Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Real Conversation on Race Would Look Like

My partner Daniel recently downloaded the movie, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and wanted to know if I wanted to watch it. I decided to on Sunday evening, somewhat grudingly, since it took me away from my normal Sunday night routine. But after having watched the film, I'm glad I did.

Basic gist of the movie for those not in the know, a black doctor played by Sidney Poitier, meets a young white woman in Hawaii. The two have a whirlwind romance and decide to get married. Most of the movie hovers around the parents of the couple dealing with an interracial relationship.

What was so wonderful about the movie was how honest it was. The young white woman's parents, played by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are upstanding liberals who have to now face the weight of their convictions. For the mother, it was a shock to see that her daughter had chosen to marry a black man, but she accepted it knowing that she and her husband had raised child to not see race as a factor in anything. The Spencer Tracy character has a harder time coming to terms, partly out his own racial prejudices and partly fearful of how the outside world will treat this young couple and their biracial offsping. He finally comes around in a process that isn't faked but very real.

Even the parents of Sidney Poitier's parents are dealt with in honest terms. Like the Katherine Hepburn's character, the mother of Dr. Prentice is also shocked but accepting of the marriage. The father has a harder time dealing with this.

And then there is Tilly, the maid of the white family played by the great Isabel Sanford of the "Jeffersons" fame. She is suspicious of Poitier and sees him as moving up beyond his place.

All of these people were real people dealing with a changing world and having to live up to what it meant to live in a society where equality was the new rule. They had to deal with their own fears and shortcomings and how to rise above them. What was refreshing was that there was no white guilt or black grievances; what we got was people who were incredibly human and having an acutal conversation on race.

And that's the whole point of this post. This Sunday, many mainline churches will have "a sacred conversation on race." But as I said in my last post, this is less a conversation than a play with persons of color and whites given the roles of oppressed and oppressor respectively. There isn't really an human interaction, no real conservation about our own fears on both sides and how we can overcome them.

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was probably the best example of what a conversation on race should be: honest and free of preconceived agendas or navel gazing. The sad thing, is that I don't think a movie like this could be made today. It is so honest that it is not politically correct.


Rebecca said...

Dennis...this needs to be said more. Thanks. I blogged my own thoughts, sparked by your post, over at NewsMuse (http://disciplesworld.blogspot.com).

Rebecca said...

Dennis - thanks for saying this. See the NewsMuse blog for my thoughts (and a link back to your post).