Having "The Talk"

Issue: 

Having "The Talk"

Image source: www.reviewtrailers.com
Image source: www.reviewtrailers.com

The word is “transformation.” That is what came to mind after seeing the movie “42” about the life of baseball great Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. It is the reason that people were moved to clap at the end of the film. It is the reason we felt good and wanted to say something to the person of the opposite race as we tumbled out of the theater, expelled from a moment in time that had been precious. We had cheered Robinson together in his darkest moments pummeled by racist jabs. We had scoffed at the "nigger" taunts and "monkey" jokes, marveling at the obscenity of blunt trauma racism in the l940s. We were united in solidarity as our humanity was polished in that special hour.

Transformation. That is what happened when Peewee Reese, famous ballplayer and racist from Cincinnati, hugged Robinson on the field in front of his friends and relatives in order to send an indelible message to the world that he had changed his mind about black people. That his experience with Robinson had transformed him. That he was proud to be a better man. As the other players on Robinson’s team began to allow their own humanity to shine through, the audience felt grateful to live in a time when bigoted behavior had to be cloaked and couched in tricky, slick language, if not halted altogether.

Because of my Jackie Robinson movie moment, I thought of an event that I had attended the night before when the Baltimore Racial Justice Action and the YWCA of Greater Baltimore hosted a movie and facilitated discussion of “Anne Braden: Southern Patriot.” Anne Braden was a civil rights activist and journalist from Kentucky who risked her life and family to defeat the shadow of Jim Crow that had darkened her early years as a white woman of privilege in the South. She and her husband, Carl Braden, were white allies to the struggle for dignity and freedom for black people. It is curious that I, a black woman, should see that film at that time. I had been pondering the issue of white supremacy and privilege as concepts that were like poison ivy to Caucasions. Discussion of white privilege is a hard sell to most people of the dominant culture who are resistant to accept the fact that the spoils of chattel slavery and its virulent Jim Crow tributaries of injustice, account for their advantaged position in the society today.

In the time of recession and the overall wealth gap between the haves and have- nots, it is particularly gnarly to have the "white privilege talk" when white people are feeling disenfranchised by the “one percent” who Occupy Wall Street made infamous. Some are usurping discriminatory, fourteenth amendment language to assuage their own fears of melting into a multicultural pot and coming out…black. In the Obama era of post-racial conversation, “postal” Confederacy obstructionists notwithstanding, it begs the question do white people and black people really have to have “The Talk”?

Baltimore Racial Justice Action was established just for that reason: to have the conversation about white privilege and minority disenfranchisment. The event was a space where white allies in the struggle of minorities and women who owned their privilege and wanted to talk about it amongst themselves as well as with black and brown people. I was happy to be there to hear about Anne Braden because I had been thinking that perhaps if white people could embrace white heroes of the Jim Crow struggle who were on the right side of the issue, and risked everything to join with blacks in the ‘60s, they could better face black people today to talk about racism in America. They did not have to be immobilized by the guilt game, and could attach themselves to their European predecessors who were on the right side of the fight to raise the humanity for all people. I thought that with that reference, they could dip their toe into the raging debate of race relations, without succumbing to the undertow of the blame game.

I might add that from a purely human perspective, white people can opt not only to embrace their own freedom fighters, but may actually identify with the Jacky Robinsons of black struggle as they are able to shed the trappings of American hate politics in a movie theater where they vicariously take up the fight for dignity and justice portrayed on a movie screen.

At the Braden event, the audience broke into small groups after the film to consider questions raised by the hosts. One of the questions was: What is the benefit to white people to become allies of the struggle to end racial and economic dominance in America. I have to say that the question stumped me. I had no real answer as I listened to other people at the event take it on. It was not until I got out of the Jackie Robinson movie that the answer came to me.

Transformation.

Auset Marian Lewis

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"5707","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"220","style":"width: 209px; height: 220px; float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"209"}}]]Auset Marian Lewis is a writer living in Baltimore.