(Another one of my archive posts – this one from … urp… 2008, on my original military blog.
An age ago when I had to keep closer track of what currently bubbled up to the top of popular culture and remained there as a sort of curdled froth, suitable for generating one-liners for whatever radio show I was doing for Armed Forces Radio, I read a long interview with Spike Lee. This would have been about the time that he floated into everyone’s cultural consciousness as a specifically black filmmaker, with She’s Gotta Have It and Do The Right Thing; a new fresh voice with a quirky and nuanced take on being black in America. It was a revealing interview which left me shaking my head, because it seemed to me that Mr. Lee was animated by a deeply held conviction that the American establishment and white people everywhere were coldly, malevolently and persistently dedicated with every fiber of their being and every hour of every day, to the sole objective of “keeping the black man down.” It was the top item on the agenda at every business meeting, every political gathering, and the topic of fevered discussion at every dinner table and whispered in every cloakroom, yea verily, wherever were white Americans gathered – there was the grand conspiracy to ruin the black American community. Or at least make them have a crappy day.
I couldn’t at that time say much about what went on at political and business meetings – unless it was anything like commanders’ calls or unit staff meetings. But I could speak rather frankly about what went around the dinner tables of white folk in America; being, to the best of my knowledge (and a look in the mirror confirms this) a person of decided pallor. Yep – as far as I can tell, even onto Granny Jessie’s farthest ancestral generation in this United States (which dated to 1670 something – all the other ancestors were comparatively recent arrivals) they were all white. Anglo. WASP. Whatever. Family was white, neighborhood mostly but not exclusively white working class (with lashings of Japanese, Hispanic, European Jewish), schools integrated but mostly white (ditto), churches mostly white. Until I joined the Air Force, I swam in a pool of whiteness. After that point, I had quantities of friends, fellow barracks rats, NCOs, commanders, neighbors with, as one of them put it, a year-round very dark tan. But I could confidently say that white malevolence toward blacks – which Spike Lee took as a given as being ubiquitous and central to white life as Jello salads with crushed pineapple in them at Lutheran church pot-luck suppers – was an issue so far off the table that it wasn’t even in the same room.
It just never came up – well, except maybe at school, and in discussions of the civil rights movement; and in that venue I recall those others present rather mildly wished those black protesters well. Of course, segregation was not a good thing, racially-based poll taxes and tests, siccing police dogs on perfectly legitimate protest marches, or midnight lynchings; none of those things were approved of among those people I knew growing up. Separate drinking fountains, or separate but equal anything else were seen as pretty ridiculous. People ought to be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin; an eminently reasonable proposition, then and now. I was left shaking my head thinking that Spike Lee would be terribly distressed to know that there wasn’t any grand, overarching institutional malevolence towards blacks on the part of whites.
How deflating it would be for him to learn that there were only varying degrees of disinterest. But if it filled something in his life to believe so, to paint up his fellow citizens as unrelenting and tireless persecutors; it’s a free country. You’re free to believe whatever idiocy you choose – in the full knowledge that such belief says more about the believer than it does about those he believes it of. If Spike Lee and other movie people want to go wandering in their own fantasy-land, God knows they have enough company. It’s not called Hollywierd for nothing. The political realm is another matter.