Losing our air conditioning, and getting Gone With the Wind
by Rob Tiller
It was hot again this week, and our air conditioning failed again. The AC repair person said the system was worn out and needed to be replaced, at a mind-boggling price. Sally began work on getting another quote. Without thinking about it, we’ve gotten very used to AC, and it feels like a hardship not to have it. That’s privilege for you. I wonder, would we be more motivated to address our warming climate if we weren’t insulated by AC?
We liked Spike Lee’s new movie, BlacKkKlansman. It’s funny, in a way, and unsettling. It shows us something about our society that is ultimately tough to look at.
The movie starts with a famous scene from Gone With the Wind: Scarlett at the train depot in Atlanta, looking for her man among the thousands of Confederate wounded and dead. It’s a brilliant scene, with stunning photography. There’s no comment from Spike Lee about it, so you’re invited to think, why is he quoting it?
When I first saw Gone With the Wind, my mom told it was the greatest movie ever made. This is a conventional view. It won several Oscars and was hugely successful financially. It’s romantic and exciting, and it has a great look. But since Spike Lee brought it up, I finally understood that it is deeply racist.
It is essentially about the importance and beauty of white supremacy. The valiant struggles, both during the Civil War and afterwards, are for the purpose of subjugating black people. Scarlett triumphs in the post-war period with a lumber business of re-enslaved black prisoners. Rhett and the men folk’s “political activities” are about KKK terrorizing of black people.
So my generation of white people (Boomers) learned that Gone With the Wind was a great movie, worth repeated viewings, and absorbed its message of the proper relations of whites and blacks. This is how racism now works in America: we learn it without talking about it, or even consciously hearing about it. Like the air, it’s usually invisible, and white people hardly think about it as a thing. White privilege seems natural. Opposing this invisible (to white people) thing can seem odd, radical, or nutty.
One good thing about the Trump presidency is it is bringing racism and other ills out to where we can see them. For all his ignorance, he understands the white fear of dark skin, and is brilliant at arousing, magnifying, and exploiting it. It’s his gift, and the secret of his improbable political success.
We’re in the midst of an epic social psychology experiment. Like Stanley Milgram’s electric shock obedience experiment or Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment, but so much bigger, Trump is testing the limits of power, “othering,” and ethics. Some of what we’re learning in this experiment is discouraging. There are a surprisingly large block of unapologetic hard-core racists. But they are still a minority. Their vile hatred is inspiring a counterforce. We’re reexamining themselves and this system. We’re getting a new view of invisible racism, which is a step towards ending it.
Last week protesters just down the road in Chapel Hill pulled down “Silent Sam,” a Confederate memorial. That’s progress.