The RZA on DBZ and Black Men

rza tao of wu book dragon ball z

“Dragon Ball Z represents the journey of the black man in America.” That’s what the RZA, founder of the Wu Tang Clan, says in his most recent book.

I recently finished reading The Tao of Wu [aff] by the RZA because a reader of The Black Goku article suggested I should. I’m glad I did because the book provides insight into how Dragon Ball Z may have influenced the RZA’s life.

On page 54 the RZA says that Kung Fu cinema inspired the foundation of the Wu Tang Clan and that Dragon Ball Z relates to black men in America.

He says, “Take even a cartoon like Dragon Ball Z. I mean, it’s a cartoon, but it’s one of the deepest cartoons in history. Its hero, Son Goku, starts out as a kid, begins martial arts training like San Te [the protagonist from Thirty-sixth Chamber of Shaolin”], and goes off on a quest for seven balls that unleash dragons that can grant wishes. Now, that’s a fantasy, obviously, a children’s story. But it’s also based on a sixteenth-century Chinese folk novel, about a Buddhist monk who travels to India to find the Buddhist sutras. That voyage represents a journey to enlightenment. But to me, Dragon Ball Z also represents the journey of the black man in America.”

Wait a second. An anime created in Japan based on an ancient Chinese legend represents the journey of the black man in America? That’s a provocative statement, don’t you think?

He says, “You see it more clearly as the story goes. You learn that Son Goku is part of an ancient race called the Saiyans, who come from a distant planet and were known as the fiercest warriors in the galaxy. So Son Goku has superpowers but doesn’t realize it–a head injury destroyed his memory, robbed his knowledge of self. Then one day, he gets stressed beyond his limits and Hulks out into his alter ego, Super Saiyan–a nigga with dreadlocks. (Get it?)”

That’s the first time I had ever heard a Super Saiyan described as a “Nigga with dreadlocks.” Luckily, drawings of this concept already exist circa 2001!

black gogeta rza dbz goku

RZA continues, “This kind of story comes up in world literature, even in the Bible: Abraham is told his seed will be lost for four hundred years, in a land not their own, not knowing who they are or where they’re from. That’s the story of the Jewish people, but it’s also the story of the black man in America.”

“So I say WE are the Saiyans; I even use the name Goku as a tag when I write. And when my hair is in an Afro? Word up: I’m Super Saiyan.”

The RZA equates black people in America with the Saiyans. He says that when he puts his hair into an afro he symbolically connects with the Saiyans, as if he is staying more true to his roots, just as Goku and Vegeta connect with their roots when fulfilling the legend of the Super Saiyan.

First the RZA creates an analogy between Goku and the Tang Monk in Journey to the West. That I completely understand and I’ve made the same correlation myself.

And then he says that the Saiyans are relatable to the black man in America and the Jewish history of exodus. That is interesting, and I don’t think the RZA is the first person to have these thoughts, but he may be the first celebrity to ever put it in writing.

the rza dragon ball z

The RZA - Image Copyright Wikimedia Commons

I have written extensively about how African Americans received Dragon Ball Z and assimilated it into their culture by creating Black Goku Art, along with the other characters. To me the entire concept is an intriguing, seemingly unrecognized area of social studies that a whole Masters or Phd thesis could be written on. Alas, nobody but me and the RZA seems to take it seriously.

The RZA probably relates the persecution of the Saiyans with the persecution of the Jews and the slavery of blacks because they’re a native people from a far off place that get pulled into a foreign land and get treated as if they were lesser people, forced to do the bidding of an overlord. The persecutor could be Freeza, slave traders, or the Pharaoh of Egypt. It’s the same principle in that someone is being persecuted by an “unrighteous” authority figure.

Overall, if I understand it correctly the idea he’s trying to project is that there’s wisdom in these stories, both ancient and modern. History repeats itself again and again. Also that there’s a feeling of pain in those subjected to racism or mistreatment that is universal and timeless.

From a story telling standpoint it’s a fact that Akira Toriyama draws heavily from myths and legends in Dragon Ball, and persecution is an effective tool in the story tellers arsenal. He uses it frequently with the Saiyans. Especially for Goku and Vegeta. It’s easy to see why the RZA makes the connection.

black super saiyan vegeta dbz

Super Saiyan Black Vegeta with a Wu Tang Symbol on his Forehead

The RZA continues on page 62 with some philosophy.

