Between Privilege and Poverty

Dido Belle

 

In the movie, Belle, the aspect of power structure and relations is evident throughout, especially in the depictions of rites of passage and cultural art and symbols in art in British life.

Belle is a film set in the years 1769-1781 in Britain when the country was a colonial empire and leader in trade. In this movie, the plot centers on Britain as a slave trade capital.

Belle is based on the true-life story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, who was the daughter of Sir John Lindsay and an African slave, Maria Belle.  Sir Lindsay placed Dido in his uncle’s care, and left for the West Indies, as he was a captain in the King’s Royal Navy.  Lord Mansfield and his wife raised Dido and her cousin, Elizabeth.  Lord Mansfield was also the Lord Chief Justice of England.  He presided over the court appeal case of the Zong slave ship whose captain and crew threw 132 diseased and dying slaves over the ship’s side to drown in the ocean.  The owners of the ship wanted to collect insurance for the human cargo that perished at sea.

There is cultural change that comes about in England through the Zong case before the highest court in England with Lord Chief Justice Mansfield presiding.  The case consisted of whether the insurance companies should compensate the owners/traders of the Zong ship for the loss of human cargo.  The horrid case drew much attention through strong, vocal protestations of local abolitionists that spread the news of the case to men of high position – anyone of influence.  By 1807, a law abolishing slave trade was enacted (Understanding Slavery, 2011).  It later led to the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833 (Gates, Jr., 2014).

Power Structure

The movie depicts power structure in the examples of Lord Mansfield and his family, as well as the Ashfords, who are nobility, or aristocrats.  The aristocrats, or wealthy landowners, had the power at that time, besides the highest power of the monarchy (Smitha, 2015).  These societies were patrilineal.

With this power structure, Dido lived within it, hovering between nobility and servant.  Her white bloodline elevated her above servant and commoner, but her African slave bloodline put her below a commoner.  So, for Dido, she was not permitted to dine with her family when dinner guests were present, and she had no coming out in the rites of passage the young English women of nobility normally did.

An example of this was near the beginning of the film, when Dido became a young lady, she did not understand her position in the family and society.  Because of not being permitted to eat or join at the dinner table when guests were present, and the looks Lady Ashford gave her while visiting, Dido hated her African slave bloodline.  In a poignant scene where she smacks her fists on her chest and neck and rakes her hands over her cheeks, it showed she hated her skin color, hence, hated her African heritage.  Also, because she was a woman, Dido was considered lower than men, and did not have much independence.

Dido had fallen in love with John Davinier, but she could not pursue it because they came from different social classes.  Mr. Davinier, the son of a reverend, was a passionate man with the desire to become a lawyer or judge.  He was an activist and abolitionist.  Dido and John shared the same beliefs about abolishing slavery and agreed that the owners of the Zong should not be compensated for throwing a large portion of the slaves into the ocean to die.  John also treated Dido as an equal, and saw the beauty in her through her mother’s lineage.

Oliver Ashford, who had wanted to marry Dido, did not recognize Dido’s mother’s contribution to Dido’s features.  He found Dido a unique and pretty specimen, in which he could “overlook” her mother’s African bloodline and heritage because her father had given her such “loveliness and privilege” (Jones & Asante, 2013).  Although, he thought he was being complimentary to Dido, it was really an insult to her.

Rites of Passage

In the film, a rite of passage consisted of English women being presented to social groups of their same class once they transitioned from a girl to womanhood.  This was a common ritual in the upper classes of European society.  The transition is common in all cultures in which a rite of passage happens when one is between two positions.  The person is no longer part of the old position and not yet part of the new one (International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2008).

In the noble English culture, endogamy was practiced.  Women were to be matched with a suitable husband from the same social class through the decision of her father or male equivalent.  As was said above, because Dido lived in a patrilineal society and culture, it was the man who made decisions and took care of the woman financially and in all things.  In Belle, it was Dido’s cousin, Elizabeth, who “came out” for this purpose of matching her up with a husband.

Dido’s finances were unique in that, although she was illegitimate, her father left her a great amount of money after his death.  He died when Dido was a young woman.  She was given 2000 pounds a year, which was a lot of money at that time.  So, with this inheritance, Lord Mansfield and Lady Mansfield did not have to worry about Dido marrying into a social class, because they felt a nobleman wouldn’t marry her because she was a mulatto, and she would shame the family marrying a commoner or servant below her noble status.  Because of this, Dido did not go through the rite of passage of being presented to society to be matched with a husband.

