I use the movie, "The Long Walk Home," to illustrate a concept described by sociologist Darlene Clark Hine as the "culture of dissemblance." Specifically referring to the black experience under slavery and then later in the white-controlled south she described, "the behavior and attitudes of black women that created the appearance of openness and disclosure but actually shielded the truth of their inner lives and selves from their oppressors." Both the movie and Hine's theory stimulate class discussion about what it means if we remain silent when we hear sexist, racist, anti-Christian — any hateful comments about others. Do we hear an off-color joke and uncomfortably smile or laugh along with the group? Do we hear hate speech and remain silent?
The movie scene opens on a black maid in 1955, during the Montgomery, Ala., bus strike. She is preparing a Christmas meal for a large white family gathering of adults and children. As she enters the dining room from the kitchen the family matriarch is opining about the dangers of "giving in to the blacks" who have refused to use the buses until they are allowed to sit in any open seat rather than being relegated to the back. The matriarch states, they "just want too much and they're not willing to work for it." The black maid, Odessa, approaches with a basket of rolls, extends the plate to the woman and says, "Rolls, Miss Thompson." She responds, "No, thank ya." An uncomfortable silence has descended on the room. Miss Thompson defiantly continues, "Well, that's the way I feel. I don't care who hears it." Odessa serves the rest of the people and returns to the kitchen.
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