Racism illustration via Shutterstock

Are we all racist?

by Jason Benoit, Esq.

Okay, maybe that title is a bit harsh, but it probably got your attention. And it should because it’s a topic worth your attention. As worthy as anything else of significance might be. What’s even worse though than shamelessly luring you all here with racial propaganda is that I’m starting to believe it might actually be somewhat true. That we are all racists.

I’ve never been one to hide my opinion on subjects like, for instance, gay marriage, so why start now? One day we are going to look back and liken this moment in time as another blight in our country’s history. Just like when blacks and whites were segregated. Or, when slavery was legal and when we treated our fellow men and women as less than our white superior equals.

You want to know what makes someone less than your equal? Ignorance.

Ignorance, which equates to being uneducated. Ignorance, which breeds hatred.

But I can’t blame everyone. It’s not like we were born racist. Not when it’s drilled into you from birth that you are better than another human being because your skin is white. Or because you prefer screwing females to males (or vice versa).

Recently there was a video posted online from a church. You might have seen it. A young boy sings about killing the homos (I’m only sort of paraphrasing here because the whole thing rather disgusts me and I’d prefer to not watch it in its entirety). The video went viral. And not necessarily for good reasons. Check the YouTube comments. I’ll bet you a steak dinner there are more than a few pro-hate comments in that thread.

It’s unsettling to live in a society like this, isn’t it? This shit makes your stomach gurgle, right? Doesn’t it? Doesn’t it have to?!

And to a different degree, Hollywood has its own fair share of criticism to bear when it comes to race and equality… though let’s give props where props are do, because it is a largely very welcoming and diverse community, despite its rough waters and constant snark.

I bring this up because as not only a writer, but as someone who has worked for studios and producers, I’ve been privy to casting conversations where I have literally heard people talking about ‘coloring up a movie’. If you aren’t familiar with this practice, it’s usually the act of people trying to put more racial diversity in a movie, usually in the ancillary roles, so it doesn’t look like we’re walking around in a world with only really beautiful Anglo people.

It’s a fairly common practice in Hollywood, the idea being that if we make an attempt to not look ‘too-white’ then we’ll purport an image that we are fully supporting affirmative action and can’t be whitewashed with the continuous notion that Hollywood film and TV are too white.

It’s kind of bullshit.

Look, I’m no better than anyone else. I’m not trying to be pious atop my pulpit and proclaim that I have never at some point in my life made a comment that wasn’t in poor taste. That said, I don’t think anything I ever said was derogative in its barest intent, but nonetheless, there are certain words, and phrases, and sayings that come with particular peculiarities and ramifications. You say that something is gay. Or ‘what a fag’. Or, ‘you homo’. Even in jest, these words have staunch, rattling ramifications.

But this isn’t a blog about gay rights. Or about the distasteful slang of the English language. It’s about persecution.

I recall an incident several months back when the Boston Bruins were knocked out of the NHL playoffs. They lost on a game-winning shot. A shot taken (and made) by a black player. A rarity in the NHL. That night’s Twitter comments that streamed out of Boston fans were some of the most grotesque, ignorant, filthy utterances of trash I have ever witnessed. Nigger this and nigger that. It’s no secret Boston has a strained history with all things racial, yet for some reason they continue to seemingly embrace this hatred. Even still. Long after slavery has been abolished. Long after blacks were given the right to vote. Long after segregation has ended. Or so we have been led to believe.

Yet, here we are, still living in a world where hate breeds more hate. Back to the young choirboy singing out ‘death to the homos’. You do realize he wasn’t born this way, right? He wasn’t birthed with hatred for the gays in his heart. He couldn’t have been because our beliefs, at such impressionable ages, are formed by our society, not by our DNA. It’s cultivated by the people we associate with. By those who rear us. That hate is bred inside of this little boy by his parents, his neighbors, his family members, and his friends. And then that hate, it becomes glorified and literally put on a pedestal in front of God.

And it is the most disgusting of sights.

