In the beginning of the 1972 blaxploitation film Blacula, we’re shown the tragic origin of Mamuwalde, the man who would become Blacula. It’s the 18th century and Mamuwalde (played by the fully committed king of cartoons and stage William Marshall) is an African prince who travels to Count Dracula’s castle with his wife Luva to ask the count to help him abolish the slave trade. The Count basically laughs in the Prince’s face and tells him, “Nah. But how 'bout I make your wife one of my brides tho?” This leads to fisticuffs and Mamuwalde ultimately loses the fight. Count Dracula bites Mamuwalde turning him into a vampire, Dracula locks him in a coffin and curses him with the name “Blacula.” Years later, the very same coffin that Blacula slumbers in is dug up and the former noble African prince awakes and begins to wreak havoc as a chocolate child of the damned. Now I know that seems like a silly, campy premise, it is, but Blacula and its sequel Scream Blacula Scream are damn fun films. And William Marshall gives two performances that raises the films from the depths of irredeemable schlock.
The origin of Blacula, a proud, strong willed, Black man who fights for justice until he's tragically defeated and corrupted by a powerful white man seems oddly prescient to me. I watched the film recently and I kept thinking about Kanye West in Trump Tower. I kept thinking about the absent look in his eyes and the blonde hair on his head as he stood next to HIM. Then I remembered Kanye’s impassioned and emotional outburst back in September of 2005 during A Concert for Hurricane Relief that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people!” I remembered how that outburst felt in contrast with his 2015 confusing remarks about racism being a “dated concept.” Hearing this statement, seeing Kanye next to the dark one, I wondered if I was also beginning to see Kanye West’s reflection fade from existence. Has Kanye been turned? Was Kanye now a “New Blacula?”
I miss the old Kanye, shit from the gold
Talking ‘bout the soul Kanye, set all his
Back in April of 2014, successful music producer & rapper Pharrell Williams told Oprah that “The New Black doesn’t blame other races for our issues.” Pharrell continued, “The New Black dreams and realizes that it’s not pigmentation: it’s a mentality, and it’s either going to work for you or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side you’re going to be on.” It’s funny reading this quote in context of what’s happening this week. This week we simultaneously celebrate Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, we cope with President Obama’s departure from the White House and we despair HIS eventual inauguration. With an unrepentant, out-in-the-open racist, fascist, vampire puppet becoming president, racism doesn’t seem like a dated concept. The idea that this incoming administration is going to work for us if we adopt the “New Black” philosophy seems empty.
Unfortunately the rash of New Blacula’s seems to be growing. Recently, even Steve Harvey joined the growing list of Black men kissing Trump’s ring. New Blacula philosophy has been popping up all over the place. A few weeks ago Lee Daniels commented on the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite created by activist April Reign which gained popularity for criticizing the lack of representation at the Oscar ceremonies. Lee Daniels remarked, “If I had thought that way – that the world was against me – I wouldn’t be here now. These whiny people that think we’re owed something are incomprehensible and reprehensible to me. I don’t expect acknowledgment or acceptance from white America. I’m going to be me.” All I could do when I heard this was shake my head. Hollywood loves it when a famous Black person claps back on Black resistance and culture. Daniels statement is very close to Pharrell’s in that way. Not to be outdone, Tyler Perry also threw his cape into the ring, saying that criticism of the all white casting of his TLC show Too Close To Home was “reverse racism.” Reverse racism? Like in a day, Black people enslaved White People, then fought a war over their freedom, then created a whole system of oppression and disenfranchisement to stagger their progress for decades until Tyler Perry brought his show to TLC. UGH! All of these statements and appearances seem to be missing a severe lack of historical acknowledgement and self reflection. They are played on loop by a “familiar” media in an effort to deteriorate Black criticism to a society that still benefits from its oppression.
