March 08, 2006

America Crashes into the Race Issue

"The majority of whites are probably genuinely convinced that America is a color-blind society, and that equal opportunity is a reality."

Earl Ofari Hutchinson writes about Crash, the Oscar winner for Best Movie, and contends that it deserved to win because it forces both blacks and whites to confront our racial stereotypes. He claims what makes the picture unique is the black perceptions of the stereotypes. He says:

If many whites think racial equality is a reality, that's more proof to many blacks that whites are in deliberate racial denial. But many whites don't claim blacks are treated equally simply to mask their racial hostility to blacks. They no longer see "Whites only" signs and redneck Southern cops unleashing police dogs, turning fire hoses on and beating hapless black demonstrators. Whites turn on their TVs and see legions of black newscasters and talk show hosts, topped by TV's richest and most popular celebrity, Oprah Winfrey.

He expands on this with more descriptions of black successes and then offers an alternate view of the world of white people:

On the other hand, many blacks erroneously assume that whites live an Ozzie-and-Harriet life of bliss and are immune to personal and social angst. They are puzzled when middle-class whites shoot up their suburban schools, and neighborhoods, bludgeon their children in their homes, use and deal drugs, have high suicide rates and commit bizarre anti-social acts. They don't hear and see whites' pain.

While I understand he is writing solely about the complexity of black-white relations, Hutchinson does leave out the Latino and Asian characters in the film who also are victims of racial stereotyping and conflict. He doesn't actually come out and say it, but my conclusion is that whites and blacks, along with Latinos and Asians --poor, low income, and middle class -- are both being subjected to common pressures by a world that is not very generous to them, a corporate and political world that inflicts pain on them in ways that ought to unite them.

Hutchinson concludes:

A mix of economic slippage, political cynicism and personal alienation, not blind racial hatred drives much of white anger toward blacks. An equal mix of personal alienation, false perception and distrust drives much of black anger toward whites. That's the not-so-subtle message of "Crash."

There is a compelling interest for the ruling corporatocracy to keep us divided, preserving as many racial, social and religious divisions as possible. As long as we are not united in our opposition to corporate economic and political hegemony, we will be fighting the wrong battles.


crz53 said...

"There is a compelling interest for the ruling corporatocracy to keep us divided, preserving as many racial, social and religious divisions as possible. As long as we are not united in our opposition to corporate economic and political hegemony, we will be fighting the wrong battles."

Beyond merely having an interest in it, the wealthy elite in this country have been deliberately sowing the seeds of racial division between members of the working class for hundreds of years. In "A People's History of the United States", Howard Zinn quotes the personal correspondance of wealthy landowners in which they openly acknowledge the threat posed to them should the poor blacks and whites recognize their common cause and unite. Sorry I don't have my copy handy to cite page numbers. In any case, I highly recommend the book for anyone who wants to get another perspective on how we got where we are today.
- Mike Lorenz

nightquill said...

Then, maybe. But now? Really? Individually and intentionally? There's a single, human corporocrat thinking, "let's keep the working whites and blacks, Christians and Muslims hating each other, it will be good for business"?

Is this what you had in mind, Stephen, or do you think the power structure as a whole sort of naturally keeps these things in place without the necessity of individual, conscious malice?

Stephen McArthur said...

Let's just say the American corporate power structure knows instinctively what is in its interest and what is not. It certainly knows that low income and middle class Americans divided by religion, race, class, sexuality, abortion, and regional and environmental interests, are not going to threaten its continued exercise of economic and policitcal control. If it acts on that recognition conciously or unconciously hardly matters, as long as it holds sway and dominates our world. As was protrayed in the film "The Corporation," some these men, individually, may be wonderful people, but collectively they work for a common cause, driven by an imperativ e far beyond their individual choice.

Make any sense?

nightquill said...

Yes, it makes sense, and I certainly agree that you don't need to decide these things in order to decide what to try to do about it.

But I am as uncomfortable attributing volition to an abstract power structure as I am attributing malice to a large number of individuals. At some level I think individual attitudes must collectively drive things, and I feel like two attitudes might dominate:

Those who have persuaded themselves that a rising tide lifts all boats and unfettered capitalism is really good for all people eventually (call them the "Jack Kemps"), and those who will take any conservative position just because of the contempt and dislike they have culturally for anything liberal (call them the "Trent Lotts"). The latter produces all sorts of paradoxical positions because of how it's based...

Those examples were politicians, not businessmen, of course, but I think the types persist across professions....