Recently, my father flew into town on business. We went out to dinner together. At one point the conversation turned to something that happened to my father not too long ago. A longtime friend of his found out that my dad’s brother was gay. Apparently, it shocked him. He couldn’t quite grasp the concept that my father would be supportive of his gay brother. And my dad said to this man, “I can either choose to have a relationship with my brother because I love him, or I can choose not to. I choose to have that relationship with him because he’s important to me.”

My dad is a great leader. And an even better role model. Every kid should have one just like him. It’s stories like this that remind me of how lucky I am to have been raised in a family where hatred wasn’t indoctrinated into my sister or I. Where I wasn’t taught to hate the niggers, the Jews, and the fags. Where those words were never even uttered. Not in our household.

My sister is married to an African-American. To say my parents weren’t a tad surprised when she brought my brother-in-law home for the first time would probably be a lie. However, they never said a word. They didn’t need to. Because there was nothing to be said. My sister never saw color. She never saw it because we weren’t raised to see it. We weren’t raised to see it because my parents made the decision to raise their son and daughter to grow up to be valuable, educated contributors and members of the world at large. They hoped to give us the tools necessary so that we could live our lives as we saw fit. So that we could ‘make our own mistakes’, though mistakes is hardly the right word. They didn’t say anything to my sister when she started dating a black man. Just as they didn’t say anything to me when I dated a single mother at the age of 18. Were they happy that this was the partner I was choosing? Not necessarily, but they never prejudiced against me. As for my sister, all I ever heard my father say was that all he wanted to know was that my sister would be taken care of, and he wasn’t talking about financially.

Is it wrong that I’m extremely proud of my family for that? That I’m proud of my sister? Should I even have to be proud is the real question though, isn’t it?

Upstanding contributing members of the world. I think that bears repeating. Because it’s important. It means the world as a whole. From the Eskimos of the Arctic, to the Africans in the Congo, to the Japanese in Tokyo, to the bigot-breeding homophobes down South (I grew up in Texas, so I can’t see why geographical location should make a difference in any of this).

Maybe our family didn’t travel a bunch. And maybe we weren’t the most cultured. But you’d be hard-pressed to say we weren’t a pretty damn open family despite those ‘shortcomings’.

Or, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the fact that my military brat of a father grew up in India as much as the United States made all the difference. Or that my mother’s parents were immigrants from Italy caused this shift. Though, if we’re profiling here, it’s not like Italy has the greatest reputation when it comes to race issues. Or maybe it was everything, all of it.

Recently I made a startling discovery myself. I write white characters. I don’t mean that exclusively, I’ve never written a character introduction and stated: “JOE BLOW, he’s white with blonde hair and blue eyes.” I’ve always just thought of characters as indiscriminate, and unless race had a bearing on the story, the role could be played by anyone of any race.

You hope casting films would be the same, but it’s not. Not like it’s a strategic attempt to persecute, it’s just merely a lot of factors involved. Foreign pre-sales and domestic box offices and budgets and comps (comparable films to the one you are hoping to make). So, sadly, by the time you get to the point where you can actually fill out the rest of the roles beyond just the box-office stars needed to greenlight a movie, it’s already pretty late in the game given the insurmountable obstacles placed to even get to this point. Thus, sometimes the only option feels like you’re artificially ‘coloring-up’ the film late in the game.

I’d like to think we could get to a point in this industry where that’s no longer the case. Or the mindset. Or the reality.

We are reminded lately that film is a powerful medium. When its message can spark religious unrest, and heinous, criminal response, then it’s time that we become more conscious of the ramifications our choices have in Hollywood. Because these choices do matter. They may not be choices made by doctors in emergency rooms. Or teachers in classrooms. But, ultimately, the choices we make in casting offices, and on screenplays, they will send a message so maybe we should start making sure we’re cognizant of sending the right message.

Or maybe I’m just being too idealistic atop my cardboard pulpit again.

Jason Benoit, Esq.

About Jason Benoit, Esq.

Jason Benoit is a young screenwriter based in Los Angeles, California. He has developed projects in both film and television with producers around town. He was reared on Cheetos and nightly doses of Tylenol PM and is adamant about attaching the suffix Esquire to his name. We've agreed to humor his request. Follow him on Twitter @jbenoitfilm

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