Racism is a disease. Spread by not only words and actions but by silence and inaction. In two stories presented in different media – a novel and a movie—racism is spread by people who feel they are not racists, but who do nothing to prevent and stop racism. The reality is that it is easy to pretend racism doesn’t exist, yet everyone practices it in some way. Those who know racism is wrong and do nothing are the “perpetrators” of racism. They allow the disease to cling to a group and spread like sending a sick toddler to preschool; touching everything and everyone, infecting all. In T. C. Boyle’s book Tortilla Curtain, racism is present throughout the book – enough to exhaust the reader. In the movie Crash, racism is one element of a complex plot. They teach the reader similar, compatible lessons. The character Delaney from the book and the Cameron from Crash both are used to depict stereotypical persons who claim to fight racism, stereotyping, and discrimination, yet when faced with a situation when it is directed toward them or someone near to them they allow racism to happen as if nothing was wrong.
Following these people are dying morals and blind humanity. Delany is a white, affluent, born on the East Coast; he now lives in Los Angeles. Living in a “gated community” had insulated him from the poverty that surrounded the very edges of the walls of exclusive neighborhood. During community meetings he does not want to discuss the increasing numbers of illegal immigrants; he prefers to focus on the coyote attacks. Until the accident he did not know his life would cross paths with an Illegal Immigrant. He had seen them only in the parking lots where they waited looking for work. He claims to not be a racist, to not be biased, and to not stereotype individuals at these meetings. As he claims this, his car hits a Mexican named Candido. Delaney soothes his conscience by giving Candido “$20 blood money,” explaining to his wife Kyra that “He’s a Mexican.” Delaney actions suggest that Mexicans are not “people.”
More than 50 years earlier John Steinbeck’s characters in the book The Grapes of Wrath phrase the issue much of the same way, “They ain’t human. A human being wouldn’t live like they do. A human being couldn’t stand it to be so dirty and miserable.” Delaney prefers to pretend as if the Mexicans didn’t exist, as the alternative is showing how he feels insecure and threatened by them. This is same way the character of the Hollywood Director Cameron in the same movie allows racism and harassment to occur in front of him to his own wife. He allows her to be violated by a racist white cop. After his wife gets molested, instead of standing up against the cop and protecting his wife; he grovels and thanks the cop for not giving him a ticket, “Look, we’re sorry, and we would appreciate if you would just let us go with a warning, please.” (Crash, 2004).
Delaney and Cameron are hypocrites being perpetrated from both ends of the spectrum; they represent individuals directly affected by racism who fail to respond in a way that causes it to cease, and those indirectly causing the racism to occur and spread. In the movie Crash this is shown by Cameron feeling cornered and lashing out against those around him; in Tortilla Curtain it is shown when the main character gives up fighting against the walls and letting those around him decide for him what is right and wrong. By their silence they allow the racism to perpetuate around them.
Individuals like those portrayed in these scenarios run the risk of causing an unending cycle of racism and bigotry that will not stop until someone stands up against it. Their fear feeds those around them. In Crash Cameron is confronted by fellow worker asking about an African American actor. “This is gonna sound strange, but is Jamal seeing a speech coach or something?…This is weird for a white guy to say, but have you noticed he’s talking a lot less black lately?” And the answer is, “No, I haven’t noticed that.”
At first the character stands up to the “racist” questioner but in the end he gives up, he ignores why Jamal hasn’t been “sounding Black” and goes on acting as if the words had not been said. In the same way after a canyon fire is set accidently by Candido in Tortilla Curtain; Delaney attacks a Mexican man who is being questioned by the police. “Delaney looked round at his neighbors, their faces drained and white, fists clenched, ready to go anywhere, do anything, seething with it, spoiling for it, a mob. They were out here in the night, outside the walls, forced out of their shells, and there was nothing to restrain them.” (The Tortilla Curtain, 289)
This occurs immediately after Delaney has attacked the handcuffed José Navidad, arrested under suspicion of starting the fire. Delaney’s furious, uncontrolled actions and unexplainable anger towards the Mexicans has incited a full-on riot, with the evacuated residents of Arroyo Blanco ready to attack anything and anyone. The idea of the wall comes up in both movies, with whites being forced outside their walls, and their comfort zones. The results are frightening. The white citizens of the town have abandoned their ordered ways, Delaney has even abandoning his self-imposed rules; he has indulged in alcohol.
All have become more like the uninhibited immigrants they dislike and fear. In Crash the audience sees the hatred and racism feed on itself when two suspicious black men attack the District Attorney after complaining about racism towards them. The wife goes off on a rant after the attack and says many racial slurs and insults the locksmith. Her anger spills over into her husband who starts ranting as well. “Why did these guys have to be black? I mean, why?” (Crash, 2004). Like a disease, racism and hatred spreads from person to person impregnating their souls with bigotry and a blind sense of what is right.
In the end both characters lose sight of what is right. More concerned about themselves than how their actions affect those around them. Their arrogance in thinking that they are above the racism and bigotry has significant consequences. The infectious nature of racism in individuals who are intelligent, and who have power and influence, is the real danger. Their thinking is infectious, and once these thoughts are inside someone’s head they don’t leave. It is especially dangerous when these individuals are opinion leaders. These are characters in fiction, but in the real world, people like Delaney and Cameron should not be tolerated. They cause the spread of racism, creating an unending circle of pain and grief for everyone they touch and a wider circle touched by those whom they have touched.
Crash. Dir. Paul Haggins. Perf. Don Cheadle and Sandra Bullock. Warner Brothers, 2004. DVD. Frenken, Wiltrud, Angela Luz, and Brigitte Prischtt. T.C. Boyle: The Tortilla Curtain. Paderborn: Schöningh, 2007. Print. Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Viking, 1939. Print.