I wasn’t one of the first adults to read The Hunger Games. Several of my friends read them (because let’s face it, once you read the first book you immediately want to read the second and the third) long before I did. I wasn’t resisting reading them. It was just a matter of how much time I had to read for pleasure.
When I did finally sit down with the first book I was hooked within a very few pages. Before I reached the middle of the first book I felt like I knew all the characters personally, and I identified with several of them. Katniss – of course. Who doesn’t want to be the brave heroine? Also the mother who was paralyzed by grief and unable to act; even to take care of her own children. And then there was Rue. Yes, I identified with Rue. I used to be that clever little girl who couldn’t possibly beat the big kids, much less the grown ups, but who was able to do far more than anyone would have guessed.
After the movie was released I was reluctant to read much about it until I had a chance to see the it for myself. I wanted to experience it for myself and not be influenced by what others had to say about it – good or bad. I was surprised to see links in my Twitter feed to articles about racist Hunger Games fans, but I did not read the stories until after I saw the movie.
“Racist Hunger Games Fans Are Very Disappointed” said the headline. I couldn’t imagine what had disappointed these fans. I was stunned to see the comments from people saying that casting the role of Rue as a black girl had ruined the movie for them. Never mind that Rue is described in the book as having dark brown skin. Why in the world did her race matter? As far as I was concerned this girl had done a great job of capturing Rue’s strength and vulnerability. Yet, here were these comments about how wrong it was. Why? Wouldn’t it have been the same story if Rue had been a Latina or Native American or Korean?
I guess I thought I knew how prevalent and deeply ingrained racism is, but honestly I was shocked by these responses. A movie was ruined for you because someone who looked different from what you had pictured in your own mind was cast in the movie? Not different from the way they were described in the book (though some characters in the movie did look different from the way they were written, just not Rue); but different from the way your mind’s eye had pictured them. Really? What is wrong with you? What is wrong with us?
That was a good learning moment for me. It was a painful nauseating moment, but I needed to know. I’m not oblivious to racism. Of course it is all around me. Good grief, I live in Alabama. I just had no idea how pervasive racism was in people who otherwise seemed like regular people. I have been so naive. I have assumed that most people understood that basically all human beings are put together the same way and start out with more or less the same potential. I get that. I also get that I am a racist. My first reaction is not always noble and egalitarian, but I try to be as aware of it as I can and then to make choices about how I act based on what I know to be the truth and not on false information that has been passed on to me as truth.
I spout a lot about my desire for truth. We can’t work for change if we continue to pretend that lies are reality. It’s clear that there are many in this country, in the world, who want everyone they see in a positive light to be white. They are threatened by black skin. They think people with brown skin have minds more like children who need plenty of guidance than actual adults. They believe Asians (and let’s just lump them all together even though we are talking about vastly different languages and cultures) are all preternaturally intelligent and want to take over the world. Our world. Our white world.
This morning the following tweet appeared in my newsfeed, “Watching all the sexist and racist comments on
#madmen made me think how far we’ve come. Then I turned on the news.” Indeed.
Between this and the vicious attacks on women and our rights, I have been feeling like the mother in The Hunger Games. I am reeling with grief and I feel somewhat paralyzed to take any action. But at least I can speak out.
I am appalled by the blatant racism in this country. If being upset over the casting of a movie were the end of the story I would get over it fairly quickly, but it’s not the end. It is the proverbial tip of the iceberg – an iceberg that has precipitated murder. Let’s not kid ourselves. Shooting an unarmed teenager because you feel threatened by the color of his skin is murder.
I don’t get it. Where is this need to hate other people coming from? I know this need is not new, but what are the causes? People aren’t born that way. We notice differences. We are curious about the differences. But we don’t automatically hate the differences. Rogers and Hammerstein were right when they wrote we’ve “got to be carefully taught.”
Well if we can be taught to hate each other, then we can be taught not to hate each other. One way to learn not to hate is to get to know the person who is different from you. I’m not talking about knowing a list of facts about that person. I’m talking about knowing how they think as well as what they think and why they think that way.
It’s about time we figured out it simply is not about us and them. There is no them. There is only us. We are all part of the same group. Yes, even though we look different and think differently and speak differently. We are, in fact, all the same.
Today’s reading is Psalm 18: 2-7. “God is my rock.” This is the best news we could possibly have while living in this volatile, hate-filled world. God is the foundation upon which everything in my life is built. “I will call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, so shall I be saved from my enemies.” And how will God save me from my enemies? Maybe God can convince us we are actually friends.