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Glad for “Crash” win

Kamaria Porter | Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Roger Ebert and I are geniuses. We both, despite popular opinion, put our money on “Crash” to take home the golden man. As an avid movie fan, the basic elements of the movie did not reflect my usual tastes. Ensemble cast movies where the characters start out unrelated and intersect through strange webs, like “Magnolia,” and that take place in one action-packed crazy day would not usually make my modest top ten list. Movies that focus on a small picture of life, have clear heroes and villains, some type of social barrier and take time to develop would be my choice – much like the “Crash” rival “Brokeback Mountain.” Now before you look confusedly to check this is the Viewpoint section and not Scene, here is the point: “Crash” was one of the most reflective movies on racism today both in its complexity between groups and the pain recipients experience when hit with bigotry.

As a light-skinned African American, I have observed and experienced many of the prejudices displayed in the movie. As a teenager working at Marshall Fields, once I was working with another clerk, a dark-skinned African American man who knew more about the product we were selling – designer pens of all things. An older white woman was browsing and my colleague inquired if she needed help. She declined abruptly and kept looking. Not even five minutes later, the same woman addressed me about a pen. I was most likely daydreaming at the time and attempted to help the customer. My colleague and I both recognized the real issue – the woman would rather deal with me, seemingly white.

Racism happens, not so much with outward hostility, but with casual or so-called ignorant remarks and actions. I say so-called ignorant because I do not think bigotry comes out of cultural ignorance. We are taught, in homes, neighborhoods, schools, clubs, television and a culture of stereotypes and fears to fuel racial preferences and even hate.

The movie “Crash” shows a series of altercations, much like my store incident, where people act and react on their racial biases. Most characters find themselves in the space of a day both the victim and perpetrator of prejudice. Instead of giving us a model person (I would hold up the character of Michael Pena as exemplary) we see that these characters are real – good, bad and indifferent all at once.

This is the state of racial prejudice that I have observed. At a meeting for a social justice-related event, I surprisingly heard a young black woman term undocumented people – the proper nomenclature – as “illegals.” The degrading of the less vulnerable by other minorities appears in “Crash” to challenge all of us. While people are victims of a larger system, we are responsible to not being co-opted in it.

Again, my light skin has illuminated what political correctness has tried to hide about persisting prejudices. I have overheard whites talk freely about racial stereotypes and slurs, not knowing of their audience. As well, fellow African Americans have taunted me either as light skinned or as a perceived white person. I have always recognized the persisting hate and tension between groups. As well in my neighborhood, which is predominantly African American, most of the businesses are owned and operated by people of Asian descent. Taunts of incompetence and hostility were thrown at business operators and workers. We are all, like the characters in “Crash,” caught up in a society of harmful ideas.

The movie’s metaphor of the experience of racism to a car accident is also potent. At Notre Dame, for example, any person could safely assume that they could get through the day without encountering a defaming remark. However, when this does happen, the reactions can be devastating. Once in a class, a student asked if she could say the “n-word” (not editing herself as I do here). I, the only black person in the class, insisted she not, but the same student repeated the word again. Hearing the word jarred me, for I had not expected it and had asked the student not to say it. I no longer felt like I was an equal or accomplished student. Akin to the Terrance Howard character, who was set off by a colleague’s remark about “black talk,” when prejudice rears its ugly head, the effects can be destructive to people.

Also, the movie leaves us some hope. The most intolerant people in the film, Matt Dillon and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, are not beyond help. They harm others, but the movie lets us observe a human side to them – letting us see their home lives and individual struggles. Also, these characters do the right thing in the end for people they would be expected to disregard – blacks and Asian refugees.

Many would like to claim we live in a colorless society, yet we do not. “Crash” had the courage to prop a mirror in our face and hopefully a reality check.

Kamaria Porter is a senior history major and wants to thank her COOL Conference comrades Sarah Liu, Lupe Gomez, Sara Snider and Katie McHugh for their help and driving to Nashville. Tread lightly on the Earth.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.