“Today, some brothers get mad at me saying things like this. They say, “Why you fuckin’ with Chinese dudes? How come you talk to Caucasian motherfuckers like they’re brothers?” I know how they feel. And I bear witness that Allah is one, the Father of the black man, who must take his proper place as God of himself. But over the years, I came to believe the basic lesson of Mathematics is the same as that of Taoism, Buddhism, and every great spiritual path. It’s that we all have the potential to become like God.”

“Even Son Goku eventually learns how to develop chi on his own, to become Super Saiyan at will. And today I believe we’ve all got a Saiyan inside us, because God is in each of us. That’s what we’re all trying to reach, through all the chambers of our lives.”

In this section he talks about personal development and spiritual transcendence. There’s some profound things here, but to make a simplified statement on what I understand, he’s saying that Son Goku is walking the path of the divine. He trains hard, attains Super Saiyan, and then learns how “to become Super Saiyan at will.” This means he can channel “God” any time he wants, in essence becoming like God Himself.

From my perspective I’d say he is talking about human potential and the idea that each of us has the divine within ourselves, waiting to be cultivated. Buddhists refer to it as Buddha Nature: The potential to become a Buddha. Goku attains this state and then learns how to control it with a calm mind.

black goku dbz

There’s a lot more that can be said about the RZA’s comments because they touch on so many different issues at once. The whole book was written with multifaceted, historical, philosophical statements that reflect his life story.

I don’t disagree with his statements and I can see the points he is trying to make. However, I do think they could have been made a bit more eloquently, or sensitively, or I’m not sure what. Just seems a bit rough.

I could talk about these topics for days and really don’t want to end it here, but I don’t want to dilute his message, so please tell me what you think.

Is the RZA right? Does Dragon Ball Z represent the journey of the black man in America?



  • http://thedaoofdragonball.com/ derekpadula

    For the record, I’m NOT a racist. Don’t shoot the messenger!

    Alright… carry on.

    • http://thedragonballblog.blogspot.com Biba Sen’nin

      If anyone finds this racist, they’re missing the point; It is racial, sir, but hardly ignorant or hateful.

      Dragon Ball is a fantastic story not because it is original (though in the shonen genre, it was a game changer -forever-), but because it is all those elements about the human condition we can all relate to. I used Goku’s path to connect to my own better morality, innate within myself but brought out by watching Goku. RZA used his connection with Goku to find a similar strength of character within himself. I dare say Derek has done the same, and all of us who love this show so dearly.

      We all love explosions, epic fights, nasty bad guys, and fun, childish humor. But it is the heart of Dragon Ball that keeps the world over coming back to it, again and again. We are all brothers and sisters.

      • http://thedaoofdragonball.com/ derekpadula

        Well put, Biba! Couldn’t agree more!

        And yes, you’re right about the Goku part. Gohan as well.

  • Shaun Russell

    However contrived the connection may be, it is still an interesting point for discussion… and an entertaining read.

    • http://thedaoofdragonball.com/ derekpadula

      Thanks, Shaun! I agree completely. I’d love to hear what others think about it as well.

  • A Non GMO Papayaman

    part 1

    Hey Namaste Derek and All

    Wonderful Article, Beautifully written from an neutral conscious one point!:)

    I have had many of the same insight as RZA on the Dragonball Z,GT understanding and enlightenment with being a "Black" man in "America", The hair was only one of the first!

    As a Man of Moorish Decent and More (European and Others) but predominantly Black Moor, I had the Afro as I transitioned to Dreadlocks and now my Uubu/Oobo deadlock Mohawk ( or Mu-Hawk as i connect to the ancients of Lemurian, or Mu as it was known. This is also connected to the Dragon World like map, along with Pangaea).

  • A Non GMO Papayaman

    Part 2

    As a young boy I always kept my hair short, subconsciously like a Buddhist monk. My Father, a Pastor, told me that God told him along time ago that he would need to keep my hair short and for certain it was until my 20′s. There is a time in everyone’s life when they are no long a child and transition into adulthood, that is when I decided to grow out my hair. As I took that journey upon myself I fell deeply into the love of DB,Z,GT The symbolism with the 7 ball and 7 chakras, the journey of death and reincarnation (a teaching that was removed from the bible by the church long with countless others gnostic text) and symbolism of the Kundalini Awakened as Goku traveled along ‘Snake Way’ to King Kai palace to raise his power level, As i had recently had something of a unique kundalini awakening myself at the age of 22.

