Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Black and White Magnolias

I was discussing the creative merits of Lifetime’s all-black remake of Steel Magnolias with a friend when I mentioned that 6.5 million people had watched it.

“On BET?” she asked. “No, Lifetime,” I replied. She said, “Oh that’s great, because most black people probably didn’t see the original because it was all-white.”

Slightly confused, I asked for clarification. “You think that back in 1989 when the first Steel Magnolias came out, most of the black population in America didn’t go see it because it had white people in it?”

“Without a doubt,” she replied. “Black people hate white people. They wouldn’t have wanted to see a story about white women in the South.”

I was shocked. Her statement sounded absolutely absurd to me. When I said as much, she went on to say she’d had extensive conversations with black people in recent years and every one expressed a deep-seated hatred toward all things white. “Even today, they hate white people with venom.”

Now I’m certain that I could poll all of my black friends, and not a single one would tell me they refused to see the original Steel Magnolias because it was about white women in the South. But this isn’t about what I believe or how open-minded and progressive my friends are – this is about my friend’s view of race relations in this country.

Because she wasn’t stating an off-the-cuff opinion. She was stating an honest conclusion drawn from her conversations and interactions with black people around her. And they all led to one assessment – black people still hate white people.

To me, Steel Magnoliasis a story about mothers and daughters, about having dreams and facing reality, about the community between women who scream and fight but love each other fiercely. It has nothing to do with race. The idea that black people could make it about race sounds crazy to me.

But maybe my surprise at her statement comes from the fact that I live in post-racial America, meaning I don’t define myself or others by their race. I believe people are people. Intolerant idiots come in every color, shape, and size, and the truth is we are all more alike than we are different.

Though I have to consider that my view could be the exception in this world. My first real experiences with black people – and really all races other than white – happened as an undergrad at MIT, where everyone was intelligent, accomplished, and frankly, incredible. MIT was only 35% Caucasian back then. We were a United Colors of Benetton student body and I was much more likely to judge people by what dorm they lived in than the color of their skin.

But not everyone had my upbringing. My friend mused at the likelihood of black communities in the South that still teach their kids to hate whites and white communities that still teach their kids to hate blacks, and she’s probably right.

There are myriad examples in the past where hatred has defined a community. Black Americans have a really good reason to hate white Americans because of slavery. Jews have a really good reason to hate Germans because of the Holocaust. Hatred has been a common thread in world history and plenty of groups have been defined by their opposition to another group.

In considering how I felt about this morning’s conversation, I started to think to myself, “Thank goodness I’m not defined by hatred.” But then I realized that’s not totally true either. I can admit that I have an inherent disdain and distrust toward China because of my Taiwanese heritage. I learned it from my parents. I believe their reasons are valid. I’m guilty of holding an old opinion over a current group of people. I’m no better than the next person.

So is my belief in post-racial America just a pipe dream? Will we always have aspects of hatred in our very beings? Is it even possible to eliminate hatred as a method by which we are defined as individuals and communities?

It’s an interesting question. All I know is that I prefer the ideal of making connections over creating divisions. I encourage each and every one of us to get current and move beyond our history of hatred. I’ll be working on mine – won’t you commit to doing the same? We are a new generation of humans on this planet and we can make this world community what we want it to be. It starts with us.


  1. WOW... Thats a little mind blowing. I have to say that I LOVE the Original Steel Magnolias because of your reasoning.. A sisterhood of women who experienced life's biggest ups and downs together as family.

    I never heard the word "Hate" in my family, In fact as a black woman, I have a family of many races. I have an Aunt who is White and married my Black uncle in 1960 deep in the heart of Texas. They were brave for being able to do so and fought a tough road of the world at that time but made it through.

    I think everyone is entiltled to their opinion on life but mines is clear and with no color lines.

