There’s an image from 12 Years A Slave I’ve been searching for and I’m disappointed [yet relieved] I didn’t find it!
The image is of a defiant and bound Solomon NORTHUP dangling from a hangman’s noose, just barely escaping death by balancing on his toes. A BEYOND painful scene in the movie that’s as slow-moving and sticky as molasses. The scene — and you — hang there right along with Solomon.
Having lost my 4th Grandfather James WINGFIELD in WILKES County GA and my 4th Aunt Amanda CODY in neighboring WARREN County to lynchings, Solomon’s agony made me physically nauseous.
And then the backdrop stole the show — at least for me. What plays out in the backdrop called for more pity — and summoned more anger — than Solomon being [almost] hung did!
As a matter of fact, Solomon NORTHUP was not to be pitied at all! To paraphrase Master William FORD, Solomon was pretty damn REMARKABLE!:)
But the time-lapsed backdrop is another matter altogether!
Over the course of a few EXCRUCIATING minutes, Director Steve McQUEEN impeccably delivered a non-verbal, CRYSTAL-CLEAR verdict on the psychological devastation our Ancestors endured daily — and it felt like a sucker-punch to the heart.
Not shocking Solomon being ignored by the Overseer and Mistress — he was their property after all; he’d broken the rules and was subject to punishment. Despicable yes, but shocking? No. But his peers, fellow slaves ignored him too — out of beaten into your bones fear; out of hopelessness that seeped through their skin and slapped me!
As Solomon dangled for what was at least 3/4 of a day, the slaves moved about as if he were not there AT ALL. Women hung clothes on the line and prepared meals. Kids frolicked in the fields. One brave soul finally summoned the courage to offer a dehydrated Solomon water, her head darting; anxious her mercy might be punished if caught!
Scene after scene, for every act of strength emanating from Solomon, we’re forced to stare the brokenness, subjugation and humiliation of his peers in the eye and REALLY see the PURE, inhumane, evil slavery was.
12 Years a Slave’s backdrop spoke not only to the barbaric conditions our enslaved Ancestors endured, it forced me to examine the legacy of how the conditioned state manifests in the descendants of once enslaved Ancestors — TODAY.
Our challenges extending the basics to each other — kindness, courtesy, respect, support and loyalty. How quickly we divide. How easily we scurry out-of-the-way and run for cover when we see our brothers and sisters dangling from virtual ropes. How fearful of change and the “unknown” we are…
Or how we just walk around afraid, seeing the glass 1/2 empty and waiting for the ball to drop. Why exactly do we opt to just SURVIVE?
Why are we still waiting for permission to breathe and claim LIFE? Why are brilliant people STILL playing plantation politics in the 21st Century?
With all that’s at stake, and a legacy of powerful Ancestors and Civil Rights advocacy paving our way, how is it we still fight for self — ONLY? We still haven’t learned the power of unified numbers and the value [and safety] to be found in community?!
Why?! Why?! Why?! That damn backdrop!
In the years to come, when you find yourself sitting with your kids and grandkids, sharing the historical lessons of Solomon NORTHUP, Richard ALLEN, Ida B. WELLS, Robert SMALLS, Mary PEAKE, Ella BAKER and Ruby BRIDGES — how will your life’s work line up?
Will you have been a Solomon NORTHUP or just the BACKDROP?
Put your [much deserved] anger at an oppressive and biased system aside.
As their living legacy, our Ancestors are deserving of our praise, reverence and accountability to restore what’s been broken. We must fix HOME first.