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EDUCATION AND RACIAL (IN)-EQUALITY
Albert Einstein, a German-born theoretical physicist, once stated that “small is the number of people who see with their eyes and think with their minds.” People tend to scrutinize the external world with their internal prejudice, observing people under their own presumptions about race; the majority of people tend to also think with their eyes, as claimed by Einstein above, and assume that a person’s insides correspond with how they look on the outside. One stops doing so when one has an experience that contradicts one’s presumptions and stereotypes. Prejudice leads to stereotypical attitudes and behaviors in people. However, when those stereotypes are disproved by experiences, individuals are forced to re-evaluate their prejudicial attitudes. Therefore, prejudicial attitudes can be overcome when people are forced to juxtapose a reality that disproves their stereotypical attitudes. Many examples of such instances are exhibited in the movie Crash, directed by Paul Haggis.
Prejudicial beliefs lead people to stereotype others based on their race. Vincent Parrillo defines cognitive level of prejudice as an “encompass[ment of] a person’s beliefs and perceptions of a group a threating or nonthreatening, inferior or equal, seclusive or intrusive, impulse gratifying, acquisitive, or possessing other positive or negative characteristics” (Parrillo 505). Stereotyping is a form of cognitive level of prejudice as it is acquired through experience and impressions. Hence, stereotypes are external expressions of inner prejudices. In Crash, Jean Cabot and her husband is seen walking down a street in a wealthy neighborhood at night. Jean Cabot visibly holds on to her husband’s arm tighter while passing Anthony and Peter, who are of African descent. This action, caused by Jean’s presumption that the two black males were gangsters, is a clear epitome of prejudice on the cognitive level, as explained by Parrillo. Jean holds these beliefs as result of exposure to the media, and lack thereof to real people of racial minorities. Her lack of exposure to minorities comes from her predominantly white and wealthy residence and background. Nevertheless, this presumption of hers against people of certain color is fueled when the two black males hijack her vehicle. Her bigotry—and her expression of prejudice—is further illustrated in the subsequent scene, wherein she vehemently opposes the locksmith changing her locks due to her perception that the locksmith, a Hispanic man, has “prison” tattoos. She groundlessly worries that the locksmith will “sell [their] keys to one of his gang banger friends the moment he is outside of [their] door” (Crash). It can be easily inferred from the scene that although the locksmith—who is uninvolved in the couple’s affairs—has done no wrong, Jean’s false notion of who he is dictates her attitudes and opinions towards the Hispanic man. According to Parrillo, Jean is using the locksmith as a scapegoat, as her prejudice reaches a level of emotional, action orientated and self-justified level. She considers acting maliciously towards the Hispanic man appropriate due to her criticism of his race as a whole: an act of self-justification. In yet another scene, a clerk at a gun shop refuses service towards an old American citizen of Middle Eastern descent, as the clerk malevolently mocks the customer and lets it be known that he opposes anyone related to the Middle East, insinuating that Middle Easterners are terrorists who “fly 747” (Crash) and “incinerate” (Crash) civilians. Parrillo would describe this as an “action-orientated level of prejudice” (Parrillo 505). The clerk indisputably displays strong contempt against Middle Easterners, (or who he perceives to be Middle Easterners) stereotyping them to be harmful to the American society, and refusing to sell them ammunition. Unfortunately, due to this traumatic experience, Farhad develops a prejudice against fellow Americans of different descent, who he thinks are ought to “cheat” (Crash) him. Farhad’s newfound prejudice is depicted when he feels that the locksmith is cheating him by refusing to fix his door, despite having a valid reason to do so. In the case of Jean Cabot, we can see how one’s own prejudice can form stereotypes that direct one’s antagonistic behavior against an uninvolved third party. In the case of Farhad, we can see how an act of prejudice and hatred can reversely instigate a prejudice against the prejudicial party and any deemed associates, superfluously continuing the chain of intolerance.
