The Issue Of Racial Discrimination In Films, Poems And Songs

In society today, “racial discrimination and prejudice are persistent issues that cannot be simply be erased”. Regardless of the improvements, we make within our society in terms of race, discrimination is an ongoing issue. The conflict with discrimination is evident when we look at the issue of racial discrimination. This is a recurring idea in films such as “12 years of a slave” by Steve McQueen, “The Help” by Tate Taylor, poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou and song “This is America” by Childish Gambino.

In 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen, the film is based off a true story and portrays the perils of racial discrimination through slavery. Racial discrimination is a significant idea seen throughout the film through the character Solomon Northup. The film begins with Northup being portrayed as a free African American man, however, he soon becomes captured and sold into slavery in Washington DC. Throughout the film, the audience sees flashbacks between Northup’s past, where he lived a content life as a free man, and the present, where he lives enslaved. When comparing these two situations we see how he is subjected to constant discrimination as a slave. This is shown through the way he is maltreated on the plantation. This created a sense of personal inferiority so that slaves 'know their place”. This is seen when Solomon Northup says “I don't want to survive. I want to live” This is said as a group of slaves are contemplating to fight their way to freedom but others have reservations as it would probably mean their deaths if they did decide to push through with it. Solomon, in despair, recalls his life as a free man just a few days ago. It is at this moment he says these words in the realization that there is a difference between being alive and actually living life. This also has a deeper meaning within society as we have the choice to be involved or live life with restrictions. As children, were told to live our dreams and do what makes us happy, but in adulthood we neglect our passions, follow rules and do what we’re told to do. But it's always our choice in which path we follow. These slaves have been deprived of this right, once again proving to us about how he is constantly subjected to racial discrimination as a slave.

The Help directed by Tate Taylor, takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s. This was the period of time where America saw the segregation of blacks and the superiority of whites. Racial discrimination is demonstrated in the film by focusing on how white housewives justified the exploitation and emotional abuse of their black maids, convincing themselves that black people are fundamentally different from white people. The film portrays how racism is not inherent to human nature but is instead passed down generation to generation through education. Skeeter a college student with dreams of becoming a writer returns home to interview and write about the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent white families. Unlike anyone in her town, she has the belief in equal rights as she was raised by a black maid. Others in the town, such as Hilly Holbrook believe otherwise. Miss Hilly claims black people “carry different kinds of disease than we do.” If passed, the bill would require every white household in Mississippi to have a separate bathroom for black housekeepers. She says this as she has ignorance and lack of compassion for the maids. Today this in society as we have disapproval of the help. Whether that is maids or nannies we seem to have a tendency to judge or lowdown on as we feel more dominant. Miss Hilly saying this can justify to us how racial discrimination is a common theme seen throughout the film, with how the white housewives validate themselves with the discrimination of the black maids.

The song This is America written by Childish Gambino captures the grim surrealism of being black in America. Racial discrimination in commonly seen throughout this song proving to us that it is still an issue in today's society. The song shows the catastrophic events that are happening in America by his way of mimicking joy with dancing and probs, he also portrays the African American influence on pop culture through music and dance, on the backdrop of the prominent social problems with the focus of racial discrimination. One particular moment that really displays the idea of racial discrimination is when Childish Gambino clenched onto a gun and executes a black man. To symbolize the dehumanization of the shooter the victim is placed into a hood which takes the identity away from that victim making them another number within the deceased. Once he fires the gun he hands it off to someone who whisks it away in a red cloth. This scene is referencing to Americans’ willingness to value gun rights over lives, despite the country’s alarmingly high rates of gun violence. It is then he stared into the camera and says “this is America”. These words are getting us to understand that America is not done with racial discrimination instead it is now hidden in society. Society has chosen to disguise racial discrimination with the stereotype that as slavery is over so is inequality. It has become an issue that we would much rather not see or hear about but when we do we come back with saying “this is not us” but indeed it is. We may not be suffering from this but others are. This issue is so relevant in today's society and Childish Gambino has shown this through his way to destabilize the viewer’s expectations that he should just be funny and talented without thinking too much about his status as another black person in America facing racial discrimination.

Still I rise written by Maya Angelou is a poem that is directed to show people of colour to be proud of their ancestry, themselves, and their overall appearance. As we are told of the troubles she has faced we are exposed to the racial discrimination theme that is shown. This poem is about people prejudice against each other who are physically different, either with color or gender. However, Maya sheds a positive light on the situation with her sarcasm and in the determined and prideful manner she uses to express her strength to fight back. Although she is put through torment she is able to say that this has made her stronger than ever. Racial discrimination was a major theme throughout the poem, as Maya describes how the white race was dominant in America, the ‘I’ throughout the poem is the black race, and the ‘you’ is the white race. The way that Angelou uses the words “bitter” and “twisted” show us the horrible things that coloured people had to put up with in America. We get the impression that this abuse had been going on for years because she says that it had been written “down in history”. Meaning that black people had always been seen as inferior and treated like animals. We can all learn something from this poem. Society has the expectation to look down on racial discrimination as something that will break us. As Maya has shown us this can be false. To choose to take this pain and torment to better yourself and to give you another reason to be proud of your heritage and religion. Throughout Maya's life, racial discrimination has been a huge aspect of her life but she has used this to be an influencer to others.

To summarize the texts 12 Years a Slave, The Help, This is America and Still I Rise are all evidence of racial discrimination. They all showed me that the thesis statement “racial discrimination and prejudice are persistent issues that cannot be simply erased” is true due to the fact that all these texts are based in different times proving to us that certain groups still want power which continues the persistent issue of racial discrimination. 

09 March 2021
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