    With my hair Transforming I could see the transition of archetype of the characters flowing within me going from one of being like Krillin, leaving a monetarist like life ( though at the time more Christian based and sub conscious) learning and living a hermited life. Then moving into the ‘walk about’ journey of wisdom into becoming my own self and one with my heart as i learned training/cultivation of Chi under Spiritual Teachers of other faiths, cultures and beliefs, to recognizing that myself as an Indigo Starseed In spirit and soul as Aboriginal of other Worlds, Civilizations, Galaxies and Universes. Seeing the Goku in me grow much like my hair as it started to locked up. In that stage i was able to connect more to my Saiyan Root (pun no intended) and understand the similarity/ symboligies of the myth of why saiyans don’t need to cut their hair and how it can stay up in odd ways, even into Super Saiyan form as i was able to believe deeper and understand how to take hold of Kundalini growth. My locks were able to take all kinds of shapes and forms without the need of any type of hair sprays, as I do use only organic products on and in my vessel. After a while my Lock fell and i felt like I was Super Saiyan 4 Goku minus the tail, of course and many of the super natural abilities or siddahs (though some are present). After being able to be bless with sharing moments with a groups of Tibetan Monks and Geshela’s on two different occasion .The second and strongest influence, when they were living at my spiritual teachers home while traveling across America and myself living walking distance away and very close to my Teacher. I was blessed and gifted to be able to have personal experience with them and being present during a scared healing dance that they only had done in Tibet, which had me sobbing and whaling like .. OMG i don’t even know what metaphor to use…I was so very deeply touched, I cut off the sides in humbled honor and respect of the head pieces they wore ( which was in the shape of a Mohawk. I believe we can see the headpiece shown in a episode or two of DB,Z,GT but i will need to pay attention to some of the world tournaments eps to be sure)

  • A Non GMO Papayaman

    Part 3

    Knowing (Maj)uub is the largest influence of my life as any of the DBZ characters and I am that, I am him even though there are minimal episodes hes in and not much character development, It actually makes it much more personal. There are many synchronizes and I believe connecting is well to me because of the representation of the reincarnation of self. Since being Buu, a lost child, ignorant to Power of LOVE over F.E.A.R (False.Evidence. Appearing. Real) and being brought to an end by the Will of God through the Spirits of the People of Humanity, To being returned to life by the Gifted Understanding of Grace, Mercy and Loving Kindness of Mother-Father God, our universes Angels, Galactic’s and many Ascended Masters as Goku is very much one of them. Remember there are many things "unseen" in many truths, faiths, cultures, believes and who is to say that One’s is any less true because its younger or different from what has been understood, known or believed before. There is mass consciousness in the knowing of the image and name of Goku along with many of the characters in Dragonball and other Myths of Legends and Heroes of Fiction. I was told along ago that All Fiction is Non-Fiction as it is Created in Reality and with the true power of humanity i do Believe this. Needless to say my Kundalini Awakening was very special, as well as my sight of these dimensions :).

    A side note If you will.
    I see (Maj)Uub as truly much more of a Son/Sun to goku than His other two birthed boys. As (Maj)Uub, created specially for Goku by Goku’s wish as a gift, without the need of dragonballs. A universal present to a warrior from the Thanks of the Heavens. I will share more about that later but will take moments. I would need to connect with my heart more to allow myself to share as this is all very true and personal to me, but as i was tought testimonies are strength and sharing is caring <(‘,’<)

  • PB4

    The most evil guy in the universe is a creepy super-white man and his lackeys (Freeza) and only through inner enlightenment (Malcolm X, MLK, Goku) can the black man (Saiyans) persevere against them.

    Sounds like the journey of the black man in America to me!

    • http://thedaoofdragonball.com/ derekpadula

      Yep. When you put it that way it seems much more clear and relatable.

    • Jack

      But Freeiza isnt exactly a white man.

    • Calsinael

      What about the earlier heroes from black African-American political hostory? Their are others than Malcolm X, and MLK.

