Maureen Dowd, the redheaded columnist at the New York Times, is the latest addition to what seems to be a recurring trend in the reception of Selma among white journalists, who incessantly lament over the omission of sympathetic white characters in a movie about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Civil Rights in America.
The article begins in strange fashion when Dowd appears to be surprised that she is watching the movie “in a theater full of black teenagers.” As her essay goes on, it is clear that she pays more attention to the Black teenagers than to the movie. Like a typical voyeuristic white woman, she describes their every move and her interpretations of their reactions to scenes, as if her observations are a window to their souls.
This sets the tone for whom else she would like to speak, Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma.
White women, too, show paternalistic behavior towards Black women. In condescending fashion, Dowd coaxes Ava DuVernay’s direction with praise while lambasting it with insult.
She says: “I loved the movie and find the Oscar snub of its dazzling actors repugnant. But the director’s talent makes her distortion of L.B.J. more egregious. Artful falsehood is more dangerous than artless falsehood, because fewer people see through it.”
What Maureen Dowd and other white critics deem “artlful falsehood” is DuVernay’s portrayal of former United States President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Dowd’s qualm is that she feels LBJ is depicted as being anti-Civil Rights, or at the very least indifferent towards the systematic disenfranchisement of Blacks in the South. In other words, she cannot understand how a liberal politician would not be an ally of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The incongruity is really not that hard to grasp.
As we can see by a blatantly racist non-indictment, which failed to take a renegade police officer to trial after he choked a non-violent citizen to his premature death, the so-called liberal blue state of New York in its so-called liberal metropolis of New York City is not so liberal after all.
Dowd’s concern for the way young Black viewers would interpret the movie reveals why she was so intent on committing her observations on their behavior to memory.
She writes: “Many of the teenagers by me bristled at the power dynamic between the men. It was clear that a generation of young moviegoers would now see L.B.J.’s role in civil rights through DuVernay’s lens. And that’s a shame.”
What else could be Dowd’s worst fear except that viewers, and young black viewers especially, might make the connection that Whites like herself who write for the New York Times and profess to be liberal, actually aren’t so liberal. If LBJ was a snake in sheep’s clothing, what stops the rest of them from hiding feelings of disdain behind a friendly visage?
The real shame is that Dowd, who professes to be liberal and possibly feminist, doesn’t want to extend a Black female director like Ava DuVernay the humanity to exercise her voice, to tell her story, to interpret history through her cinematic lens, no matter whether others find it fascinating, tedious, nostalgic, historically accurate, or reverent.
More important, Dowd doesn’t want young Black children to see history through the lens of how a Black woman interprets it, which would explain why whites are so intent upon being the vanguards of media and suppressing the communication of the masses, the global majority, who do not necessarily agree with them.
Even a trained historian, and not one trained to lie but one whose craft is rooted in the excavation of truth, can only recall history based on what was left behind. Sadly, we know the bulk of documented American history to be a bed of white lies that, over time, is patched with Black and multi-racial correctives.
It pains Dowd, as it does other whites, to have Black people—mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, cousins, sisters, brothers—impart their perspectives, wisdoms, truths, and aspirations to their young. Dowd would much rather select a white filmmaker to play the role of the gatekeeper who would package history in quite a different cultural vehicle for mass dissemination.
If anything, Dowd would rather have her truth told to Black children and not some Black woman’s truth, which she considers false and inappropriate.
Dowd’s real problem is that “DuVernay had plenty of vile white villains” but provides no staunch white person to whom she can cling her skeleton of white guilt. Dowd, like other whites, desperately wants to attach herself to some white character in Selma and say that if she were an adult living during that slice of Civil Rights history, she would be that person.
A movie like The Help (2011) provided her with a few options, as do most Hollywood movies. But as per Ava DuVernay’s design, Selma leaves no white savior for Dowd to escape to, and rightly so.
Where were all the sympathetic whites while slavery lasted for 400 years and Jim Crow segregation for nearly a century thereafter? Where have all the white saviors been since the ongoing War on Drugs has debilitated Black communities and imprisoned Black youth at alarming and unprecedented rates?
Race isn’t just “America’s original sin,” as Maureen Dowd states to conveniently locate white privilege and oppression in a distant past, as some horrors that family members she never knew once committed that were heroically eradicated by some white savior by the name of Lyndon B. Johnson.
The truth is that race is more than America’s original sin.
Racism and white supremacy are America’s birth mothers and its abusive baby daddies.
Racism and white supremacy are America’s present sin, and America’s sin of tomorrow and the next day, unless Maureen Dowd and her self-proclaimed clean-handed colleagues would rather opt for something other than indifference and callousness in their dealings with Blacks and also Latinos.
Unlike most Hollywood movies, Ava DuVernay doesn’t delineate a sharp, and by most calculations, false line between those Whites in the South and these Whites in the north.
There is no white star for Maureen Dowd to hang her hopes on.
