Juneteenth: The Day Racism Ended Forever
Happy Juneteenth, everyone! Now it’s officially a federal holiday, which is good because, as our public education system is determined to teach the next generation, that was the day that there was no more racism ever in America. Unfortunately, outside agitators want to make us white people feel bad and have difficult conversations about such communist ideas as “systemic racism” and “intergenerational trauma” through this insidious new curriculum called Critical Race Theory! I have no idea what that precisely means since it’s mainly taught in law schools at an advanced level, but it could make its way to our children! And won’t someone please think of the children?!
Well, fortunately for us, Hollywood has had a long history of repudiating these divisive, hateful agendas by reassuring us white moviegoers of our own heroism in making lives better for our black neighbors who don’t need to sully themselves with stories and films centering them. As a celebration of this historic day when black and white people were treated as total equals from then on, I recommend watching the following movies about America’s wonderful and not-at-all-complicated-or-harrowing history on race:
In this crime drama from Alan Parker, two FBI agents are sent to Jessup County, Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of three civil rights activists. But the town they visit is full of easily-identifiable, ghoulish-looking racists! And we know they’re racists because they tell our heroic white FBI agents that they don’t like black people. Very considerate of them to let us know they hate nonwhite folks. Sometimes we get smartypants guys like Lee Atwater crafting clever code words and allusions to appeal to racist sentiments without actually sounding racist to a layman. It’s very confusing. Luckily, this movie makes it easy for us to detect racism!
Our two FBI agents are played by actors Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe. They’re white, but they’re good white people who care a lot about the suffering of African-Americans in the south. And since we’re not shown any meaningful perspectives or consequences of widespread racism on any prominent black characters with actual agency in this story, it’s crucial that Dafoe and Hackman’s moral righteousness and concern carry the film. It’s also important for us to know how heroic they are in avenging these three civil rights activists because they’re representing the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a government organization that has never perpetuated any racist violence against black activists.
But they sure as hell perpetuate violence against those evil racists! And man it feels good and cathartic and validating! A black FBI agent threatens to castrate a complicit mayor. Hackman kicks the crap out of a wife beating, KKK-supporting Deputy Sheriff in a barber shop. The FBI sets up a large-scale and pretty elaborately-staged fake lynching just to trick one Klan member into testifying against his buddies. And that’s how you create meaningful, lasting solutions – by putting the Bad People away and saying “Not Forgotten” to the three victims whose names you’ll probably forget before the credits finish rolling.
This totally worthy Best Picture winner from 2018 tells the story of Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, the human embodiment of a hand making a lobster claw gesture, and how he drove renowned jazz pianist Don Shirley across his musical tour of the Deep South in 1962. They became best friends after standing up to Bad Individual Racists and changing hearts and minds.
The title of the movie comes from an actual travel guide called The Negro Motorist Green Book, first published in 1936 by Victor Hugo Green to give a burgeoning middle class of African-Americans a guidebook of leisure establishments and restaurants friendly to them, and it was so wildly popular he worked for the rest of his life to collect data on other states across the country for black vacationers finding themselves with disposable income for the first time.
It’s a fascinating story of how black Americans had to learn to adapt to the omnipresent systems of often life-threatening discrimination against them as they were also climbing the ladder of unprecedented economic mobility… that is, it’s a fascinating story if you’re a Critical Race Theory pusher! Good thing Peter Farrelly and Nick Vallelonga (yes relation) know that the real story is about how a white guy drove a famous black man around the Deep South and then they totes became best friends. Such good friends, in fact, that the closing credits couldn’t show us a single photograph of the two of them together!
Tony even teaches Don Shirley a lesson about how, like, when you think about it, he’s “blacker” than Dr. Shirley because he’s poorer and less educated, which is a poignant moment of growth for both characters. This won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, by the way.
The Blind Side
But white saviors weren’t just around in the 1960’s! John Lee Hancock had the incredible foresight and wisdom to make an entire feature film out of a Michael Lewis book analyzing the evolution of American football offensive strategies over the last thirty years thanks to Lawrence Taylor’s disruptive influence on the NFL as an outside linebacker and Zzzzzzz whatever. There’s also a story about how an NFL player named Michael Oher who rose from poverty to… hang on, this is all so boring… alright, he plays for Ole Miss and… come on… oh, here we go! A saintly rich white woman adopts him when he was a teen!
Such an inspirational story about how a rich white woman named Leigh Anne Tuohy plucked a poor helpless black boy with no interior life or motivation whatsoever and then really strongly encourages him to be a high school football player after scoring in the highest percentile for “protective instinct”… a… totally … real thing … that you can apparently test for? She’s feisty, too! She stands up to thugs, she says “Shame on you!” to a Racist Lady who implies he’s going to assault her daughter, and she corrects someone who complements her on changing “that boy’s” life – “No… he’s changin’ mine!” Which, I guess is technically true. She did expect Oher to rob her house his first night there and was pleasantly surprised when he didn’t. Growth!
Now, **TRIGGER WARNING**, there is a small hint of a conflict that pops up in the third act that may make some people uncomfortable when an uppity NCAA investigator suggests that Tuohy cynically groomed Oher into becoming a prize football recruit for her alma mater for which she is a very prominent donor. But luckily, he later answers that he’s playing for Ole Miss because “it’s where my family goes to school.” Problem solved!
But the one movie that every American child should see to understand our simple and easily-overcome issue with race is this masterful classroom drama Dangerous Minds. It’s about the true story of military veteran LouAnne Johnson, who taught and inspired black and Latino teenagers at an impover-eh, let’s go with “underprivileged” East Palo Alto high school.
Now, in the mid-90’s, there was only one woman who could convincingly play a tough-as-nails combat veteran teaching in the hood… Michelle Pfeiffer! She has trouble reaching them at first, since they’re all thugs who only care about her knowledge of karate, but then she figures out how to reach them: Bob Dylan songs! Yes, she knows these Gen-X teenagers will really identify with a counterculture folk singer-songwriter who broke out in the 1960’s.
These inner city kids who are dealing with violent and drug-ridden neighborhoods also find inspiration from a Welsh poet who died in 1953. This is definitely a thing that happened and not at all a ridiculous hash of what Johnson actually did, which was use contemporary hip hop and work from black poets to reach out to these kids. But that would be divisive to show onscreen! How are white audiences going to feel good about a story of lifting up minority youth by… trying to connect with their culture? Talk to them on their terms and try to understand their experiences? Ugh, no thank you.
I recommend all teachers do this to connect with students of very different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, and ethnicities; just introduce them to the music and cultural icons that you grew up with when you were their age. Definitely don’t do anything that would even imply the validity of their cultural or generational idioms; one school district in Southern California proposed something like that in the 90’s and it led to a nationwide freak-out over “Ebonics” that was definitely appropriate and proportional. No, see, it’s White Baby Boomer cultural icons that are how we get these kids to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. That’s definitely how you turn around perpetually underperforming schools in impoverished and neglected parts of the nation.
These are the movies we need to ensure our kids are watching to understand race in America. It’s not an informal hierarchy the federal government itself has enforced even after Emancipation. It’s not something that’s ingrained into the fabric of our justice system. It’s not something that perpetuates stereotypes and presumptions of untrustworthiness that ruins the lives of black and Latino families. It’s just a few Bad People who telegraph their bigotry in ways that are easy to identify, and as long as we are personally good, then racism will go away all on its own. Which is why we need to only allow our impressionable youth to watch these more popular movies that celebrate battles already won! That’s the only way we can assure our children that racism is already solved and suggesting it isn’t is the real racism.
Happy Juneteenth, everyone!