It's about our community and our spirituality!

Barbara Walters Should Watch Gran Torino

Sometimes, I’m watching a movie or a television show and it might be a scene, or a sentence, or maybe the whole film will just stick in my head.  I’ll mull it over for a while.  I may even forget about it.  But then something will happen that will trigger the memory of that film and I find a need to put what I think down on paper.  And so it was with Clint Eastwood’s movie Gran Torino.  I have to admit the movie was a lot better than I thought it would ever be.  Watching the trailers of some old bigoted white guy coming to the rescue of a neighborhood just didn’t sit well with me.  And there were some aspects of the movie that I didn’t particularly care for when I saw it.  But as a whole there was a lot to enjoy with the film.  I’d give it a thumbs up.

There was one particular scene that I thought was most interesting.  Mr. Eastwood’s character, Walt Kowalski, was trying to teach Thao Vang Lor, a Hmong teenager played by Bee Vang who tried to steal Mr. Kowalski’s prized mint perfect 1972 Ford Gran Torino, how to talk to people respectfully.  Kowalski comes to understand that the teenager doesn’t have much of a role model in his life and decides to help him out.  Mr. Kowalski took Thao to a barbershop run by his friend Martin to demonstrate how men talk to each other.  As Kowalski and Thao walk into the shop, Kowalski and Martin start tossing good natured insults at each other.

Barber Martin:  Perfect, a Polack and a chink.
Walt Kowalski:  How you doing Martin, you crazy Italian prick?
Barber MartinWalts, you cheap bastard!  I should have known you’d come in, I was having such a pleasant day!
Walt Kowalski:  What’d you do? You ruse some poor blind guy out of his money? Gave him the wrong change?
Barber MartinWho’s the Nip?
Walt Kowalski:  He’s a pussy kid from next door I’m trying to man him up a little bit.

After the exchange, Kowalski tells Thao that’s how guys talk to one another.  He tells the teenager to go outside and give it a shot.  Thao does as he’s told.  He walks out of the barber shop and lets the door close.  The door opens up, Thao walks in, clears his throat, and puts what he learned to the test.

Thao Vang Lor: What’s up you old Italian prick?

Martin reaches into a corner and pulls out a shotgun and points it straight at Thao’s chest and says, Get out of my shop before I blow your head off, you goddamn dick sucker!  GO!

What happened?  The answer’s pretty simple.  Martin and Walt have a relationship that goes back.  I don’t know how long they knew each other, but they went way back and they’ve known each other for years.  Walt can get away with insulting his friend because they know for a fact that they mean nothing but to give each other a hard time.  They’ve earned each other’s trust and respect.  Thao has never spoken to Martin before and doesn’t have a pool of trust and respect to pull from to insult the barber without causing some kind of conflict.  Martin is thinking who the fuck is this guy talking to?  Thao saw how Walt did it and thought he could do the same thing.  The rifle was just the exclamation point at the end to drive the understanding home that not anybody can talk to him like that.

Now what triggered my memory of the film Gran Torino?

Now that Texas Governor Rick Perry’s family lease at Camp Niggerhead has made front page news, white people are again asking why they can’t use the racial epithet the way black people use it.  On the popular television program the View, co-hosts Barbara Walters and Sherri Shepherd got into a bit of an emotional discussion over the term.

Whoopi Goldberg used the word first while quoting conservative presidential candidate Herman Cain. Ms. Walters then repeated the word in context of their conversation although she confessed that it was hard for her to say it.  In fact, she went on to say that just using it in a news worthy context gave her chills.  Ms. Shepherd then told Ms. Walters that she didn’t like the way she used the word.  Ms. Shepherd said she didn’t know if it was a semantics thing or what but when she heard Ms. Walters say it, it made her uncomfortable.  Ms. Walters asked Shepherd if her objection was because Ms. Walters was white.  Ms Shepherd said yes.  Good thing she didn’t have a shotgun nearby.

A black person hearing other black people using this particular racial epithet isn’t wrapped around all the racial connotations of a black person hearing the word coming across the racial divide.  There is no history of black people using the word to subjugate black people and as an excuse to deny black people their humanity.  Black people can even understand the word as a term of endearment.  Not unlike the way Walt and Martin use their racially laced insults as nothing more than a good natured exchange between friends.  Young Hmong teenagers need not apply.

Ms. Walters knew why Ms. Shepherd didn’t like her using the word nigger.  It’s not rocket science.  Ms. Walters isn’t some young Hmong teenager trying to figure out what’s what in the world.  She’s a seasoned journalist with years of experience to understand human nature.  She’s not stupid.  She knows goddamn well that hearing a white person using the word was painful, awkward, and difficult for her.  Why was Ms. Walters getting chills from just using the word in a report?  Because of all the racial connotations inherent in the word.

Some people will continue to pretend that they don’t understand the subject fully.  I say bullshit.  We all know why that word is so charged with racial animosity.  If a white person really wants to claim that they don’t understand then why the hell are you getting goose bumps just from using it in a report?  Maybe Ms. Walters should take some time to just sit down and watch the barbershop scene in Gran Torino.  Maybe then she’ll understand.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - Posted by | Life, Thoughts


  1. Thanks for the insight of your articles!

    Comment by Olivia | Wednesday, October 5, 2011 | Reply

    • Thanks for the feedback Olivia,

      I just hope I can keep you coming back for more…


      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Wednesday, October 5, 2011 | Reply

  2. Bad news Brother P…. We reviewed your blog at our weekly bedsheets and pillowcases meeting. In between sanding our crosses to a nice smooth finish and prepping the gasoline to burn em down later, we discussed this blog. We have decided to give it 2 hoods down. One white guy new to the meeting stood up for yhou, but then we realized he was a jew and kicked him out of our proud and honest christian based hating club.


    Seriously, a coworker of mine and I had this discussion more than once. I dont call him by the “N word” (ending in ‘a’ or ‘er’, although i can say it while quoting my favorite hip hop lyrics without retribution), but we get pretty deep in making fun of each others races, and our own, (along with all the others) using satire and so on about the wonderful world of stereotypes. Now, if some other guy came in and started running his mouth on either side, I’m pretty sure the guy would leave the conversation in a less than pleasant manner with the proper amount of force.

    As my wonderful coworker pointed out though, the following investigation’s efforts would hinge on whether that guy was black or white…cuz even as pasty as I am, if the intruder/victim is black, it would be still chalked up as black on black crime and not worked very hard. 😛

    Comment by mikelovell | Thursday, October 6, 2011 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: