Im Black and Paranoid
Crash opens with a crash literally. In response, Don Cheadles character Graham says that unlike in other cities where people walk and come into contact with each other, in Los Angeles, we stay in our cars. So sometimes we have to crash into each other because we miss touch so much. A year ago, I wrote a paper entitled "The Joys of Being a Pedestrian in a Car-Obsessed Society." As someone who was born and raised in Los Angeles, after the initial scene I knew I was in for a ride I could relate to. Crash touched upon every flaw this city has in its expansive borders.
Among one of Los Angeles most notorious flaws is the LAPD. Los Angeles is famous for a police department that has had more than its fair share of scandals, including those in the Rampart Division and the police brutality that caused the L.A. riots and the more recent death of 13-year-old Devin Brown. In the movie, an upper-class black couple in a Lincoln Navigator gets pulled over by a racist, crooked cop played by Matt Dillon. Before being victimized by the cop, the couple initially laughs off the situation because they know they had not committed any traffic violation. Their situation reminded me of how I feel every time I drive by an LAPD car. I tense up, check my speedometer, slow down if need be, turn down my radio, and place my hands at the 10 and 2 position. And even after I have done all these things I still check my rearview mirror to make sure there are no flashing lights behind me, for I know that I already have one strike against me: driving while black. From personal experience, I feel that cops will find any reason to pull a black person over, even using some of the same reasons they let white people off with a warning. When it comes to black people, especially black and Latino males wearing baggy jeans and a white T-shirt, police are quick to assume the worst or shoot first, and ask questions later.
We always assume the worst of each other. I have a black male friend who, with disappointment in his eyes, just recently said that while he was eating at a restaurant, he walked by a white womans table and she immediately grabbed her purse. Everyones so "Hollywood" and fake that many Angelenos feel they can never know someones true intentions. This is why Los Angeles is a city where people hide behind gates on their windows, doors, driveways, homes and communities. Something about those locked gates makes us feel better. Sandra Bullocks character freaks out about the Latino man changing her locks and accuses him of conspiring to sell the keys to his "homies" so they can break into her Brentwood home. Like Sandra Bullock, all of us, to varying degrees, live our lives in fear. Fear of someone breaking into our homes. Fear of being on the wrong side of town. Fear of someone killing us somehow. I attended a high school in Brentwood and I had friends whose parents would not allow them to visit my home in Hawthorne for fear they would be shot. To those parents, I so badly wanted to raise my hand and say, "Hello? Im still here. Ive never been shot. And Ive lived in that area my whole life." Angelenos greatest fear is fear of the unknown. We are most afraid of people, cultures and ethnicities with which we are unfamiliar.
Crash shows how crack cocaine, so prevalent in the black community, ruins families. I remember being in middle school in Inglewood, laughing with friends at people we assumed were crack addicts who stumbled down the street in front of our school. I remember jokingly calling other kids crackheads or using the ultimate dis when I really wanted to piss someone off "crackbaby." Back then I thought it was funny; now I think its sad how the use of crack in the black community has just been accepted and tolerated. Its the poor mans coke and arguably seems to be far more destructive than that powdery stuff rich people can afford.
The movie deals with the fact that in Los Angeles many children are the only people in the family who speak fluent English. I dealt with this language barrier in elementary and middle school. My best friend was Mexican-American and her mom did not speak English. Every time I came over, her mom would smile at me in an effort to communicate she was glad to see me. Ill never forget the day I went over to her house, after taking two years of honors Spanish classes, and held a decent conversation with her in Spanish. She was overjoyed that we were finally able to communicate, as was I.
The Latino nanny/housekeeper phenomenon is addressed in Crash as well. It reminded me of one of my early days at the private high school I went to in Brentwood. In Spanish class we were asked the question "Who lives in your house?" Ill never forget the moment a girl answered, "My mom, my dad, my brother and my housekeeper." I thought, "Wow. I thought those only existed in movies." I was sure she would be the only one who had a housekeeper, but when almost half the class also listed their housekeeper as a resident of their home, I realized I was somewhere else, entirely removed from Inglewood. I realized quickly that being able to wash my own clothes, wash dishes, throw away trash or cook my own food shouldnt be taken for granted. There were so many times the school cafeteria was filthy because these kids with the housekeepers wouldnt throw away their trash. It was as if they were expecting their housekeepers to magically appear at the school and pick up after them. People may have complained about all the minorities sitting together at lunch, but they could never complain about us leaving a lunch table dirty.
The contemplative thug played by rapper Ludacris deals with what I will call racial paranoia. As a black person, I know that I am quite often paranoid about whether someone is racist or not. I wonder if the woman following me around a store is following me because Im black. Is that person staring at me because Im black? Did this restaurant seat me in the back corner by the kitchen because Im black? Im so paranoid that I dont know how many times Ive jokingly used the phrase: Its cause Im black, isnt it?
In Los Angeles, were always in a hurry and always so busy. If we just took the time out to walk around, feel out our surroundings, and come into contact with people from different cultures, we would see the grayness in people. If Crash tries to preach anything, it is that nothing and no one is black and white. From the crooked cop to the criminal thug, we all have complicated reasons for the things we say, do and believe. I realize the chances of people in Los Angeles actually taking the time out to learn about other people and cultures are slim to none, just like the chance of it snowing in L.A. as it does at the end of Crash. It seems impossible, but it could happen.
Joy Mitchell is a sophomore at the University of Southern California.
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