(disclaimer: I’ve been pondering changing the label for these posts to “Sunday blogging about race”–because it’s not always directly about racism, and because I think that talking about race somehow seems safer than talking about racism, which by definition needs to name someone as a racist. [The term is one I originally borrowed from an event in the blogosphere called International Blog Against Racism Week.]
To begin the change with this post, though, strikes me as being a big old cop-out, the intention of which would be to separate myself from the “racist” label. And with what I need to muddle through right now, I’m afraid that I need to keep that label as close to me as I possibly can.)
So now I have seen the film, and have a renewed energy for finishing the book. Not because I’ve fallen in love with the story, but because I need to wade through layer upon layer of confusion. I don’t even know where to begin to process this, although I do know enough to know that my gut instinct, wanting to talk through it to (and at the expense of) my blak friends, is the wrong way to go. I am sure I will still do it, but at least I will feel guilty about it.
There has been so much talk about the film, and I have read all kinds of commentary about its message. Even if I hadn’t, though, I have been in this anti-racism work for too long to be able to go into it expecting to be able to see it as a “nice story”. I am accustomed to questioning everything, and in particular, I am increasingly hypersensitive to movies about black folks that prominently feature a white hero.
Now here’s the weird part. I don’t think that this movie had anything to do with black women.
Yes, I know, the premise of the book was that this white woman wanted to tell the black women’s stories, to give them a voice. And I know that the storyline was intended to bring out many of the nuances of 1950’s American apartheid, so yes, I get it that race was prominent here. But what I really saw in the film (we’ll see how different the book is) was the way that people can live in the midst of something that is so morally reprehensible and yet not be willing to stand up for what is right. The real story here is not the two or three “good” white people who dared to stand up for these women, but the dozens upon dozens (and historically, thousands upon thousands) who stood by and let such pure evil continue, and for such trite and morally bankrupt reasons. It is a story of betrayal of the worst kind . . . of women turning their backs on the most real relationship they have in order to save face in front of a heartless bunch of shallow wenches.
The question that came through the loudest for me, the thing I am wrestling with, is this: In which areas of my own life am I complicit in evil and doing everything in my power to justify my refusal to do what is right? Katrina Browne, the writer and producer of Traces Of the Trade, has asked this question in her own context, but it’s the piece of this that is most troubling to me. What am I lying to myself about?
The “easy” answers include things like buying clothing made in sweatshops, or eating fruits and vegetables that I have paid impossibly low prices for because the people who labor to bring these foods to me are not paid a living wage. And I can engage in all sorts of self-deception. I have to eat, right? I have to wear clothes. And anyway, the problem is too big for me to address . . . it’s just how things are . . . the extent to which we can justify our complicity in the face of so much injustice is beyond what I can fathom.
I want to believe that i am a Skeeter; it helps sustain my frenzied denial of what I know in the deepest recesses of my heart to be true, that I have the heart of a Hilly. Feel-good movie? Not for me, and not for anybody who wants to be honest with herself.