Monday, January 09, 2006

Racism makes my stomach hurt

As soon as Virgil Tibbs was apprehended at the train station for no other reason than that he was a black man, the very pit of my stomach started to hurt. This was just the first of MANY moments that caused this reaction. Having grown up in the 90s, my parents raised me to understand that racism is not to be tolerated. In watching the neverending accounts of Tibbs' encounters with racism, I wanted to jump right inside In The Heat of the Night and smack every single character who showed him any disrespect. Aside from being suspected as the killer for no reason, Tibbs was also expected by his boss to work on the homicide case for free to help the racist community of Sparta, Mississippi. Yet no one wanted him there at all.

Though Tibbs is obviously the protagonist and hero cop of the flick, Chief Gillespie tries at every opportunity to assert his dominance over Tibbs and override suspicions, beliefs, and evidences that Tibbs brings to the murder case. Chief tried to send Tibbs home on 2 different accounts after "finding the killer," with which Chief was never correct. The Chief did however show enormous amounts of growing acceptance to working with a Black man throughout the film, showing what had to be rather liberal elements in the movie for the time period. He beats off the 4 white men trying to kill Tibbs, takes a backseat to the officer in the police car while following Sam's run from the night of the killing, invites him into his home, and even carries his luggage to the train to see him off and wish him well. Don't get me wrong, I was very impressed with these elements and believe that they slowly but surely aided in the acceptance of African Americans in the United States by showing citizens that such behavior is ok.

Yet the racial acknowledgements never end in In The Heat of the Night. Harvey, whom Tibbs is locked up with, remarks in the first several seconds with Tibbs, "What you doin' wearin' white man's clothes?" This shows that, especially for the deep south regions of Mississippi, blacks are not seen wearing suits and ties, but rather only whites are. Tibbs even self stereotypes himself when talking with the black mechanic that he would be staying with by referencing himself as Sparta's "whipping boy." Saying this implies that even though he's not slaving away with manual labor, he is still under the white man's control as they begged him to stay and solve their murder case, yet he is ultimately allowed no liberties. Upon meeting Mr. Endicott and sharing an appreciation for orchids, Endicott suddenly eliminates all elements of respect that were seemingly created and begins comparing all Negroes to Tibbs's favorite orchid by saying that they both need care, feeding, picking, and looking after. The ultimate disgrace in Heat was the angry mob of white men sporting Confederate flags on their cars that were determined to track down Tibbs and kill him if they must. This idea was not far fetched to a single one of them, and on more than one occasion they tried to run him off the road, fight him with heavy metal objects, and pointed guns at him. In my opinion, that only goes to show what a disgrace the Confederate flag and everything it stood for is (nicely said as well Alec).


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