Feb 8, 2010

I Watched Lilies Of The Field and it was Rodney King's vision fulfilled.

We all got along. I watched Sidney Poitier call a mean old German nun "Hitler", and yet the movie continued without anyone invoking Godwin's Law. Poitier was called "boy" by a prospective employer and he allowed it to stand until the end of the interview. He didn't call the ACLU or file a lawsuit, or even get angry. In fact, he gave as good as he got, and then went on to work for the bigot after calling him "boy" too. The German nun called Poitier "Hitler" at one point, too. Again, the movie didn't stop and shriekers didn't erupt from every corner of the community to denounce such bigotry.

I saw a Mexican deride a priest for his over-indulgence in alcohol, while Poitier insensitively ascribed it to Catholicism. The Mexican store owner gently corrected him by pointing out that it was more due to the priest being Irish.

I saw a black man gently mocking others' perceived stereotypes with pinpoint accuracy and a brevity that spoke of no ill will, just the need to make a point. Like a real man would. He even mocked himself as a field slave, impugning his slavery to the overbearing nun. There was a deeper, more spiritual point to the nun's insistence and stubbornness that she hid behind mightily, selfishly. Everyone could see both in her, and they let her be. They didn't suggest she had deep-seated control issues and offer to pray for her to find peace. They pretty much humored her prickly outer self in order to honor the inner motivation. Imagine that sort of maturity in people!

I watched a black man being cheated and hornswoggled by an old German nun and he suffered it for the sake of something bigger than himself. He was more generous and patient and accepting of their culture and beliefs, sticking it out with a will born of something a bit more transcendent than personal feelings. I watched a black man proudly and selfishly deny others the opportunity to be a blessing; and saw him gently mocked out of his delusions and pressured into his natural ability to manage others, because they needed him to be himself so that the project could move forward successfully.

I saw Mexicans working like chambiadores and drinking like hijos de la chingada. I saw a black man drinking with them, doing a hat dance, and getting called another racial epithet, gringo. Even he didn't know if it was better or worse than what he'd been called by others.

The Mexican store owner was agnostic, and no one tried to dissuade him and he never mocked others for believing what he didn't. I watched all of them come together to accomplish a task, not because they loved the mean old German nun, but because they perceived a greater good to come from their efforts.

Not one person tried to change the other, or disabuse anyone of their bigotry or prejudices. No one felt the need to protest their dignity as a human being, as they all demonstrated the fact by pushing back.


I was shielded from a lot of the old ugly bigotry as a girl, albeit fully aware that there were small-minded people in the world. Even way back during that time my parents never allowed any hint of bigotry in their children. So I grew up very naive in thinking that a black person would accept my sincerity of personal interaction as a matter of course. It wasn't until high school that I tasted the bitter edge of something new: I got played by a young Barack Obama-type. He was a transplant from Chicago, and he wanted to start a Race Forum, with the proposition of promoting more racial understanding in the student body. I was close friends with a black guy, a bright poet, which was still kinda tabu back then in the South (both poets and black guys as boyfriends. Heh.) Some had rumored us to be dating, though it wasn't so. However, this led to my being asked to participate in the forum. I was excited to be a part, but it all came about that I had to pass a litmus test for which I was set up by the young "organizer" and was summarily found to be unsuitable for their purposes. It was not really a Race Forum because they were not going to allow any white students in it who couldn't see themselves as oppressors and bigots. It turned out to be an Outrage Forum that bewildered those of good will.

Neither I nor my friend had anything more to do with them. Besides, he loved country music and Jesus and our little Chicago organizer was never going to allow either in a Forum for Understanding.


I don't think I imagined the relatively easy relationships I formed with my black friends. We mocked each other's soft bigotries, we mocked racial tension as unreal in our world. Young high-schoolers had better sense of their priorities in friendships and relationships, and not until someone came in to organize all their precious political capital into a monolithic thing to manipulate for the political gains of an elite few, did we give racial inequalities much thought. How idealistic and naive we all were.

It's sad to think it a possibility that all my black friends were just shuckin' and jivin' for the white man, and acting like my friends, while they looked to their own community to give them a shallower concept of themselves, one that ultimately they would choose or be coerced to settle for: "Never trust whitey."

