BlacKkKlansman

Yesterday Kish and I went to the Drexel to screen BlacKkKlansman, the new film by Spike Lee that has been getting some Oscar buzz.  It’s a powerful, jarring film that is well worth seeing.

blackkklansman-0BlacKkKlansman tells the story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American police officer in Colorado Springs played by John David Washington.  In the early ’70s, Stallworth becomes an undercover officer who — first via telephone, and later through a white surrogate played by Adam Driver — successfully infiltrates the local chapter of the KKK.  He even establishes a telephone relationship with David Duke, the national Grand Wizard of the Klan.  At the same time, Stallworth is dealing with outright and implicit racism in his own police department, and trying to establish a relationship with the head of the local Black Student Union, who is the target of attention from the racists in the Klan.  Ultimately the local KKK decides to act at the same time Duke comes to town for a membership initiation, and the investigation turns to a race to try to prevent the Klan’s terrorism.

Washington and Driver are terrific, but this is one of those movies where it seems like every actor is at the top of his or her game.  The film very convincingly conveys the danger of the undercover operation and the simmering menace of some of the Klan members, who like to carry guns and drink and voice their bigotry and hatred and radiate rage and hostility.  It’s not a movie for the faint of heart, and the scenes depicting outright racism are especially hard to watch.  And lest we think this is an issue that has been buried in the distant past, the end of the film presents footage of a 2017 march of “white supremacists” in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which a lunatic drove a car into a crowd protesting the “white supremacist” march, killing one of the protesters.  The footage is stomach-churning, and leaves the audience with a lot to think about as it quietly files out of the theater.

Kish and I haven’t been to the movies in a while, because it’s hard to find an interesting film among all the superhero schlock and remakes.  BlacKkKlansman shows what film can accomplish if it’s willing to tackle hard issues and deserves every bit of the Oscar buzz it has been getting.

Could A Rotherham Happen Here?

What happened in Rotherham, a large town in northern England, is appalling.  For more than a decade, local authorities looked the other way while gangs of men of Pakistani origin “groomed” young girls and then systematically raped and abused them.  At least 1,400 — 1,400! — children were sexually exploited.  The victims’ stories about their own personal hells of fear, rape, and hopelessness are harrowing and heart-breaking.

One question in this disturbing story is whether fear of being labeled a racist affected how authorities responded to reports of abuse they received.  The report that outlines the abuse and the massive failures of those charged with protecting the victims, criticizes the authorities for downplaying the issue of the race and ethnicity of the men who were committing the crimes.  Some believe that concerns about being called a racist or being accused of cultural insensitivity prevented the police and council members from actually doing their jobs.  (Of course, by not holding the perpetrators of the crimes to the same standards as everyone else, and by not properly acting on the complaints of the victims, the police and council members were in fact engaging in racist behavior.)

Could a Rotherham occur in the United States?  It’s hard to believe that a criminal enterprise of such scope and magnitude, with so many child victims, could happen here — but it’s hard to believe it could happen in England, either.  The British aren’t fundamentally different from us, and the circumstances that gave rise to the decade of abuse in Rotherham — in particular, the desire to “not upset the apple cart” that caused authorities to turn their heads — could be replicated in America.  Our own history is forever marred by instances where townspeople supported, or at least consciously ignored, murderous criminal gangs like the Ku Klux Klan.  Whether it is concern about running afoul of those in power, or just following along with the crowd, or trying to avoid being publicly called a racist, prevailing social conventions can be powerful motivators.

An African proverb states that “it takes a village to raise a child,” and Hillary Clinton later wrote a book about that concept.  Sometimes, however, villages like Rotherham fail.

Bad Neighbor

When you buy your first home and move in, your quickly realize that neighbors are an important part of the home-purchase equation that, perhaps, you hadn’t thought about when you were deciding whether to buy.

The reality is, neighbors can mean the difference between a pleasant home-owning experience and one that is an unending nightmare. There are certain baseline requirements of good neighbors. Do they keep their property up? Do they keep a beat-up sofa on the front porch? Do they play loud music until 3 a.m.? Do they have a vicious dog that scares the crap out of you every time you walk out the front door?

Flying a KKK flag and displaying a noose and a sign saying “Members Wanted,” as some racist idiot is doing in Palm Beach County, Florida, is so far below the the good-neighbor baseline it can’t even be measured. It’s not surprising that the bigot wouldn’t give his name to the news reporters who showed up to his door — just as there is a reason members of the KKK wear hoods. Inveterate racists know their bigotry is deeply shameful, and they are compelled to hide behind a veil of anonymity as a result.

What would you do if your neighbor flew a KKK flag and seemed to be recruiting for one of the most vile organizations in American history? I’d be inclined to display a sign of my own: “My Next-Door Neighbor Is A Racist. I Despise Him, And You Should, Too.” And I think I would add that it’s my practice to take photos of everyone who visits him and publish those photos on the internet, too.

Racism, And The Internet Veil Of Anonymity

Cheerios has a funny and touching ad on YouTube, shown above.  A cute little girl asks her mother if Cheerios is good for your heart, Mom reads the box and says yes, and next we see Dad waking up on the couch to discover to his surprise that there is a pile of Cheerios spilling off his chest.

Hard to believe that such an ad would provoke an outpouring of bigotry — but it did, because the Mom is white, the Dad is African-American, and the little girl is biracial.  The ad has provoked so many racist comments, in fact, that General Mills has shut down the comments function on the YouTube web address for the video in order to avoid collecting more hateful invective.

It’s very sad to get such direct confirmation that there are still so many racists in the world, but it should come as no surprise to anyone who does much browsing on the internet.  On many news websites, the comments sections are full of odious, bigoted statements from people who are hiding behind a pseudonym and therefore feel free to bare the dark, twisted kinks of their souls.  Whether it is racism, anti-Semitism, gay-bashing, anti-Catholicism, the repugnant Islamic jihadist lectures that apparently radicalized Tamerlan Tsarnaev, or some other benighted views of latter-day Know-Nothings, the internet is home to some awful, despicable sentiments.  My theory is that the form of anonymity that is available on the internet acts like the hoods worn by the KKK, and allows the racists to indulge their passions without being outed as stupid bigots.

I don’t want the government deciding what should and shouldn’t be said.  I’m a big believer in free speech, but sometimes free speech is ugly, offensive, idiotic speech.  Those of us who use the internet shouldn’t tolerate racist and bigoted comments and should call it out whenever we see it.