Racism and Mis-Education (Reloaded): ‘The Matrix’ Themes Applied To The Black World Experience

For African Americans and most people of African descent the themes in The Matrix movies can have particular meaning. A major theme in the movies is the need to free one’s mind to see the reality of the world in order to overcome oppression. One can easily apply this theme to the needs of people of African descent, because of centuries of racism, racial violence and oppression, the need to free one’s mind as a means to overcome oppression is required. This theme has been echoed by black scholars and activist for centuries from Carter G. Woodson and Malcolm X to Kwame Nkrumah to Stephen Biko and Nelson Mandela. Here several themes from the popular Matrix movies will be explored and applied to the needs and experiences of the peoples of the African Diaspora.

Wake Up

In the movie, The Matrix the Laurence Fishburne character Morpheus express the need for humanity to wake up. Albeit in a different way, there has been a sense by many for the need for the black world to wake up. It is arguable that the black world and as a consequence the world at large suffers from a sort of mental imprisonment. In this matrix like scenario, the limitations conscious and subconscious have been placed on the black mind, through hundreds of years of slavery, colonialism, violence, lynching, segregation, creating a perverse unreal world. A world where black children are taught the wonders of European civilizations and nothing of their own accomplishments. They are given an education that perpetuate a society based on race that is not real. The great historian, Carter G. Woodson echoed this point in The Mis-Education of the Negro,

“HISTORY shows, then, that as a result of these unusual forces in the education of the Negro he easily learns to follow the line of least resistance rather than battle against odds for what real history has shown to be the right course. A mind that remains in the present atmosphere never undergoes sufficient development to experience what is commonly known as thinking. No Negro thus submerged in the ghetto, then, will have a clear conception of the present status of the race or sufficient foresight to plan for the future; and he drifts so far toward compromise that he loses moral courage. The education of the Negro, then, becomes a perfect device for control from without. Those who purposely promote it have every reason to rejoice, and Negroes themselves exultingly champion the cause of the oppressor.”

The ‘wake up’ theme has also appeared in Spike Lee’s movie School Daze addressed albeit in a different way— that African Americans have been sleep walking in America, mentally enslaved to do what is told including discriminate against each other based on complexion. Frantz Fannon discussed this issue in his writings The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin White Masks applying this theory to the African colonial and neo-colonial mind. He explored how essentially the mind of the oppressor can be placed into the mind of the oppressed. Creating a perverse reality where the oppressed consciously or subconsciously does the bidding of the oppressor. You think this idea is insane? Think about Mobutu and other African dictators who bled their own countries wealth for self and for foreign investors exactly the way in which colonial economic relationships worked.

The One

In the The Matrix movies Morpheus considers the Keanu Reeves’ character Neo to be ‘the one’. The one who will lead to the defeat of the machines. This theme too has been echoed throughout the black experience. There have been many leaders and hero’s considered to be the “one” to lead the people out of ignorance of the reality of this world like the Keanu Reeves’ character Neo. The list reads off like a black history month book report: Martin Luther King, Jr. (killed), Malcolm X (killed) Marcus Garvey (deported) Huey Newton (killed) Medgar Evers (killed) even as far back as Nat Turner (killed) Patrice Lumumba (killed) Kwame Nkrumah (overthrown) Mandela (imprisoned later freed). All of those who have been considered to be the One were eliminated one way or the other by “The Matrix.”

You know something what you know you can’t explain but you feel it. You felt it your entire life; that there is something wrong with the world, you don’t know what it is but its there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.

In the original Matrix film Laurence Fishburne explains to Keanu Reeves how he feels living in the Matrix, what we commonly refer to as the real world. One would be hard pressed to find an African American or person of African descent who does not feel out of place in this world. However this feeling does not apply to people of color alone. During the Iraq anti-war protest and during anti-world bank protests which is usually young and white there were a few who do not know why they are protesting is just that they feel something is wrong, that they cannot explain. It is the same system. It is a racist system, it is a exploitive profit driven system and violence driven system. It is all around us, you can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church it is all around us. It is the world pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth. The truth that we are all slaves born into a prison for our minds. The cubicles, the commute to work, the rent the paychecks the routine its all unnatural but we all do it anyway. The angst and anger felt because there is a sense of being imprisoned by a 21st century pursuit of capital reality that feels unnatural to the human psyche.

Don’t think you are; know you are. Free your mind. No fear, no doubt, no disbelief. Free your mind.

This quote from The Matrix also echoes a major theme in Woodson’s Mis-Education. Woodson states, “The lack of confidence of the Negro in himself and his possibilities is what has kept him down. His mis-education has been a perfect success in this respect. “ Knowing one’s history and culture gives one a sense of self and purpose. Most African Americans and Africans in the diaspora submerged in the ghettoes of Chicago or the ghettoes of Johannesburg or the ghettoes of Rio do not have the knowledge of self needed to overcome the systematic matrix of racism.

Proponents of African-centered education and multi-cultural education echo the value of such an education because it does give a sense of value and perspective that a European centered education can not provide. There are many people of African descent from African Americans to Afro-cubans to native Africans that do not know of the great African empires of great African explorers and great freedom fighters who resisted slavery and colonialism. That history did not begin when the Europeans made contact with Africa. This ill-equipped education also disserves whites who are also not given a true picture of the world.

In order the peoples of African descent to truly be free the collective minds must be free. Must be free of all the lies told and perpetrated through years of mis-education, propaganda, and self-hate. In order for the collective minds to be free, the paradigm of racism, slavery colonialism, imperialism, self-hate, and violence must be destroyed. In the final analysis in order for all people to be free the matrix of racism must be destroyed. As Morpheus tells Neo before they first meet the oracle: I can only show you the door, you have to go through it.