Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Confronting American Racism - Are we any further along because of one movie?

Over at Ordinary times, my friend Mike Dwyer poses this important question about the newish movie 12 Years a Slave:

I ask the question, does this film bring us any closer to an understanding of American slavery? Perhaps. It is such a foreign concept to the modern mind that it may be impossible to bridge that gap but 12 Years A Slave is important because it tries to do just that.

Frankly, slavery as practiced then may be a foreign concept to the mind, but only if the mind is closed both to history  and modern news reporting.  How many stories have we seen on CNN, how many Bravo network docu-dramas about rescued children in the sex trade, how many raids of houses for foreign workers held against their will in the US?  What it different now is that slavery is not a major underpinning of the economic success of a large part of our country, and where it exists it is generally discovered, condemned and prosecuted.  I certainly hope this important piece moves our National discourse along, but as one of Mike's commentors notes:

I think part of the “close to home” issue is that we never really rectified slavery. Or even made meaningful efforts to attempt to do so. “White guilt” persists in large part because little genuine effort has been made to assuage it. I mean, there was 40 acres and a mule, reconstruction… and what else? Affirmative action? Kinda-sorta? I mean, our government hasn’t even offered an apology.
As long as we nibble around the edges of slavery, it will remain a pernicious force in American society, both culturally and economically. And that is a reason to keep at it, whether we've answered Mike's question or not.

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