The movie, “The Defiant Ones” was produced by Stanley Kramer and released in 1958. It cast Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as one black and one white, who while chained together, escaped when being transported to prison. Shackled together and in total distrust of one another, they slowly and reluctantly had to set aside their bigotry and hatred toward each other in order to survive and avoid capture. As a twelve-year-old, the movie had a profound effect on me, for in the duos’ attempted flight to freedom, their intolerance and contempt for one another slowly evolved to endurance and courtesy and then to friendship and mutual respect.
I come from a family that endured ethnic and sexual discrimination, the former bigotry because my mom was a first generation Greek-American who married a blond, blue-eyed man of Western European descent who was related to one of the founding families of America, and the latter, because she was born into a family whose patriarch decisively favored his male heir who could continue to bear the family name.
Because of my parents’ exposure to social injustice and their having a challenged daughter, they were intolerant of any form of bigotry, and ensured my sister and I were raised to respect people for what was in their hearts and minds. They based their opinions of others solely on one’s actions and demeanor, rather than on their words or what others had to say of them. Honor, dignity, empathy and trustworthiness, not color, gender, ethnicity, religion or wealth were the guidelines they used to measure one’s worth. Dad was especially intolerant of those who were discriminatory toward people of color, for as a young man he traveled the world as a ship’s mate and measured a “man’s” character by his courage, virtue, humility, integrity and work ethic. Perhaps another contributing factor for my father’s inability to associate one’s worthiness by color was due to the fact that he was an Anomalous Trichromat: A person who is partially colorblind.
To ensure their children understood the extent of racism and discrimination in America, my parents would take us to see movies that exposed the inexcusable actions of those who failed to treat their “fellow man” equally. In 1962, I was mesmerized by the movie, “No Man is an Island” starring Jeffrey Hunter as a U.S. navy radio man trapped on the island of Guam during WWII. Alone and hunted by the Japanese for three years, he was befriended and protected by the local residents, whom at first, he distrusted and despised because of fear, racism, bigotry and misconceptions. But he later learned to respect and love his protectors. He grew to realize that they were not inferior, but his equal in bravery, integrity, empathy and honor.
In 1964, our family went to the drive-in theater to see the movie, “Black Like Me,” starring James Whitmore. The movie was based on a true story of a reporter who, during the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties, through a series of treatments, had his skin pigmentation darkened in order to encounter the realities of a black man experiencing life in the segregated south. Degraded and humiliated by those of his white race that he encountered in his journey of enlightenment, he exposed the bigotry of those who expressed contempt and disdain toward people of color they believed were inferior in every manner. In doing so, he reminded us that all “men,” although created equally, were not accepted and treated as equals.
Although some found the movie offensive, others were motivated to join the Civil Rights Movement to bring to light and rectify the injustices inflicted upon our fellow Americans simply because of the color of their skin. “The Defiant Ones” illustrated that color and hatred are born out of ignorance and fear and that friendship and respect are earned and need not be limited to one’s color. Both screenplays sublimely emphasized that compassion and the goodness of “mankind” should have no racial, cultural, ethnic, gender or religious boundaries.
It was not unusual for movies in the fifties to show news clips between matinee features depicting the atrocities of WWII and the genocide inflicted upon an entire race, as well as on dissidents, those considered physically and mentally inferior, people of different ethnicity and color, and allied soldiers. The films also showed the brave men and woman who fought to rid the world of such tyrants in order to safeguard “mankind” from itself and to free the world of those who wished to destroy entire civilizations. Although shown in black and white, I only noticed brave and honorable uniformed soldiers who freed the concentration camp victims, never noticing or differentiating if they or the camp survivors differed in color or ethnicity.
My upbringing, the lessons learned from the above movies, and my time spent in various academic institutions and military environments taught me no “man” can truly thrive on his own, and our survival, happiness and quality of life depends on our interactions with others. And, when we need another to watch our back, color, race, religion, ethnicity and gender are of no concern.
According to the New World Dictionary, Racialism is defined as: “A doctrine or feeling of racial antagonisms with preference to supposed racial superiority or purity; racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination.” According to American Century Dictionary, Discrimination is defined as: “To treat unfavorably or favorably, especially on the basis of race, gender, etc…” No member of our human race should be hostile toward or feel supreme to any other “fellow man” simply because of one’s color, faith or sex.
According to the New World Dictionary, Pigmentation is defined as: “The natural coloring due to pigment in the tissue.” So, in essence, men and women have evolved of different color simply due to their body’s adjustment to the environments of their country of origin. So, when we are racists and discriminate by one’s coloring, we do so simply because people of color were born in a different environment. Therefore, in being a racist, we display bigotry not just against a “man” but against an entire race, as well as the geographical piece of land from where one originated.
We live in a world of uncertainty, divisiveness, civil unrest, and dramatic climatic change. Considering the brief period in time that humans have existed on our planet, if not careful, our Phylum (social group within the “Animal Kingdom”) may be unable to adequately adapt to avoid extinction. If we continue to be discriminatory towards one another, proceed to inflict pain on those who we perceive as different, and persist to engage in conflicts simply because of color, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, cultural and ideological differences, we will continue to be a divided nation and a non-integrated world. Fear, ignorance, and hostility will continue to prevail. Our inability to bond together coupled with our inability to preserve our environment may very well result in “mankind’s” unfitness to survive as the dominant species on our planet.
Most members of the human race seek the same in our brief existence: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Our founding fathers believed this when they signed our Declaration of Independence, although some failed to apply this to all people at the time who lived within our great country.
But we have evolved as a nation. If we think with our minds and feel with our hearts, deep within our souls, we must truly know most sane people of this planet share the same desires and fears; that one’s ability to seek fulfillment and true happiness should never be impaired by the pigmentation of one’s skin, genetics, gender, religion or ethnicity.
So, when you think of your fellow man, think of yourself of being of a dissimilar color or sex, a different origin or faith, ask yourself, how you would feel if others feared you simply because you differed from them. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Would you want to be feared and disrespected simply because you differed in appearance and in your beliefs from the majority of people with whom you live, associate and work with on a daily basis?
Author Guy Harrison in his book titled, “Race and Reality,” stated, “According to the U.S. National Genome Research Institute, all humans today are 99.9% identical.” If correct, then anger, fear and disrespect towards our fellow “man” begins at birth, as does the misconception that one’s worthiness and intelligence correlates to the color of one’s skin. Should “mankind” one day face extinction, our ability to survive will not depend on our genetic make-up or our indifference towards one another, but instead will be entrusted to our ability to cooperate and coexist.
In order to remain the dominant species on our planet we must note that no one will remain standing if any among us believe they are superior to others.