    1. I love your story, Jasmine! Hooray for multicultural families. And I already know you were raised with love because you are so incredible today. :)

  2. First, let me start with the notion that we are in a post-racial society is a myth. I think we are moving there in baby steps but are not there by any stretch. Attitudes are changing and will grow stronger with each generation.

    Second, to say that Black people hate white people is an gross over characterization and wholly unfair to the African American community. I would agree there is distrust and for valid reasons. The idea of hate more firmly resides within the white community. Your friend's comments sadden me a bit and I have a couple dozen friends (and a host of colleagues) that would happily dispute such a statement.

    I have the "privilege" of being white. What that means for me is that often people of all races will make an initial assumption that I might share their racist views. They feel comfortable expressing them on first glance interactions with me. (Anyone who is around me for more than 10 minutes will know otherwise, that I don't share anyone's racist perspectives. ) On these first meetings, I get the insider view instead of the public PC language. I get to hear their individual hierarchies of who is less than, who should be treated like criminals, etc. Frankly, we can only blame white America for these attitudes. It has been and still is white American that has taught such hatred. The work was so well done that people of color have bought into the idea as well. So well that whites no longer have to use the "n" word. African Americans do it for them. That's powerful manipulation from decades of hate and degradation. (Yes, I know that is a whole other discussion.)

    We are not post racial. We are the facade of post racial.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! Your perspective is appreciated - I can't imagine what it's like for people to reveal their racist views so casually. And your statement about white America being the driving force for hatred and lending it to people of color - fascinating and true. Judgment and separation is perpetuated by everyone who decides to keep it part of the conversation.

      Thanks Cindy!

  3. Hey Teresa,

    Just catching this blog this morning. I actually did see the original, several times & I loved it. In terms of color not being noticed by people today... not true.. I believe most people notice color and make judgments on the spot about how they think the person they see in front of them behaves, lives, works.. Etc.. The difference today in my opinion is two things... It's not cool to show that the judging is going on in someone’s head so it isn’t talked about. The other thing is a lot of people today will make those snap judgments but will also give the person in front of them an opportunity to prove them otherwise. I am guilty of the snap judgments. It's instilled in me from I don’t know where but It's crucial that I keep an open mind and try to get to know the real person in front of me, not the one I imagine in my head.

    On the flip side, I personally cannot stand seeing movies with the typical "All Black Casts". I find the writing in a lot of cases, horrible and if it's not the writing, sometimes the acting falls short. I do not like the way Black people in general are depicted on screen in all black TV shows & Movies. 90% of the time I feel the portrayal is a bad reflection on me and who I am. It's good for a laugh sometime to see how ridiculous these people the people are portrayed however after a while it just isn’t funny. In fact it pisses me off! I am a black person yes; I have my own personality and a strong sense of character. It bothers me to think that if I’m walking down the street and a white person or a person of any other race only knows of black people thru television or film and they take a look at me and instantly think that's who I am. That I'm just like the black characters depicted on the screen. Sorry people, that’s just not me! This is why I avoid BET & Stars Black.
    I hate to say this but it's the roles of black people that are mixed into a multiracial cast that usually stand out. This is when I see acting and writing at its best. It's when something that goes "All Black" that leaves a sour taste in my mouth. An exception to this is stories based on past events such as "Glory" & "Queen". I loved "A Soldier’s Story" and "The Color Purple" as well even though they were loosely based on truth. I watched these movies and felt a sense of pride with my people....
    The actors in the Black version of Steel Magnolias are fine actors. I just don’t feel the need to make it an all-black cast. Maybe back in the 50's like when "Carmen Jones" came about. That was back in a time where the blacks had to force themselves onto the scene. Today I don’t feel there is a need. This of course is just my opinion. Thanks for letting me share.


    1. Thank you SO much for sharing your passionate view - so appreciated!

      And I hear what you mean about the all-black remakes not always working. The "Death at a Funeral" remake felt particularly unsatisfying to me. It was a carbon copy of the original with a few "Damn, girl!" expressions thrown in. :(