ON REFLECTION: Give us a black Jesus!
When you go to the cinema or watch a DVD about the Crucifixion or even about a lesser hero like 007 or Iron Man, do you ever wonder if a black actor will ever play such exalted roles?
In my lifetime I’ve watched a number of Hollywood films about the Crucifixion and the life of Christ and I’ve never once seen the portrayal of the Saviour by a black man.
I’ve never seen that suffering on the cross by a black actor, and I wonder whether filmmakers worldwide still believe there’s no black man worthy to play the role of the rabbi, miracle worker who walked on water and raised the dead, and Son of God who rose from the dead.
Any portrayal of Christ, particularly in the Western world, has to be visually and psychologically powerful since He symbolizes the only thing between a lost world and eternal life.
So why, after so many years, has no one seen it fit, in Hollywood or even in a major painting, to portray the symbol of Salvation via a black Christ?
It is because, I think, we are still mentally enslaved, and in Christianity and its related theology and Bible study the presence of the black individual is not considered important.
The spiritual is all that should concern us, though we live in this mortal body.
I’m not saying I want my race to be seen as the epitome of greatness and suffering, but why is there continued silence on the black presence in Christianity and the Old Testament?
Why are no theses or analyses on these issues coming forth after centuries of theological study?
Does no one ask why the Pope always has to emerge from the deep recesses of Europe or probably from Latin America, thereby having Caucasian characteristics?
I know we as black people have come a long way in a short time, with the Civil Rights movement occurring just “the other day” in the 60s.
And in the world of film excellence, black winners of Academy Awards can be counted on one hand; so how dare one entertain the thought of a black man playing the role of James Bond, far less the greatest hero of all? “Ridiculous!” I say with emphasized sarcasm.
This may all seem trivial, but let’s admit that visual images stay in the mind; and when generations of Barbadians, Americans, Britons – you name it – are fed a daily diet of comic books, statues, history books, paintings, sculptures, advertisements, films – all portraying heroes who are white, then one must eventually believe this is the image of anyone whom one should turn to in the hour of need, in an emergency, in search of a better reality.
We need not necessarily copy the Hollywood producers but, as black people, appreciate our own physical being so much that we invest in images of ourselves in film, on stage and in other works of art – not to worship but to reverse the debilitating effect on our psyche.
This has everything to do with how black people see ourselves and, equally, how we see those who still colonize our minds by way of art, film and literature. Colonization and enslavement hiding in plain sight!
In Barbados, for instance, a black citizen – and worse if he or she’s poor – would plead a cause until they turn blue but that cause is hardly validated until someone from North America or Europe gives it a stamp of approval.
I know of an experience with a local church that was having problems with a public sector department on the ownership of land where that small church has stood for more than fourscore years. And though members had records and deeds, grave doubt was being expressed in the bosom of officialdom until a white Canadian member of the denomination came here with records dating back over a century.
Within two weeks, the matter was resolved after months of worry and consternation among the local congregation.
After being fed a diet of white superiority and heroism for so long, we need to revere our black heroes more, especially in school literature where Toussaint L’Ouverture is hardly discussed and where our own national heroes are only remembered some time around Heroes Day and Independence.
Not only does Barbados need to name and rename our schools, buildings and streets after people who resemble 95 per cent of the population, but make Heroes Square into a reality.
In the misnomer that is Heroes Square, nothing represents heroism except for the cenotaph bearing the names of fallen soldiers in the two World Wars. And it’s only in April each year that the Treasury Building unfolds the paintings of our ten heroes for all to see.
Is this good enough for a people repressed so long?
The lack of an outstanding black presence in art and in our psyche – especially as it relates to a white Jesus as the Saviour of the world – is bound up in race hatred and, unfortunately, religion.
• Ricky Jordan is an Associate Editor of THE NATION.