Essay by author Benjamin DeMott in the...


September 12, 1995

AN ENGAGING essay by author Benjamin DeMott in the September "Harper's" notes the way popular culture and current social policy appear coupled in trying to dupe America into believing its race problem requires no other solution than a little more friendship between blacks and whites.

DeMott provides numerous examples of movies such as "Pulp Fiction," "White Men Can't Jump," "The Pelican Brief," "Forrest Gump" and "Driving Miss Daisy" in which protagonists of variant hues win the day through friendship.

Says DeMott, "The good news of the movies obscures the bad news in the streets and confirms the Supreme Court's recent decisions on busing, affirmative action, and redistricting. Like the plot of 'White Men Can't Jump,' the Court postulates the existence of a society no longer troubled by racism. . . .

"Mass media treatments of the civil rights protest years . . . big-budget films like 'Mississippi Burning,' together with an array of TV biographical specials on Dr. Martin Luther King and others, presented the long-running struggle between disenfranchised blacks and the majority white culture as a heartwarming episode of interracial unity . . .

"A consciousness that ingests either a part or the whole of this revisionism loses touch with the two fundamental truths of race in America; namely, that because of what happened in the past, blacks and whites cannot yet be the same; and that because what happened in the past was no mere matter of ill will or insult but the outcome of an established caste structure that has only very recently begun to be dismantled, it is not reparable by one-on-one goodwill. . . .

"The vision of friendship and sympathy placing blacks and whites 'all in the same boat,' rendering them equally able to do each other favors, 'to give rides to one another,' is a smiling but monstrous lie."

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