How Race can Affect and Obstruct People's Opportunities and Abilities?

Published: 2021-07-07
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Boston College
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Dissertation results
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Racism is a methodical mistreatment of certain communities of people based on physical characteristics such as skin color. It is carried out by individuals who have been influenced by the society to look down upon people of color, either consciously or unconsciously. Racism can also be meted out by societal institutions. In most developing nations, people of color go through systematic personal and institutionalized biases on a daily basis. This denies them many opportunities for personal growth and development. A good example of how race can affect and obstruct people's opportunities and abilities is 2016 film titled Race. It tells the story of an African American sportsman called Jesse Owens who overcame racial barriers to become one of the greatest track and field athletes of all time. He won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games held in Germany, and received a lot of publicity after Adolf Hitler refused to recognize his achievements because he was a black person.

Race is a fascinating story of record-breaking athletic prowess that took place at an era in which racism and anti-Semitism. Controversial, underhand dealings brought to an end an Olympic boycott and facilitated participation of the United States in the 1936 games held in Berlin, Germany. Adolf Hitler, the then German chancellor, was planning to use the event as proof of a mistaken theory of Aryan superiority. However, he failed to anticipate the presence of one individual who was deemed inferior by both Nazi German and his own country the United States: Jesse Owens. He decided to ignore a boycott-favoring consensus so that he could achieve his dream of Olympic glory. Owens went on to overcome all odds and bagged four gold medals.

The story in Race begins at a pathetic slum in Cleveland, where Jesse Owens and his family relocated from Alabama when he was nine years old, and follows his life while in high school and in Ohio State University. Ruth Solomon, his high school girlfriend, gave birth to a baby girl in1932. They got married three years later, although he was involved in an extra-marital affair with another woman as he gained fame that almost ruined their marriage. Once they are married, the film shifts focus to sports and the politics surrounding the Olympic games at the time when Adolf Hitler came to power. Owens was caught up in a struggle between two camps that were debating whether or not the United States should take part in the 1936 Olympic Games. One group was led by Jeremiah Mahoney who was the then president of the Amateur Athletic Union and who was urging that America should boycott the games. The other was a trade unionist called Avery Brundage who was campaigning for the U.S. to participate in the event, arguing that politics had no place in the games. Brundage managed to negotiate the terms of American participation with Joseph Goebbels, then the German minister of culture and propaganda, and agreed to allow a limited number of Jewish athletes to take part in the games.

Under a lot of pressure from both sides, Owens is at first hesitant although he eventually agrees to go to Berlin. However, before he makes up his mind, there is a rather sensitive moment when officials from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) visits him and tries to plead with him not to take part. It must have been a rather difficult choice considering that athletic excellence is what made him famous. What gives the film a human aspect is the relationship that Owens has with Larry Snyder, his coach. Since he did not have accreditation as Owens Olympic coach, Snyder was forced to buy his own ticket the ship carrying the American athletes across the Atlantic Ocean. As soon as he arrived in Berlin, Owens immediately demanded that he be included in the coaching team. It is revealed that Snyder was a promising athlete with the potential to take part in Olympic Games as a young man but his ambitions were thwarted. This situation gives the bond between the two a special nostalgia in that Snyder is helping Owens achieve what he did not get in his time.

In the films most sentimental moment, a German athlete called Carl Luz Long befriends Owens. Despite being his rival for the long jump event, he gives Owens some important advice that helps win the gold medal. He also expresses his disapproval of the Nazi regime and its racist agenda. While this dramatic moment may seem like it is too good to be true, it actually happened. Although Race is an ordinary biographical film that highlights the life and times of an athletic hero, it does not hide the racism that Owens encountered on a daily basis. For example, Adolf Hitler abruptly leaves the stadium after Owens wins his first gold medal. Each of his subsequent victories leaves Goebbels more grimly dejected. Even after gaining worldwide fame, Owens is still treated with disdain by many white people, including those in athletics and politics. He was never even invited to the White House by President Roosevelt.

The racial slurs and epithets casually thrown by hateful eyes sting like acid sprinkled into the recipients face. Race ensures that the audience is aware that such insults occurred regularly and did not end, while also highlighting the effect they had on Owens. For instance, at one point his coach has to remind him to look at people in the eye when talking to other people. Although he is well-behaved most of the time, Owens can in some instances be immature, defiant and willful. His hurt ego and half-buried anger is shown throughout the film in rebellious flashes. Not a single Olympic competitor gets to win a gold medal by accident. Race excellently displays Owenss fiercely competitive personality and how he concealed it with a display of false humility.

