This summer, I decided to introduce my three children to classic films.
As a child of the eighties, that means revisiting Ferris’ Day Off, wondering about The Color Purple, or looking for a Ghost, for example.(Incidentally, I kind of resent that these movies are now in fact classics–I refuse to be that old!)
In any case, as I have been creating my list of films for the kids to watch, something interesting happened, however inadvertently.
My kids are starting to learn about race.
As my children get older and become more active and involved in their surroundings, amazingly they are not overly bombarded by racism. Obviously, racism has by in no means been completely eradicated in this country (even with the first black president, woo hoo!) but I would like to think, for my children’s sake, that we as a country are generally making progress.
The movies that I have picked and have been picking for my kids have been chosen for their cinematic quality. They were chosen because they made me laugh or cry or scared me to death (in a very intelligent way) or just made me think. They moved me with their messages or their stories. The actors and actresses touched my heart with their performances. I picked them for any of the same reasons that makes anyone love a particular film.
But in the process of picking them, I didn’t realize that I was picking quite a few movies that dealt with race relations. It was an accident–although as we begin to move through our movie list, a happy accident indeed.
Because we are living in an age where our children are becoming more tolerant of one another, the harsh realities of racism are slowly (I will stress slowly, mind you) becoming a thing of the past. Accounts of ugly, overt racism and prejudice are being relegated to film and screen, and I think that’s a good thing. I like that my children are shocked and horrified by some of the things they are seeing in these films, because it means they are becoming sympathetic to the situations presented. They are outraged by the racism and violence that blacks suffered, and saddened by the lack of respect they endured, and grief-struck by the loss of life. They are emotionally connecting to the right and wrong of the films, and that’s good.
But more than this, I like that those horrors have only touched them through film. Not in real life.
I am happy and grateful for that.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that they won’t ever feel the sting of racism (and certainly I hope they are never the victim of violence, be it through an act of hate or otherwise). I don’t delude myself. We as a country have a long way to go. Recently, the tragedy of the Trayvon Martin case was all over the news, and it served as a stark reminder that we can easily move backwards, that we can easily use prejudice and stereotypes as a reason for violence against a minority, and that will never be acceptable. I can’t watch that story unfold and not think of my own young son, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, but one day, will be that same young man walking down the street in a hoodie. That frightens me to no end.
Or the case of the young black student, Kymberly Wimberly, who, in 2011, was told she had to share valedictorian status with a white student, even though she clearly had the higher average of the two. When I read the story of Kymberly, I think of my very own daughter, who loves, loves, loves school and dreams of being valedictorian herself one day. How terrible would it be for her to work so hard and achieve her dream, only to have someone take it from her, because it “didn’t seem possible” that she actually garnered such an accomplishment? I shake with outrage at the thought.
So yes, clearly, we still have much work to do. People are not perfect, and as such, neither is our country.
But, at the risk of sounding too naive in my dreams, my hope is that one day, all of these ugly instances will only be lived and re-lived through history books, or perhaps through the Internet.
And of course, at the movies.