By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, BlackNews.com Columnist
Crash deservedly won the Academy award for best picture because it honestly forced blacks as well as whites to honestly confront their stereotypes. The film set the course right from the start when it went squarely racial correctness. The opening shot has two young blacks charging out of a restaurant steaming mad. While strolling stroll down the sidewalk one of them claims that a waitress ignored them, then gave them lousy service, and the whites in the restaurant gave them hostile stares solely because they’re black. Then when a white couple passed them on the street the wife locked arms with her husband for fear they’d mug them. In an angry tirade, the angered young black covered the wide gamut of myths, stereotypes and negative perceptions that whites supposedly have about blacks.
While Crash pierced and poked fun at racial stereotypes, it was the black perceptions about those stereotypes that made the film unique. Many blacks take it as an article of faith that that most whites are hopelessly racist. A comprehensive Harvard University opinion poll in 2002 found that the racial attitudes of many whites about blacks are tightly enshrouded in stereotypes. The poll reinforced the fervent belief of many blacks that white racially disdain them. It’s not that simple.
The majority of whites are probably genuinely convinced that America is a color-blind society, and that equal opportunity is a reality. They repeatedly told the Harvard pollsters that they believed that blacks and whites have attained social and economic equality. The figures on income, education and health care show a gaping racial lag between blacks and whites. However, perception drives reality. If many whites think racial equality is a reality, that’s more proof to many blacks that whites are in deliberate racial denial.
But many whites don’t claim blacks are treated the same as them simply to mask racial hostility to blacks. They no longer see "whites only signs," and redneck Southern cops unleashing police dogs, turning fire hoses on, and beating hapless black demonstrators. They turn on their TVs and see legions of black newscasters and talk show hosts, topped by TV’s richest and most popular, Oprah Winfrey. They see mega-rich black entertainers and athletes pampered and fawned over by a doting media and adoring public.
They see TV commercials that picture blacks living in trendy integrated suburban homes, sending their kids to integrated schools, and driving expensive cars. They see blacks such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in high profile, important policy-making positions in the Bush administration. They see dozens of black congresspersons, state legislators, and mayors. They see blacks heading corporations, and universities. Many actually believe that racial problems are a thing of America’s by gone past, and that blacks that incessantly scream racism about their plight are afflicted with racial paranoia.
On the other hand, many blacks erroneously assume that whites live an Ozzie and Harriet life of bliss and are immune from personal and social angst. They are puzzled when middle-class whites shoot up their suburban schools, and neighborhoods, bludgeon their children in their homes, use and deal drugs, have high suicide rates and commit bizarre anti-social acts. They don’t hear and see their pain. In Crash, a middle-class white couple live in a cloistered world. They are scared of, and angry with minorities and in perpetual turmoil.
It’s fear, ignorance, and paranoia to the nth degree. But it also makes perfectly good sense to them to feel as they do. The truth is that millions of whites are also trapped in a downward cycle of need and poverty, and have about as much chance of crashing into America’s corporate boardrooms, joining university faculties and getting elected to Congress as poor blacks. The sense among many whites that they are fast losing economic and social ground in America fueled much of their fury over affirmative action programs. In the film, a white LAPD officer comes off as an unreconstructed bigot. Yet he’s also beset by the psychological pressure and financial burden of having to take care of his ailing father. He blames his father’s medical and financial slide on the loss of his janitorial company’s contract to a minority owned company. Maybe, maybe not, but that’s what he believes.
Many whites think that society is spinning out of control and that they have little power to control their lives. They see the federal government as the culprit. They blame it for being pro-higher taxes, pro-bureaucracy, pro-immigrant and pro-rights of criminals. A mix of economic slippage, political cynicism and personal alienation and not blind racial hatred drives much of white anger toward blacks. An equal mix of personal alienation, false perceptions, and distrust drives much of black anger toward whites. That was the not so subtle message of Crash.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist for BlackNews.com, an author and political analyst.