Saturday, February 07, 2015

Selma - Being the White Girl Part 2

Marching with StudentsUnite in Selma; MLK weekend
So for a few months now I've been dealing with this Selma-induced awakening. Watching Ava's prophecies come true. Yep, sure enough, she's right.  There's still racism happening everywhere. Can't believe I didn't notice before...

So now, I'm awake.  I'm thinking about it, talking about it - asking everyone I can to wake up with me and start some real conversations. And boy am I feeling righteous. I'm on some kind of mission - I fill my tanks at the Center for Human and Civil Rights and I blog about it with you: "Hey world! I'm uncomfortable, and I want to do more!"...  I want to know how to be better and I'm not afraid to make some mistakes along the way so long as I keep marching. I've found student groups I can help, I've encouraged young people of color to express themselves positively in an artistic forum and offered my assistance in getting them started. I've spoken at churches and schools and MLK events.

In short, I'm feeling empowered. I've got hope and I see change on the horizon.

And then I met THEM. The ACTUAL racists. Oh wait. You see, I'd been using that clever word: systemic. A clever word because when you fight a system, you don't actually have to fight a person. But one night in Selma, Alabama, I ran smack dab into two probable survivors of Bloody Sunday. And by survivors, I mean they were likely there (they are old enough now) and they were most likely on the wrong side of the bridge.

What does a racist look like?  Well, these two were probably making themselves easy to spot. They sat outside a diner, smoking unfiltered Pall Malls, wearing camouflage jackets and pants.  And... oh yeah, they were white males. In Selma, AL. Over the age of 65. And they asked me, like any good local would, with almost no suspicion in their voices, what I was doing here. Where did I come from?  I told them about the march that had just happened, how Selma filmmakers were honoring the town with a concert and free screenings of the movie.

Without hesitation, Old Racist #1 turns to me and says: "You won't get me into that theater full of N*** unless I got a machine gun."

And the phrase "I can't breathe" drifted into my head. Oh my God. Ava is right. And the kids of StudentsUnite, who during the march kept pulling me aside and saying - "No one is talking about the REAL problems"... they were also right. Because while the true survivors of Bloody Sunday still honor us with their breath today, so too do the antagonists still live and breathe and hate.

My awakening is complete. And I'm done talking. Well, no, that's not entirely true. If I was talking before, now I want to shout. But more so I'm ready to ACT. To take action.

I spoke a moment longer with those old men. I foolishly attempted to change their minds. In the course of our dialogue in which I managed heroically not to say out loud that I was relieved they would probably die soon anyway, I heard some actual information. These men are racists, yes. They are incorrectly attributing misbehaviors and social difficulties to race. But they are also frustrated with those same systemic issues: the welfare state, poverty, criminalized behavior.

What I wanted to do wasn't change their minds - they have the same issues I do. What I wanted to do was change their hearts. Maybe that would be my biggest dream for the movie Selma - that it could change a person's heart. Because that's what art can do, right?

So I'll hope that a movie can change a man's heart, because I truly don't know how. And in the meantime, I've got work to do, fighting the system.  At least now I have a better picture of what that means, and WHO I'm up against.