A pity, really, that so many (not all) have now been taught to succumb, be victimized, offended, and lessened as a person. Unlike Poitier's Smith character in the movie-- self assured, self-directed and three dimensional-- the black community as it is presented to the rest of America has become a Palestine in our midst. Ever-aggrieved, ever-oppressed, ever-needy, never at fault, and fully convinced that there is no personal power, only the collective playmaking. To have cast off more freedom to be, hard as that is for any human being, for the mess of pottage that is their eternal victimhood is the saddest thing I have seen in my lifetime.


A pretty fantasy was Lilies of the Field. It was high-flown and idealistic for its time amidst other more serious dramas presenting racial difficulties and bigotry. Like many voters in 2008, most Americans were eager to show their approval and welcome of such movies and ideas as reflections of our own reality. Truly, we were experiencing all the drama and inscrutable nuances of learning to live on equal footing. It was already happening in a real and meaningful way.

Someone stole that away from not just black Americans, but from all Americans.

I believe the good will is still there, on both sides of the racial divide where Political Correctness hasn't corrupted the very human task of learning to live with, accept, forgive, and even gently chide or mock the confusions and stereotypes that are inevitable in a relationship worth having, be they work relationships or home-grown. But where "never trust whitey" and "racist!" dehumanizes a whole group of people making them easier to hate, well, those who practice such tactics are sowing into the wind.

Being real with each other and having the freedom to offend, be offended, and push back, is a better measure of our ability to grow up into the fullness of our national promise: all men are created equal. Lacking that, we are left with something so small, so truly useless to our betterment that I fear we may have lost the real hope and promise-- the real strength of an entire section of our populace-- abandoning every offended class of persons to their immature measure of their personal freedom: to need only a figurehead, a spokesperson, a President, a godling to rule their continually damaged psyche.


I know. I'm horrible and confused and naive and perfectly unable to speak to the Black Monolith. Fine by me. I prefer real and meaningful interaction with all persons of good will. Last time I checked, that description still excluded politicians and their proxies, manipulators and users, grasping bureaucrats and organized thugs of every stripe and color.

But, congratulations on Black History Month. May Sharpton, Jackson, Wright, and Obama reflect on just how far they've led "their people" from the Truth that could free them, into the Lie that lines their own selfish pockets. Instead of promoting a personal power that incorporates the strength to push back on a person-to-person level which nourishes real respect, instead of the mature strength of forgiveness and forbearance, they have led their followers into a cheap corral of human flesh, temporal desires, and grasping revenge.


I'm done. They are not pretty thoughts, but they are mine, raw and unrefined. Possibly very troubling and way off base, and I welcome any persons of good will to disabuse me of my naivete and idealism and point out all the things I've missed. But I'm tired of dancing around it all. Just say it, get it out there and let's see what has merit. I just don't care who I offend with it, I'm not an awful person. I'm worth saving. I'm worth the push-back. Bring it.


julie said...

They are not pretty thoughts...

Maybe. But they're full of truthy goodness, and in my book that makes them beautiful. With the culture of victimhood, one of the biggest things we've lost is real personal dignity. There's nothing ugly in decrying that fact.

kenneth said...

We've all been silently watching the sun disappearing below the horizon and now you've said out loud that the sun is setting. Maybe not uniquely brilliant insight, and maybe not even bravery, but definitely not bull.

Ken said...

Every time I read your words, my respect for you grows!
Lady, you have BALANCE !!!

f/zero said...

WV says you are made of very sterde stuff. Couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

So how come there's no Jewish History Month since Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians?

Will blacks rise above their American slave history in several thousand years?

Obama, Sharpton, Jackson and others have all exploited white guilt to further their own greed and ambition. And blacks have followed along like sheep to their own detriment.

jwm said...

Joan for Rooster Cogburn. Ya got true grit, lady.
This was among your best. You rock.


Jean said...

True Grit, indeed. Beautiful honesty.

Sal said...

This is what makes me sad (and I know I've told this story several times, but just bear with me).
About 15 or so years ago, I used to go read aloud to the sixth graders at my kids' school. One of the things I selected to read was 'The Lilies of the Field'. After a couple of weeks, I sensed that the kids were not enjoying it as much as I thought they might. Finally, one day during question period one of the boys raised his hand and said "Mrs. B., I don't understand this book. Why would all those people think that Homer Smith couldn't build a chapel by himself?"

