Alphabetical Movie – Holiday Inn
I’ve seen Holiday Inn before so the following scene didn’t come as a shock to me but I want you to imagine that you are watching this film for the first time. Maybe this is your first time. That isn’t really important.
So, you are watching this movie for the first time and up to now, you have been watching a pleasant film about Bing Crosby trying to hide his girlfriend from Fred Astaire. I don’t blame him – who wouldn’t pick Fred Astaire over Bing Crosby?
You reach the point where Crosby is doing a show for Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Never mind why. It is time for the musical number and you see this:
White guilt slams into you like a low swinging chariot.
You pinch yourself and ask “am I really watching Bing Crosby doing a black face routine about how great it was that Lincoln emancipated the slaves? Did his black servant just sing that “he set the darkies free? Did he just hide his girlfriend from Fred Astaire by dressing her up as Buckwheat????”
These days, racism is so much more subtle that when you see something as blatant as this scene from Holiday Inn or – say – this one from Wonder Bar, you just can’t compute how such a thing could possibly exist.
Yet there it is. For some reason, you feel ashamed because viewed through the lens of the 21st century, it is pretty offensive stuff. You have to wonder how Louise Beavers felt when she got to sing about how great Abraham Lincoln was when he set darkies free. Did she feel like it was a great moment in civil rights or was she just grateful to be receiving a paycheck?
White guilt when viewing such things seems pointless. I wasn’t alive when this was made. The first time I saw it, I instantly recognized how terrible it was. Why should I feel guilty about something so undeniably racist when I’d never do anything like that?
I suppose the answer is that I recognize that when this film was made, nobody thought for one moment that they were making something racist.
They were singing about how great Lincoln was for setting the slaves free, after all! They had a black actress singing about how this wonderful white dude had saved her people so they could be servants and comic relief. How can that be racist?
As “Avenue Q” points out everyone is a little bit racist and, as the scene from Holiday Inn shows us, none of us realize it.
Is it racist to think that our first black president is not a native of the US or that he is a muslim?
Well of course it is. Nobody has made such accusations about a white President, have they? That people think someone doesn’t have the right to be President is nothing new. You can find evidence for that with most Presidents. Including Lincoln.
The difference, though is in why people think that.
You think they would look at a white guy and assume he was a Muslim? You think it would even come up?
Hell, they would probably look (and listen) to Arnold Schwarzenegger and decide that all the evidence showing he is not a natural born citizen of the United States is falsified as part of a liberal conspiracy to keep him out of the white house. The accent? Added in post.
Racism isn’t something that magically disappears when you elect a black president. Racism is something that is inside all of us. In fact, it is so prevalent, we don’t view it as racism.
It is only when we view racism of the past that we can recognize it. Someone who believes Obama is a Muslim can probably look at the Abraham Lincoln number from Holiday Inn and recognize that it is racist. They would argue that things are so much better now.
Well, maybe they are.
On the other hand, isn’t this musical number looking back at the days of slavery and saying “hey – we didn’t have this whole race thing figured out back then but things are so much better now?”