February 16, 2011


Each month, we highlight some of the reflective posts of our work study students. Unedited, they blog about observations, experiences and thoughts about diversity in their lives as seen through their lenses.

Reflections from Ariel:
Gran Torino which debuted in 2008 is a film about Walt Kowalski, a Korean War veteran who has been recently widowed and forced to accept the changing elements of his life and neighborhood. Kowalski is an open racist who has lived in the same Detroit neighborhood which has now in recent years been populated by a large Asian community and crime. It appears that the only two things Walt Kowalski cares about now are his golden retriever and his 1972 gran torino. When Thao Lor, his teenage neighbor, attempts to steal the gran torino as part of a gang initiation Kowalski comes armed with a M-1 rifle to greet the thief. He does not shoot the young Hmong American but is required to have him participate in an act of penance for his actions. Kowaski has Thao participate in a series of tasks in an attempt to teach him how to act like a man.
In my opinion this film was a success in appealing to a wide audience range in terms of both age and race. It not only focused on issues of race yet also touched upon psychological disorders and ageism. It analyses the construction of the new American family. The nuclear family unit has now evolved into different denominations such as single families, same sex couples and even gangs. It also raises the notorious question of what it truly means to be an American. Clint Eastwood was appropriate for the role of Kowalski due to his past work with western films such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. He represented the rugged American hero who saved the day from foreigners and protected the sacredness of white privilege.

This film also provides a commentary for how racism has subtly seeped into the larger American culture. In one scene Walt Kowalski walks into his barber shop and decides to tell the owner a joke, “Oh, I've got one. A Mexican, a Jew, and a colored guy go into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, "Get the f*** out of here." The two men laugh and continue to tell more jokes throughout the film. George Lopez, Kat Williams and Dave Chappelle are among a group of American comedians who use racial stereotypes as a form of entertainment. The reason this is successful is because Americans are fascinated with anything that is taboo such as sex, intoxicants, and especially racism. People only find it acceptable if the comedians are people telling the jokes are from the particular targeted group. This statement however is far from the truth. The original intention of this form of entertainment may have been to parody the absurdity of stereotypes yet it has now evolved into an acceptable form of vulgar opinions. Ignorant people, however still feel that they have the ability to use derogatory words such as the n-word with the excuse that they were only quoting a comedian and not really saying that statement.

Gran torino for me was essentially a story about a racist who turned into an ally for the Asian community. It sends the message to American society on the importance of being a positive ally to the minority groups. Minority does not only include people of color yet also includes other underrepresented groups such as women and the LGBTQ community. Each day certain people like myself wake up each day and contemplate what types of racism might be encountered. The Stonehill community never fails to amuse me with their ignorance on a campus such as this where white privilege is clearly present. But the particular people I encounter here I would not name racist, they just do not know any better due to different life experiences and perhaps being sheltered to a lot of things which I would consider the norm.