Why the media doesn’t like Green Book

Sam Smith – I can’t remember an Oscar winner getting so much criticism as Green Book Admittedly, it is a charming story that does not reflect far more painful ethnic relations of the time and it may be historically inaccurate. But it was released when ethnic issues seem stunningly void of possible decent resolution, when hate is on the rise and the country is inundated with sad examples of ethnic conflict.

I would argue that the reason people such as myself liked and were moved by it was in part because it was needed relief from all this bad news. More importantly, it offered an encouraging example of how we might rise above our times. If that thuggish white chauffeur can do why can’t many more?

The movie and the media reaction to it is yet another example of why I have come to think of America as a huge dysfunctional family in which you find some offspring forever trapped in a miserable past in which they and their predecessors were raised and to which they react throughout their lives with anger and misery. And then there are a smaller number who learn from the past and devote themselves to rebuilding the present and the future so the past does not repeat itself. Progress comes not from denying history, but by replacing it.

And that happens at both a personal and broader level. You can be lucky to be born into a time of positive movements or you can figure out how to react personally to life despite its wrongs. Green Book tells just one story of how someone made the transition, an example you rarely find in today’s media.

Why is the media so obsessed with defining ethnic relations as an apparently irresolvable problem and so angry at those who suggest otherwise?

One possibility that has recently occurred to me is that, compared to when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, younger folk of whatever ethnicity are better educated. For example, only 28% in my generation – the Silent one – went to college, even without graduating. For Millennials the figure is 67%.

One big thing you learn in college is how to analyze phenomena like ethnicity. But, in many cases, you don’t learn how to do anything about it. I am struck these days by how media attention is given to ethnic problems and how little to solutions. And I notice that those groups doing something get largely ignored.

This, I suspect, is a bias inculcated by institutions dedicated to analysis rather than action.

Civil rights icon John Lewis, who introduced the Green Book award, has a long history in the latter and he said of Green Book, “I can bear witness that the portrait painted of that time and place in our history is very real.”

I sometimes wonder how Martin Luther King Jr would do with today’s media. And how much attention would a black student named John Lewis get these days as he organized in Nashville.

As one joining the civil rights movement about four years after the Green Book story, I soon figured with my colleagues that our job was to condemn the big dudes but convert the little ones. You didn’t go up to a white guy, accuse him of “white privilege” and then assume he would do the right thing.

The goal was change -not just attempting to prove you were right and they were wrong.

But I also was living in Washington DC where things were different. For some fifty years, I was part of its white minority. You rarely heard the sort of ethnic clichés that currently dominate the national conversation. You learned early in politics that blacks up on 16th Street were different than the ones in Shaw and Anacostia. And that the whites in Upper Northwest weren’t the same as those on Capitol Hill. Except during the 1968 riots I never felt threatened or endangered. I felt just another part of the collective maze of DC. And it was fascinating and fun.

It is this sense of ethnic complexity that is missing from national discussions. And too many – both black and white – become annoyed when their simple definitions are challenged by the reality of cultural differences within an ethnic group.

We won’t even face the fact that “race” was invented as a racist term (which is why I use the word “ethnic” in its place) And the media pays little attention, for example, to the increasing number of cross-ethnic individuals in our society. Consider how little attention was paid to Barack Obama’s white mother and Indonesian-American half sister.

Part of the secret to resolving ethnic conflict is to report, discuss, and enjoy ethnic complexity. If we only define it all in terms of troubles we just make resolution all that much harder.

Yes we need to confront the evil, but giving us heart and a sense of direction, somethlng like Green Book doesn’t hurt at all.

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