Strong Words, Wrong Sentiment

“Black folks can’t be racist. White folks invented that s***.” -Spike Lee Ladies and Gentlemen, your MLK Day All-School Meeting speaker, Mr. Spike Lee! As the anticipation of Spike Lee’s arrival on January 18 continues to build, what I’ve heard most students saying around campus probably isn’t what CAMD was hoping for when they booked Mr. Lee months ago, many students are eagerly anticipating Lee’s arrival because they think it will be hilarious. If he has any quotes like the one above, I know for a fact that I’ll be rolling around laughing on the Chapel floor. Lee’s career to this point has always revolved around the issue of race. “Anyone who thinks we move in a post-racial society,” Spike Lee once said, “is someone who’s been smoking crack.” I would agree with his point here, and I think many others would as well. But if Spike Lee, a 52-year-old filmmaker, feels the authority to declare whatever he wants as truth, then put me on the record with the following: “Anyone who thinks that only white people can be racist is someone who’s been sniffing glue and smoking crystal meth!” Who’s the druggie now, Spike? I can’t take Spike Lee seriously when he makes race an issue even when it isn’t one. When Clint Eastwood released “Flags of Our Fathers” in 2006, Lee was quick to jump on the director for a lack of black soldiers in the film. It seemed like a good observation, except for the fact that the movie zeroed in on the soldiers featured in the famous flag-raising picture from Iwo Jima, an event in which black soldiers took no part. Eastwood was not afraid to defend himself. “Has he ever studied his history?” was Eastwood’s response. “If I go ahead and put an African-American actor in there, people’d go: ‘This guy’s lost his mind.’ I mean, it’s not accurate.” And he’s right. Only a small detachment of African American soldiers were sent to Iwo Jima (fewer than 900 actually), and all of them served as part of a munitions crew, rather than on the front lines of combat. If the movie had been titled “The Munitions Units of Iwo Jima” and starred Brad Pitt alongside Jude Law, then I’d be agreeing with Mr. Lee on this one. But it wasn’t. You shouldn’t completely change history just because the guys in this particular case were white. It is Lee’s comments in these types of situations that prevent me from seeing him as anything more than a joke. And when the criticism turns on Lee, it’s almost as if he’s surprised. It is as though he can say whatever he wants about other people, but no one has the right to accuse him of the same thing. Following his 1990 film “Mo’ Better Blues”, Lee was confronted as being anti-Semitic due to the extreme racial stereotyping of two Jewish club owners in the film who constantly exploit black musicians. The criticism immediately put him on the defensive. “In the history of American music, have there not been Jewish people exploiting black musicians? In the history of music? How is that being stereotypical?” Lee couldn’t be any more hypocritical. Just as there were some Jews who exploited blacks in the history of music, the history of World War II also included some units with only white soldiers. For some reason, Lee can only recognize one of these as truth. Spike Lee has made some great movies—they address issues of race in ways that spark discourse. However, a lot of what he says off the screen has caused me to question how seriously I should actually take him. Lee bubbles over with the “us against them” mentality. While I am more excited for his speech than I have been for any ASM speech in awhile, the fact that we have chosen him to serve as the face of our Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations pains me. It just doesn’t seem fitting. It seems like the equivalent of booking Rush Limbaugh to speak on the Fourth of July—Limbaugh may think that he represents what America is all about, but in reality he’s too thick to realize he has got it all wrong. While Mr. Lee may think he’s moving the work of Dr. King forward, I honestly don’t think quotations like the one at the beginning of this article do anything but push it backwards. I’m don’t want to put words into the mouth of the most famous civil rights activist of all time, but I think were he still around today, Dr. King might agree with me. Billy Fowkes is four-year Senior from Woburn, MA and a Features Editor for The Phillipian.