Elizabeth Murray, Dido’s cousin, did not receive an inheritance from her father, even though she was legitimate.  Her father gave his money to his other children and new wife.  So, Elizabeth was at the mercy of the man Lord Mansfield and Lady Mansfield chose for her.  Her father was also a naval officer, and deposited his daughter with Lord Mansfield before Dido arrived.

Cultural Art and Symbolism

The portraits of aristocrats were quite prevalent at the time in England.  The many portraits shown in the Kenwood home of Dido were of her relatives, and many of them showed a nobleman standing and a black servant kneeling below him.  This symbolized both the status and inequality of the two men.  The nobleman was seen as higher in importance and social status.  The black servant had little social status.

The film’s producer/director, and its writer, were inspired in creating their movie by the portrait of Dido and her cousin, Elizabeth.  The painting portrays Elizabeth seated on a bench reaching out her right hand and touching Dido’s left arm, who stood near by, smiling with a finger to her cheek, and a basket of fruit in her left arm.  This was a powerful picture that symbolized equality.  Dido was not kneeling before her cousin, but standing next to her.  The portrait hung in the house until 1922.  It is now in the Scone Palace in Scotland where Lord Mansfield was born (Jones & Asante, 2013).

In conclusion, this analysis of the power structure, rites of passage, and cultural and art symbolism in England enlightened me to the enculturation of England’s aristocratic societies and how power and money influenced trade and treatment of African Americans and those in lower classes.  It taught me what life had been like for a mulatto woman in eighteenth century England and the environment in which she lived — a patrilineal culture and society and its racial boundaries.  Many societies are still patrilineal, and the effects of racism and sexism are still around today, regardless of the eradication of slavery and the progression of the women’s movement.   With this knowledge, I am able to better understand cultures around the world – how they came about and evolved over time — and hope to contribute in a positive way to the progression of equality for all people.

 

PS: If you haven’t seen this movie, go watch it as soon as you can. One of the best of the 21st century in script, acting, classiness, and storyline.

 

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Works Cited
Understanding Slavery.  (2011). The Zong case study.  Understanding Slavery. Retrieved fromhttp://www.understandingslavery.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=373&Itemid=236
Gates, Jr., H.  (2014).  Who Was the Real Dido Elizabeth Belle?  The Root.  Retrieved from http://www.theroot.com/articles/history/2014/05/did_belle_really_help_end_slavery_in_england.1.html
Smitha, F.  (2015).  Britain in the mid 1700s.  Macrohistory and World Timeline.  Retrieved from http://www.fsmitha.com/h3/h29-fr.htm
Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences.  (2008).  Rites of Passage.  Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences.  Retrieved from http://find.galegroup.com/gic/infomark.do?&idigest=fb720fd31d9036c1ed2d1f3a0500fcc2&type=retrieve&tabID=T001&prodId=GIC&docId=CX3045302291&source=gale&userGroupName=itsbtrial&version=1.0
Jones, D. (Producer), & Asante, A. (Director).  (2013).  Belle [DVD].  United States.  Bankside Films.

 

 

 

Making Sense of Insidious Behavior

la times pic of drone strike on iran general

(photo credit via LA Times)

So, let me see if I can comprehend this.

First off, skipping over the CIA’s taking out of the leader of Iran in the 1950s (regime change), let’s jump to the 1980s during the war between Iraq and Iran. We backed Saddam/Iraq, by giving them intelligence and weapons to fight Iran.

Then a few years later, we invaded Iraq, captured their leader, gave him to his people for trial, then occupied the country illegally for sixteen years and counting.

After Saddam’s death, our military was put there to train their army and install a leader and his cabinet that would be friendly and bend to our will.

Then several years later, unrest and protests built in Iraq due to our perpetual presence in their country, and then we turned on them again. In the midst of this, we killed the top Iranian general who helped defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Not only did our drone strike kill the Iranian general, but also an Iraqi commander.

Next there’s the whole incomprehensible connection with Saudi Arabia (who is also connected/allied with Israel…have you ever noticed there aren’t any bombings going on between the two of them?). Oil was the main reason we connected with Saudi Arabia, but even after the attack on the Kobar Towers where our military members stayed, including my husband back in 1996 (he left a month before the bombings), we still bent to Saudi Arabia’s will, to keep the oil flowing.

Many of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi. A few of them, including the ringleader, were given visas to the US by the CIA before 9/11 happened, according to Michael Springman, stationed in Jeddah, who was in charge of granting visas to foreigners is on camera saying he made visas for them to enter the US and wondered why.

