February 7, 2011

Do the Right Thing

For those of you who haven't seen it, go out and see Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. Tonight I noticed it was on TV again and I realized this is a perfect continuation of my Rant on Culture.

In the film it portrays the typical idea of the American "Melting Pot." The film depicts the series of events that happen in a single day in a multi-ethnic neighborhood that leads to a race riot. My question after watching the film again- does the melting pot of American culture breed tolerance, violence or something in between?

As we evaluate the melting pot of American culture we see that the pot isn't actually melting. As you look around you see that cultures are no intermingled. Growing up in LA this is extremely apparent, you have Chinatown, Koreatown, the Jews in Pico-Robertson and the predominately African American community in the Crenshaw district. How is this a melting pot? Wouldn't a melting pot involve all of these communities in the same area? So why do these lines of division occur? Most people explain that people feel most comfortable with their own ethnic group but I say this is not true.

I am a self hating white person. I hate white privilege, I hate the suburbs and I hate the SUV. The reason professors and psychologists choose to generalize and say that all ethnic groups feel at home with members of their ethnic group is because that is how white America feels. As Kevin Kuswa writes in "Suburbification, Segregation, and the Consolidation of the Highway Machine" (Journal of Law in Society Vol. 31 No. 3) for white America "the urban fringe became a flight away from the poverty,crime and inadequate social services of the city."

The white flight phenomenon is responsible for why we see cultures segregated and grouped off. As the white man fled to the suburbs they became the elite in society, divided from the inner city by the highway. They chose what population could inhabit certain spaces. Through control of the economy white America forced ethnic minorities into certain neighborhoods by controlling the local businesses and real estate.

But how does this address the original question? My answer is this segregation breeds something akin to violence. It breeds and ignorance for other culture. The lack of exposure between the cultures prevents the pot from heating up instead it is cold, with every culture staying intact. This ignorance and inexperience with other cultures breeds fear between cultures. Just like America has irrational fears of Iranian or North Korean nukes the people of Beverly Hills are scared of the people in Crenshaw and vice versa. This fear much like the fear of American politics manifests itself in violence just like it does in American politics. The LA Riots (sometimes known as the Rodney King Riots) provide a great example. The cultural response by both the African American and white community was one of extreme outburst, the African American community resorted to violence and the white community did the same but sent their personal thugs the LAPD in to do it.

In Do the Right Thing we see at the end of the film that everyone in this melting pot only wants the same thing--the American Dream. They all want to survive and put food on the table. The urban/geographic separation of culture leads to a cycle of fear and violence. In the wake of the race riot in the film the main character played by Spike Lee come to an epiphany moment--the violence never solves anything, it only widens the rift and prevents us from heating up the pot. So what do we do? We stop being afraid, we stop worrying that someones ethnicity means we cannot get along, we turn the flame on and mix with other cultures, seeing what the melting pot cooks up.

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