Sunday, April 3, 2016

Homotopia

So, my wife and I went to watch Zootopia in part of an early birthday celebration and I was thoroughly pleased. In fact, in this current political climate, I would recommend the entire US watch it - and here's why: As a family movie, it very tactfully and directly deals with prejudicial tension and what can happen when it is allowed to go unchecked.

Spoilers (Highlight to read):
In this movie, a number of predators have gone missing and are found to have gone "savage". When uncovered, the protagonist, an eager, fresh, idealistic recruit to the police department unwittingly chalks it up in a media interview to the predator species, for some reason, reverting to their pre-civilised states, because "It's in their DNA." Of course, this causes widespread panic and discrimination against the predators and, depressed, our heroine quits her job.

While back at her family's farm, she realises that she had made a mistake - the reverted behaviour was due to a plant compound, not a freak reversion of nature. In the process of trying to mend her mistake, she uncovers a plot headed by a faction of prey (headed by the assistant mayor, a sheep) to smear predators via this extract and gain the power and recognition they deserve through harnessing the fear of the other prey.

What I, as a white man, saw is the stark reality of America today that I see on a regular basis.

  • We have a presidential candidate smearing other races by fear and mockery, rallying many to a prejudiced cause of racism and xenophobia. 
  • We have a population comprised largely of one racial group (White) who, actively or passively, are acting and reacting to other racial groups with a preconceived notion of criminality or mal-intent
    • African-Americans are perceived as criminals, illiterate, and thugs
    • Hispanics are perceived as illegal, drug lords, and job thieves
    • Arabic-appearing individuals and Muslims are perceived as terrorists and threats to the American way of life
    • You could even make a connection to many heterosexuals' fear and discomfort around homosexual individuals
  • You see whites and heterosexuals jumping to the immediate, easy conclusions, applying blanket discrimination along a stereotype instead of looking deeper for the/an actual cause
When talking to my wife, who is African-American, I discovered that one scene resonated with her in a way that took me a while to understand. In the attitude and monologue of the ringleader, she identified a deep-seated bitterness reminiscent to the attitude of many in the African-American population towards the white population as a result of racial labeling and prejudice over the years.

Through the film, it's very possible to see an exaggerated portrayal of prejudice being allowed freedom to act. We see the growth of prejudice within a population and a demonisation of another population. 

We also see two responses to prejudice. Either, (spoiler) like the assistant mayor, you can act upon prejudice, seeking vindication through vengeful action, leading to division, or, (spoiler) like the protagonist, you can react to prejudice, seeking its end through restitution, leading to unity. 

These actions can be either internal or external, responding to the prejudice within yourself or the prejudice of others. It's easy to see the external, lashing out in prejudice or seeking forgiveness for committed or implicit prejudices, but the internal is more important, being the seed from which actions develop - the fermenting of prejudice, often through resentment, bitterness, or fear, or the battle to overcome ingrained prejudices, often through forgiving those who have enacted injustice.

Of course, forgiveness is difficult, especially in the face of deep-rooted wrongs. 

Why should I forgive those who have wronged me in the first place?
Firstly, for those readers who are Christians, it's what Christ did for us - he forgave us and took our punishment while we were still his enemies (Rom 5:8-10). We are commanded to right any wrongs and grievances with others before coming to God in worship (Matt 5:24) and to not allow anger to ferment within ourselves (Eph 4:26).
Secondly, especially for those who aren't Christians, granting forgiveness tells the aggressor that you no longer subject yourself to the effect of his/her wrongdoing, that you no longer allow it to cripple, poison, or otherwise negatively affect you in any physical, mental, spiritual, or social capacity. It also tells the aggressor that you relieve yourself of any right to retaliation, seeking restitution through mutual peace instead of vengeance. (I'm not saying that recompense is not due, however, just that vengeance will not be sought)

What if I forgive someone only to have them repeat the same insult? 
Jesus answered this question to one of his disciples, telling him to forgive endlessly ("not just seven times, but seventy-times-seven times" - Matt 18:22).

What if someone takes advantage of my forgiveness to continue acting in prejudice or offense?
Christ tells us to love our enemies and to pray for our persecutors (Matt 5:44). He also tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matt 22:39). 

What if I recognise my wrong and have sought to address it, but those I've hurt refuse to forgive me or those like me?
To be honest, this is a difficult question to answer and is something that is often very disheartening, especially as someone who desires to help open racial dialogue and bring about restoration in my immediate communities. The most I can say, though, is this: Paul writes to the Galatians, encouraging them to never cease in doing good, to continue doing so anywhere the opportunity presents (Gal 6:9-10). 

We must never give up the fight for reconciliation, doing what little we can as often as possible, whether that be forgiveness or redress. Perhaps then we can to bring peace and unity to our own Homotopia.