For a long time I considered myself to be a non-racist. I wasn’t judging people of other races differently. I wasn’t talking to them differently. Actually, I wasn’t minding them at all. And I’m talking about all the races now – black, white, yellow, red, whatever. All of them were the same to me. Or so I thought.
For some reason though I liked watching movies that were about racism and anti-racism. I think I’ve seen a good part of all of them. And than I saw “A Time to Kill“. (That’s an excellent film and I strongly recommend it even if you aren’t intersted in racial issues.) I was blown away. It opened my eyes on the whole thing and changed the way I think. There was one particular episode, where Carl Lee Hailey, played excellently by Samuel L. Jackson, is talking to his attorney Jake Tyler Brigance, played by Matthew McConaughey. Hailey is opening the eyes of Brigance on the whole racial issue. The quote:
Jake Tyler Brigance: We’re going to lose this case, Carl lee. There are no more points of law to argue here. I want to cope a plea, maybe Buckley will cop us a second degree murder and we can get you just life in prison.
Carl Lee Hailey: Jake, I can’t do no life in prison. You got to get me off. Now if it was you on trial…
Jake Tyler Brigance: It’s not me, we’re not the same, Carl Lee. The jury has to identify with the defendant. They see you, they see a yardworker; they see me, they see an attorney. I live in town, you live in the hill.
Carl Lee Hailey: Well, you are white and I’m black. See Jake, you think just like them, that’s why I picked you; you are one of them , don’t you see?. Oh, you think you ain’t because you eat in Claude’s and you are out there trying to get me off on TV talking about black and white, but the fact is you are just like all the rest of them. When you look at me, you don’t see a man, you see a black man.
Jake Tyler Brigance: Carl Lee, I’m your friend.
Carl Lee Hailey: We ain’t no friends, Jake. We are on different sides of the line, I ain’t never seen you in my part of town. I bet you don’t even know where I live. Our daughters, Jake; they ain’t never gonna play together.
Jake Tyler Brigance: What are you talking about?
Carl Lee Hailey: America is a wall and you are on the other side. How’s a black man ever going to get a fair trial with the enemy on the bench and in the jury box?. My life in white hands? You Jake, that’s how. You are my secret weapon because you are one of the bad guys. You don’t mean to be but you are. It’s how you was raised. Nigger, negro, black, African-american, no matter how you see me, you see me different, you see me like that jury sees me, you are them. Now throw out your points of law Jake. If you was on that jury, what would it take to convince you to set me free? That’s how you save my ass. That’s how you save us both.
That scene made me realize that it is very relevant to me. It was exactly how I saw people of other races. Not as just people, but as people of other races. And that’s wrong. I guess I wasn’t to be blamed for this as it was the way I was raised. But I knew it was wrong and I had to fix it.
So I started paying this issue more attention. I was causing myself lots of mental pain every time I was catching myself thinking about people of other races as about people of other races. Now there aren’t so many people of other races around here, so I didn’t have the chance to work on myself that often. But used movies, books, magazines, and photographs too. Now I know that’s not the same, but it’s better than nothing.
And today I realized that I’ve got results on that work. I was astonished to learn it and I’m still under the shock. Interested? Well, it happened in my morning visit to Starbucks. While I was having a coffee I had a quick chat to one of the staff members. Nothing meaningful by any measure, but still a conversation a minute or two long. It was like five minutes after the person left that I realized that he was a black guy. Oh mine! I was thrilled! I was so excited that I could barely finish that coffee. I was glad. I was more than glad! I was happy! I don’t know. I don’t think I can express the feeling. First time in my life I was talking to a person of a different race without even noticing the fact that he was of a different race. That was something!
I see this as a good thing. I am changing. And not only I am changing. I am chaning towards the good direction that I set for myself. That doesn’t happen very often you know. I’ll continue the effort now with lots of more enthusiasm. Because it works…