African princes who go to Dracula’s castle maybe arrive with their humanity intact; they’re compassionate, aware of struggle and context. But these princes sometimes begin to rub elbows with all of the other rich, powerful and charming vampires, these princes are told the reason they’ve been allowed into the castle is because they’re “special” and “unique.” These are lies and they’re twisted and ultimately corrupted and turned. No longer connected to a larger community or history of social progress and struggle, now they’re new Blacula’s. They look down upon those who still see the evil effects of vampirism as “excuse makers” and “bitter complainers.” New Blacula’s begin to echo their master’s beliefs with such conviction that the propaganda they spew seems like their own. “The vampiric effects of racism are OUR fault,” they say, “we just have to get over the fact that vampires eat us.” “If we weren’t so loud and disruptive all the time maybe they would need to feed on us.”
Aligned with dark power, these New Blacula’s become the perfect propaganda mouthpieces.The Count and his familiar media then sets these New Blacula’s loose on the communities of color from which they came. Using respectability politics and false post racial platitudes people are duped and more New Blacula’s are created. And Dracula laughs and then tosses New Blacula out on his ass once he’s served his purpose. Trump’s team recently said Kanye West wasn’t asked to perform at the inauguration because both he and his music wasn’t “traditionally American.” Looks like somebody got his ass bounced out of the castle.
With all of that said, I don’t want to come down on or judge Kanye, Pharrell, Lee Daniels, and Tyler Perry too harshly. I don’t believe that any of those men have malicious intent or ill will toward Black people. At least I hope not. Part of me even understands the need they feel to criticize Black people/culture for the benefit of white culture. I severely disagree with it, but I understand how easy it is to be enticed by power and convinced of your own false sense of achievement. History shows us that Black men who’ve attained wealth and status in particular are very susceptible to the seduction of power and privilege that undermine their own interests and existence. In the last installment of Stakes is High, I recast the Blade films with many of the public figures in our government in order to draw parallels between fiction and our current political theater. In the very first Stakes Is High, I make the argument that our country is under siege by vampires and we’re living in a vampire movie. In this piece I’d like to tackle the subject of privilege. I hope to examine how our personal privileges and ignorances often times work together in ways that turn us against ourselves and make us into monsters.
As a straight, cis gendered, Black male, I’ve also realized I’m a monster. It’s a complicated part of the vampire propaganda America aims to convince the world that I, a Black man, am indeed a monster and therefore it’s in the world’s best interest to either imprison me or put me down like a rabid dog before I rape and pillage in an uncontrollable rage that I’m genetically predisposed to do. Part of my growing up and becoming aware was to realize that I’m not the stereotypical Black rage monster that the vampire system tries to tell me I am. I had to reject this stereotype and look in the mirror as see my true reflection. But here’s where it gets complicated.
They’re are blind spots in a reflection, shadows in the mirror that you can’t see unless you really look hard. You may see yourself in the mirror and think, “Damn! I look good!” but not see the demon wings that have grown out of your back. Being Black, I was introduced to the necessity of knowing and being aware that others saw me as a monster at an early age. I was three years old and the only Black child in my preschool class. When I walked in, both the teachers and the students stared at me silently. I was made aware that my mere presence in a room could make people uncomfortable. I was three. I’m conditioned as many Black people are to shoulder others discomfort before my own. Smile, speak well, dress and act a certain way appease the gaze and make them trust you. Make them see you’re not a monster. Out of necessity, I got real good at playing into this game of making white people comfortable around me. I didn’t realize until later in life that this game is a trap. It’s a respectable trap many Black people fall into and some never find their way out again. “If you just act right.” “If you don’t give them a reason to think you’re suspicious then you don’t have anything to worry about.” “I’m one of the good ones”
I grew up in a suburb in New Jersey, and along with the pernicious conditioning of playing the “get along to go along” game I also saw and recognized tons of racist bullshit in my neighborhood at the same time. When I was high school, I remember I identified with the main character in Fright Night, Charley Brewster (played earnestly by William Ragsdale), who lived next door to a vampire but couldn’t get anyone to believe him. Being Black in a suburb and seeing racism all the time, was frustrating. When I tried to call it out I couldn’t get anyone to believe me. That’s not true; I couldn’t get any of my white friends or classmates in my neighborhood to believe me. Still convinced I had to play the game, I was never able to effectively call them out on it. Also being that it was high school, I wanted to be liked. I didn’t want to be labeled “angry or “difficult.” To be labeled such in the 70% white high school in the affluent suburb of Scotch Plains would be a horrible fate. You’d be marked, teachers wouldn’t pass you, the angry Black kid doesn’t excel. Angry, difficult Black kids who don’t fall in line get dealt with eventually. I saw what this meant up close.