And it dawned on me that these kids had grown up watching the Cosby Show, and a black general commanding forces in the Gulf War, and Morgan Freeman as President of the U.S. in the movies. It truly did not occur to them that he couldn't do whatever he wanted to do and they were puzzled that anyone would think that.

Now, these were kids from a comfy suburb, so that may have had something to do with it. But I did get the impression that maybe the book had outlived its usefulness. And that we had made a fair amount of progress. But I guess not.

Wonderful, Joan. As always.

WV says we shouldn't 'lable'.

Lisa Paul said...

I'm not sure why you are so resentful of a Black History Month. It's just an attempt to spotlight a lot of what had been left out of history books (certainly when I was in school). For instance, did you know the first woman to become a millionaire solely through her own efforts was a Black American woman, Madam C.J. Walker? That's not just cause for Blacks to be proud, but a source of pride for women and all Americans. What's wrong with shining a special spotlight on some of the undersung achievements and achievers in our history during our shortest month?

But then, I don't see history as a finite pie where, if I learn about one thing, I am prevented from learning about another.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Thanks to all for your comments.

Sal, I've not read the book, but in the movie, Homer Smith cannot physically build the chapel by himself. It's too much. It's for certain he could never raise the roof by himself. It took nothing away from his manhood to ask for help. After all, the chapel wasn't being built to glorify him. . . that was the spiritual lesson, or at least a part of it.

And he was being blind to all the good will around him, blind to the thing he had inspired in others, blind to their need to be a part, contribute, and their need for his leadership.

His not being able to build a chapel had nothing to do with his race. At least, not in the movie.

I'm not sure why that would be hard to describe to children: that not every aspect of his being was about his being black.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Lisa, I don't see where I've resented Black History Month. Please point that out to me.

Lisa Paul said...

Perhaps, given the tone of this piece, I sensed some snarkiness in "Congratulations on Black History Month."

I'm not sure it's wise to base your world view or the state of race relations on a movie. Or on some arcane event from high school. Was that incident necessarily race-based? Or was it simply typical High School brattiness i.e. "You can't be in my club because we're cooler than you."

I guess I'm just not seeing where middle class whites are being "oppressed" by uppity Negroes. Really? Do you think so?

Even my Black friends, some of whom went to the same Ivy League school I did and now hold professional positions, still face daily discrimination such as "driving while Black". A Black friend of mine, who is a successful businessman, said one of his greatest fears when his son started to drive was not just that he might make foolish choices and drive too fast or drink and drive, but the very real possibility that he might be shot by the police during a routine traffic stop. Yes, it really still happens. More frequently than you might think. And not just in the ghetto.

No, none of these friends are burning American flags over this. Or whining. Or demanding entitlements. They are quietly going about their business, paying their taxes and living as good citizens. But to deny that they still don't face discrimination is to be naive. Or holding on to a particularly painful experience from High School and accepting it as the status quo.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Please point out to me where I state (or even imply) I was oppressed by uppity Negroes. (A more vile phrase from your lips you could never utter.)

Please point out to me where I failed to admit the high-flown and idealistic nature of the movie, or my own young impressions of relationships.

Reading for comprehension, not for projection. Please, slow down, take a deep breath, and consider that I am a wise, mature, and thoughtful person. Someone you may actually even like. Why would I say something so seemingly vile as the things you ascribe, unrighteously, to me?

kdzu said...

Joan, everything I wanted to say has been said, mostly better than I could have done.
It's funny that JVM and I immediately thought of you as my favorite John Wayne character, You are much the prettier, and your talent is with words instead of a six shooter.
One of those moments after reading when I want to stand and applaud. (cue audience whistling and shouting)

Lisa, if you can't or won't see that reverse discrimination also exists and we'd all be much better off to just get on with life and treat each others as equals, regardless of laws, as most of us do these days, in spite of the view by some that they are owed something for some historical slight then you may be a small part of the problem.

Mizz E said...

You've got some verve,
I like it.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Thanks, kdzu! Lisa's okay, she just doesn't get out much from her beautiful ranch in Sonoma.

