There is a lot to like and dislike about Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, but one thing that cannot be argued is the movie certainly set up some intense and dramatic scenes. One of the best is the climatic dinner scene at Candy Land where, under the guidance of Cream of Wheat looking slave Stephen, Calvin Candie delivers his scene chewing phenology monologue about the African slave. Leonardo DiCaprio outdoes himself as he steadily explains how the three dents in the back of the African skull indicate passivity, thus explaining how and why slavery can be perpetuated. The scene is powerful, entertaining and, like many parts of the movie, another demonstration of how White supremacy will use anything from violence, to religion to in this case science, in order to justify the oppression of people of color. So it seems incredibly fitting to me that just last week modern science just demonstrated how the “African American” brain is actually a template for intellectual acumen in a way no one has seen before.
How did this discovery of the African American brain come about? Through rap music of course! According to a recent story from Discovery magazine scientists at the National Institute of Deafness and other Communications Disorders, along with the National Institute of Health were conducting experiments on where creativity comes from in the brain. They conducted an experiment where they scanned the brains of free-style rappers while reciting memorized lyrics and while just free-styling off a beat. The results were fascinating and informative for the scientific community. When reciting memorized lyrics the brains reacted normally, similar to any type of recitation at work, home or school. However, when the rappers entered the “Flow State” (their scientific word, not mine!) the parts of the brain related to self-reflection and morality were activated at higher levels and the parts of the brain associated with attention and cognitive control became less active. In other words free-style rappers are pretty deep. More importantly these lessons about the brain and creativity being focused almost exclusively on African Americans (I’m sure they had some white rappers but not many) is a rather ironic twist on the very science used less than 150 years ago to justify Calvin Candie’s lifestyle.
Science has been routinely used by the majority to justify abuse and oppression of other groups. Phrenology, the study of the skull was a quack science very popular in the 19th century in the United States that supposedly explained slavery and the degraded nature of the black man. Whole books were written about drapetomania a disease that caused slaves to run away from their masters. So it strikes me as almost ironic that the same science, the study of the brain, that was once used as a means to demonstrate black inferiority is now using black brains to advance the study of communications language and creativity. I guess some progress has been made in America since 1858. I’m sure Django, Calvin and Broomhilda would be amazed to see how much things have changed.
DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson.