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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Caught up in the Outer Appearances and Personalities of Politicians

man with horeshoe magnet

I decided before I go off with my family on a fun-filled, scenic-enticing, relaxing vacation, I’d throw out a political blog post that may or may not cause some friction with friends and never-before-readers to my blog.

What a way to embrace more followers, right?

Well, no.

I know this, but after reading so much of what’s going on in the political arena and the world, I’m feeling the need to get some things off my chest. And this is the place for a blogger to share her opinions, thoughts, and heart, so here I go.

Where to start…

Okay, first I’ll start with where I stand on world issues, domestically and globally. I look at the world through a pro-life lens. This means, everything involving Life and the importance of it is how I gauge who I select to vote for.

Having this Life worldview is very difficult because no politician running now or in the past has ever checked off all of the pro-life issues that are vital to me, which are:

  • Anti-abortion — with the exception of danger to the mother’s life being lost  (This subject is too vast and involved to get into in this bullet list)
  • Anti-war – war is a very last resort and only through defending our country, which none of the wars in this century or since WWII have been about this.
  • Anti-death penalty/capital punishment — there’s always a chance to change and transform as a human being. Killing the person takes that chance away. There are also false convictions of innocent people who end up executed.
  • Pro-environmental concerns/helping to clean up the environment and save lives–human, animal, and plant/forest–God’s creation
  • Pro-criminal justice reform – treat people in prison as human beings because they are human beings, and adopt the German’s reconciliation prison system (if you’re not sure what that is, check out an excellent TED Talk video on it here)
  • Pro-immigration reform with humane treatment of people coming through our borders
  • Anti-euthanasia for humans. Medications to help ease their pain is okay. I’m not for the Jack Kevorkian-style euthanasia. (This issue is much grayer than a simple bullet point, for which I won’t be getting into in this particular post)

There are no candidates who are all pro-life in the way I understand the meaning of the word. So, I look to candidates who embrace the most Life issues out of my list. Otherwise, I’d never vote.

Okay. I hope you now have at least a glimmer of understanding where I’m coming from.

Onto people voting for politicians who are likable and seem like good men and women. They are approachable, seem to know what they’re talking about, and they smile a lot.

Sometimes those candidates are the most dangerous.

Why?

Well, because we get caught up in their appearances, what they say on the campaign trail or townhall, but tend to forget to dig deeper and look at what they’ve truly done via policies, via their voting record, and where and with whom they’ve drunk cocktails while fundraising or giving speeches while on the campaign trail.

Taking a step back in reviewing my bullet points…unfortunately, there are no Republicans I could ever vote for because they do not check off many of my Life issues in their political resumes. So, I’ve had to look at the Democratic politicians.

Just an FYI. From age 18-40, I was a staunch conservative Republican and voted only Republican every election.

Since 2009, I’ve been an independent (unaffiliated voter is what it actually says on my voting card).

I’ve now held both conservative and liberal mindsets throughout my life. I’ve seen things from both points of view from my own personal upbringing, social class, etc.

With that info shared, I think both the Republican and Democratic Parties are bought off by wealthy donors.  There are a few exceptions within those parties that are not bought off, and I respect them for that. They actually choose to advocate and be the voice for their constituents in their districts/areas. In this day and age, I have to say, how refreshing. But really…that’s how it should be, how it used to be decades before…before the passing of Citizen’s United, for one thing.

Now, I’m going to give an example of two politicians whose appearance and likable personalities have overshadowed the negative and horrible policies they’ve enacted or supported.

Mind you, I think these guys seem like decent men, but some of their policies or the policies they supported through voting for them, take away massive points on their “likability” for me. Because policies and principles are more important than appearances and “charisma”.

Actually, I’m going to give three examples so that I throw in a Republican as well to make my examples more egalitarian in nature.

Although I could go on and on about the corruption of the Clintons, they ARE NOT the examples I’m using in this post.

Here are the three men I am going to discuss rather briefly:

Marco Rubio

Barack Obama

Joe Biden

I’m starting with Marco Rubio because 1) He’s the easiest to rattle off first, and 2) I liked his personality and appearance in the 2016 Republican primary debates. He’s clean cut, good looking, smart, has the statesman look…

Then I looked into his foreign policy. He tends to congregate with warmongers and should clip “WARMONGER” on his name tag at political functions.

The last news piece I saw on Rubio was several months ago, and it was appalling. He was threatening the Venezuelan leader using the heinous rape-and-murder-of-Qaddafi-style regime change (picture included) in one of his tweets. No matter what we think of Qaddafi, what was done to him was horrible.

To check up on him, I went to his Twitter page a few minutes ago and read through his most recent tweets in the past few weeks. His tweets parrot the Military/Intelligence/National Security Industrial Complex/War Profiteers, Wall Street, and Big Oil–the majority of the wealthy donors that have bought off our politicians.

To my beliefs and sensibilities, Rubio has little to show for the list of Life issues in my bullet list.

If he cared about Life, Rubio would be on board for clean, healthy green energy.

If he cared about Life, Rubio would be diplomatic and strive for peace with other countries in the world whether they are adversaries or allies.

If he cared about Life, Rubio would have a more humane approach toward people languishing and forgotten in our for-profit prisons, people addicted to drugs, and people desperately looking for a better life in America.

Let’s move on to Barack Obama.

Great guy, Obama, right? As president, he presented himself with dignity and class. He appears to be a loving husband and doting and good father.

Some things Obama did were good, like including the US in the Paris Climate Agreement. Like joining in the Iran Nuclear Deal.

