When A-list actor Will Smith announced the end of his run as the star of the t.v. show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to pursue movies, I thought “that dude is done!” Typecast for years as a flaky teen, I just didn’t see him getting free from that. Now he owns Hollywood—who knew?
In his movie I, Robot, Will is Del Spooner in a future world with a servant class of robots. In his backstory, we find Spooner was in a car accident. A robot ran the math and calculated he was more likely to survive than the little girl in the other car. The robot saved Spooner and left the girl to drown. He is forever haunted by the thought of humanity handing its well being over to machines who couldn’t see, as he believed a person would have, the yet unrealized potential of her life far outweighed any survivability analytics.
Torn Space Theater on Fillmore Ave. in Buffalo, N.Y. showed the documentary The Blackness Project this past weekend and hosted a hearty discussion about race afterwards. This was my third time attending a showing of this movie. Listening to people react to the film is low budget “market research” for my own fledgling book effort addressing cross-cultural conversations about race. On the panel afterwards was Buffalo octogenarian Willie Judson, who also appears in the film. Judson came up with a biblical analogy for a question I’ve long pondered.
In the story of Exodus, the Hebrews were liberated from Egyptian slavery and traveled for forty years before finally settling in the new land that had been promised them. That means at least one entire generation of people lived through their childhood, and became men and women, outside of the old ways of bondage. Theoretically, the people starting in the new land were free to create something even more expansive than just a reaction to the experience they’d left behind, something completely new. We are inside the 50th year since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated because white America was so afraid a black man earning a fair wage could topple all known to be holy and sacred to our commonwealth. That’s an entire generation, Judson pointed out, who have lived outside of the Reconstruction Era and Jim Crow laws. Judson conceded in our private discussion later with surprising humility that the folks from his time need to go sit down somewhere, and let today’s young leaders realize new archetypes on their own terms.
One of my favorite euphemisms is “nothing is constant except change.” I’ve always believed there is an inevitability to the demise of the stronghold of racial hierarchy (as it exists now, at least) and wrestled with the question of how proactive do I really need to be? Maybe it is enough to just let the old boy network die off on its own. When I was in school, learning Pascal was an advanced computer programming class. I remember voting for one of two white men (I picked Nixon, he looked “nice”) in my first mock election in grade school. Today, Pascal may as well be hieroglyphics. Today’s up and coming leaders have never known a time where there wasn’t a black president. Or when a top two contender couldn’t seriously be a woman.
A fireworks show is always at its most fearsome and spectacular just before the end. The public discourse seems particularly noisy right now because the old stronghold is pitching everything it’s got left in its last, desperate campaign. You can’t make sense with desperate people, don’t try. Do what we need to do to minimize the effects of their obstructionism, sure. Let them tire themselves out, but our most arduous efforts belong directed towards our young people caught up in this loud, crazy present day accident of history. We need to talk with young people about all the bluster they’re witnessing today, and do our mighty best to help them sort it out and make it through their formative years with the least possible bit of taint from our infighting on their yet unrealized potential. To see to it that when it is their turn to inherit the keys to the kingdom, they’re not moving in the same old couches and lamps of prejudice and uncontested hierarchy, and just calling them “valuable antiques.” To give them their own fighting chance to create something completely new and all their own when it comes to race relations.
I’m struggling for a witty, creative ending here but all I really have to say is–come to my workshop this Saturday the 26th at 1:00 at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Elmwood and W. Ferry in Buffalo, N.Y. Anyone who knows me knows it is going to be nothing like you’ve been to before, I feel certain I can promise you that. Hope to see you there.