I make myself go see movies like 12 Years A Slave, Precious, and For Colored Girls. I also read books like The Book of Night Women (my favorite), Beloved, and The Women of Brewster Place. They deal with tough issues and depict tragic scenes. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming, but I don’t stop the movie or put down the book because I feel a need to shock my senses. Why? Glad you asked. I don’t want to get too comfortable and forget that people have suffered. People are still suffering.
It’s kind of like when you’re watching a suspenseful movie and you get to the scene where the murderer and the cute lead actor are in the house at the same time, but the cute lead doesn’t know the murderer is there. The house is dark and the music is rising and the cute lead is about to turn the corner where the murderer is…..Aaagghhhh, don’t turn that corner boy! You just know something cray is about to happen and you can’t take it so you close your eyes and wait for the music to change. That’s what I’m talking about. I don’t close my eyes. I make myself watch. I subject myself to the fear or the sorrow or the pain – whatever is uncomfortable. I subject myself because I don’t want to be one of those people who don’t understand or acknowledge a person’s (or a whole group’s) struggle.
I was prompted to write about this after watching Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer for The Atlantic, on Melissa Harris-Perry’s show. (Don’t you just love MHP? She’s so cool and smart and funny. Serious girl crush) Coates has been debating with a guy who writes for New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait, about race and culture – the African American community’s struggle with poverty, education, imprisonment, etc. Basically, Chait argues that the remnants of slavery and Jim Crow have had such a lasting effect on the race that it has impeded efforts to outgrow these cultural handicaps. Coates disagrees and argues that the African American struggle with these issues (poverty, lack of education, imprisonment, etc) are not so much about what happened hundreds of years ago or even a few decades ago, but about what is happening right now. He argues, basically, that racism, and the more specific expression of it as white supremacy is yet alive and that is the reason that minority populations (particularly African Americans) struggle with issues of poverty and so on.
I happen to agree, in part, with both of them. What I wish for Chait, though, is that he would somehow shock his senses. I know he’ll never be able to actually be a person of color, but I wish he could maybe view an experience through the eyes of a person of color and not turn away, put the book down, or stop the movie. It may be easier for Chait to understand and commiserate with African Americans about the horrid history of the race in this country because of the common consensus that slavery, Jim Crow, segregation and overt bigotry is just plain mean. However, Coates points out that there are plenty of studies about the very current (as in, right now today) attitudes about and treatment of people of color that would prevent any person from being able to rise out of a bad situation. So why doesn’t Chait attribute proper blame to current white supremacy causing the “culture problem” with minority populations? Idk but I think it’s because his senses have not been shocked.
Lynching is shocking. We can all agree on that right? What about the proven FACT that job applicants with white-sounding names were 50% more likely to get called for an initial interview than applicants with African American-sounding names in 2002? (Find the study by Marianne Bertrand here) We live in a different time. That statistic is the new lynching. I just need Chait and all of you (preaching to myself here too) to be shocked. Don’t operate in this world not understanding a whole group’s plight when an understanding of it could open you up to ways to alleviate its shocking effects.