MLK Day: Is America still racist?
Happy Martin Luther King Day, a day that is meant to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King. A day to celebrate the dream and work of attaining equality in America. A very worthy goal, the first steps are attempting to bring about gender and racial equality in America. Since Dr. King worked during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s I thought I would ask an interesting question today, does racism still exist in America?
Your answer to that question probably says less about who you are as a person as it does about who you are socioeconomically. If you are an economically well-off Caucasian, then you probably believe there is less racism in this country than say if you are a poor Caucasian, African-American or Latino American. Racism in America over my lifetime has gone from being something that was socially acceptable to becoming something that it’s no longer ok to talk about. The fortunate thing is that the laws have changed and I truly do believe the United States is less racist now than it was when I was born in 1964, but we are far from living in a society based on racial equality. I’d point to a lot of the recent immigration rules and debates, some of the rhetoric that came out during Obama’s presidential run.
The other night while watching TV I caught an interview that I expected to be mostly fluff but I was caught off guard by George Lucas blatantly addressing racial bias in America. He was doing publicity for his new movie Red Tails and he said something really surprising. The story of course is about the famous Tuskegee Airmen, the first black aviators in American military history. One of the things that has always struck me about this story is how far America hadn’t come almost 100 years after the Civil War. George Lucas, he of Star Wars creation and fame self-financed this film. Now no one is going to feel for one of the wealthiest film makers in history for having to spend his own cash, but the reason was a bit shocking. Lucas said that the reason he couldn’t get major studio financing for a George Lucas, big budget action film was not because of the disaster that was the last Indiana Jones movie, but because there were no major white characters in the film.
My, and probably your, initial reaction to that is to think damn racist movie people, but after deeper thought I started to change my mind. Movie people have a pretty good grip on who comes to their movies and spends money. If they don’t believe that mass white audiences will plunk down money to see a film with no major white characters they are probably right. I hope they aren’t, and the marketing of this issue and a release date around MLK Day I promise you, are not accidents on Lucas’ part, but it still is addressing a real issue. Of course how good the movie is will also have serious impact on the box office receipts. The fact that George Lucas faced this issue however, says that we still have a long way to go in America towardsbecoming the ideal, socially and racially equal society that Dr. King envisioned. So today, let’s be proud of the accomplishments we’ve made in the last 50 years, but let’s also not forget that we still have a lot of work to do.