John Wayne and White Supremacy

Published on 5th March 2019

"I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility," John Wayne said. John Wayne was born Marion Mitchell Morrison and he was an American film icon. He has remained so until a recent revelation about his anti-Black sentiments and comments surfaced.

According to his own words, John Wayne was a White Supremacist. He did not mince words; to him, Blacks were irresponsible. Of course, he was wrong and misinformed and prejudiced like all White Supremacists are. However, two question we should be asking are, (1) Should the dead be indicted for their deeds or words while they lived? And, (2) In the context of the historical superstardom, should the position of such icons be downgraded once their ill-worth is discovered?

To discuss these issues, we should disavow ourselves of displaced and biased motives. We should immune ourselves of prejudice and finger pointing, especially from racial points of view. To answer the first question, it would be wise to leave judgment to God who has the power to judge the living and the dead. We just don’t know what happens to each individual as they die, no matter how they lived, what they said or did.

The second question poses serious challenges, especially when we consider the time and milieu in which such comments were made. In 1971 when John Wayne made such comments, it can be argued, the Civil Rights Movement was at its peak, and it cannot be suggested that Mr. Wayne was ignorant of the mistreatment and the prejudice the Blacks faced, not only in America but all over the world. Mr. Wayne knew or ought to have known that racist and prejudice were wrong, even at that time. We love the Westerns in which Mr. Wayne thrived. So, the contemplations of wrong-doing should be evaluated in the broader context of “throwing the baby with the water.” Definitely what he said was wrong, but what he did was good or acceptable. We are stuck at this point with this dilemma.

Similarly, in Canada, the first Canadian Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald “was a racist, colonizer and misogynist,” (The National Post). Recently, calls, and even a petition, have been made to remove his statue at Victoria Park in Regina, Saskatchewan.  Calls are also being made to remove John Wayne’s name from a California airport after controversial quotes from 1971 resurfaced. We also saw controversies over the advocates’ calls to remove Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville. President Donald Trump called the White Supremacists, “fine” people. And he is still the president of the United States. An HBO Michael Jackson’s documentary movie recently released depicted the dead “King of Pop,” as a child molester. Soon there will be calls to remove his star from Hollywood.

Wouldn’t it be an even greater injustice to indict the dead while the living (who display racists characteristics, and are accused of groping women) still govern the most “civilized” nation on earth? Wouldn’t it be hypocrisy? Surely the dead cannot defend themselves. But at the same time, wouldn’t it be a misnomer to knowingly ululate past heroes when we are aware of the inglorious things they said and did?

We may surmise thus, (1) All of us will give an account to God of the things we did and said while we were alive; (2) We may acknowledge that wisdom is correct: There is nothing new under the sun; and (3), and more importantly, we should always judge our character in moral terms, no matter the times we live in. Doing or saying wrong or immoral things will at some future time prove to have been a great mistake.

By Charles Mwewa

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