Mom watched “Star Trek” on MeTV Network. “It’s scary,” she said.
“We’ve been watching that since I was a kid. It’s not scary to me,” I said.
Mom smiled. “I saw ‘Star Trek’ once with Aggie in Atlantic City. It’s scary.”
Maybe so. My son just started getting me into “Boardwalk Empire,” and I was still resonating from my summer Moral Movie experiences—so I changed the subject. “Did we spend the summer in Atlantic City the year Johnson was nominated for president?”
Mom can’t remember her grandchildren’s names, but she can tell me the names of her high-school teachers if she’s in the right mood. So it’s not as silly a question as it sounds.
I probed: “1964? The convention was in Atlantic City. There were protests outside Boardwalk Hall by black delegates from Mississippi.”
“Oh, them people,” she said.
Sure, it’s a racist comment. But Mom’s racist. Less racist than her mom, who was probably a little less racist than her mom. I’m probably a little less racist than my mom, and hopefully my kids will be less racist than me. Racism isn’t black and white, and it didn’t disappear with the end of the Civil War, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, or the election of an African-American president. It’s gonna take time. Evolution time. “Star Trek” time.
If you don’t believe racism still haunts and harms us, you haven’t noticed Michael Peroutka, this year’s candidate for Anne Arundel, Maryland District 5 County Council. He’s not an eccentric independent, adding color to a low-impact local election. He won a major-party primary in the wealthiest, whitest county in Maryland. He’s a former board member still active in the League of the South. Like the group, he explicitly supports secession and white supremacy, and of course firmly bases his beliefs on biblical principles.
As well, you haven’t noticed the Michael Brown shooting and rioting near St. Louis, Missouri. You haven’t noticed our defacto segregated public school system, or our economically stratified, mostly segregated neighborhoods. You’ve forgotten UNCW track star Brent Campbell’s graceful response to racist threats last year. And you haven’t watched “Freedom Summer,” the documentary chronicling civil rights struggles of Mississippi in 1964.
I saw “Freedom Summer” thanks to Wilmington’s Working Films. Because of my mom, I may have been a small part of it. The 1964 Democratic National Convention was held in Atlantic City, NJ, on August 24th through 27th. There’s at least a chance my mom strolled my brother and I on the boardwalk one of the evenings—past Convention Hall, smoking about a dozen Marlboro’s, eating hard candy, and feeding us Salt Water taffy. If she saw protests, she probably steered us away and muttered something about “them people”—them people being the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP).
It’s unfair to thank only Working Films, the NC Justice Project, the NAACP, and the Black Arts Alliance for exposing me to the story of how the MFDP made the trip from Mississippi, and refused to compromise when “The Man” offered them a token seat in the balcony for their trouble. It’s in large part the regressive policies of our state that keep racism and economic exploitation from being history that made the Moral Monday movement and the Moral Movie series necessary.
Economic inequality and racism often ride together. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was part of the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, and he was killed while organizing the Poor People’s Campaign to advocate for an economic Bill of Rights. In 1968 he opined that one legacy of slavery is our ability to tolerate poverty among all races:
“A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will ‘thingify’ them…exploit them and poor people generally economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.”
MLK’s words do seem prescient. Maybe Mom is right: “Star Trek” is still scary. An American country doctor, a gay Japanese helmsman, a Russian weapons officer, and a Scottish engineer exploring the universe together? Uhura, an African-American communications officer? The episode where Captain Kirk and Uhura kiss must have scared the hell out of people in the ‘60s. Apparently, it still does.
If the future doesn’t scare you, learn a little about the past. Watch “Freedom Summer.” According to Working Films there’s an online social screening Wednesday, August 20th, at this link: https://ovee.itvs.org/screenings/nxqgc.