I recently released a humor eSingle, titled “Oh sh!t, you’re black!”. My goal was to examine how we judge each other when we only hear them over the phone. Is he as handsome as his voice sounds? Is she really that sexy? As we ask ourselves questions such as these, we create pictures of the person in our heads, based primarily on how that particular person’s voice sounds. And, even though we try to deny it, the person’s race is part of that picture.
Taken mostly from my own life experiences, I didn’t want the story to be laced with anger, nor did I want it to be preachy. I had no interest in writing anything like that. I want it to be a fun and humorous read. As is so often the case, humor is the best way to discuss sensitive subjects. Of course, it has to be done correctly. After all, isn’t it silly to believe one person is superior or inferior to another, based on race…or ethnicity…or gender…or religion…or even sexual orientation?
My goal was also to not be too judgmental. I just wanted to share this aspect of my life and let you come to your own conclusions. So far, the feedback I’ve received shows I’ve accomplished my goal.
Many of my favorite films have also used humor to deal with the subject of race. One of them is the 1986 film Soul Man, starring C. Thomas Howell, Rae Dawn Chong, Arye Gross, James Earl Jones, Melora Hardin, Leslie Nielsen, James B. Sikking, Ann Walker, and Bo Mancuso.
Mark Watson (played by Howell) is a white guy who gets accepted into Harvard Law School along with his best friend Gordon (Gross). He comes from a wealthy family, but his father gets advice from his psychiatrist to have more fun for “himself”, instead of spending money on his son.
When the film was released, it was panned by many critics and protested by the civil rights groups as just another white actor playing in “blackface”. But for me, it was more than that. It made me look at Mark’s situation from his perspective, rather than the way I might normally look at it.
Since daddy was no longer going to foot the bill, Mark had to figure out a way to pay for law school on his own. He began to search for scholarship and grant opportunities. But, being a white male, he soon discovered there weren’t so many choices for his demographic. If fact, he couldn’t find any!
As I watched the frustrated poor-little-rich-boy searching for financial aid, only to hit roadblocks along the way as he learned he didn’t have the same options as other races, cultures, and sexes, I was left burning with a questions:
If this were a poor white guy, would I believe this was fair? How far do we go in righting the wrongs of our society, both those of the past and those of the present?
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I know I’m not supposed to ask such questions, but I did. And these are hard questions, with no easy answers. For me, taking pleasure in someone being shut out because of their color is not something I can like because I don’t like it when it’s done to me. But when I see things like Stop-And-Frisk, racial profiling, job discrimination, and the Trayvon Martin case, I have another question:
Are we “there” yet and what exactly does “there” look like?
But, hey! Mark still had the resources, even if he didn’t have the law school loot! He applied—and won!—a scholarship set aside for African-American applicants and, using a bit of ingenuity, he used tanning pills in larger doses than prescribed in order to appear darker. And with a curly afro…presto! Instant Negro!
As Mark enters Harvard, we live vicariously through him as he eventually discovers what a brotha’ has to deal with on a daily basis as he navigates through the “white” world. In one scene, Mark’s African-American law professor (played by Jones) tells him, “You’ve learned something I can’t teach you. You’ve learned what it feels like to be black.”
Mark’s answer made the film unforgettable for me. It was short. It wasn’t preachy. It simply made its point.
But the greatest message of the film is how race and culture color the prism through which we see each other. No matter how much we try to deny it, we use those factors—among others—in our judgments of each other. And how often are those judgments wrong? The movie dives right into this and as I laughed from scene to scene…and I got it.
Below is a clip which illustrates this point perfectly. Mark is dating rich white girl Whitney (Hardin), who brings him home to meet her family. Her father (Nielsen), her mother (Walker), and her brother (Mancuso) each see Mark in their own particular way and it’s hilarious! Although the scene might be a bit of an exaggeration, this is actually how our minds work, we’re just not always aware of it.
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