12 Years a Slave

Adobe Photoshop PDF“12 Years a Slave” (2013) is a film based on the 1853 book of the same name by Solomon Northup, a free Black American man sold into slavery in the South. It stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup and Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey. Alfre Woodard appears, briefly, as great as ever. Steve McQueen directs.

It won three Oscars:

  1. Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o),
  2. Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley) and
  3. Best Picture, the first black-made film to win that award.

I have already done a post on Solomon Northup, based on the book, so this post will be about the film only.

The last 20 minutes of the film, from the soap scene to when Northup is reunited with his family, is one of the best things I have seen in years:

  • Lupita Nyong’o was amazing. She has the power to make you feel what her character feels. A great new talent.
  • The moment Northup discovers he is free was better in the book, but McQueen made up for it with the farewell scene between Northup and Patsey and the way he had Northup ride away.

Wow. Amazing.

The rest of the film, though, was not so good. It is arguably the best film on slavery since “Roots” (1976). It makes “Django Unchained” (2012) look like a joke. But that is not saying much.

While Northup’s books presents an unsparing, historically accurate picture of slavery, McQueen presents a sanitized picture.

McQueen’s slaves have furniture, like it was no big deal. They get off work before sundown. They get meal breaks. There are no worms in their food. They do not talk about freedom, try to run away or plot against their masters. Even evil masters are handsome and charming and only go overboard because of mean wives, too much drink or backward moral notions. Poor things!

In the book Northup runs away twice. In the film he never makes a serious attempt – despite what the movie poster would lead you to believe.

Eliza (Adepero Oduye), a slave woman whose cries endlessly over her children who have been sold away, one of them to become a sex slave, is seen as – annoying! We never find out that she died of a broken heart.

We do not know about Uncle Abram – till he falls over dead in the fields. All his lines in the book are cut out.

Most Black characters are just sort of there and say nothing, like they were animals, though on occasion they sing. Only 15% of the dialogue is between Black characters.

If you want to know what slavery was like, read the book. The film is next to worthless for that. John Ridley, by the way, helped to write “Red Tails” (2012), also sanitized.

On the other hand, the film was good at showing the casual dehumanization of Blacks, like they were things, not people. It also makes you wonder how White people could practise slavery for hundreds of years and not have their culture seriously warped by it.

See also:


Bobby Brown: Girlfriend


My favourite Bobby Brown song. Man, does this remind me of the 1980s! It went to number one on the American R&B charts at the end of 1986.


I remember the very first time
You the picture of love in my heart
You and me, girl, holding hands
Please be my lady, won’t you understand 
(I need a girlfriend) I need a girlfriend
And I need her right now
Loving, kissing, holding you tight
Never letting go

(I need a girlfriend) I need a girlfriend
And I need her right now

Can I call you, would that be all right
Maybe Friday or Saturday night
Girl, I think of you all the time
‘Cause it’s you that I need, girl, and you’re always on my mind

(I need a girlfriend)
And I need you right now
Loving, kissing. holding you tight
Never letting go

(I need a girlfriend) I need a girlfriend
And I need you right now
Loving, kissing, holding you tight
And keeping you warm, oh, yeah

I need a girl
Who feels like I do
Could it be you
So please help me yeah, yeah

Gotta have your love, oh, baby
Loving, kissing, holding you tight
Never letting go

(I need a girlfriend) I need a girlfriend
And I need you right now, no
Loving, kissing, holding you tight
And keeping you warm, baby

Someone just like you
I…oh, girl

It’s you that I want, girl, and I need you right now
I really need you so, yeah, baby
It’s you that I want, girl, and I want you right now
I really need you so, I need you, baby

I just want to love you and kiss you and hold you so tight
Whoa, baby, yeah, can I do that to you, sweetheart
I just wanna love you and kiss you and hold you so tight
Whoa, baby, no…you know what I mean, girl

(I need a girlfriend)
(I need a girlfriend)
(I need a girlfriend)
(I need a girlfriend)
I need a girlfriend, would you be my girl
This is Bobby talking
(I need a girlfriend)
La-la-la-la-la-la-la, woo
(I need a girlfriend)
(I need a girlfriend)
(I need a girlfriend)
(I need a girlfriend)
I said la-la-la-la-la-la-la
(I need a girlfriend)
Oh, girl, you know what I
(I need a girlfriend)
You know what I need now
So it’s up to you to give me what I need
(I need a girlfriend)
And I do need a girlfriend
So, um, let’s take some time and let’s take it slow
(I need a girlfriend)
But surely we should be together
(I need a girlfriend)
You gotta answer me some time today, baby
‘Cause I can’t wait no more
I love you

The map of white people


The map of white people was not on the Internet, so I made one. Conversely, it is a map of people of colour.