In the days leading up to the attack, the stock market showed unusual activity, with put options on the two main airlines that were used in the attacks.

During the attack on the towers, bombs went off before any of them were hit by the planes (and building 7 wasn’t hit by a plane). Nobody asked how the bombs got planted in the buildings. Considering over a hundred witnesses mentioned bombs in the Twin Towers and in Building 7, it wasn’t made up. So, how did the bombs get into the buildings without passing through security? And planning detonation and/or controlled demolition takes weeks. It cannot be done the day of the attack.

And what a coincidence that the part of the Pentagon building hit by the plane was the Army’s audit offices, auditing the missing 2.3 trillion (believe that was the number…trying to remember off the top of my head) Rumsfeld mentioned the day or couple days before the attack. Instead of flying the plane into parts of the Pentagon where masses of people were for maximum effect, which is what a terrorist would want to do, they flew the plane near the ground to ram into that specific area investigating the missing monies that had just been reinforced with thick concrete and other materials a few months before.

After the loss of nearly 3000 people in this attack, when every airport’s planes were grounded, a group of Israelis that were detained by the FBI for suspicious activity were put on a plane, while members of the bin Laden family were put on another plane and flown back to their countries.

Within a few hours, the FBI said the culprit of the attacks was bin Laden, who, when interviewed, said he didn’t do it. Terrorists love to take responsibility for their attacks. They gloat over it. Curiously, the Taliban in Afghanistan said they’d hand over bin Laden if the US presented evidence bin Laden was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and if Bush and his military would stop bombing Afghanistan. Bush and his admin. refused. Guess the FBI and CIA didn’t have evidence. Otherwise, they would have given it so that they could negotiate for bin Laden’s extradition to the US to stand trial for the murders. And at the same time, the FBI never had bin Laden on their most wanted list for the 9/11 attacks.

Rewind to the 1980s when we armed bin Laden and his rag tag team (then called the Mujahideen, later becoming Al Qaeda and the Taliban) against the Soviets when they invaded Afghanistan. Bin Laden was considered a CIA asset.

Fast forward to a few years ago when we supplied our weapons to Saudi Arabia to help bomb Yemen that killed hundreds of civilians, including many children. It also caused mass starvation and cholera outbreak.

But that’s not all. We armed Al Qaeda–the same group that attacked us on 9/11, according to the government’s official story–to try and topple a sovereign country’s leader in Syria. A leader, who is an Alawhite–a minority sect of the Islamic faith, and a leader who ran his country in a secular manner, where other minorities, such as Christians, were protected.

To add to our disgusting foreign policy, we’re still backing these terrorists, and our government has the gall to continue to illegally stay in Syria and Iraq, and attempted to send our military to protect oil fields in Saudi Arabia and Syria.

And the HUGE news on the Afghan Papers, nearly equivalent to the Pentagon Papers, got barely a whisper of a mention in the Main Stream Media, who are nothing but parrots for the Military Industrial Complex, National Security Surveillance and Intel Complex. The fact that our military was sent there without a clear objective, not knowing who their enemies were, where they were, what they were actually doing there was not surprising to me, sadly, but just confirmed the usual pattern of our screwed up foreign policy.

I’m sick of our military members used as cannon fodder for war profits, lust of power and other countries’ resources. Yes, this type of imperialism has been around since the dawn of time…since humans walked the earth after the Fall, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.

President Trump’s order that had the Iranian General Suleimani assassinated, I have no doubt, was pressured by the Military Industrial Complex, Intel and National Security Surveillance State. These entities continue to rule our presidents and congress as they have for decades. However, Trump’s arrogance and ignorance has really taken us to a seriously bad place. I’m sure John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu are doing gleeful cartwheels over this disastrous move.

All of those involved in these disastrous policies are nothing but war criminals and belong in jail for life. They are responsible for millions of people’s deaths, including our own service members, who joined the military to help protect and serve our country, not be disposable pawns sent with no objective or certain winning strategy, but only to be wounded or killed, and psychologically scarred for life.

Are our military members worth anything to our government? Considering Agent Orange, white phosphorus, depleted uranium, and burn pits, I’d say not much. It certainly gives credence to the book my son read a couple years ago called G.I. Guinea Pigs. They shouldn’t be. It’s personal for me. My father, husband, and brother-in-law were in the Air Force for over twenty years.

The US’s foreign policy has been a catastrophe, lying us into wars since Vietnam. Does our government really even care about its people? I have serious doubts it does.

