Photo by Kareem Hayes on Unsplash

In 2021, racial biases, police brutality against Black and Brown communities, and the most recent attacks on Asian-Americans have sounded the alarm and ignited a call for racial equity. The massacre of eight Asian-Americans in Georgia has made it abundantly clear. But we need more than hashtags. 

Society needs to do what we have learned to do in prison and get into a healing circle. If we don’t move past the hidden prejudices and biases, we will be doomed to continue this cycle of violence. 

In Spike Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing, Lee captures the personalities and interactions of a multiracial community including African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Italians, Jews, and Asians.

Through gripping dialog, Lee exposes each race’s hidden biases of each-other. Pino, the pizzeria owner’s son, spewed the classic line: “You gold-teeth-gold-chain-wearin’ fried-chicken-and-biscuit-eating … big-thigh, fast-runnin’ high-jumpin’ spear-chuckin’ 360-degree-basketball-dunkin’ titsun spade Moulan Yan. Take your fucking pizza-pizza and go the fuck back to Africa.” 

Stevie, a patron, weighs in on the Asians: “You little slanty-eyed, me-no-speaky-American, own every fruit and vegetable stand in New York … Summer Olympics ‘88, Korean kick-boxing son-of-a-bitch.” 

Mister Señor Love Daddy steps in and says, “Yo! Hold up! Time out! TIME OUT! Y’all take a chill! You need to cool that shit out!” The movie ends with a riot after the police kill Radio Raheem with a chokehold, à la George Floyd. 

Sitting in one of my self-help healing circles, I listened to one of my tribe members, Si. 

Dang shared how he and his family came here from Vietnam. As a kid, American and Viet Cong soldiers would enter and search their home. As they were lifted away in a helicopter to escape the war, Dang and his family witnessed his uncle being burned to death below. They reached America, and his parents began drinking heavily and fighting all the time. Dang was bullied in school for having old clothes and for his attempt to speak English. 

As a teenager, he was beaten up by a group of guys. He got tired of being picked on, so he joined a gang, eventually costing another person their life. 

His story sounds just like mine: A Black kid from South Central Los Angeles, harrassed by the cops, my uncle killed in a drug deal, with a mother who struggled with addiction. I was bullied and beaten by kids at school, and joined a gang, eventually taking someone else’s life. 

I had seen Si on the prison yard for years, but it wasn’t until we sat in that group that we learned each other’s stories. A barrier was crossed, and a bond was formed.  Not only did Si manage to break my selfish racial bubble, but he gave me new insight into the 1992 L.A. Riots. I had always wondered why Koreans fiercely defended their property and businesses with guns. 

They suffered the trauma of war, too. There were two minority communities suffering, destined to clash. Blacks suffered slavery, Jim Crown, lynching, redlining, and police brutality. Asians were processing their transition to a new life from war-torn countries and transitioning into being Americans, learning about White Supremacy. After the riot, just like in prison, there was a calm. People helped each other to clean up the mess. No talking about the day’s events, just moving on towards some sense of normalcy with a quiet respect for each other, each person knowing that things could have been worse. 

I have faith in the Millenials and Gen Z, as they are more accepting of different races and lifestyles. I fear for them and their tendency towards “opinion bullying,” this cancel culture, where any slip of the tongue indicating an opposing opinion could get you ostracized. After all, extremes breed extremes. 

Former President Donald Trump now has a new platform, America Uncancelled,setting the stage for more offensive racial epithets and dog whistles, which helped lead to the increase of racial violence we are seeing now. 

Inside, we know about extremes and the damage incurred to the psyche when you’re labeled an outcast. 

Harm is sure to follow, because of the you-hate-me, I-hate-you mentality. The United States is still a young nation, at just 270 years old. That’s two 100-year-old grandmothers and a 70-year-old grandfather, and we are showing signs of dementia. The last time the nation was this divided, it resulted in a Civil War and now our generation has its own shame, Americans storming the US Capitol. 

Solidarity is based on shared interest and objectives, and sometimes that starts with tough, honest discussions. Like in the Spike Lee film, Radio Raheem wore two four-finger rings. One reads “Love,” and the other “Hate.” Which one will you choose? It’s time for everyone to Do the Right Thing.

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Marcus Henderson

Marcus Henderson is an editorial associate for the Prison Journalism Project and the editor-in-chief of San Quentin News. Coming off a level four yard with a life sentence, Marcus said he never thought he would find more to his life than just doing time. The day he arrived at San Quentin State Prison, his old cellmate asked him to help cover a baseball game in which the prisoners were playing a team from outside. When the cellmate told Marcus to interview these people, his mouth dried up, and he realized he hadn't talked with anybody besides prisoners and guards for more than 15 years. That was his introduction as a reporter.