The month that went by: February. February? A month to celebrate love. A month to celebrate birthdays. A month to celebrate the queer, newly invented traditions that make us feel like every character, every trivial happening in our lives have a day bestowed to it. Amidst all these various days in a month dedicated to your dog, books or hugs or thoughts, we have the Black History Month, February.
What started off as a “Negro History Week” in the 1926 became the “Black History Month”. What is seldom known though is that the rich and the archaic history of the blacks was never deemed worthy enough to document or mention in the years to come until the 20th century, though they’ve been dwelling in America since the colonial times. Nearing the end of this month, I felt it would be the ideal time to touch upon this tradition trying to reflect on the issues of race and religion, that’s been lost in an era of indifference, leftist extremism and a sanctimonious display of character by the majority.
We owe the inception of The Black History Month and the revival of Black history to Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Slavery was a part and parcel of his life as it was to a majority of the coloured people back then and I might add, though slavery has been uprooted, we have discrimination to take it's place. I want to celebrate this tradition (I’m just following the herd with blinkers) by writing about one of my all time favorite classics “Driving Miss Daisy”, a film by Bruce Beresford starring the legendary actors, Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy, which brings accurate relevance to the issue of racism.
In spite of being made in 1989, the characters and the story wear shoes whose sizes can be altered to fit the current predicament of the Gen Y. Set in the serene backdrop of Atlanta, Mrs. Daisy Werthan is a white, Jewish teacher in her 70’s whose immense wealth seems more of a reason to cower in embarrassment rather than wearing it. Age does little in deterring this woman, not just physically but also, mentally. One would think she had a spine made of steel, for bending her is as futile. A minor car crash forms a gaping hole in her stride of continual independence. Boolie, her son decides to hire a chauffeur, Hoke: a black man, which only adds salt to her festering wounds and impedes her self – sufficiency. Several years of solely staring at her reflection in the mirror and occasionally that of Idella’s, her African-American help, makes her hostile in the company of somebody she’s forced to lean on. Her relationship with Idella doesn’t speak of the rigid hierarchy followed in majority of the households in the Southern region of the United States in the early 40’s nor do they share an overtly cozy relationship. Mrs Daisy manages to maintain the authoritarian stance over Idella drawing a thin line between two people who’ve lived together for the entirety of their adulthood as aliens ostracized in the society, and the professionalism maintained between them. The hiring of Hoke into her everyday life makes her more rebellious and stubborn but Hoke tactfully manages her unreasonable tantrums by not defying her wishes yet tailing her until she takes a detour and follows his pursuit. If she doesn’t want to be driven to Piggly Wiggly, then that is that. Hoke will not try feeding her with reasoning rather he’d just follow her by car to the supermarket. From such incidents, we come to realize that we must not mistake Hoke’s accommodating demeanor to be obsequious or ingratiating. He tactfully uses his infinite patience as a tool to mould her. With time passing in the blink of an eye, literally in this movie, we observe the transitional journey of two lives from 1948 with Hoke forcefully being pushed into the handicapped life of Mrs. Daisy to 1973 where two old people, one older than the other by some good 20 years find solace and camaraderie in each other’s company. Right through the movie, Mrs. Daisy portrays a façade of a righteous person impervious to prejudice when in actuality; her biased opinions are prominently inherent. However hard she tries to shield herself from such thoughts, they inadvertently show in the form of words or gestures which were welcomed with brutal distaste by Hoke.
One particular scene in the movie makes you wonder if the similarities between the two characters surpass the differences. While Hoke is driving Mrs. Daisy, they are stopped by two American police officers who treat Hoke with the disrespect a man of his age should never be welcomed with. Due to the age of Mrs. Daisy, they don’t persist. But, later, you will come to realize that Hoke and Mrs. Daisy were victims to racial discrimination, her being a Jew and him being a man of colour. In spite of Mrs. Daisy claiming to be a self proclaimed Southern Jewish liberal, she fails to see the stark connections between the atrocities committed against her race and her African-American driver. She lives her life under the fixed notion that “change” is happening when in reality she herself is bound by the shackles of prejudice. Much of the 25 years spent together, was Hoke trying to make Mrs. Daisy see these trivial yet crucial things that played an active hand in shaping her view of the world.
Rather than showing macabre violence to portray discrimination, the director has used mere simplicity and a story line in all it’s genuineness that centers around an odd couple who try desperately to break the superficiality in each other into senility. They discover the most coveted gift in the end: The gift of transparency.
That’s exactly what we lack: The gift of transparency. Had we found this same coveted gift, there wouldn’t be a Black History Month or any other month designated for a cause that must be imprinted in our minds permanently and not be sent as reminders in the form of celebrated months or days. The demarcation of a month exclusively for Black history in itself, is a form of racism. The main factor elevating racism is the constant talk on racism that fills the minds of the people with preconceived notions and fervent beliefs of opinions which cement their views on the issue.
This narrows a tremendously broad and welcoming mind and stunts the inward flow of thoughts. 30 years later and here we are, still battling racism with the help of the months in a year. We claim to be constantly changing with our minds modifying in accordance to the times but in reality, are we too, just another “Mrs. Daisy” to the endless list? If so, it’s high time we set out in pursuit of our “Hoke”.
They say movies are works of pure fiction. I say that the very same fiction is an adulterated extract of the reality!
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