Do the Right Thing “When we open our eyes today and look around America, we see America not through the eyes of someone who has enjoyed the fruits of Americanism, we see America through the eyes of someone who has been the victim of Americanism. We don’t see any American dream; we’ve experienced only the American nightmare. We haven’t benefited from America’s democracy; we’ve only suffered from America’s hypocrisy. ” Malcolm X Spoken in 1965, these words still ring true for people of color in this country.
The hypocrisy of our policy and attitude in America can easily send the message to minorities that equality is an impossibility. The pure struggle of existence against the system makes philosophical discourse in daily life seem like a distant dream, reserved for scholars and students. However, even scholars and students can be blind to the subtleties of race relations. Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing exhibit that racism exists within the American psyche, whether overt or subtle. . In the scene “Slurs,” each different ethnicity represented in the film has their say about one another, and the results are devastating.
In one of the most controversial and explosive scenes in modern film, the montage of racial slurs confirms the worst about the American way of life: we all seem to secretly hate each other. The racial slur montage in Do the Right Thing is most revealing when one watches the film with several people. The nervous laughter and, frighteningly, people’s somewhat positive reaction to the racial epithets, exhibits the problem in America today: racism is unfortunately built into our society.
Even characters such as Vito and Mary, who dimly support ethnic equality, unintentionally stir up more confusion and emotion within the minds of those that feel polarized, either black or white. Lee builds characters that everyone can identify with; all of the actions taken in the film can be understood within the context. One of the more subtle ways Lee shows people’s ingrained racism (or carelessness) is with Sal and Radio Raheem. The audience is so shocked to see Sal’s pizzeria destroyed, while seeming to almost forget the loss of a human life that led to incite that iolence. Mookie yelling “HATE” while smashing Sal’s window symbolizes the breaking point of the struggle between “The right hand, love, and the left hand, hate. ” However ruinous blatant racism can be, the subtler forms can cause the most harm. We may believe in this day and age that racism is a thing of the past; to do so is to ignore the delicate web that our society has spun. Segregation is still very much a thing of the present, whether forced or voluntary, and while most people presume to be neutral, we are all conditioned to view each other differently.
A subtler form of racism exists within even the “good” characters in the texts, which is exhibited as they attempt to integrate the world around them. All of the “good” characters in both the novel and the film are cursed with inciting the worst racial tension and violence, namely Jan and Buggin’ Out. Both were fighting for equality, fighting to ease tensions between the races, but Jan caused such discomfort in Bigger that he committed murder, and Buggin’ Out stirs up so much deep emotion in Bed-Stuy that a riot ensues. Because of Jan and Mary’s curiosity and kindness, Bigger feels less like an acquaintance and more like a zoo exhibit.
Mary exemplifies this when they head into the Black Belt and she says, “You know, Bigger, I’ve long wanted to go into these houses… and just see how your people live. Never in my life have I been inside of a Negro home. Yet they must live like we live. They’re human… There are twelve million of them… They live in our country… In the same city as us… ” The use of the words them and our clearly set them apart, but Mary doesn’t realize that instead of inspiring Bigger, she instills fear into him. Bigger may have had hope for the future, but he is completely driven by fear.
His morality is dubious, which makes him a dynamic protagonist and controversial character. Similarly, both Bigger and Mookie have ambiguity as protagonists; Bigger because of his outright unwillingness to hope for a bright future and Mookie because of his moral vagueness. Mookie seems unwilling to commit to anything that will positively reinforce his situation for both himself and his girlfriend and son, adopting the viewpoint of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. ” Although Mookie is more philosophical than many of the characters in the film, he still focuses on the “gotta get paid” attitude; he simply needs to get by in a hostile world.
While it may seem reactionary to respond to kindness with fear and confusion, the audience must always keep in mind the history of race relations in our country. We may condemn violence, but remember Radio Raheem’s death – how would you react to such an untimely, not to mention illegal death at the hands of the police? We may root for the fierce and the physical, but how can violence and hate ever breed peace? Brute force is merely a reaction to the inequality and prejudice that builds walls around us throughout our lives. How can we espouse integration when our culture and history have bred us to be diametrically opposed?
In my experience, this holds as true today as it did in 1940 as it does today. The sheer numbers of people oppressed by our culture, living in poverty, starving to death, in prison, unable to break free of their sociological chains cannot lie. Our “global village” must act as such: we must learn lessons from past mistakes and see each other as human beings, not as “us” and “them,” but as one people: one humanity. “The sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. ” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.