Tuesday, March 17, 2009
A Funny Thing Happened While Watching Milk
First I have to confess I only just got around to seeing it a few days ago. I was very moved by Sean Penn's rousing Oscar acceptance speech and it was on my list. Anyway I tend to see movies alone because I think the admission costs too much and I limit what I see when first released. Now I'll just wait the 3-6 months for the DVD rental period. I also tend to find myself distracted, checking for my guest's reaction. So I was watching with another person and I also tend to talk out loud to myself - or at the film if you will. I hear this is something Black people do a lot, lol!
What did I say? Well I wondered if Gus Van Zant was interpreting Harvey Milk's campaign organizational methods or if he was simply relaying them on the screen free of embellishment. I saw so many parallels with the anti-gay Propositions and the resistance to change it eerily reflects how little things have changed. They've certainly inched forward in degrees but as I stated in my blog post from yesterday I think there's a constant push back on any significant change to the status quo. Just look at how much resistance PBO's getting from the Washington gatekeepers who are trying to thwart his efforts - and I'm not just talking about Republicans!
So I said something along the lines of, "Did he only (mostly) work with white men (who were gay)." The person watching the film with me got a little hot under the collar and asked me if I had a chip on my shoulder. I'd also snorted when one of the characters in the film referred to San Francisco as being named for St. Francis and how the Castro was a bastion of Irish pride. Now I have no comment about the pride, but if you get how my mind works I immediately thought of the native populations who'd been "displaced" and how California had been claimed for Spain, then Mexico and finally the United States. I responded how important it was to always acknowledge the whole truth of a situation, not the history from the victor's perspective.
I wondered about Milk's involvement with women and non-whites because I think we've let many opportunities pass us by to build allies and be politically shrewd. There's been too much short-term gain but a loss of overall momentum. So the comment I'd made became the basis of a larger conversation about racism and equality. The person I was speaking with would probably consider themselves to be liberal and "not racist". What I found interesting was how quickly that got tested when a Black person (me) was accused of having an "attitude" (because Black women are apparently ALWAYS ANGRY ABOUT SOMETHING) and how my perspective from actual lived experiences was so quickly dismissed by someone because they decided to tell me what I should I be feeling and thinking about race, class and gender.
There was this assumption that I must have somehow done or said something that would generate less than pleasant responses (during my entire life). Being called in for an interview once by a headhunter who'd reviewed my resume and gushed about my stellar credentials only to tell me she wouldn't be able to place me due to her "conservative clients" when we met in person must be about anything but race. Then I'd love to know what.
It was very akin to asking a woman who's been raped if she had worn something inappropriate or flirted with the perpetrator as if that was a justification for the aggression. So I was supposed to have my actions scrutinized by someone I'd recently met so they could look for clues in my behavior to "prove" that it was my fault and not external oppositional forces at play. Not to say that I don't evaluate my choices or am unwilling to accept proper evaluation and helpful tips. I realize there are ways we may be able to reduce the impact of certain individual's actions against us.
There are still numerous systematically entrenched methods for denying everyone equality because it benefits those that deny it to do so. There's a world of difference from that and hearing the equivalent of "it's all in your head" or because so many whites voted for Obama that racism is dead. Yes, that line was used and I cut that one off immediately. I didn't even let the conversation escalate to where one of us would have an emotional outburst, because it's just not worth it. This person is from a different generation than I and whose daily life is seriously lacking in any diversity of ethnicity or thought. We agreed to disagree but I could tell it really bothered them to have their opinion (which they consider the only correct perspective) challenged. For the record dating, working with, having a neighbor or even birthing a child of another ethnicity or race doesn't make you an expert and doesn't mean you won't have prejudices. Shoot - people who share a common ethnicity or race aren't immune to that! Men have daughters and they can still be sexist.
My concern is always about us seeing the big picture and not missing opportunities for our advancement. Our elders in the Civil Rights Era were fractured to begin with in many respects and there was much focus on individual advancement in my opinion. Think about it for a second, before integration the bulk of Blacks had to live in the same residential neighborhoods. Well you could have a doctor at one end and a bum at the other but the mix of classes helped elevate those that could use the most help. Once people were free to live wherever they wanted those structures fell apart quickly. Things continued to be ignored and as the situation worsened (like with the crack epidemic) you have areas that are completely blighted today. There may be many layers to how this occurred but of course now people don't want to do the work at addressing things either. I can't ignore the apathy any more than I can ignore the original displacement. Neither should anyone else.
People who have the option of opting out - and would take it - are not reliable for those who want to continue with progress.