  • cob1

    This is very intense. In response to your question, I think there are definitely similarities between DBZ and the struggle of Black America but, part of that, as mentioned, is that persecution was the story telling tool of the series. But, the RZA certainly has some good arguments that I didn’t think about. The way he explains the super saiyan is interesting. That we all have that spark inside waiting to be released.

    This certainly paints him in a new, even more BA light for me. I really didn’t expect this article at all. But, it just goes to show you, Wu-Tang always had some good stuff say. There’s a reason there rhymes supremely dominate the crap on the radio today. It’s intelligent, deep, and well thought out.

    What I’d like to know is how the black and jewish populations in general feels about the statements he makes. Do fans of these descents feel drawn to the show BECAUSE of that sense of persecution? Do they even think about it? I know I’ve thought about it but, I never made the connection to real life atrocities. I always thought "Can you imagine this kind of thing happening in the real world.." but, it did! …. sans the interplanetary pirating

    • http://thedaoofdragonball.com/ derekpadula

      Those are good questions. I’m not sure how I would go about getting the answers, except maybe to set up a poll, or ask random Dragon Ball fans.

      Yeah, it’s really not that far off from other types of persecution or genocide in our own world. Dragon Ball Z takes everything to the "DBZ Extreme" as I call it, so it just seems so outlandish, but it’s actually very relatable when you look at the root cause or meaning of why it’s in the series. The same thing applies to other aspects of the series, such as the martial arts belief systems, Ki, reincarnation, Heaven, Earth and Hell, etc. It’s traditionally believed we have all of that in our own world already.

    • Formerly White-washed

      No, DBZ does not represent the plight of Blacks, Jews, or anyone else;
      it is entertainment. I can see how comparisons can be made though (as well as other media). The world will continue being the way it is, in some cases, the persecutees of the past becoming the persecutors, until someone stands up and breaks the cycle. I won’t be holding my breath.

      I was originally drawn to DBZ in the early 1990s because of my friends. I am a Black man, but I grew up with many Filipinos back in elementary school, and they were fans of DBZ, having seen it in the Philippines. The first time that I saw it was in 1996 when it aired on KCAL 9 early in the morning. From there, I got into the emulated SNES games, read some of the comics online, and finally bought the comics at a local comic shop (I wish that I would have kept them). I was elated when DBZ came back on Toonami after school in the late 90s and early 2000s. I wasn’t into it because of the similarities to the Black experience, but rather the action, characters, and to be able to talk about it with my friends. It is only now, as a young adult, that I am looking into the deeper, more cultural side of DBZ.

  • JLH

    I am an atheist, so the concept of god in all of us; I disagree with but I do understand where he’s coming at. I wouldn’t call it god. Like you said, I’d call it Buddha nature or just a higher state of being like very calmness; where one can alter the state of the body easily with the mind, like blocking out pain. I can see how the Saiyans represent African Americans & the Jews. That makes a lot sense. I think the Saiyans can repsent the Jews because I think Hitler wiped them all out because he feared them just like Frieza. Same could be said for the Native Americans. The story of Goku in the original Dragon Ball seem less like an African American story than Z. In Dragon Ball, Goku grew up with a semi-peacefully life & didn’t have any discrimination. Obviously, he looked a little different from everyone else because of his tail & strength. Other than that, Goku was normal & wasn’t looked at any differently. But, in Z he finds out he’s a Saiyans & the story of them. I think he feels pride of his heritage & feels he has to represent them in… a good way. Bardock visioned him as the Savior, the good heart-ed one who would avenge the Saiyans & show them from a better, peace fuller view. It wouldn’t be the savage Saiyan who killed Frieza but it would be the peaceful one who even offered mercy.
    Being Jewish, I kind of feel the same way Goku did. I would like to represent them in a new way. Tbh, I kinda like the fact that Jewish people created the American comic book industry. I’d also like to eradicate bmw, voltswagon & ford from the world. ford once discriminated against Africans & the german car brands literally put Jews into their cars. Their hair n stuff. just felt like putting that out there. -_-"
    Anyway, I agree with the rest of what he said. lol I am currently reading Journey to the West & I see the resemblance already. Found it cool, King of the underworld; Yama would be in Journey to the West.
    Finally, cool story… bro. It was very interesting & most certainly enjoyed reading & commenting on it!

