Happy Sunday! I hope you enjoyed that extra hour we “gained” this morning… really, I do, because the sunsetting at 4 something is not so enjoyable, at least not to me. Still, it’s autumn, and it’s nice to put on a jacket or hoodie, hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, and burn my pumpkin/apple/cranberry/somethingortheother candle from Bath & Body Works.
Let’s get to it, shall we? First up, this two part video essay from F.D Signifier on the tragic fall of
Kanye West Ye. Wait, wait, look, I’m sure some of ya’ll are giving a hard “Nope” at the thought of spending any amount of time on TAFKAK, but these vids are excellent. Siginifier deserves applause for taking on such an overly discussed and dissected subject, and finding a novel approach. He walks us through West’s bio through the lens of professional wrestling. Don’t worry if you have no clue (or really, interest) in the WWE, you’ll quickly grasp terms like kayfabe, face, and heel. Boy, does Ye love acting the heel. [NSFW: Language]
Next, a look at repentance- part of the story of Biblical patriarchs Jacob, Joseph, and Judah, from Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg:
It was still a rocky road for Jacob.
Even after he and Esau healed something deep between them, he still was not able to resist playing favorites among his children. Healing is not a one-time event—some places of pain are resolved, other wounds remain open. Sometimes the acute trauma is addressed but it manifests, still, in lesser ways. Jacob didn’t bind his children to the altar, but he was hardly a perfect father.
“Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons… and he had made him an ornamented tunic. And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated [Joseph] so that they could not speak a friendly word to him.” (Genesis 37:3-4)
Yet another generation receives parental neglect and favoritism, and the hurt spreads like a cancer. Joseph’s brothers famously plot his destruction, first intending to kill him, until Reuven, thinking to save him and restore him to his father, suggests they just leave him in a pit.
Judah, then, sells him to enslavers passing by instead, turning what might have been temporary bullying into an irrevocable situation.
They saw [Joseph] from afar, and before he came close to them they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes that dreamer! Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we can say, ‘A savage beast devoured him.’ We shall see what comes of his dreams!” But when Reuben heard it, he tried to save him from them. He said, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben went on, “Shed no blood! Cast him into that pit out in the wilderness, but do not touch him yourselves”—intending to save him from them and restore him to his father. When Joseph came up to his brothers, they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the ornamented tunic that he was wearing, and took him and cast him into the pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to a meal. Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, their camels bearing gum, balm, and ladanum to be taken to Egypt.
Then Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” His brothers agreed. When Midianite traders passed by, they pulled Joseph up out of the pit. They sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who brought Joseph to Egypt. (Genesis 37:18-28)
So Judah sells his brother into slavery for cash. And it turns out that Joseph wasn’t the only one he hurt—whatever his intentions.
Intentions don’t matter in the end, of course.
Joseph, sold into slavery and brought down into Egypt, finds himself, through a combination of luck and talent, eventually well-positioned as Pharoah’s vizer. His brothers, unaware of this, come to Egypt begging for grain, and do not recognize Joseph underneath his Egyptian garb, all these years later. He exploits this, developing an elaborate ruse to determine whether or not his siblings are still the same people who willingly sold him into slavery. In the end, Joseph has his youngest brother Benjamin framed for theft, and Joseph—still hiding in his disguise—declares that Benjamin must remain enslaved in the Egyptian court.
It is Judah who speaks up; he tells of the terrible grief that Jacob suffered after being told that Joseph was dead, and worries aloud that Jacob might not survive another blow if his youngest is also taken away.
“Therefore,” Judah pleads, “please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers.”(Genesis 44:33)
The medieval philosopher Maimonides defines perfect repentance as that moment when a person has the opportunity to commit the same harm that they had previously committed, but they make a different choice, instead.
They make a different choice because they are a different person—one who has done the deep work of understanding their problematic choices and the harm they have caused. They have become someone who cares about not causing harm.1
The man who stands before the Egyptian vizer, offering his own life in his sibling’s stead, is a not the same man who lashed out in rage about his father’s favoritism, nor the one who tried to cheat a vulnerable woman rather than confront his own fears.
