Blinded by 'The Blind Side'

Note:  haven’t seen the film.  However, I have been reading lots of different takes on it, particularly in the comments sections.  I feel I have enough of  a grasp of the basic premise to discuss some of the social implications of The Blind Side as they turn up out here in the news sites and blogosphere.

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What does the movie The Blind Side say to different people?

To well-meaning white people, this movie might be an invitation to celebrate a shining example in which white generosity and courage save the day for a poor, black male.  That feels pretty good.  In our yearning for racial equality on our terms, it is tempting to want to celebrate an example of black ghettoization successfully assimilated into white society – if perhaps not in these exact terms.

But who else is this movie speaking to?  Black people?  If so, what is it saying?  Nothing good, from where I sit.

And therein lies the problem.  “Blind Side” is a “for us, by us” movie for white people, designed to make us feel better about ourselves in the context of our racial privilege.  It assuages our racial guilt like a sin offering of snake oil.

But given the reality of ongoing racism, such self-affirmation is ultimately as fake and flimsy as a Hollywood backdrop.  We’ll need to do more than adopt a black child every now and then if we are ever going to build a just and free society.  In the meantime, patting ourselves on the back for (someone else’s) “job well done” may indeed be self-gratifying, but is entirely counterproductive.

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28 Responses to “Blinded by 'The Blind Side'”

  1. UnWelcome Honesty Says:

    How can this be a “by us,” “for us” intended to assuage white guilt when it’s all based on a true story? A very good true story, I might add.

    I have no white guilt, and neither did Leigh Anne Tuhoy.

    http://unwelcomehonesty.com/2009/12/09/the-blind-side-tolerant-liberals-think-its-racist-for-white-people-to-care-about-black-people/

    JMO.

  2. Audiophile Says:

    You think it’s “counterproductive” to celebrate the good deeds of the few?

  3. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Hello UnWelcome Honesty and Audiophile, thanks for stopping by.

    There is indeed a true story behind The Blind Side. However, not every true story gets made into a movie. So why this one, as opposed to countless other scripts that fell by the wayside? I suspect the reason in part is that Blind Side‘s particular narrative just happens to affirm us in one of our guiltiest places: our ongoing racial heritage.

    The undeniable truth is that white people have historically oppressed black people. Even today, white people still bear white privilege from this past oppression, and black people still suffer racial discrimination in various forms – covert, and sometimes overt. As a people, we’ve never atoned for this nor sought reconciliation in any significant way – not even so much as an apology for slavery, let alone the genocide against the Native Americans. I believe there are emotional and spiritual consequences to this present reality.

    Which brings us back to The Blind Side, which just happens to be a feel-good story about white people who do right by a black guy (via assimilating him into their community, away from his). From all accounts, this seems to have worked out well for those directly involved. But the broader themes – and their resultant glorification by so many (white) people – make me suspicious as to what this movie is really doing for people subconsciously.

    In peace,
    Tom

  4. UnWelcome Honesty Says:

    Thanks for the response.

    You’re right–there are lots of true stories that don’t get made into movies. But this is one true story I heard about before a movie was ever considered, via my dad, who is a big sports fan and a big Ole Miss fan. The story was also, of course, made into a book.

    But another true story that came out at a similar time that barely even had a white person in it was Precious–which has made a decent amount at the Box Office despite its overall depressive mood, and I don’t think anyone can say it does anything to help assuage white guilt.

    I don’t think it’s so much a spiritual thing. After all, no one ever stepped in and apologized for all the white people have been tortured and enslaved throughout history either, yet no one has lingering guilt for that.

    • Tom Ryberg Says:

      I appreciate this conversation, UnWelcome Honesty. (I hope you’ll find that your honesty in speaking your mind are quite welcome here!) I did have some thoughts about your following statement:

      I don’t think it’s so much a spiritual thing. After all, no one ever stepped in and apologized for all the white people have been tortured and enslaved throughout history either, yet no one has lingering guilt for that.

      First, we’re talking about American history here, where the most devastating racial sins have been perpetuated against people of Native and African descent. Second, there is not, to my knowledge any historical comparison in which white people within a particular commuity, have suffered genocide, enslavement or torture, at the hands of a non-white government. So what are you talking about here?

      In my view, one problem with white racism in America particularly is that it has been legitimated by the government, enforced by the power of the state, and blessed by the churches. All of this has still-lingering effects on our lives today, for white and black people alike – largely benefits if you’re white, deficits if you’re not. And all of the wrongdoing up til now has not been adequately redressed.

      I say “spiritual consequences” because to me there are clear spiritual implications. When you wrong someone, according to the Bible, you must atone to that individual, and to God. When a nation is in the wrong, say for injustice toward orphans and widows, it’s time for some sack-cloth and repentance to God, and restitution for those in need.

      But there has been no sackcloth in America. Not from on high, not from down below. Amazingly, the few insufficient legislative sin offerings like affirmative action are widely disparaged as “reverse racism” by those who are lucky enough to be able to opt out of actual racism.

