The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is it O.K. to fire White guys?

Marty said:

"Steve: When a company decides that it doesn't need a function and transfers to other groups the four female employees and one male Latino employee while giving two weeks severance pay to the three white male employees this is okay because white males are the majority."

No, I never said that. Firing anyone because of their race is bad. Never "o.k." Do I think it is as damaging to the white community for .001 percent of their population to be fired as it would be for the Latino community for .1% of their population to be fired? (These numbers are imaginary). No, I don't. Do I think that that should be factored in? Maybe. Do I think that historical grievances should be factored in? Maybe. It depends upon one's intent, one's social and political goals and attitudes. I think it is inevitable that people make some decisions based on who does and doesn't look, speak, or worship like them. Is this a good idea? Maybe so, maybe no, but it's certainly a nearly universal one. And it kept human beings safe for a long time. Should we carry these patterns into the future? I'd rather not.

But, of course, this is the discussion about set-asides, affirmative action, and so forth. And I'm not an advocate of affirmative action, not because it's unfair, but because people are unfair, and bigots can hide among responsible conservatives and rail against the poor put-upon white man. Sob sob. Anecdotally you can prove anything you want. Statistically, white men have a hard time eliciting my pity: I doubt I'm taking up a collection any time soon.

So my thinking on these things is not just "is it fair" but "can it work?" But it's never "It's O.K."


I was curious to see how I sort out the question of "Death of a President." I read the review in Variety, it sounded interesting, and I went out of my way (drove 20 miles) to see it. I would have been horrified by a comparable film about Obama, yep, I would. Now, I don't find this hypocritical for the following reasons:

1) First, I see a LOT of movies that are controversial and that some find objectionable. "Last Temptation of Christ" or the "Da Vinci Code" offended lotsa people who considered them demonic. Yawn. "Confederate States of America," a movie in which blacks were still enslaved, drew my attention immediately, and I actually drove that same 20 miles to see it. All kindsa torture porn, horror movies by the bushel..."Faces of Death" films--I have a taste for the unusual.

2) It wasn't politics, really. If the president involved had been Clinton or Carter, I would have been just as interested.

3) Race? Sure. But mostly because, being the first, it would be incredibly devastating to an entire community who has had no real leader since the death of MLK. I'd also be worried about the first woman. Obama represents the door to a completely different future. But note: I wouldn't be as worried if the film came out in his second term. Nor would I be as concerned if it wasn't Obama, but the 2nd or 3rd black President. That "first" thing makes a difference to me, I have to admit.

4) Threat level. All reports say that Obama has triggered a level of threat readiness within the Secret Service that is unprecedented. The whacko chatter is absolutely venomous, and at a serious volume. Almost all the black people I know expect some white man to try to kill him. If Bush Sr. had been killed, if Reagan had been killed...I would have found the film similarly objectionable. And "almosts" or "attempts" do not, and have never, generated as much alarm in human beings as "it happened." Who has ever cared as much if that team "almost" beat you, that opponent "almost" knocked you out, you "almost" had a traffic accident. Or "almost" got laid? Please. Kids "almost" get hit by cars or fall out of windows or swallow fishhooks every day. What family, anywhere, has ever reacted to "almosts" as much as they did the actual incident? Please.


Now, given all that--if there were two Presidents who represented the same thing to their communities, whose life or death would symbolize the same things to America and the world...and one was a Conservative Republican and the other a Liberal Democrat...I don't think I'd have a preference about whose assassination I'd rather see a movie about. After all, if a Republican dies, it's reasonable to assume that a Democrat did it. Oop! I'm not happy about that. And if a Democrat dies, it's reasonasble to expect that it was a Republican behind the trigger. No matter which way it is, there's not much of a giggle there.

Racially? Well, give me two black Presidents, and I probably won't twitch much about the third. That is a completely different world.


But this does relate to my movie-watching. As you know, I look at racial images in movies with some distress, especially since I consider Hollywood to be more liberal and open racially than America as a whole. Why doesn't this depress me? Welll...

I get a kick out of watching white people die in horror movies. Yep, I said it. If black people are excluded, neutered, black women treated like sexual chattle, killed protecting white people...

My tension goes right out the window watching Jason or Freddy slice and dice. Watching vast battle scenes in World War II movies (especially those that exclude black soldiers. You want to discount me? Screw you. Nice popcorn--look at those guts fly!). Does this rather sick tendency of mine extend to documentaries? No. Nor to real, live human beings. One exception: when I hear about certain types of crimes, I pray that the perpetrator wasn't black. PLEASE, God, sort of a "two steps forward, one step back" kinda way. I've never prayed that the victim was white, however. Never.

Just one of the ways I vent my pain and fear so that it doesn't affect my life, my interactions with neighbors and friends and strangers. I am very aware that I extend more humanity to others than, on the average, they extend to me. I can deal with that. And fantasy is one of the ways I do it.


Hugh said...

Given the amount of thought you've put into depictions of race in media, I'm curious about your response to the game Resident Evil 5.

Are you familiar with the debate it kicked off?

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I'm wondering how much letting yourself like the art you like is a way of not making yourself crazy as much as a means to any particular end.

Christian M. Howell said...

So he was TOLD officially that he was out because he was white rather than the other people having some higher level of skill or usefulness?

I think Title VII works both ways.

Marty S said...

Christian: The level of skill of the people in the group were unknown to anyone making the decisions. Nothing the group did during its existence was ever paid attention to. Everything written by anyone in the group went into the circular file. THERE NEVER EVER WAS ANY NEED FOR THE FUNCTION EXCEPT TO SERVE AS A SHELL FOR HAVING A TOKEN BLACK EXECUTIVE. Every thing we were supposedly working on was already another group's responsibility.

Marty S said...

Oh and by calling him a token Black executive, I don't mean to demean him. Eric was an MBA from Wharton and extremely bright and capable. The whole situation was the result of the company losing a discrimination case in federal court based upon too few minority employees, which helps explain why the minority employees were the ones retained

Lobo said...

One thing I haven't seen addressed is the presumption of superiority many white people have when discussing the affirmative action issue. It seems to be the throughline in just about every "I lost my job to the Other" story. I don't remember the last time I heard, "The black guy got the job because he was better than me."

Sometimes you're the windshield and sometimes you're the bug.