And then there were really, really BAD things Obama signed off on or wrote an executive order for, such as:

–Bailing out the bankers and allowing the average citizens to suffer, losing a lot of their savings, and for many, their homes. Predatory lenders and fraudulent people in the banking industry didn’t spend a day in jail. In fact, many CEOs of these big banks, when they left their positions received huge bonuses. NOT GOOD. Bad, criminal behavior should never be rewarded.

–Going after whistleblowers, such as Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning (aka Chelsea), Tom Drake, John Kiriakou, and others, with a vengeance.

–Signing into law the National Defense Authorization Act in 2012. Here’s an excerpt from the Huffington Post to give you an idea why this was dangerous and shouldn’t have passed as it was:

In 2012, the U.S. Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with relatively little attention from the media―despite the freedoms it obliterated. The NDAA was enacted to empower the U.S. military to fight the war on terror. But buried in this law are two provisions (Sections 1021 and 1022) that authorize the indefinite military detention, without charge or trial, of any person labeled a “belligerent”―including an American citizen.

These NDAA provisions (which have been re-approved by Congress and signed by President Obama every year since 2012) override habeas corpus―the essence of our justice system. Habeas corpus is the vital legal procedure that prevents the government from detaining you indefinitely without showing just cause. When you challenge your detention by filing a writ of habeas corpus, you must be promptly brought before a judge or into court, where lawful grounds must be shown for your detention or you must be released.

Under Section 1021, however, anyone who has committed a “belligerent act,” can be detained indefinitely, without charges or trial, as a “suspected terrorist.” This is a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution and our Bill or Rights. In The Federalist No. 84, Alexander Hamilton stressed the importance of the writ of habeas corpus to protect against “the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny.”

 

–NSA surveillance of the public’s private phone calls and the like was another thing that was continued full force under Obama. We wouldn’t have known about this without Snowden’s revealing these classified documents for the public. It was both a courageous and selfless act because he had to make the right, ethnical decision to expose this abuse (that’s what whistleblowers do–report waste, fraud, or abuse by our government) by our government’s agency knowing he’d lose his good-paying job, risk perilous government backlash, and probably never see his family and friends again on American soil. Fearing for your life because of giving the public the dark, underhanded actions of an agency of your government isn’t for a person’s fifteen minutes of fame. It takes integrity and honesty to do such a thing.

–Social moral issues regarding the safety of women and girls in bathrooms and locker rooms.

-Although he signed DACA that allowed for immigrant children born in the US. to stay in the country, he also deported more than 2.8 million illegal immigrants in his time in office. This is more than any other president before him.

–He oversaw our arming terrorists in Syria and selling arms to Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemen. Yes, this started under Obama’s presidency.

–The complete destruction of Libya and nearly Syria. The toppling of the democratically-elected leader in Honduras that caused horrible violence there.

–He didn’t close Guantanamo or bring all our troops home from Afghanistan like he said he would when running for president.

With these blotches on Obama’s eight years as president, I find it very hard to look at him and just see a nice family man and good president.

But I also realize the position of the president is tough.

Nevertheless, Obama carried on the foreign policy of Bush (another man who appeared nice, especially his wife) almost completely, and he also extended Bush’s tax cuts.

Obama was right in an interview years ago before he was president when he said if he were running in the 1980s, he’d be considered a moderate republican. I can certainly see that.

Then again, those behind the scenes–the Deep State–Military/Intel/National Security Industrial Complex, Big Banks, Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Pharma, etc.–own our officials, whether in the White House or Congress. You’ll notice this most overtly in our foreign policy that has continued its same destructive actions for decades and through different presidencies.

You will get nothing different with Biden. What makes him not a good choice for president is that he voted for the TPP, drafted the 1994 crime bill, voted for the Iraq War, drafted the foundation of the Patriot Act in 1995, and voted for the bank bailouts.

What we need is money out of politics first and foremost so our voices are heard and our elected officials do the wishes of the working people, those in need and the vast majority of our society.

And we must bring back the pendulum that has swung so far right, the Republicans have dropped off the cliff and the Democratic Party has taken the place of the moderate Republicans–by bringing back regulations on the banking and business industries, overturning Citizens United, reinstating Glass-Steagall, and bringing back solid social safety nets.

We deserve better people representing us than any of the people we’ve had this century.

We need REAL CHANGE.

This isn’t the 1960s anymore. The days of making it on your own, pulling yourself up by your boot straps has passed.

We’re heading toward an automated society, as well as AI (artificial intelligence), where many other jobs will be lost.

We’re behind on the minimum wage. It hasn’t risen in ten years.

With the loss of jobs, skyrocketing prices for food, housing, medical insurance, and prescription drugs, it’s the late 1920s again, and we need someone like FDR to bring about the new social programs for this time and era:

  • Medicare for all single-payer healthcare
  • Free pubic college
  • Green energy replacing fossil fuel
  • A raise in the minimum wage to a living wage
  • Wealthy corporations and people paying what they owe in taxes, instead of getting tax breaks where people like Jeff Bezos pay $0.00 in Federal income tax. This is criminal and immoral. Socialism for the rich and rugged individualism (aka, survival of the fittest) for everyone else isn’t a society in which people can thrive.
  • Cut the Defense budget by at least 40%

 

**Just to name a few

 

Maybe I’ll write on the healthcare issue in a future blog post if I don’t get skewered for my thoughts shared in this post. But honestly sharing one’s thoughts in a respectful manner should always be respected and appreciated, no matter if one agrees with the person or not. And you’re definitely free to disagree with what I said. Each person lives by the light and path in which he/she is given.

 

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