In Selma, whites are only left to confront the unsettling prospect that they and their ancestors were like LBJ–indifferent at best, callous at worst–alongside the centuries-long (and still ongoing) fight for Civil Rights in America.
Lest Dowd has forgotten, Selma is about Martin Luther King Jr. and Black southerners who forged a nationwide movement. But as history shows, white people like Maureen Dowd always aim to take anything–an issue, a movie—that focuses on something else and make it about themselves. In other words, we don’t care that Sal’s pizzeria burnt down, we want to know about Radio Raheem!
That white people can watch Selma and only come out of the theater ruminating on LBJ says a lot about a group’s unwillingness or perhaps flawed inability to empathize with the hardships that people unlike them face, if only for two hours in a dark room with few, if any, distractions.
Martin Luther King, Jr. himself said that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” As DuVernay’s film shows, MLK and other Civil Rights activists demanded that LBJ use his power to ensure that voting rights for African Americans were upheld.
But rather than place the power of agency on the oppressed, Dowd wishes to proffer credit to the oppressor. She writes: “There was no need for DuVernay to diminish L.B.J., given that the Civil Rights Movement would not have advanced without him. Vietnam is enough of a pox on his legacy.”
At this point, we realize that Maureen Dowd really does want to believe that LBJ is the white savior of Civil Rights, that the “Movement would not have advanced without him.”
And her statement that “Vietnam is enough of a pox on his legacy” tells us that for her, this movie wasn’t about Martin Luther King, Jr; it was about the legacy and character of a former white president, and the opinions that she believes Blacks will form about him after watching the movie—whether they will laud or despise him.
President Johnson’s inaction at the height of Civil Rights tension sounds a lot like a group of whites today who fail to indict white police officers for multiple murders against Blacks across the country.
Sounds like Ava DuVernay wasn’t that far off from history after all.
The idea that everything that Black people do it is white people who let them or help them do it is what Dowd is struggling with. All of a sudden they white people, they the so-called white liberals are not the ones who liberated Blacks in America from slavery. This is why Dowd is mad! And rightly she should be mad, because it must come to her as a shock. She is not a white saviour after all.
“It was clear that a generation of young moviegoers would now see
L.B.J.’s role in civil rights through DuVernay’s lens. And that’s a
shame.” It is clear that this is why they like to prevent Black teachers from teaching in Black public schools. It is clear that this is why they are scared of us telling our own stories. Ms. Dowd is beginning to realize that time and chance cares nothing about the lies they have told in African American history for more than 4 centuries. History does not remember liars like Dowd, history will remember Ava Duvernay’s Selma. Period.
When you read that NYtimes article by Ms. Dowd. It just stinks. I can’t believe how racist white liberals are, including Bill Maher of HBO. So if a white man cannot be praised in a film, it must be a problem. If a white man is not the hero, it must be a lie. My god, thank you Ava Duvernay for opening my eyes.
Yes, what Maureen Dowd means is that white people are incapable of bad behaviour/sin/evil. That is what they want Black country to believe. That never sold in the world and thier lies are coming home to roost. I am glad African Americans don’t believe them either.
Honestly I didn’t even think much of Selma. I thought it was an OK film but I have had to pay more attention to it because these liberal white writers are getting ticked off. That’s good. Let them get ticked off, the closet racist bunch that they are!
LOL. To those liberal white folks who always bask about helping Black people escape slavery… well it wasn’t true after all. LOL, it didn’t have to take Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner for me to know this a long time ago. I could have not thought anything of LBJ meeen… but now I get it when my Dad says white people love to lie about Black people. They lie and they believe their lies. It’s laughable. I care less what LBJ did if in fact he did anything at all.I don’t care! MLK is my man. He’s the only one I will pour libation to.
Understanding what is happening in America is interesting. Racial tensions seem to be at their highest and life for Black people are drawn meaningless unless a white person chooses to give it meaning. That is what Maureen Dowd is doing. She feels that Black lives should only have meaning when she and her white ilk ask them to. Black people shouldn’t tell their stories about Selma the way they want unless it agrees with her story – Maureen Dowd’s, that is. Pathetic, this generation of white folks in America, in the face of all this talk about a post-racial America.
The pathology of white supremacist thinking is at the heart of what Maureen of the Nytimes is saying. She wants young Black children to be thought to love the white man (LBJ) who saved their ancestors from slavery and Jim Crow. That’s all this white woman, Maureen Dowd, is saying. She wants us Black people to believe we are what we are because they – white people – helped/saved/rescued/freed us from plight. The same way thy wrote and taught us for centuries in their Churches that they saved us from ‘savagery in Africa’. Maureen is no different from the enslavers, she and her NYTimes hoard.
The world is ever watchful of America now in he age of the internet. If a full integration for Blacks in America lags then America will lose its footstool in the rest of the world. Right now all we see from outside America are gross human right violations against people of color. If the US wants to parade its soldiers around the world in the name of human rights and civil rights and democracy they can’t do it looking the way they look – mass incarceration of Black men, job discrimination and an inability of the federal government in America to protect and enforce the rule of law when it come to African Americans.
