Do you remember that movie CRASH? It won, I think, the Academy Award for Best Movie in 2004 (or whatever year it was nominated). Anyway, I haven’t seen it in a long time, but I think now would be a good time for my fellow Americans to watch it and talk about it. My memory of it comes to mind a lot in recent days since all the news about Charlottesville, Nazis, KKK, White Supremacists, our controversial president and all that.
I sense I am not the most timely to post my thoughts this late, but then this blog is not dedicated to every issue nor every news item. In fact, this topic, though it bears some relation to homelessness, is not really the focus of this blog hardly at all. But the emergence of racism as a deadly force finding legitimacy in presidential politics (at least David Duke and friends think so), I wonder if I might persuade any new thinking. (Not likely since I hardly get a hearing on the stuff I am already passionate about.) But I will give it a whirl.
I am reflecting on the movie Crash, and how complex racial prejudice can be. It is so easy to paint it with simple brush strokes as evil and hold forth that it’s someone else’s problem. Especially for white people in my kind of shoes. And I am inclined NOT to hastily confess my own racism, biases, or sins of exclusion and so forth. My family is multicolored, actually. I love black, brown, red and white people as a matter of family ties! I want my black son to get into college even if affirmative action helps him. I don’t want my white kid to be displaced from his chance because of affirmative action either. So, I can be a little in both camps. I used to work in law enforcement, and I strongly believe blue lives matter, but I have black friends and family who should be able to shop in Dillard’s, eat in Denny’s, and drive home from a party without being shot in the head by a cop! So, yeah, there are complexities! It’s not all just a simple matter of someone else’s evil.
And besides, LOVE is complex too. I am always growing in LOVE, learning to love, helping others to love. I have not mastered it completely! So, yes, there is room for me to grow even though I do not use racial epithets against my black and brown family and friends. Even though I welcome all colors to my table to eat. Even though I want to pray for them when they travel that they won’t face the kind of ugliness I almost never have to imagine because I am privileged to be born white and male.
And so Crash has me remembering the artful, powerful, meaningful way this kind of stuff is explored in cinematic narrative. Numerous races and ethnicities are represented all through the tale – in fact many. White, brown, black, yellow, Arab, and so forth. And it turns out that every single person from each of these backgrounds is presented as racially prejudiced at some point. The mutual suspicion between people based on race and ethnicity drives so much fear, hatred, and murder. And the amazing thing is how that the narrative takes us into the hearts and minds of these people as they come to bigoted terms with how they will treat one another. But even more, the narrative makes this phenom sympathetic in each case WHILE condemning it at the same time. That is a remarkable feature.
Crash makes me understand a racist. Not all racists from among all people at all times, but a doorway into hearts driven by forces seemingly beyond their control. Wow! I think that is a useful insight for my fellow Americans just now. We need better understanding of one another. With careful insight, we might find better ways of addressing one another’s fears and needs that are masked in anger and hate.
I watch this movie and think: Ha! The most innocent character in the whole flick, Ryan Phillippe’s Officer Hanson, is the one who actually commits a murder based on race! He is the one character in the whole drama that fights so hard for racial justice and yet gets sucked into the worst of all crimes and sins – and sucked in to it on the basis of racial prejudice.
Meanwhile, Matt Dillon’s Officer Ryan is the most overtly racist character – a cop with a chip on his shoulder. But that narrative creates just a fraction of sympathy for the man when we discover that he has been on the phone with Shaniqua, Loretta Divine, a very black sounding lady working for the health insurance company that denies benefits to Dillon’s father who suffers terribly from his affliction. Now, of course Dillon’s character makes a rather obvious mistake assuming that Divine’s blackness has anything to do with his insurance problems which compound his father’s suffering, but he isn’t thinking clearly and lets himself make judgments based on raw feelings rather than clear thought. (AND WHO AMONG US IS NEVER GUILTY OF THAT???)
So Dillon takes his hostilities out on a black/interracial couple he pulls over for a traffic violation. He sexually harasses/assaults Thandie Newton’s Christine Thayer on the side of the street during the traffic stop. Newton, understandably, becomes outraged about the incident. But later in the narrative when she is involved in a traffic accident and trapped in her car as it is about to explode and burn her alive, it is Dillon’s Officer Ryan that comes to her rescue. She recognizes him and fights him off as he tries to save her from burning to death. Thus, Dillon’s racial prejudice, though hostile and damaging in one scene, drives gears only so deep in his character.
And there are many such scenes bearing the racial prejudices of various races and ethnicities before the lens and demonstrating how so often they are driven by feelings rather than clear level headed thought.
Am I saying the movie will answer questions and guide our society out of the mess we are in? No. Am I saying it is a depiction of what is going on in our world today? Yes – in part. Not the whole, but in part. And I think it gives us a foot hold which will help us gain more access in understanding one another while never once giving any ground to hate.
I hope my readers will watch the movie. If you have seen it before, watch it again. If not, get in the know. And then let’s see if we can find some sensible ground we just might share with people who express racial prejudice.
Shouting at “them” is not working. Belittling and poking fun at “them” is not working. And by “them“, I mean the racists. And besides, we might find ourselves in those shoes all too easily given circumstances that drive our feelings to make stupid choices too.
THEN, maybe, THEN if we can say something to those sensitive vulnerabilities that they (and we) are protecting with our prejudicial actions, we might – JUST MIGHT – give oxygen to alternative ways of addressing those feelings that don’t involve fear and hate.
It’s worth trying.