In her look at the upcoming movie “Crash,” Becky broaches the subject of racism. The film apparently tackles the subject in a non-formulaic manner. It sounds like a breath of fresh air. I get nervous when the subject of race gets brought up in the same tired PSA manner context. Racism is bad. Racists are bad people.


Let’s look at the first statement (that racism is bad) first. Racism, narrowly defined, is indeed a bad thing. Calling people names or refusing to serve them because they look different is… good god… it’s bad. I feel like a dang Public Service Announcement voiceover for even having to say it. We’ve moved beyond that point in the debate. The point we’re at now is… a little more complicated.

The question is whether or not when an immigrant is shot 42 times was it because of his complexion?

The question is when we instinctively shift away from a black man as we walk down the street is it because he’s black or because he’s wearing chains and baggy clothes?

The question is when someone tells a racist joke do we take them to task?

The question is do we oppose government programs because we mentally see the beneficiaries as being… different from us?

The question is whether or not we should give preferences to people historically discriminated against when stacked up against a while or Asian with a better resume?

These are the questions we face, and while they’re serious questions we should recognize that we’re a long way from Jim Crow. The question isn’t whether or not people of different races should be treated with equal dignity and respect, it’s what exactly equal dignity and respect mean when say it?

I’m trying to avoid getting political here. To be honest, I’m not that interested in hearing differing views on affirmative action or Jesse Jackson or Pat Buchanan. Rather, I’m trying to say that the issues at hand are complicated, but popular entertainment almost never treats them as such. Nor does it treat the players of the morality tale.

That brings me to the second statement, that racists are bad people. As long as we perpetuate this myth, no one is going to be looking into themselves and wondering if some of their behaviors and beliefs aren’t informed by the percieved differences by ethnic and racial groups. Presenting every racist individual as a member of the KKK is simply not helpful.

A while back DC Comics had a series called The Kents that explored the history of Clark Kent’s adoptive family. I never read the series, but the premise itself put me off. The Kents, as it turns out, were ardent abolitionists and borderline-pariahs in their community because they fought the good fight against racism. As it turns out it has been established that the Waynes helped out in the underground railroad to free the slaves. It props up both the Kents and the Waynes, which is good, but it completely sidesteps the very complicated issue that a lot of otherwise good people had some very, very unfortunate beliefs and participated in an inhumane institution that destroyed families and lives.

And with that, there are story possibilities abound. The Facts of Life, of all shows, did an admirable job where one of the characters discovered her ancestor was a segregationist. Granted, they chose the least sympathetic character (Blair, the snob), but the treatment was very sympathetic. Roseanne also had a good episode where the characters were left to wonder if they had let racism taint their reactions to various events. Solid stuff and not preachy.

And what those portrayals would really accomplish is giving people the ability to investigate their own behavior without having to condemn themselves as bigots if they find out that their reactions to certain things are based on preconcieved notions based on racial perceptions. That would in turn allow them to change their behavior. But no one is going to alter their behavior a bit if it requires first admitting that they have horns growing out of their temples.

The truth is that we all treat those different from us differently. It’s human nature. A lot of people have generally negative views of other ethnic groups, often unconsciously. On the other end of the spectrum some people are extremely condescending. And in some ways it’s a catch-22 wherein however you treat people different than you you’re guilty of something in someone’s eyes. But most people are just content to say that they’re not a part of the problem and the la-dee-dah portrayal in popular media does nothing but reinforce that erroneous self-image.

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4 Responses to Modern Racism & Its Delusions

  1. Becky says:

    You definitely have to see this movie. Even the statement you made about the black guys and their clothes, the ones in the movie basically looked like preps (of course, in this movie, things aren’t always what they seem). It is hard not to give in to stereotypes because they exist, for the most part, for a reason. I encounter that as a Landlord and the way certain groups live or treat their rental unit. It’s kind of hard not to assume the next family will, when several others have been that way.

  2. Webmaster says:

    You brought up a number of issues I usually wonder about myself – for example, if I have a black male in a car pull up next to me and he’s blaring rap music at window-rattling volumes, I instantly make a few assumptions about his IQ that I don’t make if he’s wearing a nice collared shirt and is tuned into a rock or classical station instead.

    The idea of “racism” as opposed to “underlying assumptions” is always strange, and it’s tweaked by other underlying social factors that really have nothing to do with race (the differing percentages of “minorities” who are in poverty, for instance).

    Becky’s comment on landlords and how certain people will treat their rented property is well taken – if you need another example, try imagining the situation of a college dormitory. In one dorm, you have mostly honors students, mostly white/asian with a few mid-to-upper class blacks or latinos thrown in.

    In the other, you have the athletics program, which consists mostly of “athlete” students (of various races) who really don’t care about their education because they think they’re going to be drafted by the NBA/NFL/MLB/etc any day now.

    Assume both buildings are brand new. Come back in four years; what will your assumption be about the general condition and number of repairs needed on each building?

    “Affirmative action” programs I have real problems with both because they create assumptions that the people they are “helping” couldn’t succeed without it, and because it’s a recipe for abuse. Take my grandparents, who own their own home in addition to my grandfather’s family home (his parents’). They are “landlords” in that sense, they rent out the one home.

    Because they are “landlords”, they are responsible for all the repairs. Even though they can’t by law come in to inspect the property without setting up times, and have to rely on the leasing parties to inform them of problems.

    Well, a city inspector can go in. By law. Any time. And they did so, decided something wasn’t up to standard (the renters had broken various things) and that it was required to be brought up to code.

    But instead of being able to contract who they wanted to, they were told that the city has an “Affirmative Action” program that requires city-ordered repairs be conducted from a short-list of businesses owned by “historically disadvantaged” personages (e.g. women and/or minorities).

    Guess what? They wound up costing twice as much, because every company on that list KNEW they were on that list and that they had a monopoly on business coming in and jacked up their rates accordingly.

    You tell me. Where’s the racism?

    Oh, and last thing on racism. Remember the Cincinnati race riots? Remember the Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson war cry of “fifteen black men killed by police since 1995”?

    What they forgot to tell you was that, of the “fifteen”, there were multiple men who shot guns at cops, ran from cops, tried to hit cops with various blunt objects, ran cops over with automobiles, and at least one bona fide axe murderer.

    You tell me. Who’s racist here?

  3. Barry says:

    Great post, Will.

  4. Kate the Peon says:

    I saw Crash last week and immediately posted that everyone needs to see it. Phenomenal movie.

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