Racial stereotypes are oftentimes disproven by their victims, forcing the oppressor to reevaluate his or her own prejudgments. In the movie Crash, when Jean suffers an injury due to her fall, and her friend Carol is nowhere to be found, her housemaid Maria takes her to the emergency room. Maria, a Hispanic woman, shows great care and compassion towards Jean, disproving her stereotype. This leads Jean to abandon her earlier prejudices against different races. The movie further depicts the refutation stereotypes with the scene wherein Peter, a black male, is seen hitchhiking at nighttime. Officer Hanson, upon seeing Peter, offers him a ride in his personal vehicle. They converse awkwardly until Peter sees the St. Christopher statue on the car dashboard. Upon seeing the statue, Peter motions to show his own statue of St. Christopher to Officer Hanson. However, Officer Hanson’s prejudice makes him reason that a black male hitchhiking at this time of the night is up to no good. Hence, Hanson says, “Get your hands out of your pocket” (Crash). Peter does not catch his tone, and Hanson authoritatively orders Peter to “put [his] hands where [Hanson] can see them” (Crash). Consequently, Peter reaches for his St. Christopher statue while Officer Hanson reaches for his revolver and shoots Peter. Peter’s hand unfolds, showing the St. Christopher medal inside the palm. Hanson reacts with horror as he comes to realization that his stereotyping had been disproven and he had committed manslaughter without provocation. These scenes in the movie Crash show that the world must realize that there lies a soul, a heart and a human being under someone’s skin, no matter what color.
When oppressors are forced to reevaluate their prejudices, as mentioned above, they are bound to make changes to their attitudes and behaviors. Jean’s prejudices against Hispanic people dissipates after the incident involving Maria’s care. Later, in the scene in which Maria brings tea to Jean, Jean suddenly embraces Maria, and does not let go. Jean shows affection by saying, “Do you want to hear something funny? You’re the best friend I’ve got” (Crash). Jean’s glistening eyes, and the melodious soundtrack playing in the background alludes to Jean’s redemption of her past wrongful ways. This sharply contrasts the earlier scene, in which Jean frowns, leers, and blatantly asks deriding and rhetorical questions such as “Is this clean or is this dirty?” (Crash) On killing Peter, Officer Hanson has a horrified expression on his face, as he sees Peter’s dead gaze. He pushes the body out of the car, gets out, and kneels slowly over the dead body in disbelief of what he has done. He realizes that Peter was not going to hold him hostage with a gun but instead was reaching for his St. Christopher statue. In both the cases, stereotypes were proven wrong and the holders of the stereotypes feel guilty once they were proven wrong. Before this incident, Hanson portrayed himself as an individual who did not believe in stereotypes; but after this incident, he finds out that his prejudice is more deeply rooted than his conscious egalitarian actions because of his socialization process. He is not alone put through this socialization process, all individuals with constant access to media are put through this process. Media holds a strong footings in dispersal of prejudice.
The movie Crash, a form of media, also forces the audience to reevaluate their prejudices that they do not believe they possess, but subconsciously does. In the movie Crash, Anthony is assumed at first to be a heartless gangster who steals from the innocent for a quick buck. Nevertheless, in the scene wherein Anthony delivers his stolen vehicle to the owner of the chop shop, he refuses to sell the refugees found in the van to the owner of the chop shop, even though the sale of refugees would have brought him immense earnings. With this act, Anthony breaks down the barriers of his stereotype set upon him by the audience. Furthermore, he displays a random act of kindness by giving forty dollars to the refugees who were visibly in need. In the following scene, he sits in the van, introspects, and cannot refrain from smiling due to his altruism, which he had not previously exhibited in the slightest. The audience can infer from Anthony’s reaction that breaking one’s own negative stereotypes by acts of benevolence can have a heartwarming effect. The audience is made to feel like an oppressor for holding a stereotype against Anthony; when he disproves it, the audience is also made to reconsider their own stereotypes in reality. The movie brings the detriments of prejudice out into the open and makes one realize how it is a major societal illness.
Through the movie Crash, the audience can learn that although prejudices exist and dominate the inner workings of society, it can also be shattered by positive interactions with the oppressors and the oppressed. Once they are broken, the once prejudiced party gets an opportunity to cleanse their minds of such presumptions, and see the world around them with a new light.
Crash. Dir. Paul Haggis. Perf. Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton,
Terrence Howard, Brendan Fraser, Ryan Phillippe, Jennifer Esposito, Christopher Brian Bridges, Michael Pena, Larenz Tate and Shaun Toub. Lionsgate, 2004. Film.
Vincent N. Parrillo “Causes of Prejudice.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical
Thinking and Writing. Eds. Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, Bonnie Lisle.
Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2013. 504-517. Print.
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