The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU students gather around a bucket of markers to write an encouraging note to put in “Welcome to the Shelter” kits at event in mid-April on SMU’s campus.
Dallas homeless recovery center, The Bridge, is a home
Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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Revved Up: On the Inside

This weekend I went to the movies and saw The Secret Life of Bees and I wish I had been one of those literati with the inside scoop.

Many of my friends have been raving about the book for years and I felt that it was time for me to give Sue Monk Kidd’s story a chance. Being a movie geek, I rarely walk into a movie not knowing the plot or the major characters, but I can honestly say that I knew nothing about this film. I had no idea that the cast was made up of heaven-fixed stars like Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, and Dakota Fanning. No one had told me that Alicia Keyes was an accomplished actress or that Tristan Wilds could bring it on the big screen. And I was certainly not warned about the timeliness of Sue Monk Kidd’s story.

The Secret Life of Bees takes place in South Carolina circa 1965. The Civil Rights Movement had fueled the pyre of much racism across the United States. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People rocked the vote in an unprecedented way. And in many parts of the rural south, slavery was a de jure reality thanks in large part to Jim Crow.

The movie follows the journey of a young white girl named Lily, who is tormented by the nightmares of her mother’s death. Her dreams are haunted by memories of her mother suffering at the hands of spousal abuse. Each waking moment leads her closer to taking the place of her mother, suffering more harshly at the hands of T. Ray, her abusive father. Similarly, Lily’s unofficial surrogate mother, a Black woman named “Rosaleen,” suffers at the hand of T. Ray. The Secret Life of Bees is the story of how Rosaleen and Lily flee T. Ray in a search for family, freedom, and themselves.

Along the way, glimpses of oft-forgotten stories flash in a poignant and powerful way. A black man is beaten and jailed because he is sitting with a white woman in a segregated movie theatre. A black woman is abused for trying to peacefully assemble. And a black Madonna, that is, the Virgin Mary portrayed as a black woman, is seen as a symbol of power and not a symbol of shame. In the movie, these images are shown without the captions of “this is how things once were,” or “this was an ugly time in our nation’s history,” or “that’s not really how the story goes.” Histories and experiences are allowed to speak for themselves. This is why the movie both brought tears to my eyes and anger to my belly. It tore me up inside.

You see, growing up in a predominantly white suburb, I was told that I could be anything that I wanted to be, but it was under the unspoken stipulation that it had been done before by a white person. I can remember talk about a black president in the form of freewheeling “what if” conversations, and when teachers were more than satisfied with less than my best. Countless people tried to explain to me that the Civil War was not about slavery but economics, as if a discussion of 19th century U.S. economics could take place without mentioning slavery.

I can remember showing a preschool teacher a picture of my fair-skinned grandmother, and hearing laughter and the phrase, “that’s not your grandmother.” But, I also remember sitting with my loving parents and learning that even though movies, television shows, cereal boxes and advertisements may try to tell me differently, but being black means that I am an heir of a wonderful and God-blessed heritage that is richer than most history books will ever let me know. So seeing a film that actually recognizes both the cores of my struggle and my passion was encouraging. It encourages me to live into what it means to be black. It encourages me to be open.

Racism is a real phenomenon. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. And while the story of the United States is one of progress, it is also one of regression. In 2008, we are on the brink of real change. Not just because the first black male may be elected president, but because it has never been more apparent that there is so much work to be done in the world. Creating this world requires that all of us share our stories so that we may be cultivators of a beautiful future.

So I ask you, what are you doing today that will effect tomorrow positively? And perhaps more importantly, what will you do to see to it that what’s stopping you will no longer do so? The struggle against racism is not over, but I hope that we will all realize that it is one that we must conquer from the inside out.

Richard Newton is student at the Perkins School of Theology. He can be reached for comment at [email protected].

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