One Last Thought On Forrest

Doctor Jay comments:

You wrote: "It is one thing to be judged immoral. But to be judged immoral and backward, at the same time, to be both debauched, and yet in your debauchery, still be a loser, is deeply painful."

This reminded me of the following quote from Trainspotting, spoken by Obiwan Kenobi, I mean, Ewen MacGregor, (who plays, and is, a Scot)

"Some people hate the English, I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonized by wankers. We can't even find a decent culture to be colonized by. We are ruled by effete arseholes."

Yes, that gets at a lot of the pain of it. One thing I've neglected to mention is this: I've learned, during my time writing, that where there is pain there is juice. And where this juice, there's deep truth, a chance for growth, and ultimately kick-ass writing.

Jay's quote gets at something else I wanted, but forgot, to mention--the initial twang of cheapness that takes you over, once you fully begin to grapple with being amongst the conquered. Robert Hayden's poem "Middle Passage" is one of the best meditations on slavery that I've ever read. The most poignant part, for me, is when uses the voice of a slave-trading sailor to mock the small-minded African chieftains:

Aye, lad, and I have seen those factories,
Gambia, Rio Pongo, Calabar;
have watched the artful mongos baiting traps
of war wherein the victor and the vanquished

Were caught as prizes for our barracoons.
Have seen the nigger kings whose vanity
and greed turned wild black hides of Fellatah,
Mandingo, Ibo, Kru to gold for us.

And there was one--King Anthracite we named him--
fetish face beneath French parasols
of brass and orange velvet, impudent mouth
whose cups were carven skulls of enemies:

He'd honor us with drum and feast and conjo
and palm-oil-glistening wenches deft in love,
and for tin crowns that shone with paste,
red calico and German-silver trinkets

Would have the drums talk war and send
his warriors to burn the sleeping villages
and kill the sick and old and lead the young
in coffles to our factories.

I didn't want to bold any of this, less I ruin the beauty--but the part that always gets me is the image of "nigger Kings" who traded slaves for "tin crowns that shown with paste, red calico and German-silver trinkets."

It's like, "Damn, that's what I'm worth. Broken crowns, fabric, toys and parasols. Not even gold. It's like they gave us away for nothing."

I need to clarify that I am writing about how it feels, not how it is. It's the subjective emotions, perhaps native only to me, of coming into consciousness. It's about Neo waving off the blue pill, and reveling in the red.
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In