Posted by: Katherine | July 19, 2009

A New Racism

Last night we watched In The Heat of the Night for the first time. I was looking forward to it as I think both Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier are very good actors.

As I watched Sidney Poitier get called “boy” and be arrested as a murderer simply because he was a “negro” and not from their town I noticed how stunned I was. Sidney Poitier was sitting quietly at a train stop. He wasn’t making any noise, disturbing anything or anyone. He was simply sitting quietly waiting for the train. He wasn’t dressed with gang symbols or chains or some other attire that might concern anyone. He was wearing a nice blue suit. He wasn’t filthy with his hair hanging greasily in front of his face or mud on his shoes. He was clean and well-groomed. He is not a child of 15 but a seasoned adult and yet he is only called “boy.” His treatment, simply because he was not white, stunned me. He didn’t look like he had been in a fight or “up to no good.” He just looked like a quiet man waiting for a train.

As I watched the film, it reminded me that I grew up in a different time than when this film was depicting. The idea of treating someone like they are not worth the dirt on your shoe because of the color of their skin is not only repellent to me, but rather foreign. But it is likewise as repellent to me to treat someone like they are so divine that you are not worthy to lick the dirt from their shoe. It is just as unjust to treat Sidney Poitier’s character worse than you would a dog as it is unjust to exault Obama above criticism or accountability simply because of the color of their skin.

I realize, in honesty and fairness, that I did not grow up with the unjustice that many Americans faced fighting for their civil rights. But I want to likewise point out that those who fought for equality among races need to be colorblind themselves if they truly want to establish a world without race. I’ve seen more racism in the last year than I had in the previous decade of my life but it has not been racism of the traditional sort; not a racism against a particular race but a racism exaulting a particular race. If you really want a country, a world, without racism, you can’t have either.

That said, In the Heat of the Night was a very good film, if you haven’t seen it. Of course, Sidney Poitier is such a class act, it is hard not to like anything he is in or at least it is hard not to like him in anything.

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Responses

  1. I think the “exaltation” of a minority race in the past year that you mentioned is our country recognizing the history of the moment, and showing pride in our collective accomplishment of coming as far as we have to end legalized, overt racism in the U.S. Such an accomplishment has required courage and perseverance of Americans of both races, and is worth noting. I would be more concerned if the moment went unnoticed.

    • Recognizing the first African American President is one thing. Not giving his background, relationships and credentials the same scrutiny every other President has gotten is quite another. There is nothing wrong with recognizing the moment but it is quite another thing to use that recognition to erase any accountability.


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