Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 30 Jul 2015, and is filled under Uncategorized.

Selma

I saw Selma last week. Late to the party as always, someone whose attention span resembles that of a bored gnat sat in the dark without his phone and watched and then cried as the story of a set of humans who did something utterly heroic was played out on the screen in front of me. The phone and the outside world didn’t exist. All that mattered was the screen.

And at the heart of the film is a really, really uncomfortable truth for anyone who is white. It’s that without exception, the people who stand in the way of progress are white. The people who assault the civil rights activists are white. The ones who stand back and watch as they’re knocked to their knees and in some cases killed are white.

To watch Selma is to be brought face to face with that. To see that people who look like me did stuff that was openly abhorrent. That blocked progress and that harked back to a retrogressive and fearful ideology. By the end, when the marchers won, tears were pouring down my face. Tears of gladness that Martin Luther King ever lived and tears of shame.

You could legitimately argue that this is utterly stupid. I was born in Nottingham in 1973 and had no more to do with the civil rights movement or its repression than my cat. But what happens if everyone just shrugs and says that an event was nothing to do with them?

What if you read about the Holocaust and shrug that it was nothing to do with you? What if you see the genocide in Rwanda or the war crimes in the republics that make up the former Yugoslavia and say that it wasn’t your fault? We become people who deny some essential aspect of our humanity and become the German villagers who the angry Allies made parade past the dead bodies in the death camps, who knew what was happening and yet chose to look the other way.

But in Selma there is also hope. There are the white people from churches across the US who travelled down to show solidarity, who recognised that while they should never, ever be the voice of the movement, their mute but steadfast support was welcome all the same. In the film, some of them are seen dying for that support and in this there is a kind of redemption.

As a white, straight English male, I recognise that the people who look and sound like me have been on the wrong side of history pretty much all the way through. And as a corollary to that, I recognise that when my support is needed, from feminism to the events in Ferguson, in whatever capacity it’s called for, I should give it and give it gladly.

This is not saying I should have a voice. History has heard enough from the likes of me. My place is to sit down, shut up and let the people who have other narratives, better narratives and narratives that run much more truly to the nature of human experience speak. I don’t want to be one of those German villagers who could have spoken but who chose to remain silent. Enough.

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