Many of my Black friends from my neighborhood were deemed “angry” and “difficult.” They’d always get in trouble, even if they didn’t do anything wrong. They’d get suspended, belittled, manhandled, expelled and sometimes even arrested. Cautionary tales used to scare the rest of us in line. And they worked too, I was determined to not be a cautionary tale. What I didn’t know was even if I did my best not to be branded as “difficult,” there were rigged and thick barriers still blocking my escape. I remember going to my white guidance counselor about college and before I could complete a sentence he dismissed the notion and began telling me that I’d make a great plumber. Don’t be angry or difficult, and don’t be uppity either.
I wasn’t the only Black kid in my neighborhood, there were many of us, the block I grew up on was Black. All with a similar story to my own family. Black men and women coming out of the seventies with decent jobs, moving from the city to the 'burbs with dreams of upward mobility for them and their children. If only they knew. Being Black among other Black people in a suburb was interesting. Being around people like me who didn’t need to see me in some kind of context to get me was important and felt good. But on the other hand being Black amongst other Blacks in a suburb at times also felt kind of like what I would imagine being a villager in Transylvania. Just when you think everything is cool and you can take the kids to the park, some rich pale dude comes down from his castle and messes everything up for you. Helpless and scared, the villagers come up with arcane rules and superstitions that you’re told to live by. “Be home before dark.” “Don’t dress like a thug.” “Be respectful and don’t talk like you don’t have an education.” “Stop hanging around them, they ain't no good.” You get the point.
Flash forward to now. I’ve had to shed many of those rules and norms I grew up with. The older I got, the more I realized they were a trap, just meant to keep me scared and complacent in a system that feeds on me. “Do not make the vampires feasting on your lifeforce uncomfortable as they do so.” “Don’t be angry as they try to eat you.” I realized that if I played the respectable, affable Black man game and didn’t wake up and change, I’d wake up to find one day that my life, soul, blood and Blackness had been sucked out of me. I’d be looking in the mirror seeing no reflection saying, “All Lives Matter”. I’d join the ranks of other famous New Blacula's: O.J., Clarence Thomas, Ben Carson. I wake up in cold sweats fearing one day I’ll wake up with blonde hair in the tower of evil standing next to a bunch of fascist vampires, wondering “How the hell did I get here?” I don't want that New Blacula vampire life.
My new awakening wasn’t a sudden decision to accept or embrace a Blackness I was unfamiliar with. No, I was Black my whole life. I was raised by my parents to be proud of my skin color, culture and heritage. But that was home, outside in school or at work, the world told me to leave my Blackness at home. My awakening was deciding that I wasn’t going to leave it at home. I wouldn’t temper it in mixed spaces, explain it, pacify and or abandon my Blackness in anyway. I was going to be me, all of me all of the time no matter who I was around or where I was. I finally felt like I could breathe. Sure there were consequences to this. I’ve lost job opportunities, been called “too angry,” I even had a boss say to me while referring to another Black employee “Tarik, you want to know why you don’t get more opportunities here? You’re too Malcolm X and you need to be more Martin Luther King Jr. like so and so”. That was really said to me. But that was cool, I could take it cause that meant I wasn’t a New Blacula. What I didn’t know was, if I wasn’t careful I could slip into another state of monsterhood.
