Doing the Right Thing
in Mississippi and Brooklyn
How Shall We Connect?
At the end of the 1980s there appeared on the national scene two feature films based on very different approaches to the African-American struggle for justice and democracy. Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning and Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing could not have been more directly opposite in their settings, approaches, and characters, but the powerful waves of debate that accompanied both films offer us important lessons to ponder and develop in our teaching.
Aside from all else, it was fascinating to follow the films and their controversial receptions in major newspapers and journals, to witness their dissection on television programs as apparently disparate as Nightline and Oprah Winfrey, to sample the wisdom of Black barbershops and predominantly white cocktail parties, to imagine all the kitchen-table discussions and debates. This heated engagement surely testified to the continuing, absorbing power of race, racism, and racial issues among us. On the harshest national level we saw again that race is like a bone stuck in our throat, refusing both digestion and expulsion, endangering our life. But from another perspective this excitement about the films (especially Spike Lee's creation) testified to the unmistakable need and desire of our nation to deal with its terrifying and