I, living in a black community by choice for the second time in my life, (not to mention having lived, by choice amongst 20 million Mexicans) have more tolerance for her youth and inexperience with with folks from the South. It seems we are all knuckle-dragging racists and not real people at all. But I'm trying to work with her on this.

Joan of Argghh! said...

(I know. It was all my fault for using more than 160 characters.)

Lisa Paul said...

Sorry you were so offended as to resort to name calling. You did say: "I'm worth the push-back. Bring it."

My push-back was that I wasn't sure this incident from your high school was really helpful for the dialogue or indicative of the current state of race relations. Perhaps the little digs at Obama made me think you were in the Rush Limbaugh camp -- which if you've been following this debate in the blogosphere --has been referred to repeatedly as "the white middle class oppressed by the Uppity Urban Negro." Not my original words, and certainly words used to mock a certain kind of Limbughian attitude. (And words used by many a Black commentator.)

One can still live among the trees and not see the forest. And I meant to question, not accuse, whether you really understood all the many forms of racism, subtle and unsubtle, that still do exist in America. No one is advocating that we all take an adversarial stance on it. But it sometimes is helpful to acknowledge it. And sometimes what happens in High School is just High School brattiness, not a political agenda.

I'll back off now as I didn't want to start a flame war -- just add a dissenting opinion which now I see was not wanted despite the challenge to "bring it."

Oh, and as far as not reading closely, I about fell off my chair at your description of me over at Dustbury as owning "a toney little vineyard". I'd thought my pictures and blog posts showed the one-woman (and two terrier), blood, cheap sweat and ignorance operation that it is. But perhaps living part time in an unheated barn (and before that a tent cabin), seems impossibly glamourous to those who aren't doing it. (Although, I'll admit, I love it.)

Again, expressing my opinion is not attacking you. I have no doubt you are a perfectly fine person.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Oh,no, Lisa, don't go away! Your omniscient vision of my high-school experience, my life experience, and my dedication to lifting the truly oppressed in foreign countries is truly amazing!

I see how my asking you to explain yourself and your many assumptions was unfair and small-minded. I suppose I should roll over and let you define me not by MY words, but by your fanciful interpretations of things I never said or implied.

I hope you will forgive me if I demur on that option. Thank you for visiting, all the same. Good luck in all that you do.

The J.R. said...

Lisa Paul,
There's just so much to poke at, I hardly know where to start.

"Yes, it really still happens. More frequently than you might think. And not just in the ghetto." What? Are you 14?? You really should get out more and spend some time with a few non-Ivy League folk once in a while.

And, I'm not sure which blogs you salute but I've never heard any broadcast commentator speak of "uppity Negro oppression". Please name one of the “many” Black commentators who has used this phrase. And, exactly what "Limbughian attitude" are you mocking?? Please give me a specific example or quote. I'm not offended, just curious.

And, just one more: "a toney little vineyard"?? Again, I'm curious, since you are obviously a highly educated person. I've read the comments over and over. Where did Joan say that??

I'm sure you're a "good person" too Lisa Paul. And, very entertaining. I'll bet you're a hoot at cocktails.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Now, in all fairness, Lisa and I are having a conversation (if you can call it that) over at dustbury.com.

I briefly scanned her blog for 15 seconds and ascribed to it my impressions based on that alone. Yes, it was totally assumptive and wrong, but don't bother me with the facts! I was being brave and pushing back against something I created in the comfortable living room of my mind!

Lisa Paul said...

Joan, you can't imagine, at your age, how absurdly flattering it is, at my age, that you called me "young and inexperienced." But alas, I haven't been either for many decades.

I think I do have an interesting perspective on life in the South, having attended several segregated-in-all-but-name schools throughout the South. I'm definitely showing my age if I say I clearly remember the principal calling all of us lily-white students together and announcing that "tomorrow Negroes will be coming to our school." They came -- all ten of them. They had a separate teacher, they went to a separate classroom, they ate lunch at a separate table. I never remember them being allowed on the playground during "our" recess. Such was the way schools in the South, in my day, met the letter of the law of Desegregation, if not the spirit of it. It would be at least another decade or so before the "Obama type" you encountered would have been allowed to start any sort of group.

