Friday, October 8, 2010

Internalized Self-Hatred and "Spinning into Butter"

I watched the movie Spinning into Butter last night. It had been on my Netflix queue for a long time, but the description of it had never been sufficiently interestingly enough to pull me in and make me choose it. I did, though, on a whim last night. Not expecting much at all, I was immediately drawn into the story, and the first hour passed like it had been 10 minutes. (Usually I'm checking the clock every 20 min to see how much time has passed.) Towards the end, I kept having to put it on pause so I could think about what was being said. Few if any movies are ever that meaningful that I actually need to pause them - repeatedly - to think about what is happening!

Spinning into Butter, from its description, is a story about a "dean of students at a small liberal arts college who is embroiled in racial controversy at the start of the school year." Of course, that could mean anything. But what actually ended up happening was a pleasant surprise.

Sarah is the dean of students at a small college in Vermont. When someone leaves hateful, racist messages under a black student's door, the college is in an uproar. A "dialogue on diversity"is called, more to help with the college's PR than to actually address any racial issues. At this point, I flashed back to my days at Goucher, another small liberal arts college that had faced this very same issue - the same way, I am sure, virtually every college or university in the nation does, at some time or another. We too had "diversity dialogues" but I dare say they were run a lot better than the ones in this movie. (My memory of them is vague, however, and not entirely reliable.)
Please be advised that this review and blog may and probably will contain spoilers as to the exact nature of what happens in the movie. I think it is still worth reading, and the movie will still be good whether or not you know the plot, but if you do not want to read the plot, then stop reading here.

The incidents escalate to insults painted on the wall and even a noose. The student body is highly divided on what should be done. The one thing they can all seem to agree on is that the administration is not handling it appropriately, and only giving it lip service.

Sarah is caught in the middle; she also believes the admin. is handling it wrong, but there is not much she can do. The movie turns surprising when Sarah admits to her reporter friend that the reason she left Chicago was that she was growing afraid of some of her black students, of their "gangster mentalities" and the way they would shove her out of the way without even looking back. She admits that maybe only 2 out of 10 or 20 black kids would be like this, but they are, she says, the one she remembers. Her tearful and somewhat shocking admission gives insight into one of the myraid ways that racism is born. In a shockingly honest and enjoyable dialogue, Sarah and her friend, who is black, exchange a list of stereotypes that people often have about each race.

Cut to the end, or near end, of this movie. A student sees a kid about to throw a rock at a dorm window. He wrestles him to the ground, and everyone is shocked beyond belief to discover that the culprit of the racist incidents is no other than the victim himself. In other words, the black student who had been the victim of these crimes was the one doing them to himself.

At this point, we are all shocked, wondering why he coul have done such a thing. I certainly was. I paused the movie to try to consider his viewpoint and come up with a hypothesis for why he felt the need to do this, but was unable to come up with anything that seemed plausible.

In one of the last scenes of the movie, though, the student reveals why he did these acts.
With palpable anger, he says, "I kept waiting. I kept waiting for someone to say it [the N word], but no one did. No one did. Everyone was so nice to me. Everyone made a point to come up an say hello to me, ask me how I was doing. The professors would ignore their white students and come up and talk to me. Their hatred was so thick I couldn't breathe!"

Another shocker. You think to yourself, how could he have interpreted people being kind to him as hatred?

But then you think, the world is full of empty people covering up their true feelings with false platitudes. People who are trying to be politically correct by being nice to the black guy while thinking very unpleasant thoughts under their breath. Not all people by any means - I am not pessimistic enough to believe this - but enough. Especially the administration of that college. So perhaps he was interpreting people treating him as some sort of celebrity by going out of their way to be nice to him as a kind of racism all the same.

But what really hit me when I thought about it for long enough was the idea of internalized self hatred. His father would tell him repeatedly "Just wait for it, always be prepared for it, someday someone is going to come up to you and [use the N word]." His father told him he always needed to be prepared to fight. His father passed an unfortunate legacy of fear onto his son that kept him in chains. The messages he got about himself as a black person from other parts of society made him hate himself. In turn, he expected everyone else to hate him, too. When no one did, (at least this is the interpretation I finally settled on), he experienced a form of cognitive dissonance. His outer and inner world did not match, So he had to make it match. No one was going to call hin the N word or treat him like dirt, so he did it to himself. It was the only thing that made sense to him.

A very sad story indeed, but one that makes you think quite a bit.

I then started to think about the ways that we all have built in internalized self hatred for the various classes and groups that we belong to, or at least biases. How we often feel that we don't measure up, that we're not good enough in some way. How we often lack the confidence to go after what we want, thinking that others are more better equipped for whatever it is than we are. Is this not also a form of internalized self hatred? Are we not also punishing ourselves for being (insert whatever applies to you personally)? Too fat, too slow, lacking initiative, not pretty enough, the wrong religion, the wrong race, disabled, not "normal" enough, whatever?

His was just a more extreme version of it.

We need to look at the ways and places that internalized self hatred comes from. We need to look at the myraid of ways that our culture influences and enforces negative ideas and stereotypes about our bodies and our lives. And then we need to change those values.

We need to have genuine experience with people from other groups; people of different races, people who are disabled, and so on. That, to me, is the only real way I can think of that you can battle racism or any other of the "isms." Once you have personal experience with people from a group of people that is positive, you won't be as likely to think negatively of that group without good reason. If you do, you will not be as likely to apply those negative thoughts to a whole group of people. You need to engage with these people in a genuine and not superficial way to see their true selves. Sarah's mistake in Chicago was to only see her students superficially.

So, at the end of the movie, Sarah quits her job, tells the administration how stupid they have been, and heads back to Chicago to give it another try at being a better person. She didn't know how, she was nervous as hell, but she knew that running away or engaging with an issue on only a superficial level was not the way. She came back to learn how to be a better person.

The ending was very touching to me, and as you can see, made me a think a lot. I think this movie should be used on every college campus as a way to open up discussions of racial issues.
I think many people would have very different opinions on it, which would make it very valuable for discussion. In fact, I may recommend it to a psych teacher I used to have who did a relational psych class and often delved into topics like this.

Just wanted to share with you a snapshot from my head, and recommend a movie that may change the way you think on certain things.

Few movies ever motivate me to write a blog post on them. Actually, only two so far. But this is one of them.

1 comment:

  1. I want to check out this movie now! Thanks, Kate--this looks pretty interesting. :)