This past Sunday night I attended the premiere of “Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story” at the Tribeca Film Festival in
New York City. As I sat there in the dark listening to people react to the film my heart swelled with pride for Booker Wright. “You did it,” I thought to myself as I watched my grandfather on the screen.
As hard as I’ve worked on this for so many years it wasn’t until Sunday that I finally grasped the true magic of my grandfather’s words. If we let them, they can reach into our current discussions on race and they can inform, soften, and change our often hard edged views.
Forty-six years-ago my grandfather risked his life to explain what it felt like to be on the receiving end of racism. He paid dearly for his words. His statement aired once, around the country no less, but still only once. And then it was over. White residents of
Greenwood credit him for bringing the civil rights movement home to them, but I’ll never know if my grandfather was aware of how much of a difference his words made in his town.
Today, in 2012, we’re in trouble when it comes to talking about race. Many times if a black person says, “Hey, I think that kid may have been murdered because he was black,” many will accuse the black person of playing the race card, of having some sort of chip on their shoulder, or of simply rushing to judgment too quickly.
If a white person says about the same crime that they think it had nothing to do with race, very loud voices in the black community will come out and accuse that person of being insensitive to race issues or worse, being a racist themselves. It’s amazing to me to think that after so many years of dealing with race-based issues in
America that it’s still so hard for us to even have the dialogue without hitting below the belt. We make it personal. We attack a person’s character instead of their argument.
Booker Wright went on camera and with detail and vulnerability described the heartache he experienced every time that he went to work in the white’s only restaurant where he was a waiter. He explained how it made him want to cry on the inside. He described how when whites got angry with him and hurled racial slurs at him that he simply wondered what else he could do to appease them.
Sharing our shame can be hard. It’s hard to describe the moments in life when we’re the butt of the joke. It’s hard to tell people about how we’ve been abused, demeaned, or disregarded. Exposing our wounds weakens us, so we don’t do it. We especially don’t do it on national television. Booker Wright went against the grain. In doing so, he debunked the myth of the angry black person. He is our evidence that before there was anger there was hurt. Underneath the loud cries and the screaming voices are a people who simply want to be embraced.