Is ‘American History X’ Still Repeating?

Just rewatched this powerful 1999 film on Netflix, whose message on the senselessness of racial hate remains as relevant as ever in the light of Charlottesville’s white supremacist rallies (2017). AHX tells of how the insecure, frustrated and impressionable are recruited by Neo-Nazis, to point fingers at all non-whites (blacks, browns and yellows) for their suffering. Brainwashed to see ‘all others’ as social parasites, they have obviously forgotten how America was built up by, as is being sustained by so many migrant races.  

It is severely short-sighted to condemn simply by race. Are all social problems race-related? Yes, of course – but only because we all have races! Some racists are quick to jump to the conclusion that all non-whites can do no good; that they can only be trouble. (Are the demonisers not the demons?) Well, if any single race is purely wicked, it would have destroyed itself inside out already! Hardcore racists are the ones who perpetuate hate crimes too, though this is not a purely white issue. Racists do come in all colours! 

‘High’ crime rates of some races are often due to social inequities – disparities in power and wealth, leading to discrimination, poverty, lack of affordable housing and education. The more crimes there are, the more efforts should there be to look into how to create greater equanimity. Of course, crime is wrong, but it is also wrong to neglect what causes it. There is also the problem of potential, if not actual racial prejudice in the judicial system. Why are there so many blacks in prison? Whites do harm whites and others too.  

The more unfair stereotyping there is, the more is hatred generated on both sides, instead of mutual-understanding and empathy. Of course, not all of any race are guilty for trouble, just as not all of any race are not. We are flawed because we are merely humans; not because of race. On immigration of the helpless, if we hope we can depart for better places, why should others not have this hope too? (Even all the earliest whites in America were migrants.) Is embrace and aid of those in need not what makes us truly human? 

AHX tells of the dangers of entering and even leaving a hate gang, which might spur vengeance for ‘betrayal’. It is a cautionary tale not to join in the first place. What made the lead character Derek quit being a Neo-Nazi was after being jailed with many blacks for ‘manslaughter’. At their mercy, he tasted the dread of being a minority. But he was never harmed by any black in his stay. He was instead assaulted by Neo-Nazis, who were displeased when he questioned their hypocritically shady deals with another race.

The true turning point was when Derek befriended a chatty fellow black prisoner, with whom he had to work together. Lamont helped Derek to recognise the equally human nature of blacks. He realised that while some whites blame blacks for much, many blacks suffer from being maligned by whites. Lamont himself was a victim, being charged extra, for a crime he did not commit. All it took was one act of kindness, of being befriended by one of another race, for Derek to realise the great folly of his previous racist ways. 

There is a moving scene, when Derek was about to leave prison, when he thanks Lamont, ‘The only reason I am getting out in one piece is you… I owe you, man.’ Lamont replies incredulously, ‘Man, you don’t owe me shit, alright?’ Derek insists, ‘Yes, I do.’ And they fist bump brotherly. It struck Derek that all his past racist hatred in word and deed did not make anything better for anyone. He was merely anger-venting destructively. Truly, hatred is dangerous and useless. Why keep carrying the burden of hate in this short life?

The move ends with the last words of Lincoln’s first inaugural address, the day after which, unfortunately, civil war broke out – ‘We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory… when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’ As the Buddha taught, we are noble not by birth, but by what we do after birth. We are and must be noble humans first. Race and religion come later.

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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