“…No One Gives it to you. You Have to Take it.”

The title of this blog is a quoted from the main character of one of my favorite relatively recent films–The Departed(2006 Dir. Martin Scorsese, Writer William Monahan). What does Marty Scorsese’s Irish Catholic crime drama have to do with Octavia Butler and Afrofuturism you may be asking? Short answer: more than you think!

About a week ago I watched the 1996 documentary The Last Angel of History (1996 Dir. John Akomfrah), and beyond being entertained I was downright awed by the story of “The Data Thief”. For those of you who have yet to see the film, the Data Thief is a character who navigates his way through history collecting knowledge (I won’t give away too much, you’ll have to see the film for yourself, but here’s a clip of the first few minutes to whet your interest http://youtu.be/uE3uqVRGQHY). What I found most compelling about the story of the Data Thief is that once he began to gain knowledge, he became an exile and a nomad whom had no place to live on his home planet, nor on Earth. The Data Thief risked his comfort and stability in the pursuit of knowledge. That is darn-right commendable! And it made me inventory what I have given up and am willing to give up for the pursuit of knowledge; relationships, “friend”ships, sleep, favor, money? But the most precious comfort I will admit to have given up is time. I think all to often in today’s world, we have gotten used to getting everything we want easily, without real sacrifice and getting it when we want it; however, this manner of behaving is problematic, because when it comes down to getting information and knowledge we have gotten used to just being “satisfied” and not necessarily “full”. By that I mean, that today people are willing to accept what they are given and not ask for more, because to get more may mean sacrificing comforts or looking ungrateful. But why not want more? Why not be full? (Don’t get me wrong, satisfied is the way to go when if comes to your watching you waistline, but when if comes to your intellectual fulfillment why not want all that you can consume) And an even more important question I have is, who benefits from your complacency, your lack of diligence and your contentment with the information that they are willing to give you?

The quotation from my title comes from a speech in The Departed where Frank Costello critiques the complacency of Black people in America, claiming that power is something that marginalized people cannot sit and wait to be handed. In this I see the Data Thief (TEN years before Costello) making the same assertion, that in the pursuit of knowledge and information there is no room for complacency, and that if it means being uncomfortable, or it makes you a “thief” then so be it! History, information and knowledge are too important to people who have been denied access to them for us to just accept what is given. If we want to be to be full then we have to stop sitting idly by waiting to be satisfied, like with the Data Thief, if it means relinquishing (some) comforts then we must simply do it–“…no one gives it to you. You have to take it.”


2 thoughts on ““…No One Gives it to you. You Have to Take it.”

  1. For some reason, this post reminds me a lot of a quote by Edwidge Danticat (one of my favorite and the best authors ever! Seriously, everything she writes is amazing) from one of her latest novels, Create Dangerously. She says, “create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. … Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.” I don’t have the full novel with me right now, but I believe that she wrote this talking about how people acquired and conveyed information to each other during the “Papa Doc” Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti. Unable to read contemporary texts because they could get someone killed, most artists went to the classics to tell their stories. So under a “Julius Caesar” play would be an exploration of fear and desperation while under the dictatorship. Information simply wasn’t available to people–asking questions was one of the most dangerous things you could do. Even regular, simple, neighborly inquiries could possibly be dangerous, so people knew very little information about each other outside of events and personalities. An example, my mother never even knew my grandmother’s true age or birthday and was never willing to ask. Part of this was because of lack of documentation in poorer sections of Haiti, but the other part came from a normalized hazard in asking questions. Edwidge Danticat is sort of a data thief herself. She writes about how her encounters with people become part of her novels, as if their conversations were stolen and put into her novel as a trophy of that memory. And when she says to create dangerously, I think she also means to revel in asking questions without danger or even in spite of danger. The Data Thief and Edwidge Danticat remind us that the information available to us is both a right and privilege. While everyone has the right to free information, some don’t have the privilege of actually having that. Thus as people with access, it’s important to take advantage of that and learn and convey as much as we can.

  2. I agree with where you say that we are now in a time we are satisfied. But this leaves me to think are we even satisfied or just given what we need until we are able to have what is necessary. I think people now think they are actually satisfied but it has become a fake satisfaction. I also think that the data thieves exist and they are the outcasts because they want to be able learn but are unlike anyone else around them.

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