Crash deservedly won the Academy Award for best picture because it forced Blacks — as well as Whites — to honestly confront their stereotypes. The film sets the course right from the start when it went squarely toward racial correctness.
The opening shot has two young Blacks charging out of a restaurant steaming mad. While strolling down the sidewalk, one of them claims that a waitress ignored them, gave them lousy service, and that the Whites in the restaurant gave them hostile stares solely because they're Black.
Then, when a White couple passes them on the street, the wife locks arms with her husband for fear the Black men would mug them. In an angry tirade, the angered young Black covers the wide gamut of myths, stereotypes and negative perceptions that Whites supposedly have about Blacks.
While Crash pierced and poked fun at racial stereotypes, it was the Black perceptions about those stereotypes that made the film unique. Many Blacks take it as an article of faith that that most Whites are hopelessly racist. A comprehensive Harvard University opinion poll in 2002 found that the racial attitudes of many Whites about Blacks are tightly enshrouded in stereotypes. The poll reinforced the fervent belief of many Blacks that Whites racially disdain them. It's not that simple.
The majority of Whites are probably genuinely convinced that America is a colorblind society, and that equal opportunity is a reality. They repeatedly told the Harvard pollsters that they believed that Blacks and Whites have attained social and economic equality. The figures on income, education and health care show a gaping racial lag between Blacks and Whites — however, perception drives reality. If many Whites think racial equality is a reality, that's more proof to many Blacks that Whites are in deliberate racial denial.
But many Whites claim Blacks are treated the same as they are simply to mask racial hostility toward Blacks. They no longer see "Whites Only" signs or redneck Southern cops unleashing police dogs on hapless Black demonstrators. They turn on their TVs and see legions of Black newscasters and talk show hosts. They see mega-rich Black entertainers and athletes pampered and fawned over by an adoring public.
They see TV commercials that picture Blacks living in trendy integrated suburban homes and driving expensive cars. They see Blacks in high-profile positions in the Bush administration. They see dozens of Black congresspersons, state legislators and mayors. They see Blacks heading corporations and universities.
Many actually believe that racial problems are a thing of America's bygone past and that Blacks who incessantly scream racism are afflicted with racial paranoia.
On the other hand, many Blacks erroneously assume that Whites live an Ozzie-and-Harriet life of bliss and are immune from personal and social angst. They are puzzled when middle-class Whites shoot up their schools and neighborhoods, bludgeon their children, use and deal drugs, have high suicide rates and commit bizarre antisocial acts. They don't hear and see their pain. In Crash, a middle-class White couple lives in a cloistered world. They are scared of and angry with minorities.
It's fear, ignorance and paranoia to the nth degree. But it also makes perfectly good sense to them to feel as they do. The truth is that millions of Whites are also trapped in a downward cycle of need and poverty and have about as much chance of crashing into America's corporate boardrooms, joining university faculties and getting elected to Congress as poor Blacks. The sense among many Whites that they are fast losing economic and social ground in America fuels much of their fury over affirmative action programs.
Many Whites think that society is spinning out of control and that they have little power to control their lives. A mix of economic slippage, political cynicism and personal alienation — and not blind racial hatred — drives much of White anger toward Blacks. An equal mix of personal alienation, false perceptions and distrust drives much of Black anger toward Whites.
That was the not-so-subtle message of Crash.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist for www.blacknews.com.