    • Mike Reach

      So are you the atheist kind which doesn’t want to be related to any religion but believes in some kind of "ethereal" prescence, or the kind of atheist who takes basis on eastern religions and philosophies? Please explain this if possible.

    • http://thedaoofdragonball.com/ derekpadula

      Yes, I would agree that Dragon Ball Z had a much larger theme of persecution running throughout the storyline. The main story revolves around the Saiyans in one form or another, and they are persecuted by throughout.

      Good insights on how Goku is more of a "savior" figure than a savage.

      Yeah, isn’t Journey to the West great? When you read the story you can’t help but laugh at the similarities and minor details that ended up in Dragon Ball. Without being familiar with both of the source materials it’s not really possible to understand the homage’s and correlations, but when you are, both of them become increasingly rich and multi-layered.

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  • http://thedaoofdragonball.com/ DerekPadula

    Seriously? You’re going to come on to my site and say something racist and hateful? You’re welcome to your opinion and I’m glad to provide a venue for it, but I’m not going to allow comments like this and it has just been deleted.

  • Desmond Stringer

    Dude combined 5 percenter philosophy with a japanese anime…..not gonna lie, that’s interesting

  • Levelle Lindsey

    moses

  • Knowledge

    just gonna say the reason why there are not black saiyans because their planet is further away from their son. also they aren’t even white. they’re aliens

    In dbz god is Kami on the lookout tower.
    then its King Kai
    then supreme Kai

  • xXDapperDanXx

    Its interesting what the RZA is saying here but I think its ridiculous(and biased) for anyone to proclaim Goku as representing ONLY ONE OR TWO human races. I’ll perfectly explain why.

    NOBODY online ever considered this viewpoint: What if Frieza represented a huge super nation with a lot of wealth and power( like America). Frieza had the most racially diverse group of henchmen in the entire series (just like America does).

    AND What if the Saiyans represented Japan or another small county that had faced a struggle against a bigger more powerful one. Pretty profound argument I just made!!! More profound than this article.

    The truth is that anyone should be able to feel some kind of connection to Goku because he is supposed to be a relatable character!! The author intended this!! If you struggled to achieve anything in life than you’re already relating to goku perfectly.

    It is cool of the RZA to talk about Dragon ball but it isnt cool of him to make such bold and incorrect statements about such a well known Japanese comic book which children of all shapes, sizes and colors love to read.

    Its just biased to say something like that and a little bit ignorant to think that your people are the only one who suffered from something like that.

    For the record i am Latin American.

  • xXDapperDanXx

    First of all Frieza isn’t a white man he is an alien. Second of all, Friezas army was made up of many other races not just one. So you cant just say that frieza represented white people. Frieza really represented a super nation led by a bad man.

    You have to think about this to: what if Frieza represented America. What if the Saiyans represented japan during WWII getting bombed by America. The saiyans could be representing ANY group of people who felt oppressed by a bigger power once.

    Goku himself can represent anyone who faced a struggle before. You cant just say Goku is black.

    Sounds like you dont understand what the other races of this planet have gone through to me.

    • DARK__LORD

      goku is not white he isn’t a human he is a saiyan there have some light saiyan (goku) and some who are more dark skinned (turles).Sorry for my english i’m french

      • xXDapperDanXx

        Youre absolutely right. Goku is not a human he is a saiyan.

    • You’re wrong

      The Japanese got bombed because they were slaughtering the Chinese for no reason… I don’t think the Saiyans can represent them

      • xXDapperDanXx

        The reason Japan got bombed in WWII was because they did not back down after Hitler was already crushed. It took two bombs for the Japanese to finally back down from the war. Go look it up!!!!!

        By the way I know way more about DBZ than the Rza and the guy who wrote this article. To go out and say saiyans are like a human race is fucking retarded!!!

        But if i had to say the saiyans were like a race:
        The BEST comparison to the saiyans is the Native Americans who got almost completely wiped out by white people!! Dont try and argue against me on this.

        Black people are nothing like the saiyans dude get your head out of your ass. Lets all stop acting like black people had it so epicly bad that it was the worst out of everybody. GET REAL SON. I know about history!

      • xXDapperDanXx

        You tell me your theory mister smarty pants