Mississippi Burning is a racial tension drama thriller film based in Mississippi (as the movie title represented), particularly in Jessup County where the one of the main branch of Ku Klux Klan resided. It was back in the 1960s where racial tension was still very prominent in smaller states and the Whites were the supreme race in most parts of America. The segregation between the Blacks and Whites is prominently showed throughout the film in many dynamic and heart wrenching scenes (using social relation concepts) are explained as follow:-
The beginning scene (image above) whereby the water dispenser was showed with the labels ‘white’ on the left with proper function and in metal coat whereas on the right labelled ‘coloured’ with a worn down condition with the water hardly poured out properly and ironically in white colour paint. The apparent public display of racism through segregation on the use of water dispenser between the Blacks and Whites are out-rightly racist! I can’t fathom to the separation of just DRINKING WATER! Racism is defined as an institutional practice that subordinates people of a given race. As such it is showed prominently in the water dispenser scene. In this film, the Blacks are subordinated by the Whites.
Another example, when Agent Alan Ward and Agent Rupert Anderson went into a diner for lunch. Agent Alan Ward was ‘hungry’ that he can’t wait for seats but there were empty seats at the Blacks section (the Blacks dined at the end of the diner in high counters and high stools whereas the Whites dined at the front of the diner on square tables with tablecloth). So, Agent Ward went over to take the seat and sat next to a Black man. He started talking to him and asked him about the three missing civil rights workers in the town as he was investigating the case. But as soon as he sat and talked to the Black guy, all the Whites in the diner stared bluntly and focused with rage on the two of them. Apparently, it was not normal for a White to sit and talk to a Black in the open public. It showed subtle White supremacy in the diner set. The agents ended up not able to speak to any of the Black people due to their fear of Ku Klux Klan retaliation.
2. Racial prejudice
Sheriff Pell and his mob of authority in the sheriff county was chasing after a car with three passengers of the civil rights workers which comprised of two Jews and one Black. Both races that are deemed as the lowest caste and inferior to the Whites, that they are threats to humanity. That scene showed a strong racial prejudice element. It is defined as a preconceived negative judgment of a group and its members. The Whites think that they are the supreme race over the Blacks and Jews. Therefore, the sheriffs’ county in liaison with Ku Klux Klan hunt down those who defy the White supremacy ideologies – the three civil rights workers were killed directly for fighting the rights for the ‘coloured’ people (one of the Jew shot point blank on the head, image above).
The scene of the three civil rights (two Jews and one Black) being chased by the sheriffs and then whereby one of them was shot point blank on the head and the other got killed as well by the sheriffs and probably by the Ku Klux Klan as the sheriff county is associated with the Klan. This act is known as ethnocentrism which states that the inherent belief of one’s own ethnic group or culture is supreme than other ethnic group or culture. Not only that, the Klan also burn down the Blacks’ churches as well as a portrayal of ethnocentrism whereby the White being Angle-Saxon Christians and the Blacks aren’t therefore they should be punished (image above). It is hard to imagine such belief in supremacy of one’s group than others can drive people to kill the inferior group mercilessly. After all, we live with the same colour red in our body.
4. Social dominance orientation
The motivation to have one’s group dominate other social groups is a social dominance orientation. It is prominently portrayed in the film with the acts of the Klan (dominant group, image above left) harassing, beating and hurting the Black community for just being “coloured” (image above right). They perceive the Blacks as sinners or devils in disguise that is out to harm the Anglo-Saxon Whites. Consequently, the act of burning down the Blacks’ community churches as a power act of supremacy and warnings to silence the Blacks from sharing any information with the FBI agents.
Another scene to prove the act of the social dominance is when Sheriff Pell’s wife said “….Have you any idea what it’s like to live with all this? People look at us and only see bigots and racists. Hatred isn’t something you’re born with. It gets taught. At school, they said segregation what’s said in the Bible… Genesis 9, Verse 27. At 7 years of age, you get told it enough times, you believe it. You believe the hatred. You live it… you breathe it. You marry it.” The whole county is taught to hate the Blacks from the time they are able to learn and that hatred toward another group of people who seem to be different from one, especially just from the skin colour, is instilled and harboured in the county’s resident. Never ending cycle of racism!
Overall, the film portrayed a heart wrenching period in human history that it is hard to imagine it to happen at this era (though there are still prominent racism but it is subtle and with human rights law being practiced actively). With that said, I wish to eradicate the racism issue (through psychological concepts sharing awareness) that is still lingering on till now even though many revolutions have been made such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight, Nelson Mandela’s apartheid fight and first Black USA President Barack Obama elected and reigned, just to name a few. These great figures had defy the strong majority but came out being the winners and able to change the world slowly with their share of sacrifices. I salute these men for their great contribution in changing perceptions on race.
A few films with similar themes as Mississippi Burning that I will reckon that have impacted my thoughts on racism and any forms of prejudice and discrimination. My favourite would be The Help as it fights not only for the Black race and slavery trade but for women’s rights too (am pro-feminism). Do check out these films (trailers) to have a better insight of prejudices and discriminations.
The Help – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbuKgzgeUIU
Black like Me (1964), a White man went undercover to be a Black man – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTJDWPIy2eo
Do the Right Thing – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uo49W3Zetgg