The films screenwriters put a lot of effort to cram some of the most significant moments of Owens life into the script, including those highlighting instance of racism. The racial prejudice that he went through in the course of his life is restricted to a few minor incidences. They include instances when fellow athletes hurl at him predictable names, or when he remains subject to the racist American policies and laws despite his fame. While these interactions can make the audience members livid with the rampant racism, they are only meant to highlight a sense of victory when Owens overcomes them. All in all, the film does briefly allow him to express his intense anger over the prejudice, racism, and injustice. However, as both white and black people try to incorporate him into their differing agendas, he manages to go through the pitfalls of fame with a lot of humility. Actor Stephan James does an excellent job of portraying the great athlete. He capably depicts a young man called upon to represent his nation although he has misgivings about providing for his wife and child, and also supporting his family. However, he does not get a chance to portray Owens as a complicated individual, but rather as a symbol of humility and sacrifice.

In modern times, its impossible to watch a film such as Race without putting into consideration its meaning in the context of the black community. However, its racial agenda is quite safe and without controversy. In a notable scene, Ohio State Universitys all-white team members hurl racial insults at the track team, leaving Owens and his colleagues distracted, demoralized and frustrated. Coach Snyder intentionally tells them to remain in the locker room as the football team comes in. as the footballers hateful insults become even more pronounced, he lectures the athletes on how to shut out the expletives. The football teams hateful noise eventually fades to ignorable background chatter, and then into stunned silence. The message that Snyder passes across Owens and his teammates is that they should just ignore racist attacks and racism in general. They will go away and leave the athletes to attain their dreams in peace. The film passes on the same message but on a larger scale. Owens manages to ignore the squabbling between Germany and the United States over the formers rather fascist policies, and attempts to lock out non-white athletes from the games. He goes on to win gold medals and break world records by simply ignoring what others are saying about him.

There is a common trend amongst Hollywood biographical films on famous African American people. Too many of these people have been the subject of myths and hyperbole, with the films only making it worse. The true and detailed narratives of such historical characters rarely come to light on the big screen. Race is no exception. After all, it depicts how Jesse Owens overcame all odds to participate in the 1936 Olympic Games held in Nazi Germany. While Adolf Hitler and the Nazis watched, he cemented his name as one of greatest sprinters of all time. Such an achievement can hardly be considered a myth or a hyperbole.

The myths and hyperboles can be seen in the way Jesse Owens legacy was written away from the field. A commonly quoted saying his exploits at the games single-handedly rubbished the Nazi mistaken theory of Aryan supremacy. The truth is that, while Owens won gold medals and broke world records, he did not actually shatter the racist idea. In fact, Germany dominated the games and went on to win the most medals- 89 when compared to the 56 bagged by the second-placed United States. When this formidable victory is put to perspective, the Nazis were still able to claim that the Aryan supremacy idea was true. Owens went on history as the righteous black American who took the evil Nazis head on and came out victorious. The U.S. was perceived as the force of good while Nazi Germany is depicted as the evil force. It is worth bearing in mind that this occurred in 1936-years before the Second World War and the devastating Holocaust. However, Owens true story underlines the myths behind these popular memories.

While there are certain aspects of victory over racism in Jesse Owens life that Race highlights, the film also ignores others. It shows Germans in the stadium giving him several thunderous standing ovations and depicts him as an incredible celebrity in the country. W.E.B. Du Bois, the legendary scholar reported at the time from Berlin that Owens could not take a step without someone begging him for an autograph. What the film does not show is his true story after the games. It fails to touch on how both President Roosevelt and Hitler behaved in a similar racist manner by refusing to congratulate Owens. It also does not mention how he bitterly complained about being treated much better in Nazi Germany than in his own home country. Roosevelt did not invite him to the White house as he did to the white athletes who had competed at the Olympic Games.

Owens arrived back to America to a ticker tape parade. Yet, he had to use the freight elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, as was the case for black people, in order to arrive at his own reception. It would be an understatement to say that he did not get any fan fair in the United States considering that a parade was organized in his honor. However, after all that, how he was treated was quite different from that of white athletes. Owens was not cast in any films and could not capitalize on his celebrity status to launch a career on the predominantly white television. As was the case for other African Americans, he had to live like a second-class citizen. For instance, he had to ride at the back of public buses, use back doors, and could not eat together with white people in restaurants. It was just a matter of time before he was forced to file for bankruptcy. This situation escalated to the extent that he was prosecuted for tax evasion in 1966. Owens did manage to get back on his feet later in life. He eventually...

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