When my best friend asked me to see Selma with her, I almost said no. Race relations in this country have me a little exhausted lately, and the thought of spending two hours watching racism in action kind of bummed me out. Yes, I’ve experienced plenty of racism in my days, but not like what is depicted in Selma. “Can’t we just see the new Kevin Hart movie?” I thought.
Still, I know race is not something to be avoided — and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. I live in a white city where most of the people I work and socialize with are white. Heck, even my husband is white. And I’m a social worker! Not a day goes by that I don’t think about race.
I agreed to go see the movie with my friends because I know it’s an important movie to see right now. But as soon as I said yes, I began to have all the feelings.
I’d be lying if I said that seeing this movie with two white people doesn’t make me a little nervous. Watching black folks get sicced by dogs and burned up in churches has always made me uncomfortable, as it should. And let me tell you, watching white people treat black people poorly in a room full of white people is super uncomfortable. Unfortunately, having grown up in a predominantly white community, I have lots of experience with this.
Cognitively, I know that they aren’t just some random white people, they’re my white people. But as I write this the night before MLK Day, I can’t help but feel like that embarrassed fifteen-year-old who hated being different.
Thinking about it reminds me of tenth grade, when we were reading To Kill a Mockingbird in English class. My teacher pulled me aside and mentioned that the chapter we would be reading aloud that day was filled with the “n-word.” As the only black student in the class (and one of four in my entire grade), she wanted to check in with me about it first.
“Would you rather we read silently to ourselves today?” she asked.
I nodded, feeling a bit ashamed.
While I appreciated her consideration, it was just another reminder that I was different — and of how alone I felt. It’s weird to think I might feel that same alienation in the presence of my best friend and husband. Cognitively, I know that they aren’t just some random white people, they’re my white people. But as I write this the night before MLK Day, I can’t help but feel like that embarrassed fifteen-year-old who hated being different. Experiences like that don’t seem to go away easily.
Which brings me to my fear. There’s no telling how I’ll truly react to Selma, and that scares me. While I’m confident my friend and husband can handle my anger, as they’ll likely be angry too, I’m terrified of subconsciously letting any bitterness come between them and me. In short, I’m afraid of shutting down. Anger isn’t an emotion I’m very comfortable with. It scares me.
On top of all of those feelings, while I haven’t yet seen it, the Academy’s lack of recognition of Selma makes me kind of sad. I’ll admit, I can’t have much of an opinion on whether the performances are award-worthy until after I’ve seen the film. But considering this year’s Oscar nominations are the whitest they’ve been since 1998, it’s hard not to feel like black artists aren’t valued by society as much as they could be. Either movies about people of color aren’t being made, actors and actresses of color aren’t being hired, or their stories aren’t considered important. As a black writer, I not only find this disturbing, but I find it discouraging as well.
My feelings aren’t all negative, though. I’ve heard many good things about Selma, so I’m pretty excited too. It’s not every day that I get to see a movie with superb acting and an excellent story line. Oprah is my home-girl (she just doesn’t know it yet) and I’ve been bopping my head to that track “Glory” for the last few days. And after seeing that silly Kevin Hart movie on Saturday, I’m looking forward to watching a few critically-acclaimed actors perform. (Sorry, Kev.)
But more than anything, I feel hopeful. Because despite how nervous and scared I am about seeing Selma on MLK Day with two white people, I can’t help but think of Dr. King’s dream. Sitting in the same movie theater as people who don’t look like me is exactly what his dream was all about. Marrying my wonderful white husband and hugging my loving white friend is too. We have so much farther to go, but no one can deny how far we’ve come either.
So while I may feel triggered by white skin every so often, it was Dr. King who taught me that it’s the content of people’s character what matters most. And I know that discomfort and disagreements aside, when a person’s character is on point, he or she will work hard to listen and respect others.
Fortunately for me, when I think of people whose character I admire, my best friend and husband top the list. Though they may not be able to personally relate to my race struggles, they’ve always been open to hearing about them. When I’m overwhelmed by my tears, I know I can count on them to help me wipe them.
And they can count on me to help wipe their tears too.
Image: Cloud 8 Films