The map (click on it to enlarge) uses four colours:

  • dark blue: 75% to 100% white
  • medium blue: 50% to 75% white
  • light blue: 25% to 50% white
  • grey: 0% to 25% white


  • majority POC: grey and light blue
  • majority white: medium and dark blue
  • multiracial: light and medium blue

But who is white? For this map two kinds of people are:

  1. Those who self-identify as white, like in a census.
  2. Those who belong to an ethnic group that is historically Christian or Jewish, with roots in West Eurasia.

That means white Hispanics, Armenians and Lebanese Christians are in, most Africans and Muslims, even Albanians, are out.

In the case of self-identification, note that someone who is considered white in one country might not be considered white in another.

I tried different definitions. This one is clean, easy to use and a good, general approximation.

Notes on each region:


North America: While the rest of the map is based on data from 2006 to 2011, Mexico is based on the last census that asked about race: in 1921! For the US, Hispanics who identify as white are counted as white. Doing otherwise led to paradoxes outside the US. Notice that Canada is not as lily-white as many imagine.


South America: Argentina, the pope’s home country, is extremely white. Its most “diverse” province, Chubut, is close to 90% white.

Most whites in South America, like in North America, live outside the tropics, which run from Havana to Rio. Worldwide most whites live in the temperate zone, 23.5 to 66.5 degrees from the equator:



Europe, North Africa and West Asia: Albania and Kosovo are mostly Muslim so they do not count as white, even though they are in Europe. I did not use “Europe” or “European” in my definition of white because then I would have to define Europe too! Not a battle I wanted or needed to fight.


Siberia: The people in the dark blue region are mainly ethnic Russians. Russia and Kazakhstan keep very good records on ethnicity.


The rest of Africa: The surprise here is South Africa. I thought at least the Cape would be light blue. Whites are less than 25% in every single province. The way they complained you would think they were like a third of the country. It is galling to see this.


The rest of Asia: The dark blue at the top is the tail end of Russia.


Oceania: The North Island of New Zealand is more multiracial than Australia, mostly because of the Maori.

Because Australia, Siberia, Canada and Argentina are large but thinly settled, the map makes it seem like there are more white people than there are.

To correct that, let’s scale each region according to its total population and put the map back together:


Notice that whites are not the main part of the world, but only a sixth of it.

Sources: Mainly the English and Russian Wikipedias (2014), the census of Argentina (2010) and New Zealand (2006) and the graphic that inspired this post (2011).

See also:



“Where are you really from?” is a question that Asian Americans and others often get. This is that question where New Jersey or anywhere in the US does not count as an answer. Because, apparently, all Asians are foreigners. Even those born in the US. Even those who speak with an American accent, aka “Perfect English”. It is a good example of the perpetual foreigner stereotype.

Ken Tanaka’s “What kind of Asian are you?” (2013) on YouTube is the best thing yet that I have seen on this.

Scene: Scott meets Stella while going for a run. Scott is White, Stella is Asian. Both speak with an American accent:

Scott: Hi there.
Stella: Hi.
Scott: Nice day, huh?
Stella: Yeah, finally, right?
Scott: Where you from? Your English is perfect.
Stella: San Diego. We speak English there.
Scott: Oh, uh, no, uh: Where .. are you … from?
Stella: Well, I was born in Orange county, but I never actually lived there.
Scott: Uh, I mean before that.
Stella: Before I was born?
Scott: Well, where are your people from?
Stella: Well, my great grandma was from Seoul.
Scott: Korean. I knew it. I was like she’s either Japanese or Korean, but I was leaning more towards Korean.
Stella: Amazing.
Scott: (bows) 감사합니다 (= Korean for “Thank you”). There’s a really good teriyaki barbecue place near my aparment. I actually really like kimchi.
Stella: Cool. What about you? Where are you from?
Scott: San Francisco
Stella: But where … are you … from?
Scott: Oh, I’m just American.
Stella: Really? You’re Native American?
Scott: No, uh, regular American.
Stella: (waiting for more)
Scott: Oh, uh, well, I guess my grandparents were from England.
Stella: Oh, well - (in a Cockney accent) ‘Ello guv’nor! What’s all this then! Top o’ the morning to ya! Let’s get a spot o’ tea? Spot o’ tea! Double, double, toil and trouble! (does a little dance) Mind the kerb! Beware Jack the Ripper! BLOODY HELL!! (does a little dance) Pip pip! Cheerio! (back to an American accent:) I think your people’s fish and chips are amazing.
Scott: You’re weird.
Stella: Really? I’m weird? Must be a Korean thing.