      All of this is to say, the stakes are clearly bigger than how we feel about this particular movie. But at best, Blind Side is pure self-gratification; at worst, it perpetuates the lie that we can all feel good about ourselves now, because gosh, white people have such good intentions about things. Largely, we do. But well-meaningness isn’t enough.

      • Audiophile Says:

        It is refreshing to see an intelligent, god-centered conversation about race issues in this day and age. However, I feel that many have apologized over the years for the evils of slavery. I also feel that paying monetary reparations would not solve anything the way the ones paid to the victims of Japanese internment camps did, since so much time has passed since the dark days of slavery. Programs which help the poor have many positive effects on African-Americans, who are still unfairly economically advantaged. Still, any program designed only for African-Americans MUST be racist. “Affirmative” action is just unrealistic, it benefits people based on race, instead of need. These programs are just another example of liberal guilt, and discriminate against those of other races in need.

      • Tom Ryberg Says:

        Audiophile,

        I appreciate this conversation as well. However, let’s be clear on a couple of things. First, the U.S. has never apologized for slavery. This is not an accident. Like me, you can probably anticipate that there would be massive resistance to doing so today, if our congressional leaders or, God forbid, the president, were to apologize for U.S. slavery. If we are truly past the implications of our racial history, then surely there would be no resistance to a simple apology for participation with a deeply immoral and ungodly institution. But as I stated above, we are clearly not past our racial legacy. Rather, we’re wallowing within it still, only without the benefit of doing so openly. Half the country wants to pretend as if racial privilege doesn’t exist, as if, for example, latent racial fear has absolutely nothing to do with widespread virulent hatred of a moderate black president.

        But I digress. Suffice to say, we’re still in the muck of our racist history, which still has ramifications in the present. Denial of this basic fact will only perpetuate its continuation.

        Also, as a side note, racism is not the same thing as racial prejudice, and these are not the same thing as race-based opportunities/services/projects/etc. If you’re interested in reading a really great book from this perspective, one of the best books I’ve found on race in America is Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

        Peace,
        TR

  5. Rob Says:

    Precious is NOT based on a true story, but rather a novel that is a work of fiction.

  6. superseriousdude Says:

    i completely agree with your post here, tom. and i thought i would add something: How often do you see an upper class white family adopt an almost fully grown black student? almost never eh?… How often does this black student just happen to go to the upper class white family’s favorite university to play football?… I have trouble believing that the Tuhoys just kinda let a big black dude into their home because they thought it was the “right thing to do.” white people really want this to be a true story so they ignore how very improbable and illogical the whole story is. p.s. i used to be one of those people a few days ago until my uncle changed my mind

    • UnWelcome Honesty Says:

      Maybe if you didn’t look at the world through the lens of skin color, you would realize that not everyone else does. There’s an old saying — “Thieves think everyone steals.” You have that problem, my friend.

      People are not as bad as you think. In fact, most people are good at their core.

      I was raised by a mom who didn’t look at the world in terms of skin color. She has always shown equal love, compassion, and sympathy. I grew up with black friends of hers and white friends of hers regularly coming to our house, and I thought nothing was strange about it at all. She has always been quick to show sympathy and kindness to a person of color in need of help just as much as she has been to a white person in need of help; skin color has never played a role in her compassion, and she never saw helping a person of color as a way to to soothe her “white guilt,” because she has no “white guilt.”

      Some people are just good. You need to accept that and stop thinking that a person needs some ulterior motive to help someone whose skin is of a different color.

      • Tom Ryberg Says:

        “Maybe if you didn’t look at the world through the lens of skin color, you would realize that not everyone else does.”

        This statement perfectly illustrates the meaning of privilege as it pertains to race. The only people who have the option of NOT looking at the world through the lens of skin color are the people who possess the racial privilege of being among the majority, the folks considered to be “normal” rather than “other” by default. I can appreciate that plenty of white folks believe themselves to be beyond race. They aren’t aware of being prejudiced, and they don’t personally experience anything they identify as racism, so they assume that it must not exist. On the other hand, I’ve heard precious few black folks describe themselves (or anyone else) as “colorblind” or “post-racial.” That is telling. Skin color has consequences in America, and the only ones who can escape that reality are the ones at the top of the racial pyramid.

        Some people are just good. You need to accept that and stop thinking that a person needs some ulterior motive to help someone whose skin is of a different color.

        Being well-intentioned and avoiding participation in systemic racism are not the same thing. Most people, I think, have good intentions around race issues. But meaning well isn’t enough to make systemic inequities go away.

        Yes, I’m aware this is a bleak view of things. I’m aware that I’m heavy on problems, light on solutions. But we must be truthful. We do not serve ourselves by avoiding the honest reality of our circumstances, even though they are unpleasant. We must let these scales fall from our eyes and name things as they really are, not just how we perceive them to be through a lens of privilege.

      • Tom Ryberg Says:

        Just found this great article on how white privilege may be seen in the way all these Tea Party protests have been reported on and experienced. It’s a great read, I strongly recommend it.

        Peace.

      • Audiophile Says:

        You can’t be serious. The way we deify the civil rights protestors of the 50’s, how do you think people would react to what’s described in the article? If you’re really too dumb to figure that out yourself, I’ll tell you: CNN would immediately claim that anyone standing in the way of the protesters was a racist, regardless of what was done or said. Hows THAT for racial privilege?

