Thursday, March 18, 2010
Is God to be Blamed for Racism?
I was born and raised Catholic, but I'm not so sure I quite believe in God. I'm a seeing-is-believing kind of guy and believe that everything that is worth explaining can be by the logical hand of science. The answers to everything haven't been found yet, but I believe even they are still out there, waiting for discovery. I like to believe in something that I can reach out and touch and feel with my own hand. On most days God is just too intangible for me to wrap my head around. I bring this up because I was watching Paul Saltzman's documentary Prom Night in Mississippi, in which a small town in Mississippi, in 2008, still has segregated high school proms. Basically, the white people have one prom, the black people have a different prom and all the parents are happy that their poor virginal daughters are not being stolen away from them by hulking black savages, or something like that. When Morgan Freeman, who grew up in the same town and still considers himself a resident, catches wind of this he makes a proposal to the school: have one prom and he'll pick up the tab. I'm not sure Prom Night in Mississippi is a great documentary. My criteria is that a documentary must be better than a dramatized version of the same material and I'm not so sure this film passes that. It certainly would have been more powerful if it had spent more time focusing on the parents and how their racism is passed down through the generations and affects their children. But, no matter. What struck me about the film is a line that a white teenage girl says that her grandmother told her, which is that, if God wanted all people to be together and equal he would have made them all the same colour. This line strikes me because, once again, God has been used as the scapegoat in which to justify human weakness and ignorance. Wars are fought in God's name, people are killed in God's name and now (and probably since forever) racism is being justified in God's name. Even if you believe in God, is this use of his name to perpetuate ugly feelings of superiority, hatred and discrimination acceptable? Some days it's enough to not even want to believe in a God just by knowing how some people abuse His name. What disgusted me most about this comment is that, when you argue this woman's point by taking God out of the equation, she is proven to simply be ignorant and terribly short sighted in her thinking. Let's talk about race from a scientific standpoint. The reason some people have black skin is because of a dark pigment called melanin. Melanin absorbs UV radiation, controlling the amount that penetrates the skin. This pigment is found in sun rich places like Africa where people were exposed to heavy amounts of sunlight and needed to adapt to the climate in order to survive. That's why God made some men black: to protect them from the sun, not keep them from having sex with white girls and having mixed babies which would ultimately lead to the complete annihilation of the white race. Maybe that's a simplification of things. I don't know. The point is though that sometimes people try to hide behind things that they don't understand and use their beliefs as a way to justify the things that they are afraid of or just plain don't understand. That's why I enjoy films that unmask hidden prejudices and bring them into the light. If nothing else, Prom Night in Mississippi does that much.