The Race for Ferguson

In 1998 Warren Beatty had, to date, his final ride in the director’s chair in the movie Bulworth. Despite being nominated for roughly half of the awards a film could possibly be nominated for and being very heavily tied to one of the biggest hit songs of that year, it seems like everyone missed it. It grossed a mere $29 million at the box office (just barely beating out Quest for Camelot, which was released the same weekend) and I’ve never met another person who’s even heard of it. The only reason I even know of it was because my favorite pop music critic mentioned it in his review of his review of Pras’ song. It’s too bad no one saw it, because it’s really good. I highly recommend it, if for no other reason than it’s a good reminder that absolutely nothing in politics has changed for at least the last 16 years.

I bring it up because in the short time since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, It’s been back in my mind, and one scene in particular (apologies for the video quality, fortunately the sound is all right). There’s some pretty obscene language there, so if you’re sensitive to that feel free to avoid.

I bring that scene up because in it, Senator Jay Bulworth, who’s experiencing a mental breakdown and has started just telling people “da truth” in his interviews, begins talking about race relations between whites and blacks. His take?

“Rich people have always stayed on top, by dividing white people from colored people… We just gotta eliminate them… White people. Black people, too. Brown people, yellow people, get rid of ’em all. All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended, procreative program of racial deconstruction.”

“Everybody just gotta keep ******* everybody ’til they’re all the same color”…

And I hadn’t heard that idea before.

And I don’t know that it would work. But as I look at the scene in Ferguson, I wonder how the narrative would shift if this wasn’t a case of white-on-black violence. If the police didn’t feel the need to defend themselves from accusations of racism, if the black community of Ferguson didn’t feel oppressed (not without reason); if everyone wasn’t in such a rush to form an opinion on the case before we have all (or most of) the facts.

I just wonder how Jay Billington Bulworth’s idea could have changed this situation. Because, yeah, as a coworker pointed out to me, if race wasn’t a factor, people would find other ways to discriminate against each other. Anyone who takes an honest look at history knows that if there’s one thing most people are good at, it’s discrimination. But there’s nothing like race. Nothing else can help distinguish “me” from “everyone else” so readily and so easily. Nothing I know of comes close to causing such deep divides.

Maybe nothing would change if it had been an officer of nondescript race shooting a suspect of nondescript race. Maybe there’d be rioting because an officer from the east side shot a suspect from the west side. Or maybe my coworker was right and there’d be riots because an officer with curly hair shot a civilian with straight hair.

The only thing I know for sure is that Michael Brown stole a pack of Rellos (or maybe he paid for them) minutes before being threatened by an officer (unless he assaulted the officer) and then he was shot in the back as he ran away and surrendered (/was shot in the front as he threatened and bullrushed the man who shot him)…

All I really know for sure is that a young boy is dead. And that justified or unjustified, innocent or guilty, an officer’s life will never be the same. And that the same story will play out (and has) over again. And again. And again.

Unless we find a better way to respond than shouting “Thug!” and “Racist!” at each other until we all pass out. Rinse, repeat. Click, boom.

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About tharrington42

I teach English at an online school in Iowa. I am currently in the process of applying to grad schools. In my spare time I like to write, go biking, or lift weights.

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