Maureen Dowd will be better off understanding why Selma was made the way it was. She will be better of understanding that what she thinks interests no Africa Americans. Why? Because she lives in a country and a state where Black men get shot all the time by her fellow white cops and then walk away free as if the rule of law did not exist. Why don’t Black people in America care what Maureen has to say? She is racist!
You are right when you say that Maureen Dowd is reaching for a character in Selma she can hook unto in order to purify herself from the guilt of one of America’s sins – slavery. And oh, Maureen Dowd should not be at all forgetful that slavery is not the only sin. There is genocide too, of Native Americans. How they like to forget! Maureen’s problem is that now she can’t say that her grandfather and father were part of the civil rights movement – that idiotic statements whites in America like to make like that is suppose to make them loving of Black people?
Maureen Dowd is a despicable columnist at the New York Times. I don’t know anyone who likes her. She’s odious, why even read what she writes or has to say. I thought it would be retarded.
I enjoyed reading this very much. I have read Maureen’s article several times and I couldn’t pinpoint why I had a problem with it. It was shortsighted, narrow-minded and above all plain lunatic. Why Ava would make a film about the civil rights movement in Selma and make LBJ the king of the show seems to baffle her. “Why is LBJ’s contribution left out?” The fact that what white journalist have a problem with in Selma is LBJ’s portrayal I have to ask the question. This cat fight over LBJ’s legacy is a bit vain and stupid. Why does it have to be LBJ alone who could have had a positive impact on the civil rights movement in Selma? Does that no indict white country as racist and indifferent at the least?
Selma is not about white people. It is about Black people fighting for voting rights and the white people in the White House refusing to enforce voting rights. It is not about LBJ, it is not about white people and it is certainly not about Maureen Dowd. She can hawk her tears on the streets of New York.
Do white folks in this country really think that with Ferguson, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and the revelations of the racism of Hollywood execs etc. that we, Black people, actually think that white people in America are actually are friends? Really? Maureen might have thought she and her ilk at the New York Times were fooling somebody but they haven’t pulled the wool over anyone’s eyes. Our eyes have been wide open and in time we shall also tell our own stories! I enjoyed reading this.
Afiya X, for real, you should be a Pulitzer winner by now! Not Dowd? What a joke white convictions have become. LOL.
That article Maureen Dowd spattered across the pages of the nytimes reminds me of her weedy trip to Colorado. I honestly think that Maureen has never remained the same since she gulped down a heavily dosed Marijuana brownie. After she had poured herself a glass of Chardonnay in top of that dose of THC brownie and curled
into a ball on her hotel bed, wondering where she was, what she was
wearing, and if the world was coming to an end, Maureen Dowd has never again remained the same.
I will dismiss her ranting about Selma. Ava Duvernay did not necessarily do the story it deserved but man, she did tick off some white folks didn’t she. She knows how to get to them doesn’t she. I love this. So many liberals are tossing an turning in their beds and graves wondering if this is really what Black country thinks of them.
The answer is simple. Look at Ferguson. Yes! Black people know that you white liberals are hypocrites. They also know that you only use them to get votes!! Votes! Votes! That’s it. White liberal country is just as racist after all. What a revelation Selma can make! Thanks Ava Duvernay!
Slavery is America’s original sin? Daimn! How quickly white descendants like Maureen Dowd forget. Has she really forgotten what happened before slavery? Like Genocide of the Native Americans?
America’s white country has many sins. And time is still passing. Yet they have apologized for none! And God is still looking on, with His name clearly tattooed on the dollar!
Apparently Maureen Dowd is so holy and pure but right under her nose are Rockefeller Laws hurling Black men into prison everyday. Where has she been if she is not a racist like the liberal Rockefeller himself? Where are all the good white people? Nowhere to be found and they want to keep feeding Black country this idea that we are on the same side.
Where is the indictment for the murders of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown etc? Where are the so-called good white people? My God these people are so hypocritical meen. Daimnnn!
You know? Choking is a savage act. And white people condoned the choking or Eric Garner to death in broad day light without provocation. What a community this white country has become. In their arrogance they have become savages!
I have gotta give it to you Afiya X. You nailed Maureen, right on the head with her supercilious assertions. Does she really think we give a damn what she and the NYTimes think of MLK? We don’t! And we don’t give a f-ck about LBJ neither. LBJ may not have been a KKK member, but he sure was indifferent! Dare I say racist even.
People like Maureen Dowd are just Tribal Extremists trying to start trouble anywhere and everywhere they can get a chance. Let’s ignore her Afiya. Let’s ignore them. Tribal extremism will get them nowhere. My two cents.
“When you tell someone else’s life story, you have power over that person.
Our story, the story of African Americans, was told by the colonisers and the
slave drivers.” For long they have had power of us, and they still do to a large extent. Only that power is dwindling and people like Maureen Dowd are frantic. That’s all.
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