Sunday, December 11, 2005

Semi-incoherent ramblings on Crash

I finally saw Crash last night, the movie that was unexpectedly popular as an unapologetic look at race relations in L.A. At a couple of points, I felt as though I should feel it was trying too hard to be a social lesson, with snippets of conversation that seemed like the screenwriters' voice rather than the characters', and coincidences that turned its realism into fable. But I loved it – it entertained me, surprised me, moved me.

I have no insight on race issues, and no real desire to enter the fray. I've seen glimpses of subtle racism toward friends and strangers, and I've been the beneficiary of uncomfortable levels of preferential treatment as a guerita during my time in Mexico City, a place that often seems to value otherness above its own heritage. While Canada's racial tensions are quite different from the United States', they do exist, most commonly as a subtle undercurrent, but occasionally rising to the surface with racially motivated killings or Jewish schools and cemeteries vandalized, for example. I called bullshit on a couple of Canadians who told our Mexican friends that there is no racism in Canada, but their position fit better with the pervasive Mexican perception of Canada as a nice, polite country, and the US as the centre of all that is evil – though the worship of McDonalds, Friends reruns and Tommy Hilfiger knockoffs made that opinion something of a contradiction.

Crash provokes thoughts beyond race. Our jobs, our social class, our marital status, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, they all become indicators of who we are. We all do it - we slot people into categories and make assumptions and form expectations based on those categories. And we all fight against it – we want people to see us for who we really are, not for what category we fit into. Recognizing our tendency to apply generalizations to individuals can help us counteract that tendency. And a movie like Crash helps us step back and realize that as much as we want people to see us, to hear us, to touch us, we have the power to see, hear, and reach out to others as individuals.

The opening line is talking about L.A., but it transcends geography: “I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.” The hope suggested in Crash is that we can choose how we react when we crash into each other.