Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Selma

I finally got a chance to see the movie "Selma" the other day. I was out of town for the weekend and since I had some time to myself, I thought I would catch a movie. I also had a movie theater gift card from work (Christmas gift) so it wasn't going to cost me anything. I thought about going out to dinner but I had an inkling of what might be coming with Duncan so I mostly wanted to be alone.  (Well, alone in a theater full of strangers, but you know what I mean).

What I will probably always remember about the movie is that the teenager who sat three rows in front of me  had a mohawk.  This was no ordinary mohawk.  This thing was about ten inches tall. Every time his head would swivel back and forth, I got a new view of it. And I mean to tell you that not one hair moved. Not one.  It was truly a sight to behold. I don't know what sort of product he put in there, but I think it was a close cousin of cement.

The movie itself was amazing, of course. Just knowing that the events depicted had truly happened really ramped up the impact of the film. Something about the effects, the sound, the grittiness . . . I really felt like I was there at times. Every time a white cop hit one of the peaceful civil rights marchers with his nightstick, I flinched. Every single time. I gasped every time someone was kicked or thrown against a cement wall. It just felt very real.

If you haven't seen the movie, I would definitely recommend it. There are scenes that are hard to watch but we know that it all mattered. The work of MLK and his fellow marchers . . . it mattered. It's our shared history and just because things are a little better now doesn't mean it didn't happen.

The same day I saw "Selma," I also finished watching "42," which is the story of baseball legend Jackie Robinson.  I had been watching it on my Kindle via HBO-GO. I couldn't help but draw some parallels between the two films. I think what's most alarming to me is that not that much time has passed since the civil rights movement began. It's been a mere five decades since Selma. It was so jarring for me to hear people (in both films) yelling things like, "Go home, n*gger."

I know, of course, that even though we no longer have separate bathrooms and separate water fountains, racism still surely exists. My friend Maurice helps to keep me ever mindful of this fact (he posts some thought-provoking stuff on Facebook).  I went to high school with Maurice.  He is a doctor who went to Harvard Medical School and yet, he still has to worry about what might happen to him if he gets pulled over by a police officer. He could have a dozen letters behind his name but at the end of the day . . . he's still a man of color who has to worry about these things.

I feel fortunate that I grew up in a culturally diverse environment. I was taught to be respectful to everyone who crossed my path, from busboys to Billy Joel (I did meet Billy Joel when I was a teenager!)  However, I think even I have to search my heart and keep track of any prejudices I might be carrying around. When I was around 19, I was working as an assistant manager at a clothing store. I really liked the manager, a woman named Lisa. She was funny and smart. Anyway, one night she and I were in the store alone and she peered out the front window.  There was a man looking under the hood of her car, tinkering with something. As it turned out, she'd been having car trouble and her husband had driven over to take a look at the engine.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you that my husband is black," she said.

I was embarrassed and shocked. What on earth had I said that would have given her the impression that I was someone who would need to have an inter-racial marriage explained to me in this apologetic way? I searched my brain but could not remember anything I had said. Had I made a joke that just came off wrong? I still wonder about it, to this day. What else have I done, even sub-consciously? Do I walk a little more quickly if a black man is walking behind me on the street? I don't think so but if I'm guilty of such things, I need to be honest with myself and work on it.

Anyway, see "Selma" if you get a chance. It's worth it.

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