I’m sure that by now the writer of the headline calling The Best Man Holiday a "race-themed" movie is either embarrassed or incensed-- one of the two ways that White folks deal with privilege when called out. I don’t care. After all, White folks should teach White folks about their racism. Any race work I do will be in the project of decolonization-- which is why I’d like to consider the possibility that USA Today actually had a point. What if movies with racially homogeneous casts are actually insidiously race-themed? What if we accept that the “universal” is just a code for Whiteness and take the term off some shelf we long to reach? Can we acknowledge the race-themed movies we may show our children over this break when couches will be full of cousins and the television will be helping all of us forget about the 700+ who occasion the turkey?
Charlie Brown and his friends aren’t from my universe, but they will be on ABC Thanksgiving night. This racially-themed show is about a group of White youth who navigate the cruelty of adolescent hierarchy (a Eurocentric framework that is the basis of many racially themed movies). Charlie Brown is a boy who humiliates himself for the sake of finding friends because in his community, cousins and extended family are devalued for the sake of individualism. This peculiar community also imports a Black friend from a house far away and they integrate him into their White tribe by allowing him to sit alone on one side of the Thanksgiving table. Finally, Charlie Brown’s community and those like it also believe their dogs can talk. This is sure to be a classic in the ‘burbs.
For the parents, NBC will be airing a racially-themed show on Thanksgiving night: Saturday Night Live. This ensemble of White and racially ambiguous cast members (which features the once-a-decade incorporation of a Black male comedian, whether funny or not) try their hand at sketch comedy in a live show. Since 2001, the best part of the show has been the end—especially if the musical guest is talented. This culture values humor about presidents, sex and fat people, even at the expense of fat and clinically-depressed cast members.
You could also take your children to the movies. Frozen is Disney’s newest racially-themed film about its favorite obsession: white royal families in turmoil. In this film in which none of the main characters turn into animals, Princess Anna learns that a sister’s love is more powerful than any man’s. Since feminists started blogging, the movie company has been trying to create characters young White girls can believe in—girls whose strength and motive will can delay marriage until after the credits roll. They have created such a character while reinforcing White cultural values in regards to nature- which is always depicted as an enemy.
Thursday is also about White imaginations of the enemy, as Thanksgiving is a White commemoration of racially charged violence. In White culture, violence, theft, and consumerism are celebrated with turkey and pickled cranberry. Sara Josepha Hale first suggested an American feast in 1946 in hopes that the country could avoid a Civil War by passing the stuffing. Later, Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday before he declared black people national citizens (pop quiz: which declaration has been enforced?). Later, educators sought to “Americanize” all willful immigrants by teaching the myth of the friendly meal between Pilgrims and Wampanoags. The company line was that all Americans immigrants; some just arrived before others. The holiday gifted whiteness and nationalism to young, impressionable children who begged their parents to roast turkeys. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade offered another national distraction from the slain and disenfranchised, as families planned to spend large sums of money to celebrate the birth of an impoverished martyr.
The real history of this national holiday reminds me that though I’m corrupted by my complicity with its values, this (white) universe is not my own. Since April, I have been trying to hold the pieces of myself together around the jagged wound of the lost ones, but their universe makes no room for its ghosts. They don pilgrim hats and plan shopping trips without grieving for the 700+ who were slain. Their holiday’s gift of American Whiteness was built against us, not for us. “We” are not all immigrants. Some of us had no choice; others of us were here before those who laid claim to the entire universe arrived. They can keep it. You can find me at a race-themed film.