Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

Of Race, Rebels and Reprisal

Auschwitz - door to surgical ward

    Three recent movies. And it is not my custom generally to say run, don’t walk, to see modern flicks. If you are as selective as I am regarding cinema and of what among it is a waste of time, you too are amazed at the way people enter theaters with such expectation and, sadly, tend to forgive the disappointment of a dud, of which there seem to be a frightful number these days. I do not disparage however mere entertainment value as a relief and distraction from the vicissitudes of life.
    People tend also to overrate movies: when The Exorcist opened to raves, critic Stanley Kaufmann noted that all it takes to scare people is to jump out of a closet at them, so why be surprised when millions of dollars are spent on creating horrific effects? But there is value in movies that effectively portray a moral.
    If you didn’t see “The Help,” please do. Some people are tired of attention to racism, most likely because they’re not victims of it and do not realize that if all of us did something about it, it would be a thing of the past and indeed unworthy of mention. But we don’t, so there it is, still hanging around while we wonder why.
    I expected it to be overdone and preachy, but it’s actually an understatement of the problem but ends with perhaps too much hope. For someone born and bred in the American South, I am wary of such conclusions, because I never saw similar instances evolve toward such glowing promise.
    “Hilly,” the antagonist and trend-setter for a clutch of privileged, bossy young women, doesn’t think she is a racist, and hence is a prototype of average America, regardless of gender. The first omen is her warning to the protagonist, a writer, to cease and desist her probes there are people in town who can inflict great harm on such snoops. She says so, ostensibly, in the best interests of the journalist when she is actually expressing her own protection of the way things were at last mid-century.
    Regrettably, many people who lived those days in that region may marvel that such things went on, including its violence because at the time they simply weren’t paying attention. For them, the show can be a giant leap forward while, unsurprisingly, blacks will wonder what else is new.
    The movie, “The Debt,” on the other hand, is a story of importance regarding the unrequited injustice of the Holocaust, of which there were many parts, and about which people also wish Jews would shut up, with the same results as the denial of racism.
    Herein, a “debt” is owed to Israel and to Jews everywhere in the pursuit of a Josef Mengele-type perpetrator of the worst of antisemitic evils (Photo: door to the surgical ward at Auschwitz). But another debt arises having to do with what is owed to truth as it, in turn, dogs those who are committed to bring the perp to justice.
    There is violence but it is hardly the tip of the iceberg of what was launched by Nazis on hapless citizens that included, yes, socialists, communists, Romanys and homosexuals; but toward the Jews it was genocidal. The mental, physical and psychic strength of the antagonist as an aging man is symbolic of his being driven by a hate that passes all understanding on the part of those who would suppress or obliterate all intended victims forementioned.
    “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes” has so much symbolism and borrowings from other stories as to be blatantly obvious, most overtly with hints and reminders of King Kong, e.g., though the airplane and the Empire State building are replaced by a helicopter and the Golden Gate Bridge. And yes there is mayhem, including that of exploding cars, manned mostly by police.
    What is compelling amid its incredulousness is that we are forced to see society through eyes that we deem inhuman or subhuman, but who themselves are victims, not of Nazis and racists, but of all of us who are complicit in what happens to fellow creatures in the interest of improving our own lives and safety.
    It is also a reminder of how revolutions begin, most of which, like the “rise” of the apes, seem implausibe in their early stages. We are obliged also to remember that Freud did not just say that humanity is a “herd animal,” but one with a leader, which is crucial to all social change.
    The last of these films is the lesser of the three, but with worth of its own. I wish also that “The Help” and “The Debt” were shown in educational settings, especially for the young, as to what holds society together, or drives it apart.
    Why don’t we mainstream anti-racism training in our public schools? I don’t know. And when things go bad, as in these economic times, clearly the pain is directed toward minorities, with the same vengeance as the doctor of death in “The Debt.”
    When we don’t pay the piper early on, we surely pay later, if not forever.

9 Responses to “Of Race, Rebels and Reprisal”

  1. Wouldn’t it be great to have anti-racism training in our schools? It has been a struggle to get churches to engage in anti-racism training but some have been persistent. Those of us born to the majority culture or power culture must acknowledge that we are privileged simply by the accident of birth. That is a first step.

  2. I wish you’d change the background for your blog – white on black is harder to read than black on white – about The Help – i read the book – thought it was trite – characterization was superficial – full of stereotypes – i admit I haven’t seen the movie- I don’t want to – I realize I’m privileged – I realize my children are privileged – I realize my grandchildren are privileged – but why should I throw this away? – what’s the hook? – why should I give up all my privilege? – the only reason I ever would is if I believed that it was the “right” thing to do – if I am a humanist as are most UUs what would convince me? Is diversity a value? I realize I sound smart ass – I don’t mean to be – I just wonder what would lead anyone to give up privilege?

    • How is expecting society to treat all people fairly, regardless of race, throwing away your privilege? How do you or your progeny lose when children of every skin tone and from every neighborhood are offered truly equal access to healthcare, education, and participation in society? This belief that the privileged majority would somehow become the disadvantaged if the systems of racism were finally put to rest is what perpetuates racism.

      It seems to me that the benefit of eliminating racism is that we can live in a freer and safer society, where hard work and dedication really do pay off. A society where a child can honestly believe he or she can grow up to be anything. Hate crimes and poverty would decrease. If anything, I would say that if everyone were as privileged as whites are now, as a whole all of us would be better off. What are you in fear of losing if everyone had equal footing?

  3. I suppose we are all still just a little bit racist and in saying that I feel that things are normal again when, after a month of whitey in Canada, I land in Minneapolis where there are many blacks. My younger grand-daughter was in day-care for the first 3 years of her life and any talk of black and white leaves a puzzled look on her face as she loved all of her care-takers (minimum pay of course). We did, however have to work very hard to teach her not to “axe” us questions….does this make us racists?

    • Dear Mori – where were you in Canada? – Canada is not more “whitey” than the US – in fact Toronto is the most diverse city in North America – and Vancouver is often rudely referred to as “Hongcouver” – per capita more immigrants come into Canada each year than into the US

    • Expecting proper speech from your children is not racist, but ascribing a speech pattern that is perceived as ignorant to a specific group of people, is.

  4. I visit the mid-west of Canada which has a tiny minority of Asians (they were hired and paid very little to build the 2 rail-ways in Canada), a small percentage of Indigenous (mostly Cree) but primarily Saskatchewan is populated by the progeny of the immigrants from Europe (my people came from Sweden).

    • true – that’s Saskatchewan – I just felt offended as a Canadian that you said “a month of whitey in Canada” – isn’t ” whitey” pejorative? – I felt that you were insinuating that all of Canada is like that –

  5. Frankly, although specific anti-racism training is not in school, our elementary schools do an excellent job of character development. It is in the upper grades that race becomes an issue. Our children really had no concept of race until they were close to Kindergarten age. Our elementary-aged kids had great pride in their unique racial & ethnic make-ups. It was in middle school where our oldest started noticing issues related to race, such as a substitute telling her she was a quiet and respectful student because she is only half-black or kids from either of her backgrounds not fully accepting her because she wasn’t just one thing or another. Ultimately, we worry too much about individual racists and rarely work on systemic racism. People get too bogged down in anti-racism terms and ideas about who can be racist and who can’t be racist that we lose sight of the fact that young black men are more likely to be in prison than in college, and that teenage birthrates and infant mortality rates are considerably higher for non-whites. Unfortunately, I don’t think there will ever be any trainings or classes that will educate us out of our oppressive institutions, and I don’t believe Holywood will cure these ills either.

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