      • Tom Ryberg Says:

        Audiophile, if you think CNN or anyone else would “deify” a bunch of armed black people engaging in anti-government protests and making death threats against a white president — let’s just say I hope you live in one of the states where they’ve legalized whatever you’ve been smoking.

      • Audiophile Says:

        So you missed the civil rights era?

      • Tom Ryberg Says:

        I think what you’re doing here is lazy and uncritical, Audiophile. Feels like you’re trying to bait me rather than seriously engage the question at hand. So I’m calling you out: you think the media valorized the Black Panthers? Prove it. Show us your evidence that major media outlets were drooling all over themselves for the black nationalist/separatist groups in the 60s and 70s (obviously, the integrationists weren’t armed). I would love to know if there is an objective reality connected to these perceptions of yours. If you can’t/won’t do this, fine. But this blog is not the place to air your crazy, unprovable generalizations. There’s only room enough for mine. 😉

        Also, let’s get back to the topic at hand, starting with this: do we agree on the reality of racial privilege in this country, or not?

      • Audiophile Says:

        CNN didn’t exist back in the 60’s or 70’s, dumbass.

      • Tom Ryberg Says:

        Wrong answer. Never said that. Also, kindly leave your potty-mouth at the door, or don’t bother dropping in.

      • Audiophile Says:

        No single swear word could possibly do as much damage as anything you have said.

      • Tom Ryberg Says:

        I wish I had that kind of power, A. Maybe someday.

        I do not believe I am not wrong about the existence of white privilege in America. But even if I were, what do you think is so “damaging” about this notion?

        I think that what’s most damaging is that it’s true, and that it indicts white people: it is part of our Fall. We can’t help it, we simply embody it. We’re complicit, and cannot, through our own works, escape from it. This reality is particularly painful. But it is, I believe, true.

      • Audiophile Says:

        Constantly picking away at our society and exploiting our religion to perpetuate this white guilt which liberals use to capitalize on the suffering of the oppressed is what’s damaging.

      • Tom Ryberg Says:

        Look, as I have come to see it, the Christian walk is one of bringing about transformation, not an invitation to complacency with however things are going. I believe in the three-in-one God: Creator/Parent, Christ/Son, Holy Spirit. If we look to the Bible for reference, God’s love of justice and righteousness — and condemnation of injustice and sin — cannot be denied. If we look to the Bible, Jesus was born and raised within a community that was oppressed by Roman occupation. I don’t think this is an insignificant detail, I think that tells us something about God’s priorities in an unjust society.

        So today, here, you and I may disagree on the nature and extent to which this particular society is unjust. (Obviously, I think one major way is racially.) But once we have determined that it is in some way, the Christian call in response becomes absolutely clear, and cannot accept the status quo. We’ve gotta get to wherever Jesus already is working in the world, join in solidarity with Christ, take up the cross, and follow.

      • Audiophile Says:

        Well, if you’re convinced that that’s what you’re called to do, I guess insulting you isn’t going to change anything. Calling you a dumbass was out of line, but I still hope that someday somebody can show you how the world really works. In the meantime I’m going to desubscribe, it’s obvious that I’m not accomplishing anything other than annoying people.

      • Tom Ryberg Says:

        No hard feelings, Audiophile. I was also quick to judge your intentions, and where I’ve misunderstood, mischaracterized, or maligned you, I apologize.

        I hope you continue to show up periodically, or failing that, I wish you all the best. (We remain siblings under the same Parent after all!)

        In peace,
        TR

    • Audiophile Says:

      No, it was I who sinned by allowing myself to be taken over by anger. I think I’m better off somewhere else.

  7. UnWelcome Honesty Says:

    Tom: You’re right – A lot of black people in America do see through the lense of skin color. How could they not? White liberals, white Democrats, and so-called “black leaders” since Lyndon Johnson first promised to “have those n***ers voting Democrat for the next 200 years” have been working to hold black people to a victim mentality that enslaves them to the Democrat party and denies them the belief in their God-endowed, inherit equality. When a group of people are told from birth that their skin color prevents them from having the same quality as others, it has a lot of consequences (not all of which were unintended).

    But when a black man or woman (who isn’t in sports or music) does achieve and does prove himself or herself to be just as capable as any white man, the white liberal/black liberal group maligns them as an “Uncle Tom” who is only where they are because they did whitey’s bidding.

    “These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them, we’ll lose the filibuster and there’ll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It’ll be Reconstruction all over again.”

    –Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D., Texas), 1957

    • Tom Ryberg Says:

      Yes, I know LBJ, and many other Democrats were and are racist. Not sure if you’re trying to make a political point here, but in case you’re keeping score, there’s plenty of racist Republicans too.

      But more interestingly, you’re essentially making the claim that any injustice that black people might experience these days stems from their own victimization mentality given to them by racist white people, rather than any actual injustice. Is that your position?

  8. Crystal Says:

    @UnWelcome Honesty: I can’t resist. How are we (African American’s) “enslaved” to the Democratic party? You seem to mean well… Could you please elaborate?


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