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Racism in “Crash” (2004)

There is very little doubt among scholars that racism, or the “belief that racial groups have superior or inferior characteristics” (Baez, 2000:330) remains pervasive as ever, and that it influences individual’s behavior towards others by way of “differential treatment. ” (Baez, 2000: 330) This problem is latent in American society, the veritable melting pot of different cultures; where a high level of social segregation based on class, race, and gender inevitably result in conflicts and antagonisms between people of differing socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.

(Boyd, 2007: 259). Feagin (2000) notes that racism as the ideology of the oppressor is rooted deep in America’s historical slavery of Africans and subjugation of other people of color, including Native Americans, that has unfortunately been socially reproduced and passed on from one generation to the next, ultimately being “webbed into most arenas of American life, including places of work and residence, and activities as diverse as eating, procreating, and child-rearing (p. 70).

” The complexities of racism and racial stereotyping as lived out in the homes and streets of Los Angeles is explored in Paul Haggis’ (2004) highly-acclaimed movie “Crash. ” The film, which follows the intersecting lives of fifteen individuals coming from different cultures, shows how conflicts and antagonisms arise from false assumptions and narrow-minded ideas about racial identity. Examined closely, Crash is the narrative of how the character’s individual biases and bigotry point to a particular stereotype based on their racial identity that affect the decisions they make in the film.

As expected, the characters in the film have to contend with each of their own devils in the form of their own bigoted and racially prejudiced selves. It shows, for instance, how white, upperclass couple Rick and Jean Cabot for instance, live with their constant fear of people of color, or how a simple incidents often demand the price of life in the alienating streets of Los Angeles. The conflicts also give rise to the alienation and emotional segregation of the characters, where they “are unable to see people of colour as emotional equals or as capable of sharing the same human emotions and experiences.

”(Beeman, 2007:687) The general mood of loneliness and depression resulting from the characters’ inability to feel a general affinity with their fellow human beings is encapsulated in the film’s opening lines: “In L. A. nobody touches. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something. ” This is stated by one of the main characters, Graham Waters, as he bumps his head on the dashboard at the beginning of the film when the car they are riding figures in a road accident caused by a “dead kid” who happens to be his runaway brother.

The story then backtracks to “yesterday” in order to trace the events which have led to the collision. The influence of racial biases on the perceptions and actions of the main characters are clearly shown in the film: Jean Cabot instinctively pulls closer to her husband when they meet African-Americans Peter Waters and Anthony on the street despite their being dressed like college students and speaking in Standard English.

The latter, however, fulfills the stereotype feared by Jean by carjacking their SUV and sets into motion the series of events that would claim Peter Waters’ life. While searching for the SUV, two officers of the LAPD, Officer John Ryan and Officer Tom Hansen flag down a similar car driven by the couple Cameron and Christine Thayer, wealthy African Americans and Officer John Ryan openly displays his racial prejudice by sexually harassing Christine to make her husband feel small and disempowered compared to him.

His partner, newly-recruited police officer Hansen, is unable to do anything but turn his head about as his partner performs the travesty on the couple. He later has to confront a tired and maddened Cameron who has been thoroughly enraged by the flagging incident, a conflict at work with his boss, and the attempted carjacking of Anthony and Peter Waters on his SUV. The fear and distrust that pervades the city is also apparent in the vandalism of Farhad’s store and the insults he and his family are subjected to because they look like Arabs.

There are no innocent characters, however, and Farhad is shown to be as guilty of racism when he accuses locksmith Daniel Ruiz, a Latino, of being a thief when the latter refuses to fix the lock of his store because the entire door needs to be repaired. This scene parallels the paranoia of Jean Cabot who sees Daniel as a “gangbanger” due to his racial background and also Detective Graham Waters’ attitude towards his partner and lover Ria, whom he insults by lumping her together with other “Latinos. ”

Likewise, the film manages to show how the issues of class and gender compound racist tendencies. Officer John Ryan, for instance, is able to assert his white male supremacy and mocks upperclass african-american Christine Thayer by sexually assaulting her in front of her husband Cameron. In another scene, the impoverished John Ryan, has to confront another colored woman on his frustration over his father’s inability to be taken good care of by his HMO. This time, however, Ryan is framed as helpless despite his verbal attacks on the woman whom he insults as underserving of her position.

In the same manner, the plot of the film is framed in 36 hours, where a series of interconnected events result in the death of one of the characters, the emotional traumatization of many others, and the redemption of the initially more racist characters. Officer Ryan takes a drastic turnabout for instance, when he allows his humanity and honor to shine through in saving Christine Thayer from certain death when she figures in a car accident and he risks his life for her.

Ryan’s partner, however, who thinks of himself as a non-racist, is shown to be the real racist in the end when he ends up shooting Pater Waters, mistakenly thinking that the latter was about to pull a gun. Tom Hansen’s action therefore takes the film and its narrative full circle, where the single shot of his gun scars not only him but also the other characters who ultimately “crash” into each other at the discovery of Peter’s dead body.

The film, however, is ambiguous in its condemnation of the racism that runs deep within its characters. Its premise, of course, is that individual motives are influenced by varied and multi-dimensional aspects of life. Thus, the plot and the characters of the film may even reinforce the racial stereotypes, as “identities mediated through television and films are more often than not constructions narrowly conceived and construed in order to accommodate pre-conceived notions about race.

” Moreover, in the film, racism justifies the systematic violence on those perceived to be racially inferior by those who view themselves as privileged, and the film’s lack of a clear standpoint and indignation on Peter’s death somehow obscures the killer’s guilt instead of provoking its viewers to examine the effect that systemic and institutionalized racism has on their lives.

Works Cited

: Baez, Benjamin. “Agency, Structure, and Power: An Inquiry into Racism and Resistance for Education.“ Studies in Philosophy and Education, 19, 2000: 329-348. Beeman, Angie K. “Emotional segregation: A Content Analysis of Institutional Racism in US Films, 1980-2001. ” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30 (5). 2007:687 – 712 Boyd, Melba Joyce. “Collateral Damages Sustained in the Film Crash. ” Souls, 9(3), 2007: 253 – 265 Feagin, Joe R. Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations. New York: Routledge, 2000. Haggis, Paul. “Crash. ” 2004.

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