Now that I looked in the mirror and recognized my New Blacula tendencies, I now know how to keep identifying these shortcomings and keep them in check. But what about other blind spots? Was there something else I wasn’t seeing? What other privileges could I, a Black man, have? I wonder if my gender and sexuality have anything to do with it? I admit, it took a lot of deprogramming on my part so I could learn how become aware of my tendencies as a Black man to center myself and my struggle above all others. Especially Black women. I was looking in the mirror so happy I wasn’t New Blacula that I didn’t realize that I was staring at another monster that centuries of toxic and fragile masculinity, misogyny, chauvinism, patriarchy and homophobia have created. I, like all men, was a monster. All men are monsters. YES, ALL MEN. It’s inescapable. Men have a predisposition to… let’s say “lycanthropia."
Men can turn into hairy, craven, sexual predator, assholes who howl at the moon and become a threat to women’s safety. Monster identity can be fluid. One moment you’re at work practicing predatory lending with your vampire banker buddies and then that night celebrating your success draining people of their life savings. You and your buddies go out, get drunk and change into flesh eating werewolves and get sexually aggressive with the waitress serving you. Monster fluidity. We can go from vampires to werewolves, to unthinking zombies (think Drumpf rallies) depending on the situation. We all have potential to be monsters, men even more so, White men even more because our society was built on a sliding scale of consequence and privilege. White men have the privileges to do whatever the hell they want without much or any consequence (look at Drumpf), therefore they have the capacity to be the most monster fluid.
Black men most of the time don’t have the capacity to be as monster fluid as White men. Black men in society maintain high rates of imprisonment and unemployment, but as men we at times-- in an attempt to feel some sense of power, albeit false-- cling to toxic masculinity. Unfortunately for Black men who fall victim to this toxic mindset, they can remain entombed in a mental state of decay. Wrapped and mummified in uniformed claims of being true representatives of African heritage. Black feminists on social media have effectively branded such despicable men and ideas as Ashy Larry’s or Hoteps. Hoteps or Hotep Twitter, I personally like the term Fauxtep (a play on the term Hotep which I learned from brilliant radio host and activist Jay Smooth) are those who only wish to empower themselves (cisgendered, straight, Black and male) despite the fact that such a belief in Black male superiority is tainted and ultimately corrupts us. Like the Mummy in the movies, Fauxteps are made of dust and wind.
Fauxteps demonize homosexuality and terrorize the Black women who love and raise them. Fauxteps erase Black women’s contributions, seeing only themselves as representatives of Black culture. Fauxteps can be literally the worst. I didn’t know I had Fauxtep tendencies until a woman pointed them out for me. I couldn’t see them in my mirror. Part of the detoxing, part of awakening is to realize this. We MUST realize our part in the horror movie if we are to survive. I say this as a Black man, who will spend the rest of my life detoxing and unlearning the false ideas of “real manhood.” In order to not be a monster, I had to realize I am one. Everyone has a privilege that is the bane of someone else’s life. White women who feel the terrible effects of misogyny are still capable of refusing intersectional feminism and instead choosing to feast on the blood of men and women of color.
Cynical and confusing times are upon us, and I fear that they will only grow more intense. We cannot hope to defeat the demons of fear and authoritarianism if we can’t first beat the demons within us. Us human beings need to connect, open up, and listen to each other more than ever if we’re going to not just get through this but win. I can’t win if I’m a New Blacula or Fauxtep. I can win and more importantly, I can help others win if I admit I’m a flawed human being with so much more to learn and so much more to do. And hopefully by seeing my own capacity for horror, I may be able to help others like me and not like me who need help fighting their vampire, werewolf, zombie, ghoul, troll, New Blacula, Fauxtep, succubus nature.
Tarik Davis has a long history performing and writing comedy. He strives to cross-pollinate performance styles and audiences in all his work. Past experience includes performing for The Upright Citizens Brigade in NY, Boom Chicago in Amsterdam and The Second City in Chicago. Now based in NYC, Tarik currently teaches improv to children & adults. He writes and self-produces his own video projects, appears in commercial spots, and occasionally doodles. He can currently be seen on the hit BRIC TV web series Brooklynification and on recent sketches on Late Night with Seth Meyers (@tarikrdavis)