After all the horrible things powerful countries’ governments have done throughout history, and my country’s government is one of them… some day, we’ll reap what we sow. Pride comes before the Fall. Drunk off Power and War and Weapons Profits. Insanity has ensued for too long. Humbleness is needed.

What would a world be like if my country actually led with goodness, peace, and respect for other countries and their cultures? I can imagine all the good it could do with its riches. Philanthropic work worldwide, trading fairly with all countries, enjoying others’ traditions and ways of life.

But truly, we need to start this at home. Our own government should be taking care of its own people, and it’s not. It’s owned by corporate elitists with the deepest pockets.

So much needs to change…

My country has lost its way with madmen/psychopaths at the wheel of power for too many years.

We don’t need any more wars. We need to end all of them. We are decades overdue for PEACE and DIPLOMACY.

 

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Finding Meaning in Silenced Voices

colonialism cartoon

Postcolonial theory emerged after WWII, in which it studied the colonizer and the colonized, meaning those people from imperialistic nations, such as England, France, Denmark, and America, and the people from the countries the former ones colonized.

The postcolonial theorist, Edward Said, used poststructuralist tools by deconstructing the West and East through binary opposition.  The West was given the center or privilege, while the East was given the marginalized or “other.”

The postcolonial critic, Homi Bhabha, focused on the interactions of the colonizer with the colonized and how each group was affected by the others’ cultures.

Lastly, Gayarti Chakravorty Spivak, an Indian-born Western academic studied the difference in the cultures of the colonizer and the colonized and paid close attention to both class and the effects of colonialism on the colonized women.

The critics analyzed literature for these aspects and also had to figure out how to categorize postcolonial literature from writers who were geographically not part of Europe or other colonial powers (Bertens).  This was done through using the term, “literatures in English” (Bertens).

The writers’ works under the oppression of the colonizers were still viewed and critiqued through the center, which were the English academics and critics.  Later, in the 1970s through today, this has changed and opened up to more autonomy for those postcolonial writers that were victims of colonization (Bertens).

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” shows the Western postcolonial view through an American wealthy, caucasian family.

yellow wallpaper book cover 2

Gilman, an American writer and feminist, wrote this in the late nineteenth century when colonialism was quite active.

In the story, we can see that John, the main character’s husband, represents the colonizer, or from Said’s point of view, the West, whereas the main character represents the East.  John is a doctor and wealthy.  His character aligns with the traits of the Western colonizer or “masculine pole” (Bertens) Said describes as “enlightened, rational, entrepreneurial, and disciplined” (Bertens).  The main character shows John to exhibit the traits of rational and enlightened when she says, “John is practical to the extreme.  He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures” (Gilman).  This also reflects the West’s or colonizer’s view of the East’s or colonized’s practices, beliefs, and cultures.

The main character reflects the postcolonial view of the colonized that helps or aids in the colonizer’s power when she says in regard to John, “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.”  This also shows the trait of passiveness that Said mentions in his list of the “feminine pole” (Bertens).  These traits Said mentions that are displayed by the main character in this short story are “irrational, passive, undisciplined, and sensual” (Bertens).  The main character displays irrationality when she says, “I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time” (Gilman).  Her passivity is apparent when she says, “I tried to have a real earnest talk with him the other day and tell him I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.  But he said I wasn’t able to go, nor to stand it after I got there; I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished” (Gilman).

Using the methods of Bhabha, the interaction between the main character and her husband reveal that the main character’s perceived madness from being cooped up in the room affect John at the end of the story.  After the main character has torn up nearly all the rest of the yellow wallpaper in the room to try and release her alter ego from the prison she imagines in the paper, John comes to the room and finds it locked, for which she tells him where the key is.  In obtaining the key, John opens the door and asks in astonishment, “For God’s sake, what are you doing?” (Gilman), and the main character says, “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane.  And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” (Gilman).  John proceeds to faint in reaction to this.  But this also depicts resistance by the main character/colonized against the colonizer.

The symbols of West and East and the colonizer and the colonized through the main character and her husband in the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” provide a good example of a postcolonial theory’s analysis through its lens.

 

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Works Cited
Bertens, Hans.  Literary Theory:  The Basics.  3rd ed.  London and New York:  Routledge, 2014.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins.  “The Yellow Wallpaper.”  Gutenberg.org.  5 November 2012.
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1952/1952-h/1952-h.htm.  Accessed 10 August 2017.