Race relations enter tragic time warp in US

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/17 20:13:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Sitting in a theater last Sunday to watch the movie Detroit, I started to blame myself for an unwise choice soon after the film started running, not because it was a bad movie but because it was too good.

Based on the infamous Algiers Motel incident that took place during the Detroit riots in 1967, and directed by the Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, it was dark, intense and bone chilling. In the movie, and in reality as well, three young black men were tortured and killed by the police during a raid after a sniper reportedly appeared in the motel where the victims were hanging out. The young men, and a few friends of theirs, were trapped during the raid by a joint team from the Detroit Police Department, Michigan State Police and Michigan Army National Guard.

The relentless brutality from the police, the helpless moans of the victims, and the crooked judiciary system that wronged them a second time can easily drag your heart and soul to deep lows, even if you started watching while in a good mood. And to watch it right after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly, you need to be really strong to tolerate this double-shot of depression.

The Detroit riots happened when 30 percent of the residents of Detroit were black, and 93 percent of the police were white. And according to a report conducted by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which was formed by then president Lyndon Johnson to study the causes of the riots, 45 percent of Detroit police officers working in black neighborhoods were "extremely anti-Negro" and an additional 34 percent were "prejudiced."

Still, that was the beginning of better times. The US has certainly come a long way since the 1960s. Police brutality still happens but not as frequently. Innocent black people are still shot dead, but not as deliberately and freely. Racial tension still exists, but white supremacy had been largely dormant until very recently.

Despite the different circumstances, what's on the silver screen has been eerily echoed in Charlottesville over the weekend. Confederate flags fluttered, Nazi salutes flashed, raw racism screamed at us all, and an innocent young life succumbed to hatred. When the current reality and the movie merged into each other, you cannot help wondering whether this really is half a century after the Algiers Motel incident.

Time can easily be reversed and the fruits of the civil rights movement are fragile. Maybe that's why it makes a difference when the president blamed "many sides" for the fatal tragedy in Charlottesville immediately and only specifically condemned white supremacists two days later.

After the movie, with a heavy heart, I walked to the subway station at Union Square in New York where I bumped into a group of a hundred or so people standing in a circle. They held sign boards with slogans such as "Violence is not from many sides," and "Fight white supremacy."

Whoever wanted to talk was invited to walk into the circle to speak. A white man got into the circle and simply said: "I am immigrant. You are immigrants." A black woman holding the hand of a toddler said: "I am here today to show my daughter that she has a voice and her voice matters." The audience repeated what the speaker said word by word like a choir, and they could be heard blocks away. In the end, they sang together, "This land is your land. This land is my land …"

Such activities would engulf New York the following day when the president visited his hometown for the first time since his inauguration.   

Then I realized the fear that overwhelmed me during the movie was not necessary. I was frightened by the possibility that this country was retreating back to the 1960s when people of color were treated like animals.

But the 1960s is indeed a package. The atrocities were matched with courageous resistance, inflammable passions and the unquenchable hunger for change.

Things cannot be too bad.

The author is a New York-based journalist. rong_xiaoqing@hotmail.com Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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