Sam Smith – With the passing of Sidney Poitier, my wife and I pulled up one of his films, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which co-starred Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (who would die 17 days after his part was recorded). The 1967 film about interethnic marriage was not only a comedic delight, it illustrated how complex social problems such as ethnic conflict can be handled in ways other than the legalistic, formal approaches we have increasingly adopted. There were no lawsuits in the film, no critical race theory, no pending legislation, although the Supreme Court would actually strike down intermarriage bans in 17 states six months before the film was released.
This film was about real people facing mixed marriage in greatly difference ways and on a personal level. including a black doctor, a white priest, and a black cook. As I watched it I felt swept back to the 1960s, to a time when a huge issue like civil rights manifested itself on a far more personal basis than one often finds today, to a time when we realized it was not just legislation that would change things, but the transformation of our collective souls.
In the end, it is us and not Congress or the Supreme Court who will determine how we treat those who don’t look like us, guided by what we have been taught in school, at home, and hanging out with others. Our troubled ethnic relations are one more example of how we have increasingly left too much up to lawyers, politicians and the media, forgetting our own power to change things for the better.