On Sunday, I went to see Django Unchainedwith my brother. It’s a great movie, one of Tarantino’s best in my opinion, and there’s a lot I could say about it. However, one particular thing has stuck in my mind the last few days.
As I ate dinner with my brother after the the movie, conversation turned to the portrayal of racism in the movie. Of course, there’s slavery – the “unchained” part of the title is a reference to Django becoming a free man. Beyond that, though, are the frequent, overtly racist reactions to Django’s freedom: His riding of a horse, the clothes he chooses for himself, his treatment by slaves (“I should treat him like a white man?” – “NO!”). In true satire form, the racism is often portrayed hyperbolically, such as when a band of proto-KKKers have an extended horseback grouse session about the poorly cut eye-holes in their hoods and how it will affect their ability to lynch the eponymous hero.
Such scenes are obviously meant to be uncomfortably humorous while incisively pointing at the historical veracity of the racism it mocks. Racism in the mid-19th century was both casual and deeply institutional, and it remained so for a very long time. Many people believe it still is, and the U.S. Supreme Court continues to hear arguments on affirmative action, and various advocacy groups attempt to address myriad topics of racial concern.
Like nearly all modern enlightened Northeasterners, I’d like to think that had I lived in the 1850s and ’60s, I would’ve been sophisticated enough to support not only abolition, but also equal rights for people of all ethnic backgrounds. Statistics say I probably wouldn’t have been quite that liberal (in the classical sense), but hey, maybe I’m exceptional. And let’s not confuse the issue by bringing up women, homosexuals or other minority groups….
But I don’t live in the 1850s and ’60s. I live now. And at this time, I’m forced to ask myself the question my brother asked the other day over barbecue burgers and cajun pasta: What ridiculous attitudes do we have today that people will people look back in, oh, 150 years or so with uncomfortable humor and say, “Yeah, but they really thought and spoke like that”?
There are plenty of options to choose from. The country is still feeling the pain of the Sandy Hook shootings, and not a lot of people have new answers to help ease it, myself included (although I still think we need to make sure we don’t let crazy assholes define us). If that’s too raw, there’s always Obamacare (“Really?” I hear children of the future asking, “That’s what they called it?!”). And if that’s too tiresome, we can just wait for the next big snowstorm or heat wave when advocates on either side of the climate change debate will claim proof positive of their position.
Looking at these and various other issues, however, it seems to me that there’s one which stands out as being the heir of slavery and its racist remnants. Specifically, I’m referring to open-border immigration.
I don’t intend to make a full argument here, but at first blush there are a lot of similarities between current immigration laws and slavery. Here’s a few points to consider:
- Many, if not most, conversations about immigration are argued from an “us vs. them” perspective, in which “they” are somehow inherently different from “us.”
- A person has no more control over where they are born than what skin color they are born with.
- Those who are allowed into the U.S. legally often are treated as having a different set of rights than those who are born here (at least until they are naturalized as citizens)
- For the most part, those who come here illegally are chastised and sent back to where they came from once they are caught. (Dred Scott, anyone?)
- Having strict immigration laws forces people in poorer parts of the world to live at much lower standards.
Again, these points aren’t intended to be complete arguments. They are generalizations, and undoubtedly each one has nuances that will need to be taken into consideration. But when considering issues about which we argue from mostly blind ignorance and which have a severe impact on a lot of people…I’m hard pressed to come up with another one that comes closer.
I’ll probably have more to say about this, but I’ll leave on this final note: According to Gallup, most people think immigration should be kept at current levels or decreased. Support for increasing immigration has gone up somewhat over the last few years, but it’s still a long way from becoming a majority opinion. Support for abolition was low at the beginning of the 19th century, but it climbed steadily, culminating in Lincoln’s election, civil war and so forth. Is the growing support for more immigration a move toward having completely open borders? Maybe, maybe not. As we all know, the U.S. has a lot of other stuff on its plate right now….
And in 150 years, maybe our descendants will be mocking us for being so easily distracted and not seeing the thing that’s so uncomfortably and hilariously obvious.