I listened, rapt, to Barack Obama’s speech on race on March 18. I could hardly believe that I was being spoken to like a thinking adult; that I was hearing nuance, complexity, and a rejection of either/or thinking in a political speech. I’ve written repeatedly in this blog about the concept of “both/and,” urging educators to teach a generation to think beyond either/ors, recognize the truths in seemingly contradictory positions, and help students learn how to create real solutions to seemingly intractable conflicts. To hear a politician speak this way was beyond rare –- it was almost unheard of in the soundbite world of politics.
As I listened, I heard Senator Obama use long sentences, some with double negatives. “Oh no,” I thought. “Some media will pull out this or that phrase and distort his meaning, perhaps even make it appear that he’s said the opposite of his intended meaning. Their soundbites will ruin this.” And that is what happened among some media, but not most. Instead, most media have offered paragraph long reprints, so that we are able to read and understand the complexity of Senator Obama’s statements. His speech has been viewed millions of times on YouTube. I’m hopeful that a trend has begun, and that other politicians will take Senator Obama’s lead and speak to us truthfully, with nuance, offering the complexity of issues, helping us not to take sides but to solve problems.
One week after Senator Obama’s speech on race, I watched the film Crash, a movie that explores the nuance and complexity of race and racism as well, which offers no character as all good or all bad, which redeems the worst racist and casts the good man in the horrifying role of unwitting race-based murderer. Like Senator Obama, the film delves below the surface of racism, revealing its origins, offering us understanding so that we might grow in awareness and through that awareness find better answers. It’s not a happy film, nor is it a hopeless film.
There’s a trend in filmmaking these days to give us brutal, unredeemed reality instead of a happy ending. When No Country for Old Men won the Academy Award for best picture this year, I was stunned, and frankly, dismayed. I, personally, do not watch movies so that I can be reminded that the world is full of cruelty, insanity, suffering, injustice, and horrific violence. I can read the news for that. I want art to give me a lens into deeper truths; I want it to offer not sappy endings and unrealistic answers but legitimate hope, vision, and understanding. As I watched Crash, there was foreshadowing of a truly ghastly event: an honest, hard-working man who lifted his family out of the ghetto, but whose young daughter still feared the daily gunshots. A loving, creative father, he soothed his daughter’s fears by telling her a made-up story and giving her his invisible protective cape that would let nothing harm her. We viewers knew what was coming. Without this protective cape, and with the story unfolding of another man –- a victim of prejudice, robbery and fear — accusing this heroic dad of enabling the crime that robbed him of his livelihood –- seeking revenge. I found myself deeply afraid, even though I knew this was just a movie. “Please,” I thought, “don’t let this movie give us nothing but more horror.” It didn’t. Which is why I found Crash, like Senator Obama’s speech, helpful in my own quest for deeper understanding and vision for ways past our prejudices and failures so that we can tackle and solve our complex and persistent problems with wisdom, compassion, understanding, and, yes, hope.
Filed under: MOGO (Most Good), positive choices | Tagged: complexity, Crash, hope, Obama, positive choices, prejudice, race | 8 Comments »