Last night, after a full day of work and dinner with the kids, I sat on the couch and turned on the movie “Detroit.” The movie is based on the Algiers Motel incident during Detroit’s 1967 street riot. It portrays police misconduct and racial injustice in pretty stark and vivid terms. I had wanted to watch it from some time and so, when it saw it available On Demand, I chose it.
The movie starts innocuously enough. There is a sort of cartoon history of the great migration of blacks to the northern cities and the movement of whites in those cities to the suburbs. It was roughly at that point that my 10 year old “JD” joined me on the couch. I thought he might learn something and so welcomed him. The first actual scenes of the movie, however, involve a police raid on a black drinking establishment. This is what triggers the riots featured in the movie. At that point in the movie, the cussing and violence begin. There are a whole lot of “f” words, some “n” words, and some very angry males.
I suppose at that point, I could have turned off the movie or asked JD to leave. I thought about it. And then I made the choice. Whatever “harm” he would suffer by hearing a few curse words or viewing violence would be offset by learning some of the history of racial injustice in our country. And while we very much support police and law enforcement in our family, I thought it was important for him to understand that police are people too. And that sometimes in our history and in some cases, some police have not done the right thing. Particularly toward blacks and other people of color.
Whatever “harm” he would suffer by hearing a few curse words or viewing violence would be offset by learning some of the history of racial injustice in our country.
The most gripping scenes in the movie involve some rogue white police essentially terrorizing a number of innocent people in a hotel. They are most upset by the presence of two white women in a room with black males. They end up killing one innocent man. At that point in the movie, my son says to me, “I don’t think I like white people any more.” That made me smile. JD is white as snow and attends private school. He doesn’t get a whole lot of exposure to issues like those portrayed in “Detroit.” I took a chance and exposed him to much of that all at once. And he got it.
I grew up differently from my kids and saw a lot. I value those experiences now and the role they played in shaping my character and values. My kids have a different life. They really want for nothing and see virtually none of the ugly parts of life and this world. And so sometimes, I am afraid that they will grow up ignorant of or indifferent to those things. And so last night, I made a tough choice to teach JD some tough lessons. I think my choice was the right one. He will hear lots of cursing in this world. He will become aware of some violence. But now he better understands some concepts that shape our history as a country and which continue to play an important role for us today. I’ll take that trade any time.