I was talking with my artist friend, Ginnie Assenza, earlier today when we discovered we had something in common: We both grew up without racism. We also just so happened to talk about Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (Kramer, 1967) — but we were talking about the film in terms of its comedic elements, and not once did racism even come up.
A few hours later, I saw Time film critic Richard Schickel’s obituary posted online. Saddened, I was, of course, as he was one of the greats; however, I couldn’t help but notice that his obit contained this excerpt from his review for Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner:
“Where to begin discussing the ineptitude with which the nightmare is realized on screen. …Kramer is earnestly preaching away on matters that have long since ceased to be true issues.”
Can you imagine making such a statement today? These are the days of #BlackLivesMatter, #OscarsSoWhite, and other #RacialJustice hashtags. Heck, if Schickel were alive today to write that same review, he’d be told his opinions would have to be discounted due to his #whiteprivilege.
Was Schickel wrong back in 1967, or have racial issues worsened over the past fifty years? If they have worsened, what accounts for the backsliding? Well, when Ginnie and I were talking, both of us remembered the circumstances in which we first became aware of race. For both of us, it wasn’t even until we were adults. Furthermore, for both of us, the source of this awareness was the same: Others.
Other people in our lives pointed out that we were anomalies. It wasn’t that we were blissfully ignorant of the issue; it was that we literally didn’t see an issue. What was there to see?
Personally, looking back, I now see that my white Polish grandfather owned a grocery store in a predominantly black neighborhood in NW Indiana. That’s how they’d describe it today. However, back then, we just said my grandpa owned a grocery store. It just was. It was normal. It was a grocery store; it was not a racial statement. Why would it be?
We were both in our late 20s when Ginnie and I were told that race was supposed to be an issue. Up until that point, neither of even noticed a person’s race at all. Not once. We now both feel robbed that the “Others” have told us how to remember our childhoods. I want to go back to when I didn’t know there was an issue. I want to go back to when there was no difference.
(PHOTO CREDIT: Los Angeles Times)