I landed in an Ivy League school after living around the globe -- from European capitals to fringe areas near sprawling slums of Malaysia to all sections of the US -- North, South, East, West, even Alaska and, yes, even including places like Spanish Harlem.

I also have the perspective of having entering the workforce at the time when many occupations were just opening up to admit "the first woman to..."

I've found some kinship with my Black friends in that we've both experienced being more educated than most of our coworkers, working twice as hard to prove ourselves, then being told repeatedly "you're just here because of affirmative action."

My father felt the same way when he saw classmates from West Point and fellow officers and combat veterans treated shabbily because they were Black. The closest I ever saw him to hitting someone was when a fellow decorated officer from Viet Nam combat was told he was "riding along on affirmative action." (This comment was not made by anyone from the Army which, to its credit, was one of the first American institutions to fully desegregate.)

Yes, the best course of action is just to smile quietly, ignore the comments and continue overachieving. But, Lord, it did get tiresome. That's why my gameplan is never to presume to tell others, who haven't had all the historic breaks, that "it's all in your heads or all in your attitudes. Discrimination is over." It isn't.

Yes, that means we of the white middle class may have to continue being "sensitive" but aren't we historically in the position where we probably should be? Just my perspective. Informed by experience.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Thank you, Lisa, for a thoughtful comment. Your life experiences are not mysterious or unknown to me, (and neither is history) and they are valid.

Your point, now that you've come around to the passive pole, is that discrimination still happens.

My point as well. My further point is that Poitier in his fantastical and idealistic role was a much better template for moving forward as an individual, than Jackson's template for subsuming oneself to the Collective Outrage Machine for the purpose of financial gain.

I contend that my compassion for the Black Community is borne out of truth, while Mssrs. Sharpton, Obama, Jackson, et al, are mere political shills and shakedown thugs.

Life is pain and abuse for most and we're lucky if it only happens to us on a personal level and not at an institutional level. We have dealt with the institutional level and are still dealing with it, which redounds to an unrecognized goodness in our national will, but the maw of the Outrage Machine is never filled.

Pity is a salve best reserved for the most helpless, not the most abused-- and there's a careful and historical support for such a statement. Applied incorrectly to a misdiagnosed problem, Pity becomes a poison to the body.

Lisa Paul said...

Very odd deconstruction. I still think you missed my point, but probably useless to continue. And I still find your subtext troubling -- given how it has historically been deployed. However, I will emphasize that empathy is worlds away from pity.

joated said...

Your words are certainly troubling but only in the way that the truth is. You are NOT off base with your observations at all.

Excellent essay.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Thanks for your visit, Lisa.

I'm sorry you couldn't address the issue, or speak to how race mongers have or have not devalued the individual for the purpose of political capital.

julie said...


I'm curious, because I must have missed it somewhere - what subtext?

And Joan, thanks for the extra lesson in gracious forbearance.

LauraB said...

Damn it, J - I promise never to get into a war of words with YOU. So well done...

And this piece? Amazing work. And the great shame of it is that I KNOW you didn't have to work that hard at it. I could struggle a month and never come close.

You and the V-man - now THAT is a Southern Ticket. Heh..

Bin Quick said...

Hi Joan,

As a black man, I find your 1960's white Hollywood imaginary racial utopia and your longing for yester-year troubling but I won't begrudge you your fantasies. I have mine and David Duke has his fantasies too. Please, don’t get upset, I haven’t called you a racist yet. We blacks have seen your type many times before, you may or may not have black friends but you only like the “good” blacks, Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele (maybe), and Colin Powell, in other words, those good respectful blacks that don’t challenge your prejudices, politics, or racism. Those blacks that don’t believe in your “Truth that could free them” are unworthy of your attention. Their chosen and/or un-chosen leaders are poverty pimps that only use ignorant blacks for their own financial gain. And, if we had just waited our turn, the good and decent 1960’s Southern white people would have given blacks full citizenship in time. Those arrogant civil rights era negroes didn’t mind being called “boy”, riding in the back of the bus, or the occasional lynching for daring to glance at a white woman. The 90% of blacks that vote Democratic are just lazy uneducated welfare Kings and Queens that only want a hand-out. The rest are Willie Horton, be afraid, be very afraid white America, they are coming to get your children, plasma televisions, or wallets. Maybe you aren’t a racist, you just may agree with them, repeat their phrases, think their thoughts, and write like a racist. Or, maybe you are just lazy and don’t want anyone to challenge your beliefs. I’ll bet all your white friends and family members agree with your political opinions 100%, or at least those whom you value their opinions.

