The Thing I Like About …

Crazy from the Heart: the part where he tells her they (probably) won’t kill her.

In Crazy from the Heart, Charlotte is a high-school principal in a small Texas border-town, and Ernesto is the janitor. They go on a date. They end up in Mexico. For the whole weekend. Charlotte comes home with a giant hat and a bigger hangover. And somehow, while she was gone, the racist community in her little town had lost all respect for her position and for her as a person. Finally, two members of the school board pay Charlotte a visit, reminding her in the oblique language often used by racist people who don’t want to admit it, that she, a white woman, is not allowed to fall in love with a man who is *Mexican*.

Charlotte decides that she has spent her whole life toeing the line, and she tells the two members of the school board: “If I died, on my tombstone it would say ‘Charlotte did what she was told’.” And one member of the school board gives a nervous little laugh and says, “I don’t think it’s gonna come to that.”

I doubt he really means that the school board is in the habit of killing principals who date “incorrectly”. And his inability to detect sarcasm is likely a personal problem rather than a reflection on any racism he might have. But when he gives his nervous little laugh, you realize that his problem isn’t racism.

It’s that he’s afraid.

He’s afraid of the world changing into something he doesn’t recognize or understand. He’s not so much motivated by hatred as he is by an overwhelming desire to preserve … because, if we’re alive, then the situation we’re in must have allowed us to be alive, right? So preserving it is very, very important.

And that mindset is how people end up recreating situations that were horrible in the first place, and tolerating situations that don’t have anything to do with goodness or happiness or even safety.

If we don’t understand something – or someone – we suddenly don’t know concretely how to behave in ways that keep us safe and alive. That uncertainty hits us – all of us – at a very subconscious level, and it manifests in a million different ways, from anxiety disorders, micromanaging, bullying, and heart attacks, to racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious persecution.

If you were to ask that school-board member why it’s not okay for white principals to date non-white janitors, he would probably say, “Because they’re different.” And different is “bad”, because how else will we know that we’re “good”? And on that notion all the evil in the world is based.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can learn to embrace change, and to face fears with something besides subconscious, knee-jerk reactions. We can learn to feel – and even be – safe in a world that isn’t exactly like the one we’ve always known. And we can learn, therefore, how to change things that really shouldn’t be preserved, no matter how familiar or understandable they are.

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