them call themselves christians and they are some of the most unchristian people on earth...They do not kill which is a quick ending to a hurtful action but they do it with words which once said never leave the ethereal... always hanging there to give more hurt...You are right, we do have such a simple solution to all the ills in our world if only we would listen...Follow the golden rule..."Do unto others...."

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