Wednesday, October 5, 2005

High Def Stereotypes

Last weekend, my husband and I netflixed and watched the movie "Crash." For those who haven't heard of it, "Crash" is a movie detailing the many and varied prejudices we human beings can levy against one another. Practically every race was represented in the movie, and every stereotype ever uttered around the dinner tables of all those various cultures was flung at the audience like so much shit hitting the fan.

I watched the movie on the same day that I became aware of a former member of the US Cabinet's comment that crime could be reduced by aborting all black babies. On the heels of his comment, he made sure to add that such a thing would be heinous and reprehensible (while reiterating that it sure would get the job done). The sadness I felt in hearing that statement and then watching the movie is still with me. I don't remember his name. I don't feel compelled to find it.

I'd venture to say that we are probably the only species on earth which holds prejudices against its own kind. Of course, my entire basis of research on this topic is the dog park, and lacking a science degree, my hypothesis is likely flawed. Nonetheless, I have observed that dogs will greet one another with a consistency unchanged by breed; and if you put five fish in a tank, they won't swim off with their common types and start erecting flags on the aquarium. Could opposable thumbs and the ability to speak really be our downfall?

I live in a multiracial household, and as in any house, our home is a world in and of itself. Because race is not a negative issue at home, it can sometimes be a rude awakening to step outside to a world where you are generally defined first by your skin. That's not to say that race is not acknowledged at all in my house: we certainly discuss it.

The tenth anniversary of the OJ Simpson verdict was this past weekend as well. My husband, who is white, detailed his reaction to the verdict ten years ago: disbelief and disappointment in the judicial system. Then I responded with mine. I was twenty four, young, black and living in Atlanta. My best friend and I had the day off to shop and relax. When we heard the verdict, we smiled.

The passing of a decade brings wisdom: my husband now understands why African Americans around the country celebrated the acquittal of a man we primarily believe is guilty. And I now regret feeling joy at the release of a madman. OJ Simpson was representing far more than himself during that trial. To black people, he was the embodiment of every black man who had ever been beaten, lynched and killed unjustly for a made up crime against whites (for instance, Emmitt Till). It was the larger issue of seeing a judicial system not automatically assume that to be brown was to be guilty that blacks celebrated that day. On the converse, I want to believe that as a community, we've grown to realize that OJ's acquittal may not have been the best vehicle for that (i.e., next time, we hope to celebrate with a man unquestionably innocent. Again, like Emmitt Till).

For those unaware, Emmitt Till was a young, black, southern teenager whose head was smashed to the point of nonrecognition for the crime of allegedly whistling at a passing white woman.

These are the scenarios that frighten me when I think of the stereotypes alive today. And certainly, they are rampant within every community. How often do we allow ourselves to react based on the most superficial of differences - our skin?

Yes, we are certainly culturally different in this world. My son attends a high school with students from around the world. Over one hundred different languages and dialects are represented. They all go home to environments which are products of larger cultures from varying parts of the world. Yet, when they come together in the school, or playing in the neighborhood, they are gifted at being aware of and yet unconcerned about of their differences. I look at them and wonder if it will last.

I don't know if I have a point to today's ramblings beyond that of regurgitating the various thoughts swimming in my head. I do know that I am very much looking forward to the day when we all address each other as sister and brother not because of our shared cultural heritage, but because of our shared admiration.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff here. Keep it up!


Dilly Dilly said...

That was a wonderful post. Well written.

I too recently watched Crash and it brought up some sad and painful feelings. What was so sad is that the movie was real - there wasn't a happy ending or a realization. I don't think their feelings will change permanently. I too thought about animals. Why is it that we mammals are so prejudiced while calicos and Persian and Siamese cats can all live together in harmony? Why do we fear what we don't know and express that with anger?