W.E.B. Du Bois vs Barrack Obama

Last year for Black History month I wrote a post that was a bit more entertainment related, but promised I would do something serious later.

Now is later (whut?).  Anyway…

W.E.B. Du Bois was born shortly after the Civil War to free Blacks and for the times, lived a fairly integrated middle class life in Massachusetts.  Needless to say, going to an integrated school and playing with white friends growing up wasn’t common for young Black kids at the time.  He coined the term “talented tenth” and was a very early voice in pushing for full integration and equal rights.  Naturally enough, things didn’t work out for him and became a socialist and moved to Ghana.

But before that he, as someone who was about as “privileged” as an African American could be at that time, fully accepted the culture he was raised and educated in; a Western one.

I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of [the] stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. 

-W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk

Du Bois clearly saw himself as a Western man.  He had a BA in History from Harvard, did post graduate work at the University of Berlin where he traveled Europe extensively, an returned to the US to get a PhD from Harvard.  He saw no incompatibility between being a Black man and embracing the Western canon.

Compare that to another prominent and privileged African American who many decades later, came to a different conclusion.

For three weeks I had traveled alone, down one side of the continent and up the other, by bus and by train mostly, a guidebook in hand. I took tea by the Thames and watched children chase each other through the chestnut groves of Luxembourg Garden. I crossed the Plaza Mejor at high noon, with its De Chirico shadows and sparrows swirling across cobalt skies; and watched night fall over the Palatine, waiting for the first stars to appear, listening to the wind and its whispers of mortality.

And by the end of the first week or so, I realized that I’d made a mistake. It wasn’t that Europe wasn’t beautiful; everything was just as I’d imagined it. It just wasn’t mine.

-Barrack Obama, Dreams From My Father 1995

Class, compare and contrast the differing views of Western culture by two prominent African Americans.  Du Bois, who spent his adult life during probably the most racist period in American history, regarded himself as part of Western civilization.  While Obama, who spent his adult life in an America in which Du Bois’ wildest dreams had been realized, saw himself as an outsider to Western Civilization.

What to make of this?

First of all, in 2021, is there even a single African American public intellectual who would say, “I sit with Shakespeare?”  Is there one who would say, “I summon Aristotle and Aurelius?”

I would say that’s unlikely.

I’ve always felt that the Western canon was open to all races if they chose to accept it.  That doesn’t seem to the trend however.  As noted in The New York Times Magazine, Princeton classicist Dan-el Padilla Peralta, wants to cancel the classics because “Systemic racism is foundational to those institutions that incubate classics and classics as a field itself.” 

This idea of burning down the idea of Western culture doesn’t even make sense in its own terms.  It’s not like African-American scholars are rushing off to Africa to sup at the table of African language, history, art, or culture.  No, they want their own victimization studies that do nothing but demonize what is actually their very own culture.

None of this is sustainable, and it gets loonier as time goes on.

TV Show Pitches: Black History Month Edition

A few years ago, I wrote about a science fictionTV show pitch about Space Pirates, and sure enough, I actually got a show very similar to my description in The Expanse.  Since then, I’ve had several show idea’s that have bubbled around the old noggin.  I’ve not yet started to write them down (until now), but I’ve pitched them to various friends and acquaintances with; shall we say; mixed results.  I don’t care though.  I did get The Expanse on the air.

And also, it is Black History Month, and I’ve been meaning to jot something down about that ever since the last Black History Month. However the idea I’ve been mulling over is real history, so I don’t want to go with that until I’ve double checked my real history.  In the meantime, here’s something that is both Black related and History related, although maybe more history adjacent than actual history.  So here are two TV show pitches that should appeal to The Woke (which seems to be a requirement these days to get on the air):

 

Working Title:  Blacklander (this title needs work)

Genre:  Fantasy, Romance

Hot Take:  Outlander meets Roots

Premise:  I wrote a review for the show Outlander a few years ago.  The premise of that show is that a World War II nurse ends up going back to the 16th century via magical Druid stones.  She meets a dashing Scottish rogue, falls in love, yada yada yada.  My idea is for 21st century Medical resident at a Virginia hospital, while leaving work after a late shift has her car hit by magical lightening (there is a lack of magical Druid stones in Virginia), goes off a bridge into a river, and when she swims to the surface finds herself in pre-Civil war Virginia, where she is promptly arrested by a slave patrol hunting a female runaway slave.

The medical resident, we’ll call her “Claire” for now, is taken back to the plantation that the runaway slave was from.  The overseer recognizes that this isn’t the same person who ran away, but pretends that she is, otherwise the slave patrol will just sell her and the plantation will be out a slave.

Crying hysterical Claire, who thinks she’s going crazy, turns out to be worse than useless at actual slave work, but when one of the slave kids drown at the river, she uses CPR to resuscitate him.  This divides the slaves.  Half think she’s a witch, and half thinks she’s a great healer.  This firestorm winds up at the Master’s house, where the master is angry at the overseer’s deception, and intrigued by the medical possibilities.  The mistress of the plantation is ill with an undiagnosed disease which Claire easily diagnoses putting her at odds with her real doctor.  They argue over medical matters during which the doctor, although disagreeing with her diagnosis, is astonished by her apparent medical knowledge.  He offers the Master of the plantation a deal to take her on as assistant (these kind of transactions with skilled slaves were common at the time), ostensibly to train her to provide medical treatment to the slaves, but really to pick her brain about her medical knowledge.

So an unlikely friendship is formed.

Naturally a proper romance requires multiple suitors for the lady fair.  Chicks dig options.  So we have:

The doctor, with the dead wife.

The noble slave who’s back is scarred by multiple whippings (just like in Outlander).

The landowner’s son, who is the wily evil option.

Set in the 1850’s just before John Brown’s raid and the Civil War, Claire has the foreknowledge to change history.  In Outlander, that Claire found a deterministic universe, in which nothing she did made a difference.  In Blacklander, our Claire will find out she can change things.

Twist:  The runaway slave that the slave patrol was hunting winds up in the 21st Century

Twist:  By the end of season one, Claire’s car is found in the river, confusing the locals.

 

And now for some lighter fare…

Working Title:  Toby’s Heroes

Genre:  Comedy, Steampunk?  Whatever Wild, Wild West was?

Hot Take:  Hogan’s Heroes meet…also Roots

Premise:  A few years ago I wrote about TV producer Kenya Barris (the creator of Black-ish) pitching a new diverse woke version of Bewitched. Although that show is still in development hell the idea of rubbishing through sitcom history and redoing the shows with a mostly black cast seems scrapping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to originality, but with enough diversity, you don’t need originality or creativity, diversity is our one and only value.

So if it’s that easy then let me pull Hogan’s Heroes out from sitcom history, set it during the Civil War, and have the “prisoners” actually be slaves on a plantation who are secretly helping the Union Army during the war, either by running sabotage missions, or helping run freed slaves and Northern spies and sympathizers through their underground railroad.  And why shouldn’t they have an underground tunnel system under the plantation?  Let’s see, a bumbling, vainglorious plantation owner, his wife, who is secretly having an affair with “Toby,” an overseer who “see’s nothing,” and occasional visiting Confederate troops, all seem to add up to woke hilarity.  Yes I know those two don’t usually go together, but that’s’ why I’m suggesting Hogan’s Heroes as the template rather than some of the more bland family sitcoms.

OK there are two good TV show pitches.  As usual, I only very humbly ask for producer credits and a percentage of the gross.  Let the racial healing begin!