I’m sorry you had a bad experience with a black friend, I’ve had bad experiences with blacks friends, ex-wives, and family members but somehow I recovered. I’ve also had bad experiences with white friends, business associates, and in-laws, but I’ve chose not to judge all future white encounters by either good or bad previous experiences. Somewhere, I learned all people, even white people, are individuals, and my high school friends don’t give me any special insight into the personality or motives of white Washington politicians, but maybe your high school friend was named Barry. I could continue point by point but this is just too dam easy.

Blacks watched “Lilies of the Field” also but we were just glad to see a black man in a movie that wasn’t a slave, a fool, or a field hand chasing white woman- see Tiger Woods (Wow, a black man making a joke about a black man). You seem sincere in your longing for the good ole’ days so I won’t be to hard on you. You are a racist but you don’t know it (maybe). Don’t be angry, now that you’ve been told you can fight it or accept it, you can chose to grow or just dig in and become an outright card caring Republican err KKK member err Nazi err racist. Just remember, you are “worth saving” and you can correct your “continually damaged psyche“. This was just a little “push back on a person-to-person level which nourishes real respect.”

P.S. I don’t do the “black thang” very often, but occasionally I read hidden racist blogs like yours and I am moved to enlighten the ignorant. Now back to criticizing President Obama for his weak useless leadership on passing real health care reform. You are welcome to follow my blog at http://binquick.blogspot.com . Thanks Lisa, you didn’t need my help but this was fun.

julie said...

Well, Joan, I guess you did get your pushback. Sort of. I mean, they didn't address any of your points or what you actually said, but they sure didn't like your "nuance." It's been enlightening, anyway.

CastoCreations said...

I look forward to your word thrashing of Bin. I just have to shake my head in wonder.

An excellent and well thought out article, even if not everyone can comprehend.

julie said...

Just don't go calling anyone professor...

Joan of Argghh! said...

Welcome, Mr. Quick.

I shall give you all you have ascribed to me without protest.

There you have it.

It's not enough, is it?

Van said...

"Being real with each other and having the freedom to offend, be offended, and push back, is a better measure of our ability to grow up into the fullness of our national promise: all men are created equal. Lacking that, we are left with something so small, so truly useless to our betterment that I fear we may have lost the real hope and promise-- the real strength of an entire section of our populace-- abandoning every offended class of persons to their immature measure of their personal freedom: to need only a figurehead, a spokesperson, a President, a godling to rule their continually damaged psyche."

Excellent post Joan, I think you've got it right and there's not much I can add to it... but being me, I will anyway.

Unhesitant (un-fearful) recognition of our differences, enables us to see where we are different, where we don't mesh, and where we do, enables us to interact without clashing - or at the very least, it enables us to steer around the more violent clashes. Those differences, acknowledged and recognized, can also, like gears, be used to work together and create productive movement.

Pretending such differences don't exist, ensures that we have no hope of not colliding and clashing... gears spinning and wrapping up... smoke... you smell smoke...?

Simpler put: Truth sets you free - Falsehood enslaves.

Van said...

lisa pall said "And I still find your subtext troubling..."

Seems more like the subtext that you thought you found is actually your own super text casting shadows over what you read... apparently one you share with bin quicko... that whenever race is present it is always the most important issue for you, and justifies not facing reality as it is (and your own avoided subtext is that you think pretending and faking and behaving as if race is important, will cause peoples irrational fixations on race to magically fade away).

Conveniently, that also entitles you to special back pat's whenever you can point out how 'aware' you are of wonderful things someone of said race has done, and it also enables bin quicko to suck up that 'awareness' as if he actually did something more than just have the parents he had.

lisa, meet bin... bin, meet lisa... you deserve eachother.

pamibe said...

Toothy and once again spot on.

My upbringing was similar in that we were raised without bias... so I was shocked when encountering it in the world at large.

Someone stole equality, all right - and blaming whitey for all of the problem is shortsighted to say the least.