That is true, meaningful repentance, true change. I’ve read that story so many times, but the Rabbi’s piece has moved me anew. Read it in its entirety here.
I watched The Harder They Fall on Netflix yesterday, and whew, I really like it (caution advised for those sensitive violence). I never knew of the real-life people who inspired the characters, so this piece by Leonce Gaiter from Slate caught my attention:
The film, directed by Jeymes Samuel, employs historical characters, but makes up entirely new stories about their lives. These characters include Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield), a half-Cherokee, half-black outlaw raised by his black grandmother; Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), a cowboy and Wild West show performer; and Bass Reeves (Delroy Lindo), a U.S. Deputy Marshal who worked in what was then “Indian Territory”—today’s Oklahoma.
Then there is Rufus Buck—a historical figure who was fascinatingly, enigmatically unique. In the film, Buck is played by Idris Elba, who is 49. However, the real-life Buck was at most 21 years old when he was executed by order of “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker in 1895. That’s the first, but not the last, liberty the film takes in adapting his story. Buck’s actual life, or what we can glean of it, deserves its own stage. That’s why I wrote the historical novel I Dreamt I Was in Heaven: The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang.
Some accurate information about Buck is available, but there is nothing close to a detailed life story. There are records of his arrests, and press accounts, but the latter cannot be fully trusted, since the advocacy journalism of the time portrayed Black and Native offenders as particularly evil and threatening. Buck went from being a very young man, arrested and jailed for selling illicit liquor, to the most wanted man in the Indian Territory. By all accounts, his gang threatened, maimed, killed, terrorized and raped, putting him right in the league of a Jesse James.
It is clear that the real Buck’s young age was important to his story; the two-week long rampage he carried out was that of a teenager, with all the rage and thoughtlessness that implies. The film, on the other hand, shows Elba’s Rufus Buck as a mature, hardcore killer, one doing his business in a principally Black world. But the real-life Buck was just a petty offender prior to his famous rampage. No experienced gunslinger, he also inhabited the opposite of a racially homogenous society.
In fact, the historical Buck’s multicultural environment clearly played a large part in his development. By 1895, there were more whites in Indian Territory than Indians, and the US government was on the verge of absorbing the land for white settlement. The Territories also included freedman towns: Black enclaves founded by former slaves. Buck himself attended a Christian mission school run by a white man. Buck was multi-racial. His father was half Creek Indian, and his mother was Black. Placing him in an overwhelmingly Black context may serve the film’s purposes, but it strips Buck of his backstory. Ditto for removing him from Indian Territory.
Most significantly, the movie omits Buck’s stated mission—the cleansing of whites from Indian Territory. He had lived his life there, and, much like present-day viewers of movies like The Harder They Fall, he was reportedly fascinated by pulp pamphlet tales of Black and Indian outlaws. The characters in these were “free” to do as they pleased, and took no guff from anyone—critical to a youth attending a mission school that punished him for speaking his native Creek language. His very exposure to the white world drove Rufus Buck.
Through his Creek father, the young Buck had absorbed the Indian genocide and watched the Dawes Act strip the tribes of their traditional land rights in Indian Territory. His mother most likely endured some form of bondage. He was watching the last refuge of his people torn from them, and in truly American fashion, he assumed the impossible task of crushing the march of the American Goliath with his little band of five. He assumed that once he began, all the Native people and Blacks in the Territory would join him, rise up, and remove the usurping whites; he would be his peoples’ messiah. He was grotesquely wrong; instead, whites, Blacks, and Indians joined together to hunt him down.
Read the whole thing here. If you’re not up for reading history, may I suggest my dear friend Thomas’ latest book of poetry, Winter In Halifax? It’s ever so lovely. It’s like hitching a ride on the Happiness Express, even if it’s not 4:06AM.
And this week’s song is recommended by Thomas, so hat tip. Have a great week.