Notice that her people have been in the US longer than his people, yet he sees her as the foreigner!

There was nothing in how she talked or dressed or acted that would make one suspect she was foreign. Instead, he was so blinded by her race that even her American accent was not taken as a sign that she was American! Instead it made him wonder what country she was from! And then, when she told him she was from the US, he still saw her as a foreigner – bowing, speaking in Korean, assuming she was interested in teriyaki (a Japanese, not a Korean, dish!), etc.

When she gave him a taste of his own medicine, seeing him, a third-generation American, as a stereotyped foreigner, it went over his head.

Thanks to Jefe for bringing this video to my attention.

See also:


The mix of people who live in what are now the 50 United States (and DC) has changed greatly over the past 500 years and will probably keep on changing till at least 2100.

Here are four snapshots (each chart square = 1% of the population):


1492: 18.25 million:

  • 98.6% Native American
  • 1.4% Asian
    • 1.4% Native Hawaiian

It would be cool to break down the Native American number by nation, but getting an overall number is hard enough. The 18 million is just one estimate. It may have been half that. The eastern nations would lead any list since they practised farming, unlike the those west of the Mississippi River that Hollywood loves to show.

After 300 years most had been killed off by European disease and genocide:


1790: 4.85 million:

  • 12.4% Native
  • 16.1% Black
  • 65.3% White
    • 56.7% British
    • 5.6% German
    • 2.1% Dutch
    • 0.7% French
    • 0.2% other
  • 1.0% Latino
    • 1.0% Mexican
  • 5.2% Asian
    • 5.2% Native Hawaiian

Most people are: British.

Despite French, Dutch, Spanish and even Swedish settlements, the British hugely outnumber other whites by the 1700s. (I count as British those who are English, Welsh, Scottish, Scotch-Irish or “American”.)

Two huge waves of European immigration followed:

  • 1840s to 1880s: Second Wave Whites: mostly Irish and German, heavily Catholic
  • 1890s to 1920s: Third Wave Whites: mostly Italians, Poles and Jews.

Each wave seemed like it was going to destroy America As We Know It. Instead, as the children of each wave began to vote and fight in wars, they slowly broadened the idea of what a Real American is: from Wasp (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) to Nordic (northern European) after the second wave, and from Nordic to European after the third wave.

By 1940 the US was 89.8% White – with some help from ethnic cleansing of Asian, Mexican and Native Americans and laws that all but shut off immigration of non-Nordics, aka “alien races”.

A fourth wave began in the 1940s and continues to the present day. It is mostly Asian and Latin American.


2008: 304 million:

  • 0.8% Native
  • 12.4% Black
  • 65.4% White
    • 19.1% British
    • 16.5% German
    • 11.9% Irish
    • 5.8% Italian
    • 3.2% Polish
    • 3.1% French
    • 2.1% Jewish
    • 3.7% other
  • 15.4% Latino
    • 10.1% Mexican
    • 1.4% Puerto Rican
    • 0.5% Cuban
    • 3.4% other
  • 4.4% Asian
    • 1.0% Chinese
    • 0.8% Indian
    • 0.8% Filipino
    • 0.5% Vietnamese
    • 1.3% other
  • 1.6% other (not shown in the chart)

Most people are: British, Black, German or Irish.

By the 2020s there will be more White deaths than births, while other groups continue to grow. By the 2040s, Whites will be a minority. They will probably try to limit immigration, but their shrinking numbers will lessen political support for such laws while at the same time increase the need for more immigration!

After 2050, immigration will become heavily African instead of being mainly Asian and Latin American.

Assuming that the ethnic mix within each “race” remains the same (unlikely, but good as a first guess), by 2100 the US will look something like this:


2100: 462 million:

  • 1.0% Native
  • 15.6% Black
  • 38.8% White
    • 11.3% British
    • 9.8% German
    • 7.1% Irish
    • 3.4% Italian
    • 1.9% Polish
    • 1.8% French
    • 1.2% Jewish
    • 2.3% other
  • 30.6% Latino
    • 20.1% Mexican
    • 2.8% Puerto Rican
    • 1.0% Cuban
    • 1.0% Salvadoran
    • 0.8% Dominicans
    • 4.9% other
  • 13.9% Asian
    • 3.4% Chinese
    • 2.8% Indian
    • 2.7% Filipino
    • 1.6% Vietnamese
    • 1.5% Korean
    • 1.9% other

Most people are: Mexican, Black, British or German.

Whites, to maintain their political majority, will probably broaden their idea of what a Real American is to take in most Latinos.

Sources: 1492, 1790, 2008, 2100, mainly. Since I could not find anything like it on the Internet, I made the charts myself with my not-so-mad Microsoft Paint skills. 

See also:

Amerigo Vespucci

amerigo-vespucciAmerigo Vespucci (1454-1512), known as Americus Vespucius in Latin, is the Italian explorer that America is named after. He called it the New World. While Columbus thought he was in the Indies, a part of Asia, Vespucci discovered that South America was not part of Asia at all but a new continent.

He went on at least two voyages (1499-1500 and 1501-1502), maybe as many as four. He sailed for both Spain and Portugal. He explored the coast of South America from Venezuela to Patagonia in Argentina (I am using the present-day names). He was the first Western explorer to see the Amazon and Rio de la Plata. He went as far as 50 degrees south of the equator.

He was looking for a passage to India, thinking that South America was the east coast of Asia. According to Ptolemy and Marco Polo the Asian coast turned west at the Cape of Catigara, at 8.5 degrees south of the equator. From there Vespucci hoped to sail on to Taprobane (Sri Lanka). But the coast went on and on and on, hardly ever turning. This was not Asia but some new continent.

He saw new stars that no one could see from Europe. He stayed up late at night trying to find the southern pole star.

He saw new kinds of monkeys, wolves and wild cats – and lost faith in the story of Noah’s Ark.

He saw new kinds of human societies, ones that seemed to have no religion, government, private property or hang-ups about sex, but which also practised cannibalism.

He saw people living in the Torrid Zone (the tropics), more than in Europe in fact, disproving the ancient Greek idea that it was too hot for people to live there.

The published accounts of his voyages were overblown. We know that by comparing them to his private letters. It seems that printers sensationalized his accounts to sell more books. It worked: Vespucci’s books outsold Columbus three to one. So much so that Vespucci was widely regarded as the one who discovered the New World. So, when German mapmaker Martin Waldseemuller updated Ptolemy’s map of the world in 1507, he named Vespucci’s new continent after him: America.

The sensationalized accounts, unfortunately, also helped to fix in the Western mind the stereotype of native Americans as savages, both noble and not. It has been confirmation bias ever since.

In 1508 Spain made Vespucci the country’s top navigator. He taught and licensed pilots and kept an up-to-date map of all their discoveries for the Spanish Crown. By then he was a Spanish citizen.

Vespucci came from a rich family in Florence, Italy. Leonardo da Vinci knew him. The powerful Medici family sent him to Seville in the south of Spain to look after their business interests. Vespucci probably saw Columbus return from his first voyage. He knew Columbus: he helped to supply his second and third voyages.

Simonetta Vespucci, the woman that Botticelli painted as Venus on a clamshell, was his cousin-in-law.


See also:



This song came out in 1958 on her first album but it did not chart. I think of it as a Nina Simone song but, going by YouTube, it seems to be best known as a Janis Joplin song. As it turns out, it is an old Broadway song from the 1930s that has been covered to death – by Judy Garland, Doris DayDiana Ross, Sarah Vaughn, Diana KrallLinda Ronstadt, The Carpenters and Ella Fitzgerald, among others. Laura Mvula sang it last year, in the style of Nina Simone, for the soundtrack of “12 Years a Slave” (2013).


Sit there and count your fingers
What can you do, little girl you’re through
Sit there, count your little fingers
Unhappy little girl blue

Sit there and count the raindrops
Falling on you, it’s time you knew
All you can ever count on are the raindrops
That fall on little girl blue

Won’t you just sit there
Count the little raindrops falling on you
Cause is time, you knew all you can ever count on
Are the raindrops that fall on little girl blue

Ain’t no use old girl, ain’t no use old girl
You might as well surrender
‘Cause your hopes are getting slender
‘Cause your hopes are getting slender
Why won’t somebody send a tender blue, blue boy

Won’t somebody send a little tender blue boy to cheer
To cheer a little girl blue


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