On BigHollywood I once shared my thoughts on the movie Glory and how Col. Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the 54th Mass., was an example of a post-racial man in his day – indeed he went to his death for his belief in the rights of the free Black men under his command with whom he shared a common grave.
One of my favorite characters in this film was Sergeant-Major Rawlins, played by the esteemed actor Morgan Freeman. Rawlins, a grave-digger before enlisting in the Union army, is presented as an older, wiser and honest man whom the others look up to…and Shaw himself leans on for counsel. Perhaps the best scene in the film is the altercation between Rawlins and the embittered and recalcitrant Private Silas Tripp (Denzel Washington). Rawlins berates Tripp harshly after Tripp derides his compliance with the chain of command, in which only Whites were allowed to be officers, as making him a “…n****r…nothing but the White man’s dog.” Rawlins then bitch-slaps Tripp across the face and stings him with these words of wisdom and caution:
“And what are you? So full of hate you just want to go out and fight everybody. Because you’ve been whipped and chased by hounds. Well that may not be living but it sure as hell ain’t dying. And dying’s what these white boys been doing for going on three years now. Dying by the thousands. Dyin’ for you, fool! I know ’cause I dug the graves. And all the time I’m digging I’m asking myself when, oh Lord, when’s it gonna be our time? Well our time’s comin’ when we gonna have to ante up. Ante up and kick in like men…like men! So you watch who you call a n****r. If there’s any n****rs around here it’s you. A smart mouth, stupid-ass, swamp-running n****r. And if you ain’t careful that’s all you ever gonna be!”
What I like(d) about Morgan Freeman besides his acting is that, until recently, I felt this Rawlins mentality was not far from that of the actor who portrayed him. Rawlins was a man who, though clearly the victim of racism himself, would not allow race to be an excuse for failure. And thus I thought Freeman to be a post-racial man and disparaging of those who view the world through the prism of color.
Consider this excerpt from a 2005 interview with Mike Wallace when the actor exposes the hypocrisy of the 60 Minutes journalist for his condescending attitude towards Blacks that is so common among the white-guilt ridden liberal elite…even as they remain oblivious to their own racism that is just as pernicious if not more so than that of a klansman because of its very subtly. Mike Wallace asked Freeman his thoughts on so-called Black History Month:
Freeman: “You’re gonna relegate my history to a month?”
Wallace: “Oh come on–“
Freeman: “What do you do with yours? What month is ‘white history month’?”
Wallace: [Uncomfortable hemming and hawing.] “Well…”
Freeman: “No, come on.”
Wallace: [Uncomfortable noises. Waves away notion with sweep of hand] “I’m Jewish.”
Freeman: “Okay. Which month is ‘Jewish history month’?”
Wallace: “There isn’t one.”
Freeman: “Oh…Oh…why not? Do you want one?”
Wallace: [rather emphatic] “No, no, no I don’t–“
Freeman: “Alright. I don’t either. I don’t want a ‘Black history month.’ Black history is American history.”
Wallace: “How are we going to get rid of racism until–“
Freeman: “Stop talking about it. I’m gonna stop calling you a ‘white man.’ And I’m gonna ask you to stop calling me a ‘black man.’ I know you as Mike Wallace and you know me as Morgan Freeman. I’m not gonna say ‘I know this white guy named Mike Wallace.’ You know what I’m saying?”
Freeman has also offered these assessments of race relations in the USA that often flies in the face of the liberal narrative. In an interview with Chris Matthews, he said this:
“If we know we have to live together then we should be making positive moves in that direction all the time…[Regarding race relations] We seem to be way ahead of a lot of other places in the world.”
I am not saying that Mr. Freeman hasn’t seen his share of racial bigotry over the years. As Ali Akbar alluded to in his letter inviting him to attend a Tea Party meeting, the fact that the Tennessee-born Freeman is in his seventies makes it almost impossible for him to have avoided being on the receiving end of race hatred at some point in his life in the America of Jim Crow and segregation. But this very experience, and his rise to astounding success despite of it, is what made Freeman all the more an appealing ambassador of racial harmony in the here and now…or even better, just an advocate of us living together without attaching labels to one another at all.
But, alas, that was then. I’m not sure what he puts in his coffee these daya but in his recent interview with Piers Morgan, Mr. Freeman reveals that, while apparently it is impolitic for Whites to inject race into the national conversation as he so correctly admonished Wallace for doing, it is quite alright for Mr. Freeman to slap down the race card when it promotes his own political agenda which apparently is to elect Barack Obama to a second term. And, as has become so cliché now, he levels charges of racism (*yawn*) at the Tea Party and the GOP as a whole for daring to make it their mission to end in November what they consider to be a failed presidency. Says Freeman:
“The tea partiers who are controlling the Republican party…their stated policy, publicly stated, is to do whatever it takes to see to it that Obama only serves one term. What underlies that? Screw the country, we’re going to do whatever we can to get this black man out of here…It is a racist thing.”
Is this even the same man I quoted earlier? When Piers Morgan fairly points out that the opposition would be to any Democratic president, Freeman brushes that aside, saying that if that were the case they would have gotten rid of Bill Clinton if they could have. Piers Morgan retorts that they in fact tried. Freeman’s only answer was: “They did try. But still…” Still what? There’s your answer right there.
This shows a man displaying a selective memory that is hardly color-blind. I think Bill Clinton might have a different take on how badly the opposition wanted him gone, White or not…after all, Clinton, not Obama, is the one who was impeached.
So much for “stop talking about it.” Does Mr. Freeman then, if I may borrow from his own words, see Barack Obama as a president, or does he see him as Black president? Clearly it would seem that he views Mr. Obama as the latter for once again he offers up the default Obama apologist position that opposition to the president’s policies is not a legitimate position, thus must the explanation lie not in reason but rather in what he calls: “The weak, dark underside of America. We’re supposed to be better than that.”
He offers that the affirmation of this better non-racial America was the source of the weeping and bizarre rapture that accompanied Obama’s election. But, now, he suggests, those who oppose him are racists, surfacing and stirring, in his words, like “muddy water.” So be on guard; if you oppose Obama, you are but muddy water. Filthy sludge. You got that Herman Cain? Unbelievable.
Morgan Freeman is a truly gifted actor and a highly intelligent man who has starred brilliantly in a litany of my all-time favorite films from Glory to The Shawshank Redemption, to Unforgiven, just to name a few. But I think when it comes to race relations he is doing a disservice to his country and his own people (I guess we can put his race back on the table after all, 60 Minutes reprimands notwithstanding). He has resorted to the ugly charge of racism because things are not going his way on the political scene. This is all the more disappointing because in this country today we have very real divisions, the roots of which stem from diametrically opposing visions of what sort of nation we wish to be in the future. The last thing we need is to stoke the fires of unsubstantiated race-baiting when it is policy, not pigment, that is at the heart of the growing opposition to Barack Obama’s presidency.
I would have thought that Mr. Freeman of all people could see that.