The power of shut­ting up and lis­ten­ing

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I don’t re­ally watch movies, but I am mar­ried to some­one who re­views them for a liv­ing, so I have been dragged around some of the more high-pro­file ones this film sea­son, along with the odd low-pro­file in­die. I don’t usu­ally have com­pli­cated thoughts about them be­cause I am about as cul­tured as Ted Nu­gent on down­ers and grade them sort of on a pass-fail ba­sis, with ex­tra nu­ance for RE­ALLY good, and things I walk out of.

A tri­umvi­rate of friends tries to watch ev­ery Os­car-nom­i­nated movie be­fore the cer­e­mony ev­ery year and re­views them on so­cial me­dia, and this is the first year I have ac­tu­ally watched along with them. The rea­son I am telling you this is that all three of them are black, and I am white. And they have brought up takeaways from this sea­son’s movies that weren’t even in my ball­park. In some cases it was like we watched to­tally dif­fer­ent movies. I have over­looked the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of ut­terly rep­re­hen­si­ble racist char­ac­ters like in “Three Bill­boards Out­side Ebbing, Mis­souri,” and the wimpy de­fense of a black cou­ple in “The Shape of Water” by a man who turns out to play a ma­jor role in sav­ing the day. If those peo­ple were as ho­mo­pho­bic as they were racist, it is more than likely I would have had an ex­plicit emo­tional re­jec­tion of them.

It is some­times easy to think that “The Re­sis­tance” be­gan when Pres­i­dent Trump be­gan his reign of white supremacy and took his club to Amer­i­can demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, but in ac­tual fact this has gone on for decades. A scholar at a panel I at­tended at a po­lit­i­cal sci- ence con­fer­ence last year showed there was no ap­par­ent rise in anger among black vot­ers since the elec­tion of the pres­i­dent like there was in white vot­ers, be­cause that level was high, and had been sus­tained since re­li­able data be­gan.

It is also some­times eas­ier to think that anger among mi­nori­ties who shit all over racists on­line be­gan with so­cial me­dia. Nah — you know as well as I do that peo­ple were say­ing this, but it was eas­ier to ig­nore them when they couldn’t di­rectly tweet at @truthteller443342. The only rea­son I know these things is be­cause I shut up and lis­tened, a skill I luck­ily picked up af­ter be­ing raised dur­ing apartheid South Africa, and spend­ing my 20s and early 30s un­learn­ing some of the hor­ror knowl­edge that was passed down by gen­er­a­tions and the pro- pa­ganda within the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

My hus­band and I re­cently adopted a black child who is now only two months old. It is up to us to pre­pare him for what this Amer­ica is go­ing to throw at him. But we ob­vi­ously can’t be­cause we sim­ply don’t know what many of those things will be. But we can do well to shut up and lis­ten to those who do know. We can make sure our son is sur­rounded by peo­ple who he can lis­ten to. And we can make sure that ev­ery­thing we say and do is not as a re­sult of the priv­i­lege we have, which al­lows us white folks to choose to be ig­no­rant.

I am lucky to have my friends who dis­play their knowl­edge about movies, and through that, life. It is vi­tal that peo­ple like me lis­ten to peo­ple like them all the time.

“My hus­band and I re­cently adopted a black child who is now only two months old. It is up to us to pre­pare